Monday 22 March 2010

Living the Dream - Day 1

First day of living the dream for 2010 arrived on friday when Peter and I skiied in the morning and climbed at Servoz in T-shirts in the afternoon. Late March and April represent peak time for ski/climb/BBQ combo's, so make the most of it!

The weather looked truly awful for the weekend though so Tom and I headed to Orpiere, just south of Ceuse, and found perfect conditions for clipping bolts in nice, warm weather. Its a 3.5 hour drive from Cham so a long way, but we escaped rain and climbed some superb routes up to 5 pitches long on perfect, dry limestone, so it definitely felt worth the drive. Orpierre would make a great place to stop whenever heading south past Gap, so check it out.

Friday 19 March 2010

Petite Verte

With a morning off from work and keen for some fitness and skiing, Peter and I headed up the Grand Montets and decided to climb the Chevalier Couloir on the Petite Aiguille Verte. The route is a classic ski descent and would be pretty good right now. The top section has been side slipped but you'd be best just climbing the bottom 3/4 of the route and skiing from there.

Despite the good skiing conditions we climbed all the way to the top and then skiied the NW face of the petite verte. This is a pretty steep pitch at around 50 - 55 degrees according to the book. The very steep section at the top is nice soft snow, but it turns to hard neve on the shallower bit, so it's a long slog for some nice steep turns, but there isn't much good snow right now so probably worth it for the real powder hounds.

Good half day if you need a quick hit - we were back at the car park for midday.

Monday 15 March 2010

Modica Noury

East face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, Gabarrou Albinoni (III,4+) in green, Modica Noury (III,5+) in Red
Damien starting the proper climbing
Crux Pitch

Random Slovene guy finishing the last pitch, our skis just about visible at the foot of the route.

Despite the onset of manflu, the weather was perfect and Damien keen so we went up to do the classic Modica Noury (III, 5+) on Mont Blanc du Tacul having been told it was in good nick. Damien had done the Gabarrou last week and said it was thin - "Scottish 5 with no gear", so we weren't entirely sure what we'd find.

The bergschrund is ok, just about worth a rope, and then there is 5 "pitches" of 55 degree soft snow, which we kept the rope on for, but didn't bother with any gear. With a couple of parties behind us we had to keep a good pace up, and I was just about at death's door by the time we got to the proper climbing, so Damien headed up. We moved together up the first 150 or so metres (albeit with a ropeman clipped to each intermediate belay in case one of my retching fits made me fall off!) and then having run out of gear we belayed and did the last pitch on it's own.

The route is in good nick right now but the crux pitch and the final 10 metre step are pretty thin and require a delicate approach. Even then there's plenty to knock off, so best to be first on the route. 2 guys climbed below us, but I wouldn't do it as the route is a perfect funnel for debris. There is also a huge amount of spindrift, so it all feels a bit scottish.

The descent is easy, all on fixed belays, and you can save a bit of time by combining down climbing and abbing on the snow slope. We made good time and were back at the skis for 3.30 having left them at 9, but missed the last telecabine up to Montenvers but 10 minutes - gutted. The James Bond track is frankly desperate right now as we discovered.

Weather is now perfect all week so the lucky people without jobs or illness are in for a great time.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Aiguille D'Argentiere

Fantastic day out yesterday up on the Aiguille D'Argentuiere - blue skies, good company and an amazing location. We caught the first bin up and managed to traverse very easily across to the foot of Les Droites and then ski virtually to the Argentiere refuge, which saved ages compared to skiing straight down off Grand Montets. Once skins were on it is basically a long and incredibly hot slog up to the bergschrund, about 350 metres below the summit. We took 3 hours from skins on to bergshrund, which felt like good time.

Once there we climbed a pretty tedious 35 degree slope up to a narrowing below the final summit slope. With the summit slope being in really bad skiing condition we left skis at the narrowing and carried on up. However, about 50 metres below the summit, the snow became black ice with 6 inches of sugar on, followed by a thin, hard layer of crust. We all felt a bit unnerved by it and weren't too bothered by the summit unless we were going to ski it, so beat a hasty retreat from about 10 minutes from the top. The ski down was superb, not powder but nice, soft snow, almost like a piste but without the boarders to annoy you. We finished off with a nice little steep variant down onto the glacier and then skiied out to gallons of coke and water.

Argentiere Basin Conditions

North face of Les Droites

Droites and Verte

At the cost of getting left behind by Peter and Chris, I had a good look around the conditions on the Argentiere glacier when I was out yesterday, and things are looking pretty good. The coutruier looks good, as does the Lagarde on the Droites. The north face looks a bit thin just yet, but probably do able. The north face of the Courtes looks pretty similar, doable but probably a bit thin. Plenty to go at though.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Rectiligne Couloir

Looking for a good mission to squeeze in to a 4 hour lunch break, Damien and I went and skiied the classic Rectiligne Couloir variant on the Pas de Chevre off the top of Grand Montets. The couloir wasn't powder although it was nice, soft snow and good to get an edge in. You have to side slip around 10 metres at the top, where both ends of your skis touch the sides of the couloir, but after that it's nice and sustained at between 35 and 40 degrees depending on your line. The rest of the Pas de Chevre and the James Bond track was pretty grim snow, but a good little mission all the same.

As for conditions up top, we met some guys off to do Swiss route on Les Courtes, and apparently some people have gone up to do the Shroud on the Jorasses. I was initallt very jealous, but having woken up today to find the forecast down from 70% sun to 50%, and with a strong breeze, I'm not sure how they will be getting on. We'll see.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Another attempt at alpinism

Pure suffering. Taken shortly before my cheeks and nose turned white. Note frozen Bogie.
Hot aches on the VB!
Looking up at a very windy VB.
Why bother suffering when you can ski!?!?

With a forecast for sun on friday and Nick keen to climb, we got the Midi up hoping to do the uber classic Gabarrou Albinoni on the Tacul, but the weather had other ideas.

We headed across to the route along with a french guide who had the same plan as us and found it looking in perfect condition. However, it was clear even from a distance that getting to the main pitches would involve some major wading, and we didn't really fancy swimming to the route. Niether did the guide, who also decided not to bother, no doubt coming up with a decent excuse when his client asked for his reasons.

Undeterred we decided to try the Valeria gully on the Petit Capucin. However, having skinned up under some nasty looking seracs, we found ourselves at the foot of the route wearing 2 belay jackets each and shivering uncontrollably. The thought of standing still long enough to get the ropes out, let alone belay each other, made me wince, so we legged it. I've no idea how cold it was, suffice to say it felt a lot colder than the minus 40 I had in Nepal over Crimbo.

There are definitely routes in right now, so if the weather clears up it could be amazing. Also, my mate Damien reckons someone did the Shroud on the Jorasses recently and apparently they found 90% perfect neve (god knows what the other 10% is!). Generally looking up though, so hopefully the weather will pick up for the first time this winter.

Anyway, having skiied down to the Requin we chatted to a few British guides, general consensus being that with all the recent wind and unstable weather, it's pretty tough to tell what is safe and isn't as there is very little pattern to the weather. As a result, touring is possible right now but you need to be mega cautious.

Basically, routes are in and there's plenty of snow, so we just need this f**king weather to stabilise!!!