Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sorry to say we were late

Since "Late to say I'm sorry" appeared in Jon Griffith's blog it has gone from obscure aid route to modern classic (Oh, to have such influence through a blog!!!) and with it looking really good right now, Tom and I were keen to get on it. Not keen on a night in the Grand Montets lift station we decided to get first lift up, figuring that if we got to the top of the diffculties in the light, we would be confident of being able to descend in the dark.
As it turned out there was a french team also going for the route and they got ahead of us whilst approaching the route. The route looked like a perfect funnel and we decided we weren't keen on climbing it with anyone above us knocking ice down and so had to find a new plan.

French team sneaking ahead!

Initially we thought about going for a look at the Petit Viking but as we were skinning up the Glacier we changed our minds and decided to ski the Col des Cristaux instead. By this stage the cold, wind and disappointment about our original plan were getting to me and I was beginning to think of an afternoon of coffee and DVDs, so I was grateful to Tom for giving me a telling off and 600mg of man up!

The bergschrund on the Cristaux is fine and the bootpack up only took an hour and bit. However, the very top section looked quite cruddy so we skied from a little col just below the main one.

I carried that headcam all the way up and then the battery died as we started the ski!


The snow was pretty variable but overall not too bad. The descent is steep (45 degrees ish) but not too steep, and it is a really nice, open face. If it was ever in powder it would amazing, but its still pretty good anyway - highly recommended.

Having failed to get on our planned route we agreed in the car that we may have to suffer a bit more for our art actually stay in a hut every now and then.
The blog is going to be quiet for a couple of weeks now as I'm off to guide Kilimanjaro. If it snows and everyone has powder days whilst I'm away I'll be furious!!!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Claire Chazal and M6 Solar

Looking for a steady day, John and I headed up on friday to do the Goulotte Claire Chazal on the Grand Montets ridge. The route is supposed to be about grade 4 and is 400 metres long so sounded like a perfect first day out for a while. The route took a bit of finding but we soon found ourselves shooting up some nice easy ice and snow and towards the crux section higher up.

John heading up the lower section.
The route finding became quite tricky higher up but we eventually found the crux corner, which when plastered with ice would be pretty steady. However, it was essentially dry, save for some small blobs of ice in the crack. Not wanting to give in that easily I headed up and made it up after a bit of a battle. John (who knows about these things) reckonned it was "hard Scottish 6" so don't get on it if you're looking for grade 4!

John following the crux.
The route finishes with 60 metres of ice, which is briefly near vertical but mainly pretty straight forward. The abs down went fine and we were soon back in Cham with a brew in hand. Great day.
Today (saturday) Peter and I went up the Midi hoping to do the Pelissier Gully on the Lachenal. However, Ben and Shaun beat us to it so we decided to get on M6 Solar on the same face.
The ice varied between really good neve and unconsolidated snow, with the latter being more common! After 3 pitches of thrutching and dry tooling we decided lunch in the sun was preferable to carrying on, and so headed back down.

Thrutching conditons on M6 Solar are currently superb.
Once back at the skis we had a good look around and I was blown away by how much looked good. The Gabarrou and Modica both look unbelievably fat and the Supercouloir looks as fat as I have ever seen it. Meanwhile some steep skiing nutters were climbing the Jager couloir and presumably about to head straight back down it.
Having finished gawping and making unrealistic climbing plans we set off down the Vallee Blanche for the first time this year. I had been told to head across to the Italian side and ski the right hand side of the Geant icefall and this proved to be good advice. The snow is ok in the shade, but coverage is poor and there are a lot of crevasses. We found a good line down but it all felt much more serious than usual, and it would not be a great idea to fall given the hardness of the snow and the holes everywhere. Once back at the Salle a Manger we had a great ski down to Montenvers, where the infamous steps awaited! I really think you've reached the peak of physical fitness when you're not buggered after carrying your skis up to the telecabine.

Conditions might not have been vintage but it was still great to ski the VB - I always forget how good it is. In an attempt to sound hardcore some people give it a hard time but don't listen, its an amazing experience no matter how many times you do it.
Just let it snow again before you do it this year!

Supercouloir looking amazing.
Gabarrou Albinoni and the Modica Noury both looking great and with plenty of people on them.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The joys of new routing.

Tom and I had originally planned to get on something big on sunday but given that it was absolutely freezing and forcast to get colder, we went for the "it'll be there next year" option in order to save our fingers and toes.
Instead we decided to go and have a look at a new line I'd scoped when ski touring last winter. I was amazed no-one had spotted it, but a good look through the OHM and all the guidebooks I could find suggested that the line was untouched.
However, having toured up for a few hours with climbing packs we were disappointed to see that it was not quite formed. It was possibly climbable but would be desperate and given that standing still for 5 mintues gave us both numb feet, we didn't fancy the long belay duty that would have been necessary.
I obviously can't reveal the location of the line but all will soon revealed when we go back and do it!
Conditions in the Argentiere basin currently look amazing, with the north face of the Droites and the Lagarde looking perfect. The Swiss route on Les Courtes looks good up to half way but a bit thin after that - give it another month. If it just warms up a bit I'll get on something!

