Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Spring is here

It's been a funny couple of weeks in Chamonix, with bad weather constantly being forecast but never quite arriving. There's been the odd spell of rain but generally the sun has been out more than it hasn't recently. With options for climbing and skiing plentiful, Sharon and I decided to have a "variety is the spice of life" day and shot up the Via Corda above Les Bois before a couple of hours spring skiing at Grand Montets.

Sharon on the Via Corda

Ski conditions seem quite good right now, with plentiful spring snow on sunny aspects and some fresh, cold stuff on the north faces. Could be plenty of life left in winter yet!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Salluard route, Pic Adolphe Rey

This long spell of good weather is now into a second week so although there is spring snow to be had, it was decided that yesterday was going to be a climbing day. The Salluard route had long been on the list as a good option in spring so we headed for the Midi bright and early to get the jump on the crowds.

Needless to say, Compagnie du Mont Blanc didn't make life easy and couldn't quite decide whether you needed a reservation or not, the result being that (after much unnecessary confusion) we only managed to get the third bin, despite having been at the front of the queue.

With the Compagnie du Mont Blanc having set the tone of general incompetence, we continued it for the first couple of hours, with Tom realising he'd forgotten his sunglasses (thankfully they sell them at the top of the Midi), me dropping my lift pass on the first pitch, and Peter reaching the first belay ledge and ranting about how there was no bolted belay....

Peter and the "missing" belay that he'd failed to spot. I think here he's politely suggesting to Tom that he shouldn't forget his sunglasses if he's going to criticise!

Having all had a bad start to the day, things picked up significantly and we ended up having a brilliant time on a true Chamonix classic. I think we did the route in 8 pitches and finished off by topping out on a small pinnacle below the summit of the Pic Adolphe Rey. It is possible to carry on to the summit proper via some scrambling and a short pitch but it would mean that you can't abseil back to your kit at the foot of the route and would have to walk back along the glacier in rockboots.

All photos Peter Riley (and well done Peter for mastering and getting them to me!!!)

Tom and me on the crux.

The "Diedre Lisse" (slippery groove) is the nickname given to this pitch by the Chamonix guides. Much to mine and Peter's delight, Tom offered to lead it and had "fun" thrutching his way up cold, snow filled cracks while Peter and I took in the view.

The stunning upper wall.

Me on the last move of the route.

Abbing down. The route climbs the crack to the right of me and then heads left to just below the summit tower and then climbs this via a corner which is just out of sight.

The ski down the VB was great and conditions are still good up there. The long sunny spell has meant that it's all pretty moguled but after a lean winter, I was impressed how much fun the skiing still is up there.

An uber classic route ticked, plenty of banter and a quick ski down the World's most famous off piste run; just another day in Chamonix.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Col du Belvedere

I was supposed to be working today....

Sharon got up just after 6 in order to get to the Midi bright and early but I summoned all my willpower and stayed at home to get some work done. However, when she called at 8.15 to say that the Midi wasn't opening on time and suggested a quick trip over the Col du Belvedere, I picked up my skis.

The train timetable has changed for spring and there is now a ridiculous lack of trains from Le Buet back to Cham, so we knew we needed to be down in time to catch the 13.41 or we'd have a long wait on our hands. As it turned out, we made it and I was back at the desk by mid afternoon. You've got to love a quick hit.

Best of all, the Berard Valley was full of superb powder and was surprisingly quiet, with acres of untracked snow accessible from all the popular cols and summits. The recent snowfall reached down to around 1500m too, so the Valley looks much more snowy than it did 10 days ago. This has been by no means a vintage winter but we've now got enough snow that we should be in for a decent spring touring season. Can't wait!

Stunning views from Lac Blanc

Me heading for the Col

Yet more stunning views

Sharon skiing the steep upper section on the far side of the col

That nice moment when you realise that the descent you're about to do is full of deep powder

Looking back up at the col

Sharon in the fresh stuff

Me too

Sunday, 5 April 2015


The last week has seen heavy snowfall here in Cham (which we really needed) and now this is the forecast - 

Should be a good week! I missed all the powder days last week as I was doing some fine tourism and visiting family in Cambridge and Belfast but I'm now back and looking forward to making up for lost time. I didn't exactly have a bad week though....

Majestic Cambridge

The Giant's Causeway, off the Antrim coast.

The rugged beauty of Northern Ireland. This is actually where you park to climb at the legendary crag of Fairhead. I wanted to go and have a look at the routes but, lacking a guidebook, couldn't be bothered bashing around a rainy cliff top looking for them.

