Saturday, 29 September 2012

Perrons de Vallorcine traverse

With snow down to around 1600m and only one good day forecast, John Vincent and I were scratching our heads for an objective on Friday and eventually decided to go for a look at the Perrons de Vallorcine traverse. The Perrons are the peaks immediately left of the Emosson Dam (as you look at it from Vallorcine), just over the Swiss border, and the traverse of them is pretty steady but (according to Matt and Gary) absolutely amazing, with easy scrambling in a fantastic position. We weren't sure that the route would be dry, but with no other ideas of what to do with the day, we took a chance and went for a look. 

From the Emosson dam we were pleased to see that the route was dry, although it did look an awful long way away! The walk in is indeed pretty long but it didn't help that we completely missed the key path and ended up scrambling for 2 hours up a combination of heather, steep grass and broken rock. You can't win them all.

Looking up at the Pointe du Van from the Emosson Dam

Eventually we found ourselves on the ridge below the Pointe du Van, and were soon on top and looking at the Perrons traverse. (The guidebook describes an approach which takes you around the Pointe du Van but if you go over it you theoretically get more scrambling and less walking. It does rather depend on finding the path though...) As Matt had mentioned, the traverse looks pretty long and difficult from the start, and when John asked whether I'd brought a headtorch, I wasn't sure if he was joking. I'd been assured though that looks are deceiving, and that every section looks like it's going to be death defying and then turns out to be easy.

Reaching the top of the Grand Perron is pretty steady, and a few abseils then lead down to the foot of the Pointe Vouilloz. Matt and Gary had apparently soloed every inch of the route (save for the abseils), but unfortunately the initial section on the Vouilloz is on the N face, and was covered in snow when we got there, so we had to use some time roping up and then climbing some low angled but slippery slabs, before rejoining the ridge and following more easy terrain to the summit.

Me on the easy scrambling on the Grand Perron

John heading for the Grand Perron

Me enjoying some warm rock climbing on the N face of the Pointe Vouilloz. Photo John Vincent.

COLD HANDS!!! Photo John Vincent.

John emerging back into the sun, with the Grand Perron behind. 

Back on steady terrain, but still on the chilly N face.

From the top of the Grand Perron, there are a couple of very exposed abseils, and the key is to go from the first bolted belay down to the next bolted belay, and skip out the crappy tat around a block which is about 10m down the first abseil. The supposed "crux" of the route is climbing up to the Ifala, the final peak on the ridge. Once again the N side was snowy and so we had to rope up briefly to regain the ridge, but I think that slightly steeper nature of the rock made it easier than the earlier slabs on the Grand Perron. Once back on the ridge of the Ifala there is some easy but exposed scrambling to the summit, et voila!

Me on the final summit ridge. Photo John Vincent.

On top of the Ifala, looking back at the traverse.

Despite getting hopelessly lost on the approach, we were on the summit less than 5.5 hours after leaving the car, which seemed ridiculous when we got to the Pointe du Van as the route just looks so unlikely. It makes a nice change for things to look much harder than they turn out to be, and even after finishing the route it seems amazing that you could have covered the ground so fast.

Unfortunately the descent is a bit of a grind, and it took us nearly 2 hours despite going constantly and not making any route finding errors, but with the amazing views and with a great route in the bag it doesn't seem too much of a chore.

The route has amazing views from start to finish.

Looking up at the traverse from the walk out.

Overall this is a fantastic route, particularly in autumn when the trees are brown, the high mountains often out of condition, and the cable cars shutting down. It looks impossible from below, and even when you're on the route, but it is always pretty easy and takes in some great scrambling in an unbelievably exposed position, with great views in all directions. I leave for Nepal on Tuesday, and if this is last thing I do this summer then I'll be happy. Thanks John for a great day and thanks to Matt and Gary for the beta. A good topo can be found here -  - so there are no excuses left for anyone not to do this route!

The Emosson Lake late in the day.

Unfortunately this is going to be another post with a sad finish, as more bad news has come out of Nepal in the last couple of days. I didn't know anyone in the plane crash, but a couple of the people killed were raising money for Bolton Lads and Girls Club, a great cause and one I've had a slight involvement with as I went to school in Bolton and earlier this year led a trip to Morocco where everyone was raising money for the club. I know a few people who are heavily involved in fundraising for the club, and I'm thinking of them today. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Saas Fee skiing, Passy Via Ferrata & sad news from Nepal

The weather here in Cham is frankly awful right now, with heavy rain bouncing down outside and no sign of a let up. However, the end of last week was pretty good, and Tom and I went over to Saas Fee to once again make the most of the free lift passes. Unfortunately the summer skiing isn't included, but we were aiming for 4000ers anyway, so it was no great problem. 

It turned out that there was a lot more snow in Cham than in Saas, so we didn't find much great skiing and did plenty of walking in ski boots, but had a good time and scoped out some ideas for next winter...

