Thursday 16 December 2010

Its nearly Cham O'Clock!

I'm heading out to Cham at the end of the month and getting ready for a great season. The blog will be up and running as of the start of January and will now feature head cam videos as well as photos and plenty of info on routes and conditions.

Until January, here's a few photos from the past few months and my first attempt at a headcam video to get everyone psyched!

Simul soloing Stepped Ridge, Lake District
Great skiing in.....West Lancashire!
Liam Posslethwaite on Space Race, Malham.

Britain's highest person

Tom Grant on Pygmy ridge
Note to self - if you've got some goggles, put them on your face!

Andy Houseman not quite figuring out how ice axes work on Helvellyn.

Nearly there - Parchemo high camp, Rolwaling valley, Nepal.
Ama Dablam, Tawache and Cholatse from below the Cho La Pass.
Resupply at Syangboche

Finally, I've bought a headcam and my first attempt at using it is here -

It took me a while to get it set up just right so most of what I filmed was useless but I'm getting there - everyday is a school day. Hopefully by the time I get to Cham I'll have it mastered.

See you in January - it's going to be huge.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Final Flurry

After a day of furious rest following the Cordier, we decided to go up the Mer de Glace and do a route on the Pillier des Contes, beneath the Envers Des Aiguilles hut. However, after about an hour of walking, we got the guidebook out to check where we were and saw that we were right underneath "Vingt Milles Lieues sous la Neige" (TD+, 6b, 300m) which was described as one of the best routes in the Massif. Seeing little point slogging up any further with such a good route right next to us, we quickly decided to forget the Contes and started up Vingt Milles.

French team on an adjacent route.

The first proper pitch is actually the crux, coming in at a desperate 6b on a glacier polished slab. Luckily it was very well bolted and despite the precarious climbing it is very safe. Purely for historical accuracy, I must note here that Peter fell off seconding this pitch.

This is taken from the official start of the route which is now about 30 metres up due to shrinkage of the glacier.

The rest of the route is absolutely superb and very varied. Protection is excellent on the crack pitches, and anywhere without cracks has bolts so it's very stress free. That said, there are several 25 foot runouts on some of the bolted sections so it's not the place to push your grade. The descent is straight back down on bolted belays so all in all a great and stress free route.

With one day left in Cham and feeling pretty knackered from long days and lots of red wine the night before, Emma and I headed up the Grand Floria and did "Robin Wood" (TD, 6a, 180m). The route is excellent and varied but I felt the crux was really tough for the grade. Still, good weather, climbing and company made for an excellent day.

Emma at the foot of the cliff after I forgot to take any photos on the route!

Nepal and Scotland now beckon for me, so I won't be in Cham until after Christmas when it will be skiing time. Can't wait!

And don't forget - "There is no such thing as too much snow".

A Bientot.

Monday 13 September 2010

Cordier Pillar & Nabot Leon

With a couple of clear days left, Peter and I were keen to make the most of it and headed up for an attempt (my 3rd!!) on the Cordier Pillar on the Grand Charmoz.

After leisurely start we carried our kit up to the superb bivi site next to the Nantillons Glacier and then, despite the temptation to just look at the view all day, we went off to do a few pitches on the Red Pillar of the Blaitiere. We decided to go for Nabot Leon (TD, V+, 180m) and just climb for a couple of hours and then turn around. As it turned out we'd finished the route in a couple of hours so that was a good result. The route itself is simply fantastic, with interest maintained without ever being hard. Undoubtedly one of the best routes I've ever done in the valley and a must for any fan of granite.

Pitch 2 of Nabot Leon.

Away from the bivi by 6.15 the next day we hurried across the Nantillons glacier (notorious for rockfall) and were soon at the foot on the Pillar and trying to get our hands warm enough to climb. By 7.30 it was just about ok so we began heading up. Having done the first 12 pitches on a previous attempt  we made good time through the initial 1/3 of the route, which is sustained at about VS, with the occasional tougher pitch thrown in.

Low down the Cordier - long way to go!

