Sunday 24 April 2011

Tout ca pour ca!

Not some deep, philosphical french thought I'm afraid, just the name of the route we did today. The forecast remains unsettled and so any hopes for a final big day were dashed and replaced with another day of multi pitch rock. As it turns out the weather has been pretty good all day but I'd get loads more done if I had hindsight on my side all the time.

I'd always fancied climbing one of the big routes at the back of the valley at Barberine, on the way up to the Emosson dam, and decided that today was the day. We chose to do "Tout ca pour ca", which goes pretty much up the middle of the face. Encourangingly enough the topo in the Chamonix crag climbs book has a big exclamation mark at the top as the final pitch fell down a few years back. Happily, the rest of the route is apparently fine.

The crag with "Tout ca pour ca" marked in red.

The walk up is easy enough, about 40 minutes, and the key is to keep going until almost level with the crag and then head left where you get to a grassy area. The first few pitches are easy so we moved together up them, and then the final 3 pitches are all sustained at top end 6a, so not too hard but enough for early season.

As per usual in these parts the descent is by abseil right back down the route. Overall really good quality climbing and a good idea for a dodgy forecast - we started late and were still back at the bags for 3.

Busy day at the crag

Saturday 23 April 2011

Eperon des Cosmiques, Les Courtes & Brevent

Busy old week with Tom here - he never stops.

After the Profit Perroux we decided on another trip up the Midi and went for the classic Rebuffat route on the Eperon des Cosmiques. I'd left Tom in Peter's capable hands earlier in the week and they'd managed to climb the wrong route so I had no choice but to go with them this time and show them the way.

The route is totally dry right now so we quickly traversed in to where the real climbing starts and I was sent up the crux. The crux pitch is, to be honest, pretty rubbish. About 15 metres of nice granite slab climbing lead to an overhang and then it is simply a case of pulling on the in situ aid. Unfortunately there wasn't as much to pull on as there had been last time so I had to put a few bits of my own in, and this coupled with my lack of upper body strength and the altitude meant I was gasping by the time I got through it, much to the amusement of the lads.

Start of the crux pitch

Hard graft

After the crux there are 3 easier pitches, but really good quality climbing and with the odd brutal move thrown in over some small overlaps. Tom and I knew how much Peter loves brutal climbing so we sent him up on the lead - very kind of us I thought. Once off the route we did the Cosmiques Arete for the second time in as many days to round off a great day.

Next up we went for a go on the Swiss Route on the north face of Les Courtes. Tom had been itching to get on a big route and I was keen to complete the full set of routes on each of the big 3 faces in the Argentiere basin. Things started badly when the cable car broke for half an hour and only got worse when I decided not to take the high traverse to the route because it had been pretty hideous 2 weeks ago and was likely to have got worse. As it turned out loads of people did it and it looked fine, but such is life.

The skin up was tough in the heat but the route looked in bomber condition so we ploughed on. Once near the route we could see a team already on it and moving very fast so we were encouraged even more. However, having got to the bergschrund I saw that it had actually collapsed in the hour or so that had passed since the other team crossed it. There was a path, a big gap and then more foot prints, and a big block in the schrund with some boot tracks on it. I went into the schrund to try and get across anyway but part of it collapsed under me, and the rest of it looked grim, so we headed home. Sometimes everything is just telling you to go home and friday was on of those days. Route looks great though and someone braver than me might have crossed what was left of the schrund, so could be a good option when the weather clears.

North face of Les Courtes. The Swiss route takes the obvious ice gully up the middle of the lower face then drifts left up the snow to the summit.

The forecast had originally been for saturday to be quite a good day but having looked at it on friday evening, things had changed for the worse so we abandonned our plan of a route on the Midi north face and instead went up the Brevent to do the "Frison Roche" on the face right under the cable car. With a possible thunderstorm in the afternoon it seemed wise to pick something we could do quickly, and this fit the bill.

