Friday 25 February 2011

Pellissier Gully, Col du Bonhomme and just one of those days.

With Tom out for a week and him keen for any missions, we started off with a go on the uber classic Pellissier Gully (III, 4, M5, 220m) on the Pointes Lachenal. Tom had only skied for 3 days but he seemed a fast learner, so I figured the VB would be fine. As it turned out the snow at the top was pretty wind hammered and both of us had a couple of tumbles, mine obviously being much less frequent(!).

The route was fine but unfortunately all the new snow meant that getting from the skis to the start of the proper climbing took over 45 minutes, and its only about 70 metres. Despite my lungs almost exploding from wading through waist deep snow I apparently wasn't fast enough for the Swedish pair behind us, who asked Tom if we were planning to go at that speed all day! I didn't hear this (the sound of my own breathing drowned it out) but had I done I would obviously have suggested that they might like to break trail instead of following mine! As it was they turned round in a huff, but I figure that if someone beats you to a route then breaks a trail for you, you either find a different route or keep quiet! Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and then got stuck into the climbing.

The route is in pretty good nick, the first 2 proper pitches being nice ice and with good protection, but the third pitch (described as "50 degree snow" in the guidebook) was desperate. There is a little bulge you need to get over and from below it looks like a walk. However, the snow above and below it is so rotten that on my first attempt to get over it my axes ripped. With pride dented I threw in a load of gear and got over it second go.

For the final pitch we went left and it is really good, easily protectable climbing. Hard to give it a grade but I guess about IV, 6 in Scottish terms. Bags of gear but steep and not much for the feet.

Tom at the top of the crux.

One little word of warning - I finished the final pitch and found myself on a very exposed snow ridge with pretty crappy snow and no anchors. Assuming I'd gone the wrong way I looked up at the ridge and saw rocky slabs covered in sugary snow, and had "a bit of a moment" whilst I worked out the best solution. I opted for going up instead of trying to downclimb and almost immediately upon making the decision, my axe caught on something - the belay! In other words, don't panic when you reach the top if you can't see the anchor, its a metre or 2 to the right. Wish I'd known that!

Tom "A Cheval" on the snow ridge, getting ready to ab down.

The VB went fine but the deep snow at the start of the route held us up so much that we missed the train. Getting off the Mer de Glace was pretty grim but amazingly we were then able to ski all the way to town down the James Bond track, save for a 50 metre walk near the bottom. This is not to say theres no rocks though....

Drus and the Verte from the VB

The following day was just one of those frustrating days. We started with a plan to go ice climbing at Chatelard but got turned round at the Swiss border due to none out of 4 of us having our passports. I've never been checked there before but I suppose it was our fault really. Didn't stop the border guard getting a good slagging whilst we drove back though, Peter's theory as to why he was so miserable being particularly memorable.

A new plan was hatched to go up the Argentiere icefalls. Tom M(the only one of us who doesn't live in Chamonix) reckonned he knew the way so we followed. As it turned out he took us to the top of Nuit Blanche, which is right in the middle of the 2 areas we were thinking of climbing at. Oops. By this stage morale was low so Tom and Tom opted to top rope Nuit Blanche and Peter and I decided to retire for coffee, but not after making an illegal ascent of a pylon.

At least we climbed something.

Today (friday) was forecast clear so we decided to go touring in Les Contamines. The plan was to head up to the Col du Bonhomme and just see what looked good from there. The skin is pretty easy but very long for such a small height gain, so there was plenty of stopping for admiring the view and water drinking.  

Tom and Peter an hour or so into the skin.

On the way up the snow seemed really good so we were pretty excited when we finally got to the col after about 3.5 hours. With the weather turning a bit and with Tom needing to get down in order to drive back to UK, we decided just to ski from the col but not before a nice leisurely lunch.

Nearly there

Peter and I at the Col du Bonhomme.

As it turned out, our long lunch meant that by the time we skied the snow had had a lot of sun, and was pretty heavy. Doh! Still, we got some really good turns in at the top and the ski out was still really fun despite the heavy snow. The track at the bottom was even ok, and we were quickly back at the car.

The reward

One thing that amazed me today was just how much good terrain there is in the area around the Col du Bonhomme and the Tetes des Fors. There are some really good looking ski lines and the views are incredible too.

 I will definitely be heading back there but think I'll get up earlier and go a bit quicker next time.