The route is well equipped for an ab descent so we were able to go pretty light, armed with one small bag between us, and all seemed well until about 12 pitches up. Unfortunately a few of the pitches are in a chimney which had failed to clear of snow and ice, so the 3 pitches just before the route emerges into sunshine took us over an hour and a half. I even managed to take a leader fall whilst trying to climb ice in rockshoes, which was a blow to morale.

Still, we eventually emerged into the sun and debated whether to carry on given the gathering cloud. Eventually we decided to "go and have a look" (ie.carry on). As it turned out the top pitches were amazing - perfect golden granite high above the glacier and with the Chamonix peaks all around. We eventually finished the route just under guidebook time and had a quick handshake and began the descent with the cloud getting thicker by the minute.

This is what 600 metres of granite does to your hands!

Almost as soon as we began abbing the rain started up, and came and went the whole way through the 3 1/2 hours it took to ab. Given that I had no waterproofs, I filled my suffering quota for a year! Luckily there are plenty of ab points so we did lots of short abs in an attempt to avoid getting a rope stuck and it worked, as we got back to the kit at the foot of the route without a single stuck rope.

By the time we got to the glacier it was almost dark and very misty so we felt our way back towards our bivi site. As it turned out we almost tripped over it, which I admit was a complete fluke although Peter maintains he knew where he was all along!

We quickly packed the overnight kit away and started the walk down to Cham, which took nearly 3 hours. Great route, and quite a day!

Grand Charmoz with the top 3/4 of the Cordier Pillar marked.

Friday 10 September 2010

Aiguille Crochues

We’d originally planned to head up to the Aiguille du Peigne today but woke up to find the Aiguilles plastered in snow. In need of a change of plan we got out the Aiguilles Rouges guidebook and had a quick scan for something quick drying and not too hard so we could manage it in what was left of the day.

I spotted the Ravanel route on the south side of the Aiguille Crochues, 400metres, sustained 5/5+ and a nice summit so we headed up. The route follows the red line to the ridge then the right hand skyline to the summit, and the descent is the left skyline.

Top of pitch 7 - "like a big version of Jenga!"
The walk in is pretty brief, 30 minutes or so, and the route is simple enough to find. The first seven pitches are sustained and superb, albeit with the occasional loose block higher up. The whole route is bolted but fairly sparsely in places so it’s best to have a few grades in hand.

Once on the ridge it is pretty easy climbing with 2 short steep steps, so we moved together from the top of pitch 7 to the summit. There are occasional bolts even on the scrambling bits so you don’t need a rack and can move pretty fast.


From the summit we ditched the rope and down climbed the normal route and then made a hash of finding the correct descent and ended up on some horrible loose terrain, so keep your eyes peeled!


Eventually made it back to the Index chairlift in 6 hours round trip, which felt like good time, and were down for ice creams in the sun not long after! Great day, great route.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Aiguille de L'index x 2

View from the Index

The forecast over the last few days has been pretty average so tuesday was spent in front of the TV, and wednesday we headed up the Grand Montets for a look around to see how condtions were. We wandered up towards the Petite Verte but snow conditions were pretty grim and it was blowing a blizzard so we retired to coffee and lunch. Some guided parties carried on up though so I assume it's possible, albeit not much fun.

In the afternoon we decided to go for a fitness run on the SE ridge of the Aiguille de L'Index. With a short approach and easy but exposed climbing this is a great classic of the valley, although the Index is a renowned lightning conductor - you've been warned! Without wishing to encourage such behaviour, we managed it in 1hr 18mins round trip from the top of the chairlift and back again.

The forecast was poor again today so we headed up the Index again and decided that with the temperature dropping and clouds gathering we'd stick to the Index again and did the Fissure Gauche straight up the face. The guidebook said it was equipped but in reality only the belays are there so take a full rack.

This afternoon we wnet up the Midi for a chedck on conditions and everything seemed very, very snowy so we're staying below 3500m for now.

3 days good weather coming up so hopefully we'll be on something big ASAP!

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Plenty of action.

