Sunday 29 April 2012

Foehn Wind Chaos

The last week has seen the arrival of the dreaded foehn wind here in Cham, and as ever it has brought really warm and unsettled weather. Valley locals believe that everyone goes a bit mental when the foehn blows and I can see why, as it basically rules out any mountain activity and brings a really odd feeling to the place. This foehn has been particularly strong, knocking over trees and destroying a few chalets in the process.

Despite the funny weather I've had a fun and varied week. More snow arrived early in the week so John, Jack and I went and skied some amazing powder through the Grand Montets trees one morning, and had a fun afternoon skiing the slush afterwards with a big group of Cham locals. 

Former giraffe turned ski beast, Jack Geldard, on his new waterskis.

John Cuthbert enjoying the late April powder.

Fashion matters on the mountain! It's Jack's before anyone emails me asking to buy it.

Mark Faulkner dishing out some lessons on the final red run back to the car.

Since then however, skiing has been on hold and climbing season seems to have begun. I've had a few days single pitch cragging, and then on Friday Emma, Matt and I drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel and climbed the classic "Dr Jimmy" (6a, 400m) at Machaby. The route itself is great - varied, stress free and pretty steady (apart from the 2nd to last pitch - sandbag!!!). The best part is that from the parking area you walk down to the start of the route, then back downhill to the car from the top of the route - no uphill!

Matt getting letched over on the walk in.

Emma and Matt making a bit of a meal of the 4th pitch.

"That's the thing about sport climbing - it's all about having strong fingers." Matt on the penultimate pitch.

Today (Sunday) saw Sharon and I climbing on the lower slabs at Barberine with no-one else around and  the sun beating down. I'd never climbed on the lower slabs but the climbing is great, and it keeps the sun from mid morning until late afternoon. The routes are very slabby, and it's a great place to get the footwork going again after a winter on skis, so I think I'll be back again soon.

Sharon at Barberine

This was the river on the way to Barberine. So that's where all the snow has gone!

Hard to predict what is coming now, but the ski season might not be quite finished if we get some precipitation up high. Mont Blanc on skis anyone?

Monday 23 April 2012

3 Valleys ski touring

After yet more snowfall across the French Alps, Will, Matt and I decided that we’d had enough of skiing the Grand Montets  (amazing though it’s been), and went for a weekend in Will’s garden (the 3 Valleys).

The 3 Valleys has still got a huge amount of snow, so we made the most of it and skied the Breche Portetta followed by the Couloir des Chamois on Saturday. To just say that we skied powder would be doing it a disservice. We skied epic, unbelievable, thigh deep powder in everything from tight couloirs through to big open faces, all the time surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery I've ever passed through on skis. It  wasn't rubbish!

Matt and Will headed up the cat track in January conditions. Hard to believe that May is 10 days away.

Will on his way up to the Breche Portetta.

And again. (He loves breaking trail so Matt and I left him to it.) Check out those limestone towers!

Me and Will in the couloir below the Breche - note the depth of snow.

A quick detour led to....

this! 4 metres wide, 1 metre of powder - incredible.

Will a bit later on, in the Couloir des Chamois.

One more face shot

On Sunday we had a bit of a random day in the Les Avals Valley. We worked our way through 3 objectives and bailed on all of them in turn due to avalanche risk, but eventually skied a couple of nice cols and got some epic powder, so a good day despite our indecision. 

Les Avals views.

On this short pitch of 10 degree snow we had a "mincing" competition. I reckon even lycra-wearing rando racers would struggle to beat our efforts.

Back in Cham now, with good weather supposedly arriving on Thursday. Let's see, but we could be in for an amazing May at this rate.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Col du Passon

After a long spell of unsettled weather today was forecast to be perfect, and everyone in the Valley was busily trying to come up with a good objective to make the most of all the fresh snow. With no real idea of what conditions were like up high, Will and I eventually settled on the Col du Passon in the hope that it would provide good but safe skiing. As it turned out there were a few other great minds thinking the same thing so we ended up having a sociable time and getting some really good skiing in.

As soon as we got to the top of Grand Montets it was obvious that there was a huge amount of fresh snow, and just about every ski line looked good. The ski down to the glacier was excellent, and the skin track up to the Passon was firmly established so the ascent went without a hitch and with some amazing views up into the Argentiere Glacier.

Will on his way down to the Argentiere Glacier on his new skis, complete with “50% off” sticker. The Col du Passon is marked with a red dot.

Another team near the top of the skin.

Will just before the bootpack, with the N face of the Droites behind.

Once on the Col we teamed up with Phil, Nora and Sandy and got a combination of powder, crust, slush and spring snow all the way back to Le Tour. Overall, not a classic descent, but really fun skiing and it was great to be out under blue skies after a gloomy few weeks.

Nora, Phil, Sandy & Will at the start of the ski.

Heading off onto the Glacier du Tour.

And finally, some ski shots of Phil & Will –

When the weather finally does pick up we are in for an epic late touring season. There was much talk today that after all the fresh snow, we are actually only half way through the season! Fine by me.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Lots and lots of skiing

Having somewhat pessimistically said in my last blog post that we were heading into a week of terrible weather, I’ve since had some superb days out and there is even more snow to come. Always look on the bright side of life!

Over the weekend I had a couple of laps down the Vallee Blanche, and then a superb day of skiing fresh tracks all over Grand Montets on Easter Sunday.

Matt slightly over celebrated Easter, and this was the pathetic sight that greeted Peter and I on Sunday morning.

Caroline showing Matt what he missed at GM!

On Monday Matt and I decided that all this lift served skiing was a bit easy and so we headed into the Aiguilles Rouges for a tour, but with no definite plan. The first thing that struck us was just how much fresh snow there was, and also just how much this new snow was sloughing off rocks and generally feeling a bit dodgy.

