Saturday 3 December 2011

New Blog Partner

I'm pleased to announce that this blog now has a new partner in the form of High Trails, a company I had 3 awesome summers working for in Cham and Zermatt. They are recruiting now for summer 2012, so if you are interested in working for them then follow this link - 

In their own words they are a - 

"Business to business travel operator specialising in group holidays and experiences.We organise trekking, activity and discovery holidays, winter and summer, for tour operators, charities, clubs, schools, families, self guided groups and corporate organisations that want operational help running their trips to the Alps.

We will show the best of the Alps to your clients. We can organise all local logistics and, if you wish, provide all staff and equipment needed."

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Vallon de Berard & the end of the year.

With just a couple of days left in Cham, Peter and I teamed up with British Guide (NOT the one from the Entreves!) Owain Jones for a climb on the Vallon de Berard slab. I'd done the route a few years back and knew what good quality it was, so I was happy to do it again. I'd also not done the top buttress (an extra 4 pitches), only the lower 8 pitches, as the top had been soaking wet last time so I was pleased to finally get a full ascent. One slight downer was that someone had drilled new holds into the 2 short crux sections, making the route easier than the stated 6a, and also making it feel a bit artificial. Why would you drill holds in a route?!?! Why not just get better at climbing? Anyway, drilled holds or not, the route is superb, as are the views, and a fun day was had.

Owain on the lower section. Photo Peter Riley.

Peter and Owain on the final pitch. Worth noting at this point that Peter fell off on the very last move of the route, thereby blowing the onsight - unforgiveable.

October in Cham. It's not a bad life.

Unfortunately my time in Cham is now done for 2011, but my lift pass for 2012 is already ordered! I'm off to Nepal (work), Morocco (play) and Scotland (suffering...again) over the next few months so no doubt time will fly and before I know it I'll be SKIING! It would be fair to say I'm quite excited about this fact. I'll be updating my site over the autumn with some shots from those trips, but this blog will be a bit quiet for a while 

Final thing - for those in London, with not much to do next Friday (October 14th), I'm giving a talk at "The Winch" in Swiss Cottage, 7.00pm, entry a bargain at 3 quid! There will be no posturing about being fast, light, and generally all round amazing, fear not. I'll be talking about how to get into alpinism, how to actually get things done and stay alive, and also telling a few tales about my own experiences. More info here - 

Hopefully see you there, and if not, bring on January for powder, and maybe even some ice climbing. Ciao.

Monday 3 October 2011

Moine Ridge, Aiguille Verte

At last!!! Fifth time lucky, Peter and I finally got up the Verte yesterday, via the Moine Ridge. Away from the Couvercle Hut by 4am, we were amazed by how mild it was, and were not overly jealous of the numerous teams visible making their way up the north face of the Jorasses.

Heading up the Couvercle ladders

Chilling at the hut

Grand Jorasses N face

Looking up the Talefre basin with the old hut in the foreground

The walk in was fine, but we struggled to find our way through the maze of crevasses in the dark, eventually doing so and getting onto the route at daybreak. Having climbed most of the ridge a few weeks ago we made good time early on, and found a much quicker way through than we had last time. The route was much drier than last time, and I think for future reference that basically, the drier the route, the better. There were still some snowy sections higher up, but these were pretty brief. 

Looking towards Mont Blanc at sunrise

Enjoying some mini fruit cakes - highly recommended alpine food.

Although the climbing on the ridge is constantly easy, we kept the rope on as there was quite a bit of loose rock. There are so many spikes though that we managed to climb the entire 700 metres placing less than 10 pieces of gear and still felt protected.

Nearly there - "a cheval" on the final rock section

The final snow ridge to the summit was amazing - I think I was relieved more than happy! The view from the top is unbelievable, you can see just about every bit of the Massif, and then all the way across to the Matterhorn, and even to the Bernese Oberland.