Inversion from the top of Grand Montets.
North East and north faces of Les Courtes

Les Droites

Lycra at minus 29!!!! I bet he didn't hang around long!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Enough is enough

Enough beating round the bush - we need some snow!!! Whilst some of the north facing stuff is quite nice and chalky, there is a massive lack of snow right now and despite my best efforts I've been struggling to find anything good to slide around on.
On thursday Owen and I had a couple of runs off the top of Grand Montets and it wasn't great(although the views were), and then today Vicks and I skied at Le Tour and it felt like skiing down an ice climb, albeit with amazing views again.
If you're looking for snow now it will have to be north facing and high to stand a chance. That said we may be skiing something up the Argentiere Glacier tomorrow if its too cold to climb...
I wonder if a snow dance would work?
Soemtimes it's nice to do something for charity, such as taking a boarder out. Owen with the north face of Les Droites behind.
A potentially good view if this hardcore Swedish skier wasn't in the way!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Frendo Ravanel's overlord Jack Geldard recently made the wise decision to spend a winter in Chamonix and being a big fan of this blog, he was obviously keen to make his debut. We discussed skiing the Couturier but in the end decided to go climbing and opted for the Frendo Ravanel on the Grand Montets ridge. Access is so easy that you don't even need to ski uphill to get to it or away from it! Furthermore it is vaguely technical but not hard and has a nice easy ab descent. Bomber.

Looking up at the first vaguely technical section
The day didn't get off to a flyer when we got beaten to the route so we opted to do Farraron, just next to the Frendo. However, in the process of trying to get on the route a snow bridge collapsed and I fell in the bergschrund! Oops. Luckily I simultaneously face planted a lower snow bridge and the rope came tight so no harm done other than to my ego. Eventually we walked over to where the Frendo starts and decided to stick with the original plan.
The route starts with some easy snow plodding and easy ice up to about 60 degrees. There is then a little tricky step up thin ice and then some more snow and finally a crux section of about 60m of Scottish grade 5 ice. We moved together the whole way and didn't find much gear (ie. only the in situ belays for most of the way) but the ice is so good it would be tough to fall off.
 Sponsored hero caught on camera seconding!

                           That's more like it. Heading up the crux.
It was absolutely arctic today and we kept moving all day but didn't bother with the final 250 metres of snow up to the ridge, so do we get the tick? Also, we made the unusual decision not to time our ascent and so can't tell you how incredibly quick we were but honestly, we were flying, you should have seen it.COLD!!!!
Having done the abs we had a short downclimb back to the skis and were back at the car in plenty of time after a good fun ski down some "variable" snow.
Time for a brew.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

NE face of Les Courtes and more Courmayeur

In the search for good snow, Owen and I headed to Courmayeur on thursday expecting the usual epic condtions. Several problems arose however. Firstly, both of us had a extremely enjoyable and sociable evening on wednesday night, meaning that it was almost 2pm before we actually clicked into the skis. Secondly, conditions weren't great. Hard to believe in Courmayeur but I'm afraid it was true, and the snow was pretty heavy even off the Arp. Still, we had a couple of fun runs off the Arp and Youla, and finished the day drinking a beer and looking at Mont Blanc so a good day despite the average snow.


Today (saturday) Tom and I decided to go up Grand Montets and ski something steep. The north facing slopes are usually skied in March and April, but with a lack of snow and unseasonably warm temperatures we figured that there was a reasonable chance they would be good. 

The first good news we got was that high traverse was in, so we skied downhill until right under the north face of the Droites, saving ages compared to skinning up. The next bit of good news was that plenty looks in really good condition. Everything on the north face of the Grand Rocheuse and the Aiguille Verte look amazingly fat, including the Couturier, Bettembourg, Vivegel, Late to Say I'm Sorry etc. The routes on the Grand Montets ridge also look good, and there was an amazing amount of people climbing them. Finally, the headwall on the Droites looks good but the icefield looks a bit black so best to leave it a bit longer. The Lagarde Direct looks good though, and the Swiss Route on the Courtes looks like it is getting there, so it could be an amazing winter!

A busy day on the Grand Montets ridge.

We soon found ourselves under the immense NE face of Les Courtes and with a group of 5 people ahead of us to put the track in, that was decision made, so we began the slog up to the Bergschrund.

Tom approaching the NE face. The ski descent basically goes straight down the middle of the wide gully splitting the face.

The boot pack was ok, but given that I haven't been above 3000 metres since November, it provided a fair bit of suffering! It is also quite exposed but essentially impossible to protect, so anyone looking to ski the face would need to be very comfortable soloing Scottish 2 for 700m. It's not exactly a ski resort up there!

As it turned out the group ahead of us was comprised of the superstars of Chamonix skiing, so whilst we were climbing up they skied past us and showed us how it should be done. I have to admit that it was frankly humbling to see the speed and control shown by them, but also pretty inspiring.

