Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cosmiques Arete, Pointes Lachenal & Montenvers Slabs

As is normal for May, conditions are pretty mixed in Cham right now with all sorts of weather, and a lot of snow still left on the ground. May is basically not a classic month, but with a bit of local knowledge it is still possible to get things done in the mountains.

Sunday saw Sharon and I climbing the Cosmiques Arete in perfect conditions, which made me remember just what a great route it is...if you get it when it’s quiet. The crux of the route is usually avoiding the crowds, but an afternoon start and climbing in inter-season usually guarantees solitude and so it was on Sunday.

Hero shots on the Cosmiques

On Monday Tom and I skied into the Pointes Lachenal for some granite climbing and got half a dozen pitches done under perfect blue skies. We backed off one route as it was still wet and then got lost on the Contamine route (despite having done it together a few years back), so all in all not a great success but fun all the same. The VB is just skiable right now but we opted to skin back up to the Midi, which only took an hour.

A good ice screw belay on the Pointes Lachenal

Tom sending

And making a bit of a meal out of a pitch on the Contamine. Just pull harder!

The forecast looked pretty shaky for today (Tuesday) so Peter and I opted to go and have a look at the Michel Piola area on the Montenvers slabs. The area is at the top of the final ladder before the Mer de Glace so the approach is quick and easy, and the climbing is excellent too. We did the 3 pitch “Buddha Bar” and also the first pitch of “Vertical Tango” before scurrying away as the wind picked up. I’ve walked past the slabs many times before and never given them a second thought, but I think the next time there is a half day window of good weather I’ll be back up there, it really is as good and stress free as cragging gets, and all set in an amazing situation.

Peter seconding "Vertical Tango" (6b+)

Me abbing off "Buddha Bar" (6a). The 2nd pitch goes up the orange streak to the right of the wall above me. Pic Peter Riley.

More unsettled conditions are looming now, but that’s May for you. Bring on summer!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Tour Ronde & Leschaux Hut

With winter seemingly back in full swing, Will, Blaine, Gilles and I headed up the Midi on Thursday morning along with all the other Chamonix “locals” in search of good skiing. Most people were heading for the classics such as the Ronde & Cosmiques but with a couple of good days forecast we’d decided on a 2 day link up, starting with the Gervasutti Couloir on the Tour Ronde.

Easy skinning, Mont Blanc behind.

Looking up the Gervasutti as the others push on.

The approach to the line is pretty easy, and after 45 minutes of steady skinning we were swapping into crampons for the bootpack. However, as soon as we started climbing it was obvious that conditions were awful – a thick crust on top of powder. I wasn’t keen to put in the effort of climbing up only to be rewarded with a steep and scary ski down crust, so I downclimbed from mid way up the Couloir and left the other 3 to it.

At the top of the Gervasutti the Couloir joins the north face route, which already had tracks down it and which we’d seen people climbing up with skis on their backs earlier in the day, so my mates were going to decide which line to ski when they got up there. When they did arrive some people had just dropped into the north face, and after 4 turns one of them fell whilst still high on the upper snowfield. Only Will actually saw him tumbling, but the other guys had seen 4 people skiing only to turn back and see 3 a few seconds later.
Understandably this destroyed any psyche for the north face and they decided to come back down the Gervasutti even though conditions were worse. Will had called mountain rescue from the top of the north face and by the time we were all reunited the helicopter had come and gone. Gilles spoke to his friend in the mountain rescue later in the day and it turned out that the guy who fell was dead by the time the chopper got there.

This coupled with sky-high temperatures meant that we were all felt pretty freaked out and not very interested in seeking out any steep skiing. Still, having brought plenty of food we decided to carry on to the Leschaux hut as planned, and just enjoy the views. We were all pretty low about what had just happened, but I for one was keen to just stay in the mountains for the night and have a good old think about things. As it turned out the Leschaux is a perfect place for a chilled night in the hills, and we had an great evening looking at the view and chatting away.