The winter has been so lean that it is already possible to get to the route in trainers and there is only snow on the 5th pitch, which is just walking anyway. One word of warning - it was FREEZING on pitch 4(which is in the shade), to the extent that we got hot aches - not something you foresee when rock climbing.

The cragging at the Brevent is dry now but there is still 2 metres of snow so you miss out the bottom 20% of the routes. With this in mind, and knowing that the routes are all about 15 grades harder than the book says, we headed straight home after the Frison.

Pitch 1 on the Frison Roche

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Profit Perroux, Aiguille du Midi

After a week of doing the tourist thing and generally having a break from mountains, I was keen to get out and so was my mate Tom, who booked this trip to Cham immediately after getting back from the last one. He's got taste.

I'd run into Jon Bracey and my mate Ian over the weekend and they'd just done the Profit Perroux on the NW face of the Midi and reported thin but acceptable conditions - Jon's exact phrase being "ice where you need it", which given that it was supposedly an ice route didn't fill me with confidence. However, Ian confirmed on the phone that it was in climbable conditions even for mere mortals, so that was decision made. Peter was in too, so a sociable day was in store.

The day begins with 5 abs, the first one being directly off the Midi bridge, and then 4 more down the couloir. The second set of ab anchors are quite hard to find but just keep going until near the end of the your ropes (60 metre ropes compulsory) and you should spot the bolts and yellow tat. The abs further down are all easy to find, and lead you into the route. The route isn't in the guidebook but if you have seen a photo of it it is pretty straight forward finding it.

Abbing in off the Midi bridge

Once on the route there are 2 very straightforward pitches on snow and rock and then the real fun begins. The photos of pitch 3 which I'd seen on the links below showed 5 metre wide, 70 degree ice, but right now it is a chimney with some ice at the back. At this stage Tom had a fit of keenness and accepted my offer of the lead so Peter and I, the old hands, settled into belay jackets. As it turned out it was quickly dispatched and we agreed that Scottish 5 is about right, so not too bad at all.

Tom leading pitch 3

Still psyched Tom also took pitch 4, which can be a wide runnel of ice up to a steep chimney, but right now it is thin ice on rock leading to a steep chimney, but again not too bad. The supposed crux of the route is the chimney on this pitch, but was actually pretty easy. There are a few steep moves on the right hand wall but if you forget your axes and climb it with you hands it is "Gritstone Diff" in Peter's words.

Nearly at the Cosmiques ridge

The final pitch is steady now, mainly ice with a few short rock steps and then you find yourself about half way along the Cosmiques Arete. Soloing back to the station we were home in plenty of time, so a great day hit.

Overall conditions are not great right now but the difficulties never exceed Scottish 5 and the quality of the climbing is excellent, so unless it gets any thinner it is still definitely worth doing right now. Meanwhile there were teams on the adjacent "Burnier Vogler", and they were just doing the top pitch when we saw them so it must be climbable but I don't have any details on conditions.

Couple more good write ups here -

Thursday 14 April 2011

Weekend Video

Here is my video from a weekend of headcam wearing last week. I keep meaning to buy a proper editing programme and learn how to use it but never quite get round to it, so you'll have to excuse the production quality. Still, theres some decent footage in there so hopefully it can overcome my ineptness with technology.

Untitled from Charlie Boscoe on Vimeo.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Aiguille du Refuge & Barberine

After such a good day on the Midi S face, Peter and I were really keen for some more mountain rock and so we took the Grand Montets up to have a look at the Aiguille du Refuge, a 200 metre crag right behind the Argentiere hut. Matt joined us too, so as to keep the belayer awake.

I knew it was a good idea when we went into the OHM to do some research and the woman behind the desk declared it an "excellent idea". Like most Brits I'm used to having fingers wagged and shoulders shrugged everytime I suggest something in there so being congratulated on my route choice felt like a milestone in my climbing career.

Skinning up from the refuge after a quick coffee stop.