Sunday 20 February 2011

A busy few days

After some pretty average weather, Friday looked like a good day so Damien and I were keen to get on an alpine route. We decided to go for “Madness Tres Mince” (III, 5, 500m) at the back of the Argentiere basin, figuring that if we made it to the top by darkness we could ab the route and ski out in the dark without too much trouble.
Madness Tres Mince, route marked in red.

The approach was pretty tough due to Damien having his race skis on and me getting beasted trying to keep up, but it meant we got to the route in good time. The glacier just below the route is quite open but not too bad, so we were quickly into the lower couloir and moving together up some really nice ice. Damien doesn’t really place gear on ice (!) such is his confidence so we were able to climb 350 metres of the route in one block of moving together with just the in situ belays clipped.

Looking up at the crux.

The crux is at the beginning of the headwall is a tenuous Scottish 6/7 right now with very little ice. After that there is a further pitch or 2 of moderate ice but with hands and feet getting cold and with the route enveloped in cloud, we decided to get down so as to get as much of the descent done in daylight. The abs were fine, and we were soon downclimbing the snow slope back to the skis. However, we couldn’t find where we’d crossed the bergshcrund and Damien fell in it whilst searching for a way across. When it came to my turn I jumped it, which wasn’t much nicer.

Col Des Cristaux (left) and the NE slope of the Courtes from high on Madness. Tom and I skied both of these last month and I reckon they'll be really good again now.

At this stage we figured we were almost done but even the final 50 metres to the snow had a surprise for us. The snow was extremely deep and there were a lot of holes about so we were taking our time when suddenly the whole slope made an unmistakable “Whoomph” noise – not something I ever like to hear. It didn’t shift under me but Damien reckoned it all moved 2 inches under his feet. Needless to say we sped up considerably at this point! It was a relieved couple of climbers who skied away into the night shortly afterwards.

Sometimes a photo is worth 1000 words. Taken shortly after the slope we were on shifted under our feet.

Yesterday I had my mate Tom arriving from the UK and despite having driven overnight with no sleep he was keen to get out so we nipped up to the Col des Montets and did the Micro Goulotte (I, 4+, 100m) which was really good value. The route is pretty easy for the grade now, and the crux is really fun climbing although slightly tenuous in places. We took some nuts and I was really glad of them as I got a bomber bit in at the crux, and the belays aren’t beyond question so we backed most of them up with the nuts.

Tom soloing up the first pitch of the Micro Goulotte.

Me at the crux.

Today began with some serious pain, as the previous night’s excesses caught up with us, but a good powder day at Grand Montets restored morale. There is bags of snow right now although a lot of it is on top of ice so you can’t really gun it in case you break through or suddenly start sliding. Still, really good snow and a surprising lack of people meant plenty of fresh tracks and grins all round. At this point I should mention that Tom hadn’t skied since he was 11 (“and I was crap then”) and within an hour was shredding the off piste. Surely this is some sort of record for time taken learning to ski!

What a weekend!

Tom and Richie mid way through shredding GM.

Finally a little video of skiing today - sorry Richie!!!!

Wednesday 16 February 2011

You couldn't make it up

Having put a blog post on saying that there was no snow it came as a bit of a blow to morale to go up the Grand Montets with Richie yesterday and have to back off a route due to excessive snow!

We had hoped to do "Farraon" but the lack of a guidebook meant we weren't too sure of where it went, so we decided to switch to the Frendo Ravanel which I'd done recently but was happy to repeat. However, the sprindrift and deep snow soon got out of hand so we went for a coffee instead. It had started out ok but by the time we got towards the first steep section the powder pouring down the route was almost knocking us off. I asked Richie if what we'd just been hit by was sprindrift or an avalanche and with typical Yorkshire understatement, the answer came back "borderline". Either way, it was enough to send us home.

Richie enjoying himself in the snow

Today we hoped that the snow yesterday might have transformed Flegere into a powder paradise, but unfortunately not quite as much had fallen as we'd hoped so it was a couple of runs, a quick coffee and home for us. The weather looks like it might be ok for a couple of days so hopefully I'll get out. Fingers crossed.

Peter and I pondering whether it would be DVDs or climbing wall for the afternoon!

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Back from Kili (and still no snow!)

Just got back from a great trip to Kili and there is STILL no snow – it’s officially a drought. Off climbing today though and apparently there is plenty in good nick so despite the bad weather I’m confident of getting some good stuff done in the next few weeks.

Until then, here are a few shots from Kili for the guys I was there with, thanks for a great trip and see you on another big hill soon....

The Team looking ready for anything

Heading for Kibo

Kili casting it's shadow from the summit

 Heading down but still a loooooooong way to go.