After much umming and ahhing we ended up on top of the Aiguilles Crochues N summit, and had a fantastic ski back into the Flegere lift system via Lac Blanc having skied some powder and a lot of excellent spring snow. We were both pretty shocked at how unstable the snowpack felt though, so although the avalanche risk is officially only category 2 below 3000m, I’m being pretty cautious right now. Anyway, another good day, topped off with a couple of hours of blasting around nice, slushy pistes.

Crowds on the way up to the Col Crochues

Matt bootpacking up towards the Crochues N summit

On the way down, with the Dru appearing behind.

Me just above Lac Blanc

Yesterday (Tuesday) we went for a look at the N face of the Belvedere, confident that it would have good snow but be low enough that it wouldn’t have been affected by the winds we had earlier in the week. There was an incredible amount of people putting skins on below Lac Blanc, but luckily they all disappeared up towards the Col de Beaugent, so we had the track up to the Col du Belvedere almost to ourselves. The skin up is easy enough, and Matt and I were soon bootpacking up towards the Belvedere’s summit, leaving everyone else to ab off the Col to the good skiing below.

Looking up at the Belvedere from the col.

Matt bootpacking the final section

Having reached the top of the couloir we hoped to ski, we decided against going to the very top of the peak as the slope we would have climbed felt pretty iffy when we started up it, and we even shifted a little slab even in the 5 metres we climbed up.


Having skipped the summit we dropped into the couloir and unfortunately found really heavy crust, and much steeper terrain than we’d hoped for. I’d guess at about 50 degrees, but with such weird, crusty snow it felt pretty out there, and we were both relieved to get to the lower, less steep section unscathed. The lower section was OK, but still had some crust in places – so not a classic descent as a whole!

Matt definitely NOT gripped, and only using his ice axe to look good in photos.

Matt on the lower section

Me on the final slope before the glacier.

Unfortunately when we joined the Glacier du Belvedere we saw a chopper coming in, and as it turned out it picked up a woman we’d been chatting to earlier in the day. We later found out that she’d torn her cruciate ligament. If you’re reading this - get well soon Lucy!

The Berrard Valley had some really good snow in it (some things never change) so having met up with some mates who had gone over the Col du Belvedere we had a great ski down on some really fun spring snow, and only had to walk about 5 minutes at the end of the track back to Le Buet.

Sally shredding the Berrard Valley.

Finally, we hit Grand Montets again this morning and once again got acres of untracked powder after a big snowfall last night.

Will (who’s now reached the dizzy heights of being profiled on the about page of this blog) ripping up the Grand Montets.

More snow is coming now, so when the sun finally does appear we are in for yet another spell of good touring, and in the meantime there should be plenty of lift accessed powder going. Winter 2012 just keeps on giving!

Friday 6 April 2012

Aosta Valley Rock Climbing

With the weather really turning bad across all of the Alps, Matt, Tom and I made a bid for one final dry day and drove through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to do some climbing in the Aosta Valley. We opted for a crag called Machaby which has fully bolted routes up to 400m long, which is about 45 minutes down the Valley from Courmayeur.

With the weather dry but looking threatening, we wanted to do something that we could run away from easily and went for “Urca Urca”, a 400m 6a+ on the lower tier. Luckily the rain held off all day and we had a good but chilly day of stress free climbing. The abseil descent was probably the toughest part of the day as the wind really picked up, and we had a tough time keeping control of the ropes! 

Matt safely anchored to the in-situ Gnome that we found at the 3rd belay.

Tom, Matt and I mid way up and convinced it's about to rain.

Abbing. Note the angle of the ropes!

It is even raining in Aosta and Provence now, so all decent options for escaping a damp Chamonix have gone. Peter and Martin have resorted to going to Fontainebleau for some bouldering. Things must be bad!

Tuesday 3 April 2012

M6 Solar

Immediately after getting back from the Silvretta I headed south to see my family, who were on holiday in Nice. After a few tough days of eating good food, drinking fine wines and swanning around the sights of the Cote d’Azur, it was a bit of a shock to find myself on the first bin up the Midi yesterday with an ever-psyched Tom Moores.

Trying my luck using my Mondeo keys on a Monaco local’s car. No joy.

With an unreliable forecast we weren’t keen on getting too committed but wanted to climb something, and were sure that the Tacul E face would provide some mixed fun. Some rock climbing would have been good, but with possible bad weather due in the afternoon we figured that mixed climbing would be a safer bet.
After some deliberating we did an extremely dry “M6 Solar” on the Pointes Lachenal. The route is basically dry tooling with brief sections of snow/ice (and mud!) right now, but we managed to scratch our way up and had a good day in the process. As ever when climbing in this part of the Massif, the descent was a simple ski down the Vallee Blanche and a ride down the Montenvers train.

Tom seconding Pitch 1 

Tom leading P2. I led this pitch last time I tried the route, and knew that this section is miles easier with a bit of ice (which it currently doesn’t have). Sandbagged! He’ll learn one day.

As for conditions up there, things are looking pretty poor to be honest. The Modica-Noury & Gabarrou-Albinoni both look good in their upper reaches but the approach gully is extremely thin, with plenty of rock showing through, while the Valeria & Chippendale gullies are both virtually non-existent. Sorry, just telling it how it is! The VB is fine right now, with good coverage and firm, grippy snow. There is no shortage of moguls, but they are actually pretty fun given the good snow.

The weather looks like it is really going to turn now, but I suppose that after several weeks of blue sky, we musn’t grumble. There is even talk of snow down to 1400 metres, but it all looks very unpredictable.
Stay tuned for info as soon as I’m able to get back into the hills again!