Sunday 31 January 2010

Vallee Blanche Conditions

Nipped up the Midi today with the vague plan of doing the Valeria or Chippendale Gully on the Petit Capucin. As it turned out conditions were not overly friendly and Peter not overly keen on fighting them when there was powder to be had.
Anyway, we headed down an incredibly cold arete (the only part of me exposed was my nose and by the bottom of the Arete it had a millimetre of ice on it and it took 5 minutes of rubbing to get anything like feeling back in it) and then broke trail through heavy, crusty snow all the way to the Requin Hut in freezing temperatures. Apparently it was minus 55 including windchill up Grand Montets!!! After that there was plenty of good snow, and even better snow on our lap off the Plan de L'Aiguille.
As for conditions up top, things are finally looking up. The Chippendale and Valeria looked ok from a distance, and the Gabarrou, Modica, Lafaille etc. are all beginning to thicken up a bit. Forecast is once again rubbish (will the sun ever shine this winter?!?!) but things are beginning to look up on the alpinism front. Here's hoping.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Chatelard Ice

With a distinctly rubbish forecast we decided to head up to Chatelard, just over the Swiss border. We headed up towards the Frigor sector and although it took a bit of finding we eventually got to the routes and found them all in pretty stiff condition. Frigor looked very steep and thin for a 4, and the 2 grade 3s were both pretty thin. Nevertheless Johnny and Nick headed up the furthest right of the Grade 3s (sorry, I don't have the guidebook) and Peter and I wimped out and took photos before retiring from the wind and cold and went for a beer. It's a hard life.

Monday 25 January 2010

Plan de L'Aiguille skiing

Emma ripping it up (dude)

Yet another powder day yesterday (Peter's 7th in a row!) proving that there is plenty out there for those willing to look. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding our exact location (which admittedly defies the point of a conditions blog), but suffice to say that those with skins and willingness to put in 30 minutes effort off the Midi mid station will have powder all winter....

Saturday 23 January 2010

Col de La Buche

Hardcore side slipping! Taken from the Col looking into the descent couloir.
Line of ascent from the Nantillons glacier to the col de la buche.

Rock climbing made easy!

Nearing the col after a long slog in crampons

Peter near the bottom of the Couloir

The Descent Route

After 36 hours of eating, some exercise was needed so Peter and I headed up to the Plan de L'Aiguille and skinned across to the foot of the Nantillons Glacier and climbed up to the Col de La Buche, between the Petit Charmoz and L'Aiguille de L'M. A team had gone to the very bottom of the Nantillons icefall but it was still very grey looking so nothing doing up there yet.

Anyway, having climbed the ladders at the bottom of the Couloir we cramponned up to the Col in fairly unpleasant and sugary snow (whoever put the track in is welcome to a beer in Chambre Neuf courtesy of me). From the top the initial drop in is over 50 degrees but with soft snow we side slipped it without too much trouble.

The Mont Blanc ski descents guidebook ("The Book of Death") gives the descent AD+, 40 to 50 degrees, which is currently about right, and you don't need to ab at any stage, which it mentions as a possibility in the book. That said, a fall wouldn't be great even with the perfect powder we found.

After getting out of the couloir we headed skiiers right until under the North face of the Grand Charmoz and then tried to go skiiers left and find the exit couloir talked about in the book. After 2 attempts and 3 hours of utter fannying around we gave up and skinned back up to go and find the ladders going down from the Envers hut. To find these you basically pass under the Glacier de La Thendia and ski down staying just left of the rock band which leads to the Envers hut. You then see the odd tree - keep going from tree to tree and the ladders start at the 4th tree you get to. Great tour but don't bother trying to find the sneaky way out, it doesn't seem to exist even when viewed from below, just take the snowed up ladders and ab in between them (we had 2 x 30 metre ropes and it was fine) if the snow is dodgy. Enjoy.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Vallee Blanche Conditions

With a couple of hours free in the middle of a work day, Peter and I headed up the midi for a look at conditions. As far as climbing goes thigs looked quite grim - the gabarrou albinoni looked very thin indeed, as did the Modica Noury. The Lafaille gully isn't formed yet, and there is basically not a huge amount in. That said, Supercouloir is rumoured to currently be excellent, and I met someone who did "Pinnochio" on the Tacul a few days ago, but other than that it is still not quite there yet.

As for the Vallee Blanche - epic powder everywhere and no-one skiing it. The run is still quite open so you need your wits about you, but there was incredible snow from the midi right down to the flat section at the bottom of the Geant icefall, so a great few hours for the adventurous skiiers out there.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Pointe Ronde



On top - Matterhorn behind.

Earning the powder descent.

Immense day out in Switzerland with Rory and Josie today, where we skinned from the Col de la Forclaz up to the Pointe Ronde (2700m). The promised blue sky day failed to materialise but with 1400 metres to climb it was probably a good thing that it wasn't too hot. We took about 4 hours to get up, via the Chalet de Giete, and then had an absolutely unbelievable descent.