The promised land - the final summit ridge

Peter arriving on top

Peter on the summit

Me looking surprisingly unhappy on the summit

Thats more like it! Aiguilles de Chardonnay & Argentiere behind

By the way, for those with designs on the big north faces, we sat on the summit in T shirts and Peter didn't put gloves on all day! People are raving about current conditions on north faces but I'm not quite so convinced. From first and second hand reports, some of the big lines are seeing ascents....but only just. There are plenty of people climbing them, but all report very hard climbing, and with it being so warm its only going to get harder in the foreseeable future.

Anyway, back to the Verte. The descent back down the Moine went (mainly) quite smoothly, but is quite tedious, with a few switches between crampons on/off, and several abseils thrown in. We only actually abseiled 5 times between summit and bergschrund, but these are interspersed with long down climbing sections so it is all quite time consuming. We kept the rope on for the descent and I was glad we did for one section, when I was downclimbing first and the entire slab I was on came off the mountain. I've pulled loose holds off routes before but never have I had the rock that both my hands and feet were on come off. I somehow managed to slap for a higher hold, held on and then swung there with legs kicking in space for a few seconds before finally getting back onto something solid and carrying on down, before swiftly changing my underwear. We luckily had a good sling clipped between us, so had I not held on we would at least have been caught on the rope, but it was still fairly gripping. Despite the slab hitting my foot on the way down there is no visible damage, just a slight throb, which may signify a metatarsal or other footballer-esque injury, but I'm sure a few wines tonight will sort it out.

Having finally regained the glacier we took a much better line through the crevasses and finally got back to the hut and a well earned brew. There was talk of walking to town that night, but with a half empty hut and plenty of food, we opted to stay where we were and walk down the next day. 

So, the Verte falls at last! Now Peter wants to do it by another route - let's hope it doesn't take another 5 attempts.

Friday 30 September 2011

Kuffner Ridge, Mont Maudit

Having got back from Bolivia late on Sunday night (report on my site for those who are interested), Monday passed in a blur or laundry, emails and cafe dwelling, but by Tuesday I was keen for the mountains so Matt, Vicks and I went up the Helbronner to check out conditions. We were hoping to climb the Aiguille de Toule but saw it was all black ice and swapped plans for the Aiguille d’Entreves, always an awesome day no matter how often you do it.

We climbed up what is usually the descent route, and had quite an amusing encounter with a highly preened British guide. Matt and Vicks were ahead when I heard “do you guys have a guide?” Having told this bloke that we didn’t have a guide (matt wasn’t even on the rope!), we got told that ACTUALLY, we were climbing the descent route, and that we would have been better doing the traverse. A few more minutes of being talked to like we were 6 year olds followed, which caused us much amusement for the rest of the day. Not sure what it was that made him think we were hapless punters, but I’m blaming the Hawaiian shirt that Matt insists on wearing for alpine routes.  What’s the difference between God and a Mountain Guide? God doesn’t think he’s a Mountain Guide.

On Wednesday Peter and I decided to walk up to the Fourche hut and do the Kuffner Ridge (II, D, 4c) on Mont Maudit. The walk up to the hut is about 3 hours of sweating, the final hour of which is up a steep snow slope. The bergschrund is quite full on right now and although not difficult, 2 axes are definitely required as there is about 10 metres of 65 degree black ice. 

On the way to the hut.

The hut itself is just incredible, perched on the ridge with views across the “Himalayan” south face of Mont Blanc. There were a few other parties in the hut, but it wasn’t too cramped and thankfully no-one snored so we all managed to get some kip. 

Welcome to the Fourche hut!

Up and away for 5 am, Peter and I made good time initially but managed to lose the route briefly and lost a bit of time early on, but otherwise things went fine. For future reference, when the guidebook says “go left”.....go left. Oops. 

The route is perfect  – easy but exposed snow and rock climbing, with the most incredible views in all directions.

Route finding is quite obvious in the upper section, and you eventually emerge onto the shoulder of Mont Maudit, looking down on the hordes plodding up Mont Blanc’s “Trois Monts” route. A spectacular snow ridge leads you to the summit tower of Mont Maudit and it is then a short scramble to the top. Peter's photos say it all.....