Me skiing off the top of the Allallinhorn. Photo Tom Grant

The weekend saw more unsettled weather, so Sharon and I shot out during a clear spell to go do the Passy Via Ferrata. I'd never done a via ferrata but thought it was fun, and well worth knowing about if there's a few hours spare and you need some exercise. 

Sharon on the Passy Via Ferrata

The dreaded foehn wind is said to be arriving this week, which as ever will bring warm temperatures to all altitudes and make everything pretty unpredictable and unsettled. Bugger. It looks like tomorrow and Wednesday could be OK though so let's see.

Finishing on a sad note, it seems that Cham has probably lost 2 great skiers over in Nepal, with the disappearance of Remy Lecluse and Greg Costa. I didn't know either of them but had chatted to Remy before and found him a really personable and friendly guy, and he was without doubt one of the most accomplished skiers in Chamonix, which is saying something. The news from Nepal, plus the death of Stephane Brosse in May means that it's been a bad year for french extreme skiing, with 2 of it's greatest names being lost in the space of 6 months. Skiing will carry on regardless but the sport, and Cham, will be poorer for this news. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Random Routes

Over the course of summer I've done quite a few things which haven't made it onto here for various reasons, so here is a very random selection of routes and a bit of info on them. Most of them are not glowing recommendations, which I guess is why I didn't get round to blogging about them, but I suppose that knowing which routes are bad is as important as knowing which ones are good. 

"Les Copains d'Abord". 6a, 450m. Samoens, Haute Savoie.

This 19 pitch route had been on my "save it for the right day" list for ages, and after snow down to 2000m in early September Matt and I went to check it out. The first pitch has a frankly desperate move, but the proximity of the bolts at that bit suggests that combined tactics are normally used. I was leading and duly pulled on the bolt. Matt was very disapproving but then after much shenanigans he did the same thing, much to my delight. The rest of the route is pretty broken, and although it features some good climbing, the sections of clean rock are so short and the grassy ledges so frequent that I can't really recommend the climb. The descent is also a bit of a pain as there is only the vaguest of paths to follow and it takes quite a good nose to find the way down. All in all not great, but we moved together virtually the whole way and so got a good work out and saw a new area - shame it doesn't have much good climbing.

The following are all in the Aiguilles Rouges, and accessed from the Brevent/Flegere lift sytem.

"Label Virginie", 5+, D+, 250m. Clocher de Planpraz.

Taking the same good rock as "Cocher Cochon", this is a slightly easier route, but good all the same. It is slightly more broken that "Cocher Cochon", and the route isn't quite so obvious, but it features some good climbing all the same, and finishes (if you have time) with the ever fun Clocher Clochetons traverse.

"Voie Gaspard 1er", 6a, D+, 200m. Pointe Gaspard.

A known classic, this route was a bit of a let down. Some of the climbing is excellent but the bolting is poor, with the first bolt of some pitches being 7 or 8 metres up, and with some traversing sections being impossible to protect for the second. The Pointe Gaspard is good summit though, and you could combine it with an ascent of the Aiguilles Crochues.

"Au bord de gouffre", 6a+, TD, 200m. La Cathedrale.

A route with some great climbing, but also some quite loose rock. Most of the pitches are great, but one of the towers at the top of the route, which you're supposed to jump between (The "Carl Lewis moves" as they're described in the guidebook) has completely disappeared, which must have been pretty spectacular when it happened. Not bad overall, worth a half day.

"La Fontes de Jouvance", 5c+, TD, 240m. Aiguille Pourrie.

Another route which has some good climbing but is let down by some loose sections. The final pitch is good but there are plenty of unnattached holds, so pay attention. The traverse to the Col de la Gliere is great though.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tronchey Ridge, Grandes Jorasses

After a huge amount of snow fell above 2500m last week, options for big routes were limited but Peter and I figured that if we could come up with something south facing then we might be in luck. After discussing various options we decided that the wild and remote Tronchey ridge (V, 4c, M3+, TD, 950m) on the Grandes Jorasses might fit the bill. Tom Grant did it last year and said it was great, so on his advice we drove through the tunnel and started the long slog up to the Jacchia bivouac hut. 

This hut is surely one of the most remote in the massif, and certainly one of the least visited, with people sleeping in it on average 3 or 4 nights every year. Having done the climb up to it I can see why, as it is a real grind, with virtually no path marking, some loose rock and some slabby scrambling which would be extremely difficult to descend. It's quite a strange feeling to arrive at a hut at the start of a route and feel like you're committed already! The hut is amazing though, perched high on a ridge between 2 rarely visited valleys, and with unbelievable views across to the Gran Paradiso, Valais and Zermatt areas.

All photos Peter Riley -

Me heading up to the hut. I said to Peter that it was no fun and all toil, and he likened it to "being one of them  Roman slaves - rowing a boat while some c*** whips you". I can put it no better.