This is how it should be done.

Having eventually reached the col that marks the top of the face, we were rewarded with awesome views across the Vallee Blanche and to Mont Blanc. However, the fact that we were about to drop into what is described in the ski guidebook as "true extreme skiing", and hadn't skied anything remotely steep since April, meant that the view got somewhat ignored in favour of getting psyched up!
 Tom dropping in. The face is pretty exposed, and from the second you drop in until the end, you can see all the way down to the glacier.

One of those "put up or shut up" moments.

The drop in is currently quite icy so we were pretty cautious over the first 50 metres and did a bit of side slipping where necessary. After that the snow is pretty good - firm in places and soft in others but grippy throughout, which is exactly what we were after. Once we'd skied the first couple of pitches we really began to enjoy ourselves and confidence and smiles grew as we made our way down to the glacier below. By the end, we were giving it plenty of american style "whoops" as we had the face to ourselves in good conditions - an awesome experience.

 At the foot of the face and heading for a beer.

Homeward bound.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Busy Weekend

Despite a poor forecast, I was pretty confident of getting plenty done this weekend and so it proved but it wasn't quite as planned. Friday looked like it would be dire so Peter and I stuck to a day skiing the lifts but as it turned out the sun was shining most of the day and we maybe could have climbed. The skiing was ok, but with it having rained up to 2500 metres (!) you needed to go high and have a bit of local knowledge to find any good snow but we managed it, skiing off the Herse lift at Grand Montets.
  Peter's skis after going on a little run of their own!!!

Saturday was also forecast as poor so Tom and I headed over to Courmayeur for some more skiing. Courmayeur is usually amazing and it delivered yet again! We skiied a couple of tree lines in the morning then in the afternoon we headed up the Arp and the Youla and were rewarded with some amazing skiing and incredible views. It was a couple of very tired but happy skiers who finally got back to the car as night fell.

Watch your pole straps don't get caught in your ABS handle....
Top the Arp
Another gentle run from Tom

Finally, we decided to give climbing a go on sunday. We had initially hoped to head to the back of the Argentiere basin for a look at the Charlet Ghilini, but the sheer amount of snow that had fallen soon put us off that idea. Looking for something a bit closer we went to have a look at the routes on the Grand Montets ridge but they all looked pretty buried under snow and uninviting. We couldn't help noticing how good the snow in the Chevalier couloir looked though... However, after plodding up to the couloir for 10 minutes or so, we began to have our doubts about snow stability, and being armed only with climbing kit and no avalanche gear besides transceivers we backed off.

It's a "Non" to the Chevalier

I think that when the weather settles down some of the big ski lines may be in excellent condition. Things like the Chevalier, Col des Cristaux etc. are usually mid to late winter lines but I think they could be good soon. Here's hoping!

Having finally accepted that we wouldn't be getting any alpine routes done this weekend we settled for some dry tooling at Le Fayet, which was as savage as ever.

Finally, I have been experimenting more with my headcam so here is my first go at a skiing video, plus a bit of cheeky dry tooling thrown in for good measure at the end.

Untitled from Charlie Boscoe on Vimeo.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy New Year!

I got back to Cham 5 days ago and have been having a good look around so here goes for a first update.

The lift served skiing is currently pretty average but coverage is ok on all areas. I managed a quick bash around Grand Montets and Le Tour on my first day back but nothing else just yet. The next day I was working in Courchevel and they don’t have a huge amount of snow either, so that made me feel better about our lack of the white stuff. I also had a ski at Samoens with Tim and Nick on New Year’s Day and the Grand Massif is also short of snow, but the previous night’s excesses meant that I was more than happy not to have to go anywhere scarier than a red run that day!!!
New Year's Day at Samoens - a good hangover cure.

Basically it seems that the whole of the Alps needs a good snowfall as we now have a good base for it to sit on. Last year the snow didn’t arrive until even later and it ended up being a great ski winter so don’t lose heart!

I haven’t been climbing up high just yet but Damien and Marty reported good conditions on the Petit Viking last week, and also said the Gabarrou Albinoni looked very fat when they skied across to Helbronner the next day. There are also good reports about the Frendo Ravanel on the Grand Montets ridge, and the North face of the Droites looks good although I haven’t heard of anyone climbing it. All in all plenty to go at but the Vallee Blanche is apparently still quite heavily crevassed so it might be worth waiting until another snowfall before counting on getting down easily after doing a route up there.

Valley ice isn’t really my strong point but Cogne apparently has plenty to go at and it sounds like some of the other routes in the Aosta Valley are getting done, as are the more reliable Argentiere icefalls like the EMHM.

 Col des Montets is also OK, and Emma and I went up and did La Colonne, the classic of the crag and pretty bang on its grade of 4+ right now. La Micro Goulotte currently looks very, very thin, but Les Torrents has been climbed a few times, albeit in quite lean condition.
Emma finising La Colonne - not a bad effort for someone whos never ice climbed!!

Abbing off La Colonne