Wednesday 27 July 2011

Grand Montets

In search of acclimatisation and fitness, Peter and I went up the Grand Montets today hoping to get a couple of routes done. We started off by soloing up and back down the NW ridge on the Petite Verte, and then retired for coffee to consider our options. 

Conditions were extremely snowy, and it felt very wintery. That said, we knew that were some single pitch rocks just below the Col des Montets so we wandered off down the Argentiere Glacier to look for them. We didn't find them but did notice the very pleasant looking ridge leading back up to the cable car station, and so opted to climb that. We had no idea about the difficulty but it looked reasonable, and so it proved. The bottom section was a bit loose, but after that there was some really enjoyable scrambling and snow plodding. The one fault with the ridge was that it was escapable pretty much the whole way, but that is a pretty small quibble. To find the route you just walk as if going to the Argentiere Hut and the ridge is on the left - a hidden gem!

It looks like the weather may finally be improving, but in the meantime here are some shots from the day to show the current conditions up high.

A peaceful day in the mountains! The Petite Verte is always pretty busy, but today was something else.

Dru north face

A Guide hard at work with the Aiguilles de Chardonnay & Argentiere behind.

Peter making the most of a quiet spell to nip down the crux of the NW ridge

Me leading on the second route of the day

Looking down the ridge we climbed, from the cable car station.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Orco Valley

In an attempt to find some elusive sunshine, a team of 7 Chamonix climbers headed down to the Orco Valley, just north of Turin, in search of dry rock. The Orco is known as a granite mecca, and is said to contain the "hardest crack in Europe". Unfortunately I was on a mileage mission, otherwise I would have obviously bagged it.

The drive from Cham is about 2.5 hours, so not too bad at all, and very scenic. Once there we had 3 days exploring the numerous crags and climbed everything from bolted slabs to off width horror shows, and everything in between. I have to admit that we didn't feel that the Valley lived up to it's reputation, but there is still plenty of climbing to go at, and I would be happy to go again. The most common complaints were that the crags were quite broken, with numerous grassy ledges everywhere, and that the ethics seemed a little confused. There is apparently a constant circle of bolting, bolt removal and re bolting, so the nature of the routes changes regularly.

Despite these quibbles, I had an awesome time, and it was great to see the sun! I'm sure it's going to make it's way over to Cham soon. Here's a few shots to remind everyone here what dry, sunny rock looks like!

Peter climbing slabs - a rare sight. "There's no grips!!!"

Getting confident now

Van living

Amazing corner crack high on "Pesce D'Aprile

Saturday 23 July 2011

Where's summer gone?

Answers on a postcard!

Well, summer doesn't really seem to be happening just yet, and I have even resorted to working to pass the time. There was talk of a trip down to the Ecrins tomorrow, but it seemed a long way to go for a short and uncertain weather window, so a big Chamonix crew is heading for the Orco Valley in Italy instead. 

Today we were determined just to get out in the mountains to do anything, but driving rain put us off our first idea of a training run up the Aiguille du Tour. In the end we headed up the Midi to do a quick lap of the Cosmiques Arete, but the Arete leading down to the Vallee Blanche had a huge amount of fresh, soft and unconsolidated snow on it and we weren't too keen on risking our necks just to do a route we'd all done dozens of times before.With disaster imminent I suggested we wandered over to the viewing platform at the end of the Cosmiques, and have a look at the Passarelle Gully. This is the steep line down to the left when climbing the Cosmiques ladder, and looks quite interesting, particularly under such heavy snow. We quickly got a top rope set up on the railing of the viewing platform and I was lowered in. As it turned out, the route provided a fun 60 metre pitch, albeit quite tenuous and covered in powder snow. 

Tom emerging from a snowy Passarelle Gully

Having all had a quick burn on the route we headed down to get ready (hopefully) for a sunny trip to Italy. The good weather has to arrive at some stage, so hopefully it won't be too long until it gets here.

Top roping an ice climb - not what I had in mind for summer!

Saturday 16 July 2011

Lux, Aiguille Crochues

I've been back in Cham for 5 days now, and Meteo France have been doing their best to scupper any climbing plans. It all started on Thursday when a sunny afternoon was forecast, followed by a good day on Friday, so we optimistically headed up to bivi by the Nantillons Glacier in preparation to do the Charmoz/Grepon traverse. The route is primarily west facing so should have dried in the afternoon sun. 

The problem was that the sun never arrived, and we got to the bivi site in heavy, damp mist. Finding everything wet and with no sign of the sun we opted to have a bite to eat and then walk down to Cham. Needless to say that after 2.5 hours of knee crunching descent, the weatherman wasn't exactly flavour of the month.

"Fast and Light" is Matt's religion - only the lightest food is considered for bivis.

On Friday we ended up going for the safe option of a route in the Aiguille Rouges and went for "Lux" (6b, TD, 200m) on the Aiguille Crochues. As ever in the Rouges it was scenic, well bolted, great climbing and generally stress free. Makes me wonder why I bother with the other side of the Valley. 

"Lux" is a good route, and massively overgraded, so a good one for the confidence. We didn't think that there was anything harder than 6a, and the "crux" pitch was about 5+. Good route though, and a good option for a half day, we did it in about 4 hours return from the chairlift and that included plenty of stops.

Jerome at the top of Lux.

Meteo France again excelled themselves today (Saturday) by predicting 60% sunshine, when it was in fact sunny all day until 5pm. I only had a half day though so Vicks and I nipped up the Midi and wandered across to the Cosmiques hut to check out conditions high up. The Tacul area looked busy as ever, but there was a surprising amount of snow on the Tacul triangle, and on the East face of the mountain. With more snow forecast I think the big rock routes will need a few sunny days before they are completely dry again. The Gervasutti Pillar etc. all looked whiter than I would expect, as did the Grand Jorasses, so when the weather clears I think lower altitude routes will be the way to go for at least a few days.

At least 2 bad days now forecast but with the form the weatherman is on right now, it will probably be wall to wall blue sky!

Quick snack stop at the Cosmiques hut - another tough day in the mountains.

The Tacul looking moody as the weather turns.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Summer begins

I've been away from Cham for 3 weeks, and seem to have brought the British weather back with me, but such is life. It has obviously been extremely hot here, and everything has shedded an unbelievable amount of snow since I was last in the Valley, so I'm super keen to get out on the rock ASAP. Looks like the weather is picking up on friday so we'll see...

In the meantime, thanks to Neil, Probes and Dan for some awesome days in the Lakes, here's some shots to keep the psyche up until the sun reappears. 

Paul Robins high on Saxon, Scafell Crag

Neil Mackay on Arcterus, Pavey Ark