Wednesday 27 June 2012

Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune, Aiguille du Grepon.

With a bombproof forecast for the weekend, Peter and I decided that we could finally get on a long route after a rainy and unsettled few months. The freezing level has been really high for the last couple of weeks but there is still a lot of snow above 3500m, so we were looking for something which was relatively low down, and not reliant on snow conditions. 

As is so often the case, the Envers des Aiguilles area was the best option, but the Envers hut was full, forcing us to bivi and limiting our options to routes which descend back down the same way. We eventually opted for "Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune" on the Grepon, the longest route in the Envers des Aiguilles guidebook at a massive 850m. This might not be as long as some routes in the Alps, but there is virtually no easy terrain, meaning that opportunities for moving together are pretty limited, and you basically have to pitch the whole thing (a whopping 25 pitches!!!!). 

On Saturday we did the walk up to the Envers area and found a superb bivi site about 100m below the Envers hut. Not wanting to be tired for Sunday we opted for a short route, and did the 6 pitch "Le Piege" (6a+, 200m) on the Tour Verte, a great little route and a good warm up.

All photos Peter Riley

Me looking cool on "Le Piege"

Sunday saw us up and away by 5.15, and climbing an hour later. The lower buttress went smoothly enough, but unfortunately the traverse across the couloir on pitch 7 was covered in snow and so we were forced into a detour down and around the snow, resulting in a fairly harrowing section of downclimbing/traversing! Perfectly doable but not the best protected passage I've ever done!

Sunrise from the lower buttress

Once on the top buttress we were able to climb pitches 8 to 10 in one go (although I don't think we took the actual line of the route), but that was the only section where we moved together the whole day.

Once on the upper buttress the pitches just keep coming, and the difficulty is sustained, with only a couple of pitches at  French 5b/English VS, and everything else harder. Peter and I had both climbed longer routes, but neither of us had done a route which was so difficult for so long, and with granite climbing being pretty physical at all but the easiest grades, we were both pretty worked by the time we reached the final third of the route. Still, with the weather just about holding and with psyche high, we pushed on and maintained a good speed until pitch 19 (?) where there is a long step across a gap. Having tried every conceivable way across it, I accepted that my knackered right hip just wasn't going to stretch far enough and so brought Peter up for him to have a go. He eventually made it after various shenanigans but I couldn't reach it even with the security of a top rope and so got Peter to take me tight and I swung across, managing not to break my ankles on the way - always a bonus. 

Me leading mid way up the top buttress. This photo gives a sense of scale as I look close but am actually 45 metres away, and dwarfed by the rock.

Me seconding high on the route

Me leading a 6a/E1 pitch around pitch 20

With a few pitches left to go we were frankly knackered, but with Peter excellent at steep granite cracks and  me not so good, he took over the lead for the final steeper pitches, whilst I carried the pack and tried to climb as fast as physically possible. This tactic worked pretty well and I think we both got a pretty good workout in our respective roles of leader and water carrier!

Nearly there, Aiguille du Roc behind

After 25 pitches of climbing we eventually topped out, and immediately began our descent back down the route, stopping only briefly near the top for some food and water. The descent went incredibly smoothly, without a single stuck rope, meaning that we did the route in a 14 hour round trip, which sounds like a long time but actually felt pretty fast. From the bottom of the route we walked back to our bivi, packed our bags and then walked straight out, all the way back to Cham. We could have stayed at the hut but wanted to get home and be out of the way by the time the bad weather came, and so eventually walked back into town at 1.30am, 21 hours after the alarm had gone off at our bivi. BEASTED!!!!!

Me having a well earned bite to eat shortly after commencing our descent

Overall we felt that the sustained quality of the route was incredible, but the continuous difficulty made it feel much harder than something like the Cordier Pillar that we'd climbed a few years back. On most long routes there are sections where it gets a bit easier and you can eat up distance in big chunks, but on this route virtually every metre is "proper" climbing, in that it is technical and not easy enough to move together or even climb really quickly. 

It might not be as famous as some routes but it feels like a major success, and a great start to what will hopefully be a long, sunny summer. Routes such as this are often ignored in favour of better known climbs, so hopefully this report might see a few more people climbing what is an incredible route - it certainly deserves it.