Looking back down the ridge at daybreak

Mont Blanc's south face

Quick stop, Tour Ronde behind.

Me higher on the ridge

Me on the famous snow ridge just before the top buttress

Higher still

On the final snow slope to the summit

Final slog

Peter arriving on the summit, Mont Blanc behind.

Looking back to the Midi

Getting from the summit down to the Trois Monts path was a bit awkward as the downclimbing was on black ice, but fine with 2 axes. Once there it was a simple case of walking back to the Midi.

Add 2 more names to the already long list of people who rave about the Kuffner!

Monday 5 September 2011

Salbitschijen W Ridge Video & New Website

 Here's a quick headcam video from our adventure in the Salbit. It's an amazing place so go and check it out.

Salbitschijen W Ridge from Charlie Boscoe on Vimeo.

I'm off on a guiding trip to Bolivia now, so I'll be away until the 25th September, meaning I will hopefully arrive back to some epic autumn conditions! In the meantime, a couple of bits of blog "admin" -

* Unfortunately the project  has been shelved for a number of reasons, so it will be life as normal on this blog for the foreseeable future. Here's to plenty more epics and adventures...

* I've started a new website as part of my move into (hopefully!) full time expedition leading, so check out if you're interested in what I get up to when I'm working. There are also some advice articles on there which I hope will be of use, and there will be a trip report when I get back from Bolivia.

Enjoy September and stay safe,


Wednesday 31 August 2011

Salbitschijen W Ridge

With the good weather continuing over the Alps, Tom and I were keen to make the most of it and decided to head over the to Salbit area in Switzerland. This area is surprisingly unknown, although those in the know absolutely rave about it, and in particular the Salbitschijen (2,981m), which whilst modest in height is bristling with long ridges and immaculate granite faces

Once we arrived at the Salbit hut it was pretty easy to see what all the fuss is about. The mountains are low enough to be warm well into October, there are no glaciers so approaches are easy, and there is enough climbing to last a long, long time, all within easy reach of the hut.

Approaching the Salbitschijen, with the classic South Ridge forming the left skyline. The West ridge is behind this.

Without doubt the most sought after route on the mountain is the West Ridge (6a/A0, ED, 1000m), which is frankly a beast of a route. Although there is "only" 1000m of technical climbing (!), the route takes in 5 towers before finally reaching the summit, each of which requires abseils to get off. This makes the whole route a much bigger proposition than a face route of the same length as you have to also take into account the amount of time required to move from tower to tower whilst also climbing 35 pitches (of which about 12 would be HVS - E1, and another 10 would be VS). It seems worth it though, as it is an incredible route, described on one website as "...the most beautiful, longest and hardest ridge rock climb in the whole Alps. 35 pitches on 5 towers of perfect granite". 

Despite the clear length and difficulty of the route, we were confident that we could do the route in a day, and so carried on past the Salbit Hut and up to the Bivi hut which is literally 40 metres from the start of the West ridge. Although a great spot, there is no water at the bivi hut, so we carried up 6 litres each, which felt tough! The bivi hut is amazing, with really comfy beds and nice fleece blankets, and couldn't really be any closer to the ridge.

The newly installed bridge that leads to the bivi hut

Sunset from the hut

Looking up at the ridge from the hut. 

The next morning saw us climbing by 6.30 and making good time through the first pitch (thought to be the hardest on the whole route, but which fell to "combined tactics" - it was too early for free climbing ethics). On the second pitch however, I ran it out about 15 metres, clipped a bolt and then carried on legging it upwards, only to suddenly find myself airborne. I'm not quite sure what happened but I was climbing a layback that would be about english VS, didn't place my foot carefully enough and promptly fell off. I managed to shred a load of skin off the tops of the fingers on my right hand, bruise my backside and scrape both elbows pretty thoroughly, but was otherwise ok. I quickly got back on and finished the pitch and eventually managed to stop the bleeding out of my fingers with a bit of sock and a load of climbing tape. Lesson learned though - respect the climbing even if it is well within your grade. I paid the price for my mistake for the rest of the route when Tom got to lead anything that looked like you might need to crimp, and I had to second as best I could, mainly with one hand and sometimes with 2, which resulted in plenty of yelps whenever I caught my bad hand. I did manage to lead some of the more juggy, steep pitches though, so all was not lost for me, and Tom was chuffed to bits with getting to choose his leads! "This incredible layback pitch on perfect granite looks like it will definitely require some crimping, I better lead it." 