View of the Tronchey from the hut

The hut as seen from the Aiguille de l'Eveque

Sunset from the hut

With the hut (unsurprisingly) to ourselves  we both slept really well and by sunrise had made good time over the Aiguille de Tronchey and were in the breche below it. The initial ground was quite loose, but nothing too bad, and it stayed that way as we passed the first and second towers on rock of varying quality. By the time we reached the spur coming down from the third tower we were moving really well, and had high hopes of being on the summit by early afternoon. However, on the first pitch of the spur Peter was rocking over onto a block when it came off, and he took a pretty decent leader fall. My belay was frankly awful (a sling optimistically put around a loose block), and he only had one small cam in, so it was quite a relief (and a surprise!) when he gingerly pulled himself back up to me (he'd fallen past the belay) and announced that he was OK. I dived out of the way when he fell so didn't see where he went, but it seems he landed on his feet, fell backwards, and the block shot past him and off into the abyss below. Lucky bugger! He wanted to "get back on the horse" and so resumed his lead, and was fine for the rest of the day except for a sore ankle, and a bruised arse. They make them tough in Sheffield.

Me on the ridge at sunrise

Looking forward to the sun reaching us!

The sun hitting the upper part of the Tronchey

The 3 pitches up to the third tower are certainly the best on the route, and then they lead into a tough traverse across the top of the Jorasses E face. Both of us led loose, snowy traverse pitches which were often more harrowing to second than to lead, and we eventually found ourselves at the bottom of a long snow couloir leading up the top part of the E face. Having faffed about for ages trying to find a way through the maze of icy slabs on the upper E face, it was great to suddenly make really good time again, and I was glad that I'd taken 2 axes as I could lead the couloir with no gear but the security of my axes, and Peter got a tight rope. Taking 2 axes seemed a bit excessive when I first thought about it, but given that we had virtually no info on the route, and no idea what conditions would be like, it seemed like a good way to ensure that we could climb just about anything, and so it proved.

Me belaying on the traverse below the third tower

Once onto the E ridge proper the rock becomes truly awful, but it's mercifully only a short distance from there to the summit. Reaching the top was amazing having seen the Jorasses so many times from all around the Massif, and to do it by such an "out there" route made it even sweeter. Neither of us had much of an idea about the descent though, so we barely paused for a photo and were on our way down.


You can go down directly from Pointe Walker (the highest summit), but this involves traversing under the mother of all seracs, so we decided to take the option of traversing across to Pointe Whymper and descending down the Rocher de Whymper ridge. This cost us about an hour, but if a serac carves off it will cost you a lot more than just time, so we were happy to swap time for less hazard. The descent is indeed as involved and long as everyone says, but we got it done and were back at the car the next morning.

At the Boccolatte hut

Overall we felt that the climbing on the route is not great (save for a handful of pitches below the third tower) but it is an amazing adventure. The difficulty of retreat and the feeling of remoteness makes this a pretty major undertaking, but well worth the effort for the more adventurous alpinists out there.

The weather has broken in Cham now, so I've been happily sitting on the couch. Is it wrong to hope it stays this way for a few days longer?!?!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Petit Clocher du Portalet SE Ridge

With a couple of days of semi clear weather, Peter and I decided to head up to the Orny hut and do some granite cragging on our first day, followed by the uber classic SE Ridge on the Petit Clocher du Portalet. 

For our cragging we went over to the very convenient Aiguille de la Cabane, and did a couple of really nice routes on the perfect granite.

All Photos Peter Riley - 

Me pulling hard on the Aiguille de la Cabane

The next morning we were up and away by 6.30, and feeling slightly worse for wear after getting stuck into the hut's wine supplies the night before....

Me walking in

Petit Clocher du Portalet at sunrise

The walk in is pretty involved, with some boulder hopping and some exposed traversing near the end, but only takes about 90 minutes. From there the SE Ridge is a classic route, consisting mainly of steep crack climbing. Followers of this blog will know that steep cracks are not exactly my specialty, and what with Peter having been the one who suggested the route and him being much keener on it than me, it was agreed after the first (sandbag) pitch that I might be most useful being a passenger and carrying the food and water. This arrangement suited both of us, and the route passed quickly and without any dramas. The climbing is mainly superb, albeit fairly harshly graded, and breathtakingly exposed in places.

Me getting dragged up the SE Ridge

The summit of the Clocher is amazing, and as exposed as it looks from below. I'm not sure I deserve a tick having seconded the route, but a great day was had and we sat on an incredible summit so who cares about the tick? 

M&Ms on the summit - life doesn't get any better

The area around the Orny hut is clearly something of a granite climbing mecca, and I've wanted to check it out for years, so it was good to confirm that it is indeed a fantastic rock venue, and that I'd like to go back again soon. Yet another place to go back to - it's a tough life.