To have found a line of such amazing quality and sustained at a decent but not extreme level is an amazing achievement on the part of Michel Piola, so I'll finish with his quote about the route and the Grepon E face.

"Invisible from Chamonix, hidden behind the imposing bulk of the Chamonix Needles, the E face of the Grepon is nevertheless of a very respectable height. More than 850m, this monstrous rock has already seen off man's attempts to build on it, shaking down the Tour Rouge Hut...and only just tolerates another building, that of the Envers des Aiguilles Hut.

...after sunning yourselves for so long on this beautifully coloured granite you may be lucky enough to witness the rare moment when the sun meets the moon (le soleil rendez-vous avec la lune).

A magical moment, best appreciated as close as possible to the hut."

Monday 25 June 2012

Clocher Clochetons & Cocher-Cochons!

A sunny spell finally arrived in Cham at the end of last week, and keen to get onto some dry mountain rock, Paul and I headed up to Planpraz (mid station at Brevent) on Friday and did "Cocher-Cochons" (6a, 250m) followed by the uber classic Clocher-Clochetons traverse.

The walk up to the route is about 45 minutes, and the reward is a string of stunning, well bolted pitches on perfect rock, followed by a classic ridge traverse. The Clocher-Clochetons is a pretty short and straightforward route, but great fun, so to combine it with some more technical climbing made for a perfect day. I can't recommend this route highly enough!

All photos Paul Maine - 

Ibex admiring the view on the walk in

The Clocher-Clochetons towers seen from low down on the route

Me on the Clocher - Clochetons tyrolean

Me on the first tower

 Me leading the final 6a pitch of Cocher - Cochons, probably the best pitch of the day.

Monday 18 June 2012

Busy, busy, busy

It's been a bit of a frantic few days here in Cham as the first weather window of the summer has (sort of) arrived. I say sort of because it hasn't been a true high pressure with settled conditions, but there has been plenty of very welcome sunshine. 

On Friday I teamed up with photographer extraordinaire Alexandre Buisse (meaning that the standard of photography displayed on this blog is about to rocket!) for a day climbing on the lower slabs of the Envers area. As it turned out our intended route (Voie Georges) was wet so we decided to go and check out the Trelaporte slabs, not far from the Envers des Aiguilles ladders. The guidebook says that conditions vary there, and the routes may not be accessible due to movement of the glacier, and so it proved. The gap between the ice and the rock was about 3 metres, and the glacier has shrunk so much that the routes are now separated from the floor by 50 metres of blank, glacier polished rock. We ended up doing a couple of routes at Montenvers and chalking it up as a fun research day.

One benefit of finding a massive hole in the glacier is that a happy 20 minutes can be passed chucking rocks of varying sizes into it and listening to how long they fall for! 
Photo Alexandre Buisse.

Over the weekend Sharon and I decided on a change of scene and headed over to Saas Fee. Incredibly, if you are staying in the Saas Valley (even camping) then the lifts are free. Not half price, FREE!!!!! As a result we went up the Hohsaas lift 2 days running and found an incredible amount of snow, and a lot of people doing some amazing looking skiing. Without skis we had a look at the S ridge on the Lagginhorn, but it was a bit of a non starter with the amount of wading it required. If you're thinking of heading over to Saas Fee this week then make sure you have your skis, it looked like conditions were really good. Also, make sure you check out Feetchi crag, just past Saas Almagell, and most importantly, make sure you pay the 15 francs to ride a bike down from the Kreuzboden lift! Money very well spent! Overall a great weekend of climbing and attempts at mountaineering, but wish I'd taken my skis. Grr.

All photos Sharon Wray - 

Current conditions on the Weissmies

And the Lagginhorn

Venturing off road on the hired bikes at Kreuzboden!

Back on road, but still showing off.

There is a lot of snow, but the effort of slogging up to the Lagginjoch was worth it for the views alone.