Anyway, the rest of the first tower went smoothly but the second was a bit of a nightmare. We got down to the bottom of it (tower 2) only to realise that our guidebook was still on top of the first tower, and then we got lost on probably the easiest bit of route finding on the whole ridge, and lost over an hour as a result. We also got a rope completely stuck when abbing off tower 2, so the whole thing was a bit of a nightmare! By this stage we knew that the chances of doing the ridge in a day were virtually gone, but pushed on to see what would happen, as the climbing and the rock is of such incredibly quality that we were having too much fun just to give up.

Looking up at Tower 2. The route takes the obvious splitter crack just right of the left hand arete.

The third and fourth towers both went well but by the time we got to the foot of the fifth tower it was gone 7pm, but we decided that we'd both rather sit out a cold night and finish the route than to bail. As it turned out we found an awesome bivi site under a massive boulder, and even found a space blanket under a rock - result! We also had the Jetboil with us from our night in the bivi hut, and there was a snow patch nearby so we were able to melt snow and keep hydrated. All in all, it was about as civilised as unplanned bivis go, and we managed to get a bit of sleep even without sleeping bags, before getting up at 5am to melt snow and get away at first light.

Sunset from the bivi

7 am plus rock climbing = cold hands. Not a bad view though.

The higher we climbed the more relieved we were that we had stopped where we did as there were no sites as good as the one we'd found, and none with space blankets included! The route finding on the final 2 towers was not that easy and took quite a bit of faffing with short abseils and awkward traverses, so we would never have made the summit in daylight anyway. The quality of the climbing gets even better towards the end, and the final pitches to the summit are incredible. The 6a/A0 pitch is amazing in the top half but bold, as layback moves up the Arete lead you ever further from the bolts in an incredible position. The final tough pitch (the last pitch of 5c) is up the Arete, no matter how much I wanted it not to be, and is equally amazing but a bit gripping after a long route! Luckily there is only one spicy move, but it felt tough enough at the time with only a cam behind a wobbly flake between me and a factor 2 fall. 

Tom leading on tower 5.

Self portrait near the summit with the W ridge behind.

Tom high on the 6a/A0 pitch.

The final pitch to the very top of the mountain is basically an easy solo (graded 4+ but with only a single peg after 2 metres serving as the only runner in 15 metres), and then the summit is amazing. About a metre square, with views of all the 3 classic ridges of the mountain and huge drops all around, it is definitely how a summit should be. 

Looking down the West Ridge from the summit.

Tired but happy on top.

Ab off the summit

After snapping a few shots we quickly abbed off the top and then walked down to the hut, scoffed a load of soup and sausage, and then carried on down to the car and a 3 hour drive back to Cham.

The South ridge seen from the Salbit hut

Amazing views across to the Finsteraarhorn on the drive back to Cham

Despite a grim night for both of us and a smashed hand for me, we both agreed that the ridge was the best rock climb either of us had ever done. Perfect granite, an incredible line, consistent and sustained climbing, and an amazing summit. I cannot recommend this route highly enough, but if you are going for the onsight in a day, you better be quick!

I took my headcam on the route so there is a video on the way, including onboard footage of my fall....!

Saturday 27 August 2011

La Meije Traverse, Massif des Ecrins

I’ve been meaning to get down to the Ecrins all summer, and so when Matt suggested a spontaneous trip straight from the Vanoise, I didn’t take much convincing. Like all climbers in the Alps, we’d both always wanted to climb the Meije so we decided against acclimatising and got straight on it. Approaching the Promontoire Refuge from La Berarde took nearly 4 sweaty hours, but it could have been much quicker had we not taken numerous 20 minute swimming breaks on the way up.