The topo we had was useless so we popped into the refuge to get a better one, but were distracted by coffee and ended up just using our original one. It was pretty difficult to work out where the route went but we just followed our nose and got 4 really good pitches straight up the face. In the end, Matt was stopped in his tracks by a horrific looking chimney, so we abbed off with still no idea what route we'd done but pleased that we'd had a good day of climbing and discovered a new, and quiet, crag.

Matt leading the first pitch

I thought I was being so clever by hanging off this bolt to change back into my ski boots, until I began to wonder how I was going to get off the bolt and back onto the ground...

There was talk on sunday of a big mountain day but I was pretty feeling knackered and the others not much better, so we went to Barberine and had a really good day doing multi pitch sport routes. Emma and I picked a slabby route (Vipere au Pied) whilst Matt and Peter did "Bon Voyage" which is a bit steeper and harder. Barberine is completely dry and always gives a good day out. It really felt like summer though - I climbed the whole day in just a pair of shorts!

I've had my headcam out over the weekend so when I get a chance I'll put a video together.

Saturday 9 April 2011


Some things in life are inevitable - death, taxes and the Aiguille Verte handing my ass to me on a regular basis. Better climbers than me have taken many attempts before finally reaching the summit of the Verte so I don't know why I thought I'd manage to get up on just my third try.

The first attempt was via the Grand Montets ridge and was somewhat spoiled by our failure to get up early, and also by bad weather. The guidebook explicitly states that the ridge is very commiting and once past a certain point, retreat is extremely difficult. It was therefore a bit of a blow to morale when I woke at the bivi on the ridge to the sound of rain and the immortal words "Its not good news, youth" from Peter. As it turned out we did reverse the ridge, but I can't say it was much fun.

Today we decided to have a go on the Couturier couloir, and made good time up to the base and up the initial snow slopes. The route had much less snow and much more ice than last time I was there, and was also steeper for longer, with most of it at 55 degrees or more on the left of the rock rognon. We had hoped to solo all the way but with conditions as they were, and Peter never a great fan of ice (let alone soloing it), we decided to move together. As it turned out the route was in such icy condition that we could move quickly and get really good protection in, so soloing wouldn't have been much quicker anyway.

Looking up at the Couturier

Problems started when my feet began to really hurt, and boredom simultaneously set in. I'd frost nipped my feet on the Droites a few weeks back, and the continuous front pointing was agony. Added to this was the fact that we were both finding the climbing pretty tedious, so we decided to head home from 2/3 of the way up. Maybe we should have carried on for fitness/training etc. but to be brutally honest, we couldn't really be bothered, especially with 3 sunny days to come which we could make the most of if we weren't too knackered.

Heading down the Couturier

Having abbed down easily the ski out was fairly rough - terrible crust on the glacier followed by mud/slush on the pistes. Not vintage.

Despite this incredibly negative report on the day we did actually have a really good time thanks to sun, good views and excellent conditions for banter. Here's to attempt number 4....

Today we went for a slightly easier day and went to do the classic Rebuffat route on the south face of the Midi. The route is about 200 metres long and never very hard, but never very easy either and so sounded perfect for a first day back on mountain rock.  The route can be rammed with people but today there was only one other party on it, which was nice. The route can be exposed to falling snow at the start of the season but it seemed fine today and we only had to cross 2 small snow patches. It also features probably the best descent in the massif - one abseil direct back to the cable car station.

Following the famous "S" crack on the Midi south face

Me leading the final pitch

Its like summer already up at the Midi with more people on foot than on skis and all the usual routes - cosmiques arete, chere couloir, traverse of the pointes lachenal - all busy. Is winter finished?!?!