We started out with some gentle slopes with perfect light powder and then headed onto the face part of the descent and the powder just kept coming at up to 40 degrees. Finished off with yet more powder through the trees and a dart along the path back to the car. Do this tour!!!!!

Friday 15 January 2010

Grand and Col des Montets

Me heading up the vertical section of La Colonne (I,4)
Peter running away from MiniCouloir!

Bit of an all over the place day with Peter today, but despite not really finding anything great to do, conditions were perfect for banter, so a good day was had. We started off up Grand Montets, optimistically hoping to find a route in condition off the top station. However, the whole of the Grand Montets ridge was basically rock, covered in a dusting of powder so the Frendo Ravanel, Claire Chazal etc. are all out.
Undeterred we skiied down in some superb powder (but amongst some very big and open crevasses) and headed to Trient for some ice. Having got to the Col Des Montets we noticed there was plenty of ice so went for a look at MiniCouloir (rotten snow on the approach made it unjutifiably dangerous) and then settled for La Colonne (I,4, 50m).
Great little route but after a full day, a short vertical step of ice wasn't much to show for it! Still, learnt that nothing is in on the GM ridge, the skiing is great but open up top, and Col Des Montets is good a for a relaxing day on the ice.

Monday 11 January 2010

Brevent is actually quite good!

There are worse places to live.
Abs spoiling an otherwise great view of Mont Blanc!!!

Having somewhat written off Brevent as a south facing nightmare of slush, I was pleasantly surprised today when I teamed up with Abs (the one from Mountain Drop Offs as opposed to
the one from 90's boyband 5ive) for a couple of hours. The snow is really good quality and although the easily accesible off piste is all skiied out, there is plenty for those with "the knowledge" and some good steep moguls and fast pistes for the rest of us. Also, if there is a view in the World better than the one from Brevent, I'm yet to see it.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Cham skiing - Pas de Chevre

A tired powder hound!
Start of the Pas de Chevre. Say no more.

Me and Josie's shadow.

Great days skiing with Josie today. We started out at Flegere but the snow was pretty rubbish so we headed over to Grand Montets. A blast off the Herse was disapppointing due to heavy, chopped up snow, so we retired for lunch and considered our options.

In the end we headed up the recently opened top lift and then decided on the spur of the moment to do the classic Pas de Chevre descent to the Mer de Glace. The top provided great powder for turn after turn, and the combat skiing at the bottom was quite fun with it being the start of the season. We even managed to ski down the James Bond track all the way to town and found it with plenty of snow. The whole route could do with a bit more snow coverage though as I collected enough rocks to build a use someone else's skis.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Cogne Update

Pitch 4 on Chandelle Levure

He even walks round town like this! Ice climbing athlete and international businessman Nick Jennings.

Looking down pitch 4 of Cascade de Lillaz

Johnny trying not to look pumped emerging off the ciger of Chandelle Levur.

Just had 2 superb days in Cogne with Nick and Johnny - too much snow, too much wine (though not enough for Johnny) and excellent banter.
The avalanche risk is pretty high right now but the rive gauche in Valleille was said to be ok so we headed up and did the Chandelle Levure (II, 4+). Nick's usual frantic start saw us start the route at 11am, and by the time we had done the 4th pitch it was snowing heavily and there were avalanches crashing everywhere on the other side of the valley so we bailed. Anyway, the pitches we did were in good nick, albeit with some brittle ice on the 4th pitch (roughly grade 4).

Teams out on Tuborg and Coyote just nearby as well. Unfortunately 3 Dutch lads were avalanched just over the ridge from us in Valnontey, and 1 later died, condolences to their friends and family.

With even more snow today we settled for a romp up the uber classic Cascade de Lillaz (II,3). Being safe from avalanches, the route was even more popular than usual but in good nick and good fun.

When we got back to down everyone was telling us not to climb any couloirs tomorrow and everyone seems to be in a high state of understandable paranoia. I personally wouldn't climb in Cogne for now due to avalanche risk but those with better local knowledge may know some safe spots. Have fun and stay safe.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Bags of snow here in Cham right now, following a massive fall overnight on monday.

Grand Montets apparently remains good but south facing Flegere and Brevent are already cruddy according to Carl.

Off to Cogne tomorrow, where the OHM reckon there is plenty in. We'll see...

Sunday 3 January 2010

Mountain Porn

Not wishing to leave things on a sad note, here is some gratuitous mountain porn from Nepal. All seems a bit frivolous and insignificant, but hopefully its a reminder of why we do it.
Me and Phanden Sherpa on the summit of Mera Peak, 27/12/09, with 5 of the 6 highest mountains in the World all clearly visible...keep smiling.

Sad New Year News

Just got back from Nepal to be met with some sad news about the deaths of Will and Rupert on the Ben. I didn't know Rupert but a friend told me he was a great guy. I'd climbed with Will a few times and he was unfailingly good humoured and a pleasure to be around in the hills.

My abiding memory of him will be hanging off the penultimate belay on the Old Man of Hoy and giggling/shitting ourselves when Andy yelled down that when he placed gear in the crack he could see right through the entire stack.

We lost 2 good ones up there.