Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pilier des Contes

With only one day of good weather left, Peter and I decided to make the most of it and go and climb a route on the banks of the Mer de Glace. The Pilier des Contes has, by all accounts, some of the best climbing in the Envers area- and that's saying something. 

The walk in is actually quite tough, and it took us about 1hr 40. You go up the Mer de Glace, follow it round to the right and then cut up through the moraine to the Pilier. The problem is negotiating the small icefall at the corner of the glacier, as it is a bit of a maze. On the way up we stayed by the side of the glacier and ended up walking through some pretty grim moraine/ice. Once below the Pilier itself it is simply a case of scrambling up the loose moraine to get to the routes. On the way down we walked right out into the middle of the glacier and ended up in an even bigger maze of crevasses. The one saving grace is that the glacier is dry so you don't need to rope up and there are no unexpected surprises, its just a case of walking round looking for gaps small enough to jump across. I think on balance that staying near the edge of the glacier is the better option.

Which ever way you get there however, it is worth it simply for the situation. The Pilier is an amazing piece of rock and even has a big grassy area underneath it, which feels a bit weird when surrounded by big, snowy mountains. It also gets sun all day long, so it is really warm - we climbed in T shirts all day.

We did the classic of the crag, "Les Contes de la Folie Ordinaire" (TD+, 6a+, 250m), which takes an obvious line up the left hand side of the cliff.

Les Contes de la Folie Ordinaire

The route itself is excellent, and nicely sustained without ever being really hard. The bottom pitches are roughly HVS, but with 2 that would get E1. 

Looking down on pitch 5.

The belays are pretty comfy!

After about 5 pitches it all gets much easier, and the big challenge becomes taking in the rope fast enough when belaying the second up. The final pitch is probably the best of the top half - an easy but amazing layback leading to the summit of the Pillier, which is even marked by a little cross.

A full rack is needed but anywhere without cracks there are bolts, so the whole thing is very well protected and the belays are bolted, so the whole experience is pretty stress free. As with most of the routes around here the descent is a simple case of abseiling back down the line.

Nice route, amazing situation and a good day hit - get on it.

Monday 30 May 2011

Mont Tondu NW Ridge

As is often the case in May, the weather has been pretty average for most of the month. A weather window did eventually appear over the weekend though so Vicks and I decided to go and climb Mont Tondu from the Conscrits hut. At just under 3200 metres, not really technical or commiting (the NW ridge gets PD and the descent is even more straightforward) and offering a nice traverse it seemed like a really good objective for some unacclimatised climbers.

The walk up to the Conscrits hut is pretty hard work, but luckily the early bit out of the valley is in shade so you're spared the worst of it. All in all it took just over 4 hours, most of which we were able to do in trainers and only changed into boots about an hour from the hut, where the glacier starts.

The next morning saw us away by 5.30 and making good time up to the col at the start of the NW ridge. With nice, firm snow we were able to keep the crampons off all the way to col and up the inital part of the ridge, which saved us plenty of effort. The walk up to the col and the first step are little more than walking and easy scrambling. The second step is the only vaguely technical part of the route so we put the crampons on for it, and for the final snowy ridge up to the Pain de Sucre - the "lower" summit of Mont Tondu. The second step is basically some easy scrambling, with about 50 metres of slightly tougher, steeper ground but still no harder than grade 2 scrambling. From there it is just pleasant snow plodding.

Vicks low down on the NW ridge

Me just below the summit of the Pain de Sucre

Although graded at "Facile", the ridge from the Pain de Sucre to the summit of Mont Tondu looked pretty full on, but assuming that it couldn't be that bad we set off to have a look. As it turned out it was pretty straightforward scrambling but in a really exposed spot. Vicks isn't a huge fan of exposure so she had a bite to eat and I was dispatched to finish off the ridge and "bag" the summit for the team.

Me on the summit of Mont Tondu - look closely!

With that done we began the long descent down the normal route of the mountain. Essentially a long glacier walk, it is pretty obvious where to go, just keep drifiting rightwards near the bottom. Once back on flat ground there remains about 3 1/2 hours of walking to get back to the car, by which time an ice cream was in order.

Heading home

For a place like Cham, where lower grade mountaineering routes are in short supply, Mont Tondu and the other routes accessed from the Conscrits hut are a really enjoyable option, particularly when bad weather has ruled out options higher up or when you're trying to escape the crowds. Also, the views are stunning and it all feels very wild, so pretty amazing all round. 

Wednesday 18 May 2011

New Look Blog

The recent unsettled weather in Cham has seen me doing a bit of cragging but mainly sitting at home redesigning this site. As well as a general make over the site now features the following -

* Skiing, Winter Climbing and Summer Climbing trip reports with info on most of the routes skied or climbed since the blog's creation.