La Meije from the walk in. The route takes the prominent red rock pillar down and left of the rectangular snow patch (the Glacier Carree) and then crosses the snow and climbs the highest summit in the photo before traversing all the summits to the right.

The hut is pretty spectacular, poised right underneath the Promontoire ridge and S face of the Meije. It is also pretty small so it feels much nicer than being in one of the huge huts in the more accessible parts of the Alps.

View from the hut heli deck.

Looking up at the route from the start point

With Tuesday being the first day forecast to be clear of thunderstorms, the hut was surprisingly quiet, and there was only us and 2 other parties going for the traverse. The other teams got away at 4.30, and we were 15 minutes behind (you can’t rush these things!) but we never saw them again as one of them was a Guide who clearly knew the route like the back of his hand, and the other team followed him shamelessly!

Matt's dress sense is best viewed in the dark.

At the Dalles Castelnau

Matt just below the Carree Glacier.

The route finding is actually ok on the lower ridge, you just climb the crest until it steepens dramatically and then traverse left into a big couloir which leads you up the Dalles Castelnau area. From there it becomes slightly harder as you have a big rightwards traverse followed by one straight back left. We started looking for the traverse back left too early, so just remember to keep traversing right until you can almost touch the water streaks coming down from the Carree Glacier and you’ll see the ledge system leading back left. Once back on the main ridge you follow the crest, taking the easiest line up to the Carree Glacier.

Exiting the Carree 

Looking up at the final summit ridge. We climbed up the deep groove on the right and then drifted back left before heading back right for the final steep wall. Its all pretty steady really so just follow your nose.

Matt on the final summit ridge

The Carree is given 30 minutes to an hour in the guidebook but I’m not quite sure how it would take that long as we were up it in 15 minutes of plodding. From there it is just a case of scrambling up very easy terrain to the ridge crest just below the summit and then there is 15 very exposed metres to the top. The summit is amazing – just views everywhere, and a nice little statue of Jesus to pose with! 

Giving Jesus a peck on the summit!

And a piece of cake!

Looking along the traverse from the top of the Grand Pic

To get down you go to a block with loads of abseil tat around it in the direction of the rest of the Meije ridge and then downclimb about 5 metres to a bolted abseil point, and then 3 abs get you down.

The ridge line from there is easy to follow and straightforward enough that you can safely move together the whole way, apart from a section below the first point which is a 70 degree ice gully, thankfully equipped with a metal cable to pull on. There were some sections where the cable disappeared though, which made for some fairly spicy climbing with a ski touring axe and bendy B2 boots. The ridge is spectacularly exposed and in an amazing situation, so the easy climbing is great as it allows you to take it all in without too much stress.

 Typically exposed climbing just below the Grand Pic

The icy section - character building with bendy boots and a lightweight ski touring axe.

Matt downclimbing on easy but exposed ground.

Looking back to the Grand Pic from near the end.

Matt on the final snowy traverse to the Doigt de Dieu. 

We made good progress along the ridge and were soon on top of the Doigt de Dieu, which marks the end of the Meije peaks. The descent from there down to the Aigle hut is simple enough but with hindsight I would downclimb most of it as we abbed too much and got the ropes caught a couple of times.

The traverse seen from the descent

From the Aigle it is then a simple (!) case of walking for 3 hours down to La Grave and then hitching back to La Berarde, which was frankly epic. We luckily got picked up for the final leg to La Berarde at after 10pm, and with hindsight I would stay in La Grave instead of risking not getting picked up and ending up in the middle of nowhere for the night. After a very comfortable night in the van we had a much needed coffee and then headed home to Cham via a swim in the lake at Passy.

Both of us agreed that the traverse was absolutely superb and despite the enourmous walk down to La Grave, it was one of the best days we had had all year. The climbing is easy, the route finding is not too bad, and the situation incredible. The guidebook time is 10 – 12 hours and this seems about right. We were unacclimatised and came in at 10.5 hours by just keeping up a steady, unspectacular pace and keeping hydrated and well fed.

Gloves vs. Meije - no contest.

What a route.