Signing the Peace Wall in Belfast. We did a 90 minute political tour (which turned into 2 and a half hours due to the enthusiasm of Mark, who runs NI Black Taxi Tours) and it was amazing. If you find yourself in Belfast, give Mark a shout and go on a drive with him, it was absolutely fantastic. We've decided we'll book him for a full day next time!

It had to be.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Col du Passon

After spending Friday avoiding the crowds, we spent Saturday joining them for a trip over the Col du Passon, high above the Argentiere Glacier. It wasn't actually that busy and everyone seemed to disappear once we got over the Col itself so we had a great time skiing down to Le Tour by ourselves. I'd forgotten how cool it is to be skiing perched up high above the village below and I've also remembered that the Col du Passon should make it onto the "do it every year" list. Great times.

Heading across to the start of the ascent, which begins now with a short bootpack due to the lack of snow.

Finishing the bootpack.

The final couloir up to the Col. With the benefit of hindsight, putting crampons on would have been a good idea.

Sophie on the ski down.

Sharon loving the Le Tour Glacier.

Sharon skiing next to the toe of the glacier, being watched by an admiring crowd.

Stunning glacial ice at the toe of the glacier.

Me in one of the exit couloirs (whenever I do the Col du Passon I seem to find a different exit every time).

The weather looks horrible for the next few days but there's plenty of precipitation to come so this lean winter may have some life in it yet. After a day as good as today, I certainly hope so.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Pointe Alphonse Favre, West couloir

We've had a funny weather week here in Cham, with the forecasts constantly predicting a big snowfall that never quite seems to have come. However, there has been drizzle on and off and Matt and I figured that we could find some good skiing if we avoided the crowds and found something sheltered. 

Having noticed the stunning looking line of the Pointe Alphonse Favre west couloir a while back, it had long been on the to-do list and today was the day. The weather was due to improve throughout the day so we didn't even get on the Flegere lift until 10.45 but knew we'd still be fine for time.

Not an ideal start at the Col Crochues, which was cloaked in mist.


That'll do!

Matt booting up to the Pointe Alphonse Favre on the standard approach for the Glacier Mort and NW Couloir.

Final steps to the top. The line begins where the standard Glacier Mort bootpack hits the ridge.

Boom!! The couloir looked awesome from the top and didn't disappoint.

My favourite view.

The couloir turned out to be fantastic, with a thin layer of fresh snow on a firm, consistent base.

 Me in the upper couloir. Photos Matt Livingstone.

Matt giving it beans in the lower couloir.

The line. The Col Berard is in the bottom left of the picture.

With motivation still high, we carried on down below the Col de Berard and then skinned up to the Breche de Berard.

Matt booting the final section to the Breche.

Our efforts were rewarded with another superb ski down a surprisingly quiet Berard Valley, which held plenty of decent powder, most of which was untouched. The final track out was fine too and we only walked for about 50 metres near the end.

Matt enjoying more cold smoke in the Berard Valley.

Needless to say, one of the best ski days I've had for ages was capped with a pint in Le Buet, followed by one in Les Houches. Good times.

The west couloir really should see a lot more traffic and it seems strange that the Glacier Mort was really tracked out, yet everyone who'd skied it must have walked past our line. Management speak brings me out in a rash but it's hard to avoid the old "thinking outside the box" line here :)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Argentiere Glacier Conditions

With a couple of hours free yesterday morning I nipped up the Argentiere Glacier to get some photos of conditions. Basically the skiing was pretty ropey (there was lots of fresh snow but unfortunately it had either got a wind crust or had been cooked by the sun) but climbing conditions look superb. 

The north face of Les Droites looks super fat, as does the Grand Rocheuse/Verte north face. The rock faces behind the Argentiere hut had snow on the ledges but should be good to go after a sunny day or 2. The weather looks pretty changeable for the next week or so but I don't think things will change much conditions wise for a while. 

Let's just hope we get some sun! 

The Verte/Rocheuse north face and the Grand Montets ridge.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Pila Powder

Although Chamonix was still enjoying some good weather at the start of the week, all the forecasts were calling for heavy snowfall in the southern Alps. Much of Italy, the Ecrins and the Alpes Maritimes were all expecting tons of fresh stuff and with only one day free, I opted for a quick hit to Pila, high above Aosta.

It turned out to be a pretty good shout and we enjoyed fresh powder all morning and then moved onto nice, soft pistes in the afternoon once the midday heat made the off-piste less enjoyable and more dangerous.

Skiing in Pila is pretty cool, as you can find untracked powder whilst enjoying a perfect view of a Roman city (Aosta).