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.