The original plan for this fortnight was to head to the Bregaglia but with recent heavy snowfall we felt that it would be too plastered for the big north facing rock routes and so headed to Cham with a good forecast for at least 4 days.


The trip started with an attempt on the traverse of the Chamonix Aiguilles which went well until the top of the Dent du Caiman, when the onset of altitude sickness prompted a (very!) hasty retreat. I've been straight up to 3500 metres before in the Alps and Himalaya and been fine but lesson learned - do something with an easy exit strategy first up.

Licking our wounds we opted for an easier day in the Aiguilles Rouges and clipped some bolts on the Petite Floria, an incredible summit but with a bit of a tricky descent down some loose scree unless you ab down one the sport routes - don't be fooled by the low grade of the descent route.

Top of the Floria.

Yesterday we headed up to the Red Pillar of the Aiguille de Blaitiere and did the uber classic (and superbly named) "Majorette Thatcher" (TD+, 6b, 180m). Peter was in his element with the brutal crack climbing on the route - this is definitely one for the jamming conniseur. I am certianly not in that category but the quality of the route as well as the views and exposure make for a great day out and a good option for a day hit.

Brutality on Majorette Thatcher. "For God's sake put a jam in youth!"

Thursday 2 September 2010

Back in the game!

I'm supposed to be off to the Bregaglia for a couple of weeks today but with the forecast in Cham looking good it seems likely I'll be there, so the blog returns! Hopefully have some idea about conditions tomorrow - psyched!

Thursday 8 July 2010

Summer Video

After the winter video, my mate Andy insisted on a summer one so here we go. Whatever you get up to in Cham, stay safe and have fun. See you for powder days in January.

Aiguille de la Republique

With time left for one more route, Peter and I headed up the Montenvers and towards the Envers des Aiguilles hut for a go at the Aiguille de le Republique.

The Republique from Montenvers. The peak is the tiny needle just left of the highest summit.

We found an amazing bivi spot below the route and got settled in for some serious sunbathing and tea drinking before heading up to do the first few pitches so that we could locate the ab descent for the next day. It turned out to be time well spent as it wasn't amazingly obvious how to descend the best way from the old tour rouge hut a few hundred metres up the route.

Not a bad bivi spot. Calm down ladies.

The next morning we were away early and climbing by first light. The first few pitches went well and within just over an hour we were in the large couloir leading up to the summit tower. However, we hadn't seen the forecast and so when big black clouds began to gather round us we thought we might be in for a thunderstorm and decided to head down. For the time it took us to descend the clouds got blacker and thicker and we were congratulating ourselves on a great call. As it turned out the clouds parted and the sun shone all day. You couldn't make it up!

Mer de Glace in the afternoon sun.

Unfortunately my time in Cham is up for now and I'm heading off for 6 months or so. Given the high temperatures recently and the fact that it's only going to get hotter, there isn't much need for conditions blogs - just go rock climbing!

One final walk out.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Aiguille du Peigne

Although we’re getting plenty of sun right now, the daily thunderstorm in the late afternoon is still ruling out any really big routes, so we’re sticking to day routes. An attempt at a big route ended last night when we got to the mid station, were about to walk into a bivi, and then were hit by a huge downpour, so promptly got back on the bin and ran away!

In search for a route which would dry quickly we opted to “send” the classic Papillons ridge on the Aiguille du Peigne. On the first bin, we were climbing not long after 8, and shot up the route pretty quickly, moving together virtually the whole way. The climbing is absolutely amazing, and only has a couple of tricky moves. There’s plenty of gear too, so pretty faultless all round!

Heading up the Papillons

From the top we scrambled up to join the west ridge to the summit, and the superb climbing just kept coming. The standard is slightly more sustained there, and we pitched up to the final platform below the summit.

Trying not to grunt too much on a typical Chamonix pitch!

However, by the time we got there we were starting to get a bit concerned about the gathering cloud, and one look at the infamous Lepiney off width crack sent us running away for the second time in 24 hours! We got held up by a guide and client on the way down and only just made the bin and narrowly escaped the downpour, so a good end to the day. We had two 50 metre ropes, although you could easily manage with one 60 metre. I tried to convince Peter we didn’t need the second rope but he offered to carry it the whole way, which won me over.