Monday 4 April 2011

Breche Puiseaux

The forecast was perfect for Saturday so Matt and I met up for the first bin at the Midi with our sights set on the Breche Puiseaux, a fantastic tour on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche. I’d done the route before but it is, in my opinion, the best tour in Chamonix so I was more than happy to do it again. As usual when touring in that area, we crossed the VB to the Italian side and expected it to be open but not too bad. Luckily there was a guy ahead of us on his own who put in a nice track and so, figuring that unless we came to a crevasse with a bloke in it, we’d be fine. So it turned out until we were nearly out to the point where you put skins on, and the bloke appeared. “Ce n’est pas possible”. Nightmare.

Mont Blanc du Tacul from the Midi

Matt high on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche

We teamed up at this point and got the rope out so we could belay each other across the bad section. We tried one way and it was impossible, so we had another go right next to the rocks and just about made it via a sketchy traverse which I wouldn’t even consider without the rope. You basically ski on a foot of snow somehow attached to the rock and slither across, all the time with the biggest crevasse in Italy right next to you. Basically, don’t ski the Italian side of the VB right now – its death. You only gain about 100 metres height anyway so better just to ski the French side and cut across the Salle a Manger right now.

Matt plus random nutter who had been putting the track in on his own. "He won't die wondering".

Having lost a lot of time we eventually got the skins on and made good time heading up under the Dent du Geant.and were soon putting crampons on for the boot pack up to the Breche. By this point it was boiling so it was 2 sweaty skiers who emerged onto the col and started rigging the abseil. There are 2 short (25 metre) abseils down to the glacier and then you put skis on and the fun begins. Unfortunately our delay in getting over there meant that the snow had had a lot of sun, so there was a lot of slush and a bit of good snow here and there.  However, the view – particularly of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses – is just so immense that the skiing is almost secondary.

Heading up the couloir

Mont Blanc from the Breche

The reward

And again

The glacier is pretty wild, with enourmous crevasses everywhere, but there is a safe route through so not bad at all if you keep your wits about you. Once on the Leschaux glacier it is simply a case of straight lining it out to the end of the VB and the accompanying masses of people. The end of the Mer de Glace is pretty dry right now and you have to take skis off about 50 metres from the steps, and there is a bit of icy/rocky ground to negotiate. Does it make us bad people that we were giggling at the attempts of various VB skiers to get down this? Well whether it does or not it was a fun end to an awesome day.

North face of the Grandes Jorasses

And one more picture of skiing porn

If you get there early enough to get the good snow then this tour really has everything – easy approach (usually!), plenty of skinning but not too much, a nice boot pack and then really good skiing and incredible views. What a day.

Friday 1 April 2011

Chere Couloir

With my mate Neil just having finished a 3 month stint in Scotland, I was keen to show him this thing that appears in the sky above Cham most days, and which provides light and warmth. As if the sun wasn't amazing enough to a hardened Scottish climber I also wanted to show him skiing, and climbing routes without spindrift pouring down your neck.

Needless to say, he was pretty psyched so we decided to have a go at the uber classic "Gabarrou Albinoni" on the Tacul. However, in keeping with tradition the Midi opened late (as it always does when it has snowed) and as we stood in the queue watching time tick by, we decided to go for a safer bet which wouldn't require walking down the Montenvers train tracks having missed the last train.

I'd done the Chere Couloir (II, 4, 350 m) years ago but was happy to do it again, as I hadn't climbed for a few weeks and was happy just to get some fitness and good views. The route was pretty busy but we managed to get ahead of the crowds by moving together from the bergschrund and all the way up the route. In fact we were going so well that having not seen Neil since the bergschrund I realised that there was only one pitch of half decent climbing left, so I generously pulled over so that he'd get a lead. He shot up that and it was back down for sandwiches in the sun (which was still a novelty for Neil).

The snow on the VB wasn't great and time was pressing, so we decided to go back up to the Midi, which was fairly character building unacclimatised.

The route is pretty thin right now compared to the last time I did it, but perfect ice all the way and much more interesting than when it is really fat, so get on it - if you can beat the queues.

Neil loving sunshine and good ice - he's not had much of either recently.