Gilles and Will skiing away

Blaine approaching the Leschaux hut. Note the huge avalanche debris.

Will climbing the ladders to the hut, Grand Jorasses and yet more avalanche debris behind.

Sunset views.

This morning (Friday) the temperatures were still high so we just skied down to Montenvers and then walked down the tracks back to town (the train being closed due to storm damage from a few weeks back). 
There is still a huge amount of snow up high, but it feels like winter underfoot and summer in the air. Fresh snow, incredibly high temperatures (30 celsius in town today), and avalanche debris everywhere and on virtually all aspects tells you everything you need to know.

Climbing the Montenvers ladders carrying/wearing ski kit - fun for all the family.

The Montenvers train was closed but there were some Compagnie du Mont Blanc staff up there having a BBQ so although they couldn't give us a ride down, they did provide us all with a glass of wine! Sante.

I’m sure I’ll be reading blogs over the next few days about people doing some great skiing, but you have to honour what is right for you, and playing it safe and leaving the skiing to someone else for a few days is right for me. I’m really keen to ski more but I’ve had an amazing winter and I’m not prepared to take massive risks to eek out a few extra days. There is plenty of dry rock, and there will be even more if it stays this warm, so with lots more sunshine forecast my advice is to play it safe and enjoy the first real taste of summer. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cosmiques Couloir

Looks like it might still be winter after all! Whilst I’ve been busy dodging rain in the Valley for a week or so, it has been snowing in the mountains so I headed up the Midi on Monday with Jack and Tom for a look at the classic Cosmiques couloir. As it turned out, conditions couldn’t really have been any better, and we skied the whole run all the way down to the Bossons Glacier in light, boot-deep powder. Wow. One of the best runs of winter and it’s the second week in May!

Jack abbing in

Tom on the lower section

Skiing out along the Bossons Glacier.

From the bottom of the couloir it was simply a case of shuffling and traversing back to the Plan de L’Aiguille for a well earned can of coke.

Some very snowy looking Aiguilles

Jack under the Midi N face

Tom negotiating one of the trickier sections on the way back to the mid station.

Amazing views, beer, chocolate biscuits and a dog to play football with - a perfect end to the day.

Even though the snow we had was amazing, temperatures at this time of year are pretty high, meaning that things can get dangerous in the afternoon heat, and conditions can vary hugely from one day to the next as the snow gets transformed so rapidly in the heat of the sun. As a result I can’t vouch for conditions in the Cosmiques now, but it just goes to show that if you get up and down early and pick your lines carefully then the ski season still has a long time to run.

Cheers Jack & Tom for an immense day, here’s to plenty more before winter (finally!) ends.

You've got to love Cham.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

More funny weather

The last week in Cham has seen continued unsettled weather, but that has meant that I’ve had a really diverse few days. Believe it or not, Tom, Peter and I managed to ski some amazing powder on May 1st at Grand Montets. It only lasted until 1pm, but still, powder straight off the lifts in May!

1st of May powder!

Since then my skis have been away and whilst other people have skied some good lines, I’ve been sticking to rock climbing. Matt and I had a day at the Vallon du Passet “grand” crag above Barberine, climbing “Mille et Une Pattes” (6a, 350m). The route was frankly pretty rubbish, with some good climbing but plenty of loose bits and a grim abseil descent which takes you down a loose, wet gully. Overall, not a glowing recommendation! I’ve done “Tout ca pour ca” on the same crag though, and that was much better.

Matt on the Vallon du Passet Grand.

We then had a day cragging in Martigny which was great, and I’ve also snuck in a couple of days at Gaillands and a trip to the Col des Montets boulders, which always provide incredible views and a decent workout. There is still a metre of snow up there too so it was like having a built in bouldering mat around all the routes!

Nice views in Martigny.

Sharon bouldering at the Col des Montets

Me on "Barracuda" at Gaillands. Photo Tom Moores.

It looks like Monday could be a good day so I need to make a plan...