Peter is keen to go back for a return date with the Lepiney but I’m not too sure, looked a bit brutal to me!

Friday 2 July 2010

Forbes Arete

Chardonnay and the Albert Premier hut.

With the weather continuing with good days and evening thunderstorms, we were still reluctant to jump on anything too big, so we went up to the Albert Premier hut for the classic Forbes Arete on the Aiguille de Chardonnay.

We got away early hoping to get some good photos and beat the bad weather, but unfortunately the nights have been really warm and the snow had not refrozen, so the walk in was fairly grim in soft snow. Still, we crested the ridge at 7 and got great views of the Argentiere basin and across to the Matterhorn.

High on the Forbes

The ridge itself was a bit too snowy, and the snow was pretty poor, so we couldn’t go as fast as we would have liked (although we were still at the fast end of guidebook time). That said, on the sections with no snow the climbing was superb and you could tell that if it was a bit drier the route would be even better. The climbing is continually interesting and involves a lot of down climbing and some cunning route finding, all in superb positions and with plenty of protection.

Given the nature of the descent (lots of down climbing) we decided to take 2 axes each, and the whole way up I had been lecturing Peter about how he was a dinosaur for using axes with leashes, how he was living in the past, how he ought to embrace modern gear etc. It was therefore somewhat of a blow to morale when I dropped one of my tools down the north face when half way along the ridge. Still, as if to prove my point of how good leashless tools are, it conveniently stuck in the snow 40 metres down. Having been lowered down and climbed back out, I resumed my lecture!

Looking forward to the descent, complete with 2 axes.

The summit itself is fantastic, just perfect views in all directions, but we weren’t keen to hang around as we wanted to descend before the snow got too poor. With our 2 axes we were pretty fast down climbing and soon located a good spot to ab from and were walking back to the hut just over an hour after leaving the top. It’s personal choice whether to take 2 axes, most people don’t, but I like the speed and security it offers, so its up to you.

You can currently walk directly back to the hut but I suspect that in a few weeks it will be too crevassed.

Looking back up at the mountain from the balcony - a nice feeling.

Great route, great mountain, enjoy.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

M and Crochue

After the Frendo Peter and I were keen to get straight onto something else big but the weather looked like it might be a bit shaky on Tuesday so we opted for 2 day routes. First up we headed over to the Aiguille de L’M for a shot at the Couzy route. The face takes a long time to dry but with a week of good weather behind us we were confident it would be fine. Tom and Dave had similar thoughts as they were keen for the Menegaux on the same face.

Peter seconding - a rare sight on the M!

The walk in is pretty snowy right now, so crampons and an axe are a good idea for the approach and a necessity if going over the top and descending the far side (as we planned to do). Having reached the crag we began up our route and found it pretty damp, but carried on in the hope for better conditions higher up. The route is supposed to be mainly Severe standard, with a couple of pitches maybe a bit harder, so I climbed in big boots to try and get a bit of mileage. This seemed like quite a good idea until I actually began climbing, when it became apparent that all but the biggest footholds were too greasy to be of any use. Luckily Peter is a bit brighter than me and he brought rock boots and ended up leading all but 15 metres of the route!

It might be summer but you can still ski!

As it turned out, the route just got wetter and greasier so we bailed from half way and got down in 3 pretty awkward diagonal abs. I guess it would take a long spell of very good weather to dry it out as the face received no sun whatsoever all day. Tom and Dave meanwhile got up the Menegaux but also found it pretty greasy. They abbed the route, which is probably the best option given the difficulty of the climbing.

Today we opted for the Aiguilles Rouges and climbed the Tour des Crochues via a fantastic 5 pitch 6b called "Atome Crochue". Well bolted, really sustained and with incredible views, it doesn’t get much better. We had intended to do another route but the gathering black cloud sent us scurrying back to the Index chairlift.

Tour des Crochues. Atome is to the right, where the sun is hitting the rock.

