Sunday, 17 May 2015

Viking Skiing - The Troll Peninsula of Iceland

After a decent start to April, the ski season then seemed to splutter to an end in Chamonix, with very warm weather being followed by a few days of heavy rain, even at altitude. I've got no interest in skiing the north face of the Midi so even if good conditions returned high up for the steep skiers, my season looked like it was done by the last week in April.

However, Matt was keen for a final trip and after a bit of scouting around we found ridiculously cheap flights to Reykjavik and so got them booked, just a week before the departure date. It's not often that the combination of sufficient funds, time, suitable partners etc. all come together to allow a last minute trip to happen so we were both chuffed that it had worked out. There was the small issue of information, of which we had none, but we'd heard that the Troll Peninsula (on the north coast of the island) was a ski touring mecca so we just booked a hire car and figured we'd work it out when we got there.

To say that the Troll Peninsula delivered would be an understatement; the skiing is absolutely mind blowing. The terrain is undoubtedly the best I've ever seen for what I want to ski (anything fun looking and between 30 and 45 degrees) and the access is amazingly easy. We never got our hands on a guidebook or anything resembling a decent map, we just drove along the road each day and headed up whatever looked appealing. It would be no exaggeration to say that there are several hundred roadside couloirs and despite getting ropey weather (it was overcast until the last day) we did some fantastic skiing every day we were there. Perhaps the best thing about the Troll is that there is nobody there; it's not quiet, it's deserted. Until the last day, we saw no sign of skiers whatsoever and basically had the peaks to ourselves. There's a heli ski operation in the interior of the peninsula but we didn't see any sign of their presence. Overall, an amazing and all-too-short trip, we're already looking at dates for next year.

Anyway, enough chat, here's the photos. Click on any of them to see them full size. Thanks to Matt for the ones he provided.

The inevitable start to any trip with Matt

 First impressions of Iceland were good - this is a section of the main highway which circumnavigates the whole country. It's a bit late in the year for the stuff in the south of the island but I think that if you went in March, you could probably see a skiable couloir from just about any section of road in rural Iceland.

Looks like we're taking the coast road!

On our first night we stayed in a random hotel halfway between Reykjavik and Akureryi (Iceland's second biggest town and our base for the week) and I found this in the DVD collection. I was surprised it only got a "12" rating judging by the cover.

More views on the drive the next morning.

Our first glimpse of the snowy mountains.

The Troll Peninsula from Akureyri harbour.

After reaching Akureryi that morning, we went for a skin up through the ski area of Hlíðarfjall (which is now closed for the season) and up to the peak behind it called Hardarvarda. This pylon made for a cold but scenic drink spot.

Me skiing back to the car with "The Birmingham of Iceland" (Akureyri is Iceland's second city after all) below me.

The next day dawned murky but after a short drive we found this awesome looking tongue of snow between 2 peaks and so skinned up it to the ridgeline before skiing down in a mixture of powder and spring snow.

The first pitch of the ridgeline provided some brilliant powder. I'm still not sure this stacked image works but I like it anyway.

Matt lower down on the tongue of snow which led us back to the car. Skiing these amazing tongues was one of the highlights of the trip and every day finished with us skiing increasingly narrow strips of snow past grazing cattle and horses. We saw one tongue on the way back to Reykjavik that was about 2 km long and we almost decided to sack off our flight just to go and ski it!

Matt further down on the tongue.

Me enjoying a final few turns before the road.

On our third day we skied the couloir in the middle of this shot and it was as good as it looks.

Matt bootpacking.

Scouting out the next day's objective. We ended up skiing the couloir directly above the car's logo and also the one to the right of the photo, above the right hand door. A big day but so worth it.

Matt enjoying the right hand line.

Matt still enjoying it lower down. A better attempt at a stack photo, if I may say so myself.

Me reaching the top of the bootpack for the second time, ready for another line.

On the steeper, left hand line.

Matt was determined to find some 50 degree snow and get a photo of his inclinometer on it so that the cool cats of Cham would think we were hardcore. It took a bit of "persuasion" for the read-out to creep over 50 but we got it in the end.

Me on said steep section.

 Matt too.

Another view of our 2 runs.

The fifth day was fairly grim so we went for an explore to the north of the Peninsula. Just about visible on this shot if you click on it is the tiny town of Ólafsfjörður,
 which, much like Akureyri, has several hundred good ski touring options above it.

We had a quick ski on the way home before hitting the Akureryi nightlife - 


A standard Akureryi vehicle. I want one.

The final day was due to be sunny so we decided to ski the notoriously stunning Kaldbakur, a 1200 metre summit with views across the whole Peninsula. Our landlord (Benedikt, owner of the excellent Fannagil apartments) warned us that the peak was popular but assured us that the views were worth the crowds. He's obviously not skied in the Alps much because we didn't see a soul all day. 
Busy is clearly a relative term.

A pleasant parking spot.

An even better lunch spot.

Matt nearing the top.

Final steps.

Digging out the summit book.

Matt above where we dropped in. Quite a place!

Me dropping in, with Matt failing to figure out that his shadow was in the shot.

First turns.

Matt giving it beans a bit lower down.

Me doing much the same.

Mellow spring snow to finish.

Matt taking one last look at the view before we headed home.

What a trip, I'm going back next year. And the one after that. And the one after that too. And probably the next one as well.

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