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!

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Thank God for the World Cup!

It's now been a month or so since we had prolonged good weather in Cham and with little sign of things changing, Tom and I have been itching to get into the hills.  A couple of days ago we did some laps on the Cosmiques Arete for some fitness, and I managed the second lap in 1 hour 7 minutes from midi to midi. Tom got under an hour but in my defence I was held up extensively by slow people.

Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! We were going to do more laps but the Hollland vs. Denmark game obviously took precedent.

Cosmiques exit chimneys for the second time in 2 hours.

Today we decided that we would do a route regardless of the weather, and so headed up to do "Crakoukas", a 9 pitch route on the Brevent. The route is really good fun, and the hardest bit being maybe F5, but with lots of bolts we moved together the whole way, and got some good mileage climbing in big boots. Tom wasn't overly keen on doing a final pitch up a tower but I was psyched and it turned out great - despite water pouring down the crag and big mountain boots slipping off the holds - coming it at about F5, maybe 5+. Back down for 1 o'clock, so very civilised and great just to be out.

Only Brits do this sort of thing!

Friday 11 June 2010

Gietroz and Chesereys

The dreaded Foehn wind arrived in Cham recently and as usual has brought really warm and unstable weather. The mountains have been blasted by wind and the Midi was shut for a couple of days so we've been keeping our heads down and going cragging. Gietroz was first up yesterday, and we all had a good day, with Tom onsighting 7a for the first time - nice work. The crag is amazing, I'd somehow managed not to go before, and I'll definitely be back soon.

                                      Dave belaying with the back of the Le Tour behind.

Growing a bit bored of bolt clipping and keen for a bit of adventure, Hugh and I hitched up to the Col des Montets and went up to the Kinou area of Les Chesereys. Peter and I had been up and done Kinou (6b) itself a while back and noticed how big the crag is and how few routes there are, so we were keen to do a new route.

We started up a nice corner just right of Kinou and I led 3 pitches to get us started and then handed over the lead following a very civilised lunch stop on a ledge. Hugh climbs hard on bolts but hasn't done much trad yet he was still keen for a lead. Luckily he was armed with my quick run through of how to place gear - "You'll work it out if you're scared enough" - and shot up a pretty bold pitch. Good effort.

We managed to link together some really nice sections of climbing, and although we had to cross Kinou twice (resisted the temptation to clip the bolts!) we did the whole route and all the belays on trad gear. I doubt the climbing press will be clammering for the story, but we reckonned it was about E1 5a, and we're calling it "The Harrowing".

                           Kinou Crag. Our route stayed about 20 metres left of the waterfall all the way.

     Foehn looks like it's here for a few days yet so more unstable weather and no big missions. Bummer.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Grand Jorasses, Midi South face and Bellachat

I'm sitting writing this as a broken man - what a 4 days!
Firstly, with lots of recent snowfall up high and a good forecast, Tom and I headed up to have a go at the Croz Spur on the Grand Jorasses. We ran into a British guide on the way up who described it as "the best mixed route in the Alps" and said he thought it would be in, so we were pretty psyched.
The approach was pretty long but we eventually found a good bivi under the face and got settled in. Up and away by 5am, we were soon on the face and found the first ice step to be pretty cruddy, hollow ice, but we carried on hoping for better because you just do when you've put in a big walk in and a bivi.
However, about 200 metres up the face and having moved together the whole way, the ice was getting increasingly poor, and just as we were discussing our options a volley of rockfall came down, so that was decision made. Always a shame to fail but when conditions are bad you can't do much about it.

Approaching the north face of the Jorasses. Gulp.

Downclimbing some of the easier terrain on the way home.
Walking back to Montenvers we felt pretty good so arranged to go up the Midi the next day and climb the uber classic Contamine route on the south face. The next morning we didn't feel quite so fresh - a virtually sleepless bivi and a huge walk out in deep snow the day before suddenly catching up with us - but we'd said we'd do it and couldn't wimp out.
The route itself is amazing, the crux coming in at about E3, and stiff at that. Tom freed it with a few rests, but I felt no such pressure and pulled on anything I could get my hands on. Just as well too because there were loads of queues on the face and we only just made the last bin as a result.
As with the Rebuffat route on the same face descent is easy by ab, and with 60 metre ropes we were down in 3 abs.
Tom feeling the pain on pitch 4.

Plodding back up the Midi arete - must be summer!

Finally, today a team of people from a company I have worked for over the last few years (Exodus) were out for a "working" trip to Chamonix over the weekend, so we had a superb day walking up to the Bellachat refuge, just below the Brevent. Despite 3 big days under my belt, and some thorough research into Cham nightlife under theirs, we kept a good pace up and were rewarded by some superb views, albeit with a bit of cloud. I think I might have got their hopes up with my description of the view as "the best on the World", but it was still pretty good despite not being totally clear. A great way to end an amazing few days.

Dan, Chloe, Niraj and Brendan looking a lot fresher than the photographer!!!
So overall, it seems that the big mixed lines might finally be done until autumn, but I'm keen to do more, so I'd love to be proved wrong. The south facing rock is also pretty dry, as was the West face of the Petites Jorasses, so plenty to go at. Meanwhile down on the Vallee Blanche, things like the Pyramid du Tacul, Pointe Adolphe Rey and Petit Capucin still look pretty plastered so they'll need a bit longer.
Don't even want to think about exercise for now though!

Finally, a little vid from on the Croz as I didn't take any photos.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

More dodgy weather

Since doing the Contamine Route last wednesday the weather has been pretty rubbish, with lots of rain and cloud, and occasional sun. However, the last 2 days have been pretty good so monday was spent on the slabs of Les Dalles D'Arveyron, which dry quickly and are superb for getting your footwork going. Really recommended for a first day after rain.

Yesterday Hugh and I headed for Barberine because he KNEW it would be dry, even though I wasn't too sure. As it turned out it was more like a waterfall than a rock climb, so we headed back to Argentiere and teamed up with Kieran to go to his local crag. The crag isn't in the guidebook, and despite only being 7/8 metres high, there are 3 superb routes with a tree above to anchor a top rope. To get to the crag just walk down the Chemin de La Moraine, go under the bridge at the end, up the dirt track for 50 metres, and the crag appears on the right.

We had a good session working the routes and eventually I had a go at leading the route on the arete, and got it 3rd go after getting the moves sorted on the top rope. With the crag not being in the book we didn't know the grades, but (starting from the arete on the left) Hugh reckonned about 7a+, 6b, 6c. There's also a few variants possible, so we did all those too. Overall a really good day, and an immense work out - I was knackered!

Weather looks like it's picking up soon, so here's hoping.

Sending it! Studies have shown that climbing topless increases contact strength by 300%.

Hugh working the arete. He's actually quite good at climbing despite looking like William Shakespeare.