Peter seconding the steep 3rd pitch. "Do you need some slack mate?" "Do I F**k!"

Found this at the bottom of the crag - how's this for organisation!

Weather now seems “settled” into a pattern of good mornings and then rain so we’re hoping for a thunderstorm of biblical proportions to get rid of all the bad weather in one go!

Sunday 27 June 2010


                                        Finally, the sun is shining in the Alps! Only took a month....

Looking for some fitness, acclimatisation and nice mountains, Owen and I went off to Saas Fee last week and found all 3, doing the traverse of the Dri Horlini followed by the traverse of the Weissmeis.

The Dri Horlini is a great little peak above the Almelgeller hut, and although there are some bolted routes up the faces, the traverse is the classic route. The approach is about 15 minutes, and the climbing continuously interesting without ever being hard - highly recommended.

Owen and Me on the Dri Horlini.

The next morning we were up and away early on the traverse of the Weissmies, the most easterly 4000er in the Valais. We climbed the SW ridge and descended the NW shoulder to the HohSaas cable car. The SW ridge is a long snow plod followed by some stunning but easy scrambling and finally a knife edge ridge to the summit. We found perfect neve the whole way and soloed to the summit, before roping up for the heavily crevassed descent. As the guidebook had said, the views were incredible, particularly at sunrise, and we had the entire south side of the mountain to ourselves - amazing.


Final snow ridge to the summit of the Weissmies & brewing up on top!

The next day was supposed to be an admin day but I couldn't resist popping out for a route up Brevent when Paul called. We'd hoped to do the Frison Roche and then some cragging but handily enough the top lift was closed, so we shifted objectives and did "Tartiflette", a great little 6 pitch route just above Plan Praz. The climbing was pretty stiff at the grade, (at least I thought so - Paul said it was tough but showed little sign of it. I think he just being nice.) supposedly 5+/6a but great fun and a great half day hit.

Paul on "Tartiflette."

To round off a superb week, Peter and I headed up to do the Frendo Spur on the Midi, after Tom had soloed it in 4 hours (!) and said it was in OK nick. Peter had spent the previous month on an oil rig so we felt a one day onsight ascent might be a bit tough so decided to take our time and enjoy it over 2 days.

The Frendo Spur

The first day we got the 9am bin and got stuck into the lower rock section but were dismayed to find large chunks of it covered in soft, unconsolidated snow and we went much slower than we hoped.

Still, we made steady progress, and managed to find a reasonably snow free line up to the bivi spot at the start of the famous snow arete. Despite some loose rock the quality of the climbing is very good, and pretty sustained at around Severe in the upper section with some trickeier moves thrown in too. The crux is about VS, and pretty steep and exposed but good fun and plenty of holds if you just keep pulling.

On the "rock" section.

Some kind person had dug out some nice platforms so we had a really comfy night and were treated to some amazing views as the sun set.

Keen to get up the snow in good conditions we were away from our bivi just after 5am and started our way up the arete. From the Midi bin I'd always thought it looked pretty gripping but hoped looks would be deceiving. They weren't. The snow was pretty soft in places and we were both relieved to finally reach the sanctuary of the Rock Rognon and a good belay.

Peter enjoying the soft snow on the Arete.

Unsure of which way to go we decided to go left of the Rognon as Peter had heard there were bolted belays and we figured bad snow and good belays was better than bad snow and bad belays. The snow was indeed pretty rubish but we still managed to make good progress as the abundant protection spurred us on to climb pretty fast. As it turns out there are indeed bolted belays, and the steepest section is only around 70 degrees, so not too bad at all. (That said, when we were coming down the Midi we noticed that the right of the Rognon basically looked like a steep walk, so we'll know to go right next time.) Pulling over the top was a great feeling, as was piling into a full english brekkie down in town!

Nearly there - snow arete visible behind.

The route is certainly possible now but given the amount of poor quality snow, I think I'd leave it a bit longer and let this good weather dry it out a bit.

Weather looks good again tomorrow, and tuesday looks OK although possibly a bit shaky in the afternoon. Let's hope it holds - we've waited long enough for it!