Today (Monday) I teamed up with Alex again and we climbed the Contamine Mazeaud on the Triangle of Mont Blanc du Tacul. I've done most of the day routes off the Midi several times so it was good to do something new. Conditions weren't great, but the route is perfectly climbable right now. When we got to the top of the route the weather looked as if it was really coming in so we decided to ab down instead of carrying on any further up the Tacul. Once we were down a short way we traversed into the Chere couloir as this is a really straightforward abseil descent, and it also looked in good condition right now. 

All photos Alexandre Buisse - 

I think a rest day might be in order!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Crevasse rescue & Le Fayet dry tooling

After a long spell of wet weather, it looks as if things are picking up tomorrow (Thursday). However, bad weather doesn’t necessarily stop play in Cham, and I’ve been keeping myself busy waiting for the sun to come out.

Monday saw Owen and I dry tooling down at Le Fayet, which always provides a good work out. With an axe in each hand I'm not too keen on taking leader falls so once I've led a route I just lap it on top rope until I'm knackered - others may be braver! I’m not sure I’d ever pursue dry tooling as a hobby but if you want to climb and get a bit of fitness, then it’s a good use of a rainy day.

Messing around on rock with ice axes is a serious business. Photo Owen O'Keefe

Smashing in the corner route at Le Fayet. Photo Owen O'Keefe

Tuesday I teamed up with Owen and Joel and we went up the Montenvers for some crevasse rescue practise on the Mer de Glace. It was pretty damp but I try and do a day of hauling practise every year - bitter experience has taught me that having a vague idea about all that stuff is NOT the same as being able to do it when it matters! Again, not as much fun as climbing in the sun, but a good idea for a dodgy day.

Owen keeping dry

Hauling requires A LOT of kit! 

Sun, sun, sun from tomorrow!

Sunday 10 June 2012

Col de la Colombiere & Dalles d'Arveyron

With the unsettled weather continuing here I've been seeking out dry rock for the last few days and have managed to climb everyday, and even enjoyed a bit of sunshine. The end of last week saw me back at the Montenvers slabs, and even resorting to dry tooling down at Le Fayet when we had a total washout day.

Saturday was forecast to be a good day, but with fresh snow in the mountains Sharon and I decided to climb low down, and picked the Col de la Colombiere in the Aravis. The drive from Cham is only about 45 minutes and there are several crags, varying from single pitches up to 7 and 8 pitch routes. We climbed "Manque un Metre" (6a, 300m) on the Jalouvre crag, and it was superb. The route is pretty popular so a weekday might be better, but it's a really good option when the weather isn't quite good enough to get into the hills.

Chamois at the Col de Colombiere

Sharon on pitch 4 of "Manque un Metre"

Today (Sunday) was forecast to be dry until early afternoon so Sharon, Matt, Tristan, Sam and I went to the Dalles d'Arveyron for some slab climbing. The Dalles are really good, glacier polished slabs, and dry really quickly so perfect for the first dry day in a while. We did half a dozen routes or so then headed off when the black clouds began to arrive.

Current conditions in the Chamonix Aiguilles - bit too snowy for climbing right now.

A glimpse of the Republique and the Charmoz from the walk in to the Dalles d'Arveyron

Matt and Sharon enjoying fresh melon at the crag - cheers Matt!

No good weather on the horizon but I'm sure I can keep busy - more to come on here about good options when the rain keeps falling in Cham.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

June Gloom!

I've been in UK for a couple of weeks, and have just got back to a rainy Cham. As is often the case in early summer, the weather is pretty unsettled and although there are going to be good patches here and there, I think we'll have to wait a bit longer for the first really solid spell of summer sun. :(

The good thing about Cham is that there is always something to do, even if it feels a bit more like training than fun (ie. bouldering & dry tooling), so I'm sure I'll be keeping busy until the sun appears. Once I get into the hills and have a look at conditions I'll be straight on here, and in the meantime I'll report on a few good wet weather options around the Valley.

To keep spirits up until the sun appears, here's a few shots from the few days before I left for UK, when we got the odd patch of sunshine and some amazing days out. 

Dentelles, Provence. Spot the climbers!

Me + Chamois in the Aiguilles Rouges.

Sharon & Caroline climbing at Les Chesereys

And on top of the Aiguillette d'Argentiere