* Useful Links section, including a year round special offer on accomodation which is exclusive to this site.

* Dedicated video section for those long days in the office

* Weather forecast page with links to forecasts for Italy and Switzerland as well as Chamonix.

* About page, profiling the people who appear regularly on the blog.

* The ability to follow the blog by email and share it via Facebook & Twitter.

* Search facility to enable information to be found quickly.

* Comments section under each post. Click on the title of any post and the comments box appears under the post. Questions or requests for information welcome.

Hope there is plenty to blog about over the coming summer,


Sunday 8 May 2011

Mallory, Aiguille du Midi

After six (SIX!!!!!!) days of consecutive work, I was really looking forward to a mountain day so Tom and Guilhem and I decided to go for a run up the Mallory route (AD+, III, 4a, 1100m) on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi.

We were unsure as to what the crux was, or what condition it was in, and so took 2 x 30m ropes and a small rack. The walk in was pretty quick and we soon found ourselves shooting up the easy lower slopes. The snow was pretty sugary after a very warm night last night, but the low angle meant that it was still easy to go quite fast.

The crux is fairly low down and is at the first real rock step. I led up and it was pretty steady, more awkward than difficult. We all agreed that we'd solo it if we had to but having brought the ropes it would have been daft not to use them. Once past the crux we took the ropes off and climbed the rest of the route without getting them out again.

Tom and I shooting the breeze mid way up the route.
All photos courtesy of Guilhem Martin Saint Léon, http://carnetsdumont-blanc.blogspot.com/

The route is actually surprisingly interesting and although it is mainly snow plodding it winds in and out of various features and interest is maintained all the way. It is also an amazing feeling to be on such a big face and moving fast, all the while with cable cars buzzing past.

The Demi Lune where the Mallory and Eugster couloirs meet.

Tom nearing the top

Conditions are not great right now, with the snow being quite heavy and not as firm as we would have liked. That said, it would be pretty hard to fall on the vast majority of the route and having left the mid station at 8.30, we were back in town with a beer in hand by 3 (and we were hardly rushing), so it can't have been that bad.

Tom and I on the final slopes

Great views, great situations and a 1100 metre north face in the bag - what a day.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Winter Video 2011

With the arrival of the Foehn wind about 10 days ago, it seems that winter is over. To be honest it has been far from a vintage winter, the driest in the Alps for 40 years apparently, but a lack of snow can sometimes mean great climbing conditions and an early start to the rock climbing season and so it has proved this year.

As ever in Cham the key has been to be flexible and go with what conditions are telling you and not what you would like them to be telling you. Sticking by that (most of the time) we managed to do some incredible skiing and climb some amazing routes, and looking back on various blogs it is clear that the lack of snow hasn't stopped other people doing things in the mountains.

For those with time to spare, here is quick summary of my winter -

 Climbing Highlight

Has to be the first British ascent of Mark Twight and Barry Blanchard's "Richard Cranium Memorial" on the NW face of Les Droites. Having received virtually no attention since it was first climbed in 1991, it has now become a bit of a trade route for British climbers so maybe people do read this blog after all!

 Climbing Lowlight

Poor snow low down (which subsequent ascentionists were clever enough to avoid by waiting a few extra weeks), poor route finding and some general British alpinist faff saw us spend a March night sat on top of Les Droites following the route described above. Ouch.

Skiing Highlight

Despite one famous skier describing the NE face of Les Courtes as "an easy day" on his blog, it was a big deal for me and I was chuffed to finally ski it. We found firm and grippy snow and it was amazing to be skiing a face that big and scary looking. Thanks to Tom for pretending he was finding it hard too.

Skiing lowlight

Failing to ski from the Plan de L'Aiguille once all season. Its the best lift accessed skiing in the Valley but was rarely covered enough to ski. A big omission from my winter - I'm going to live up there next year.

Most ludicrous thing I heard all winter

Some bloke soloed a route on the N face of Les Droites and then instead of walking off, decided to downclimb the Ginat, a 1000m grade 5 ice route. Makes me sweat just thinking about it.

Best thing about a mild winter

BBQ Season starts early! A hair dryer is amazingly effective at getting it going by the way.

As with last winter I've put together a short video of the season - hopefully it will get everyone psyched for next winter, and inspire the weather Gods to deliver a bit more of the white stuff.

Chamonix Winter 2011 from Charlie Boscoe on Vimeo.

Finally, the lack of blogging this week has been due to the fact that I've either been working or in Provence since my last post. John and I decided to nip down at the last minute and teamed up some of my old Lancashire crew. As ever in Provence the weather, climbing, coffee, wine, pizza and views were superb, and it took quite a bit of will power to leave on Sunday. Weather is still a bit iffy here so I think it might not be too long before my next visit down south.