Thursday 30 August 2012

Dent Blanche S Ridge

Despite the searing heat of mid August disappearing, we've been having some odd conditions here in the Alps with plenty of sun, but plenty of thunderstorms too. Picking an objective is always tough at times like this, and the main danger is letting frustration rule, and picking what you'd like to do rather than what you should do. Peter, Tom and I debated several options including a quick hit to the Bregaglia area, but all of us are keen on having good days, and none of us are keen on "getting away with it", so that plan was shelved in favour of a trip to the Valais for some classic alpinism on the Dent Blanche.

With all 3 of us unacclimatised, the famously tough slog up to the Dent Blanche hut felt like a real grind, but we still managed it in 4.5 sweaty hours (and that was with me carrying some vegetables which the hut guardian had asked me to pick up in Martigny!).

All photos Peter Riley - 

Me and Tom at the hut.

Hut sunset

Away from the hut about 4.15 the next morning we made good time and had tagged the summit, stuffed ourselves with Haribo and M&Ms and were on our way back down before 8. Most of the route is very steady scrambling, and there are just a few short, trickier sections. Were it not for the verglas which covered the final third of the route, I think we all would have been happy soloing everything, but as it was we stuck the rope on briefly near the top. The descent took as long as the ascent as we abbed down a few verglassed slabs, and got stuck behind a few guided teams, but we still back in Cham for dinner time and a well earned vin rouge. 

This was without a doubt one of the best viewpoints I've been to in the Alps, so here is a shedload of photos to illustrate the point!

Me mid-way up the ridge at sunrise

Looking across to the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa et al.

Waiting to pass a guided team high on the ridge

Looking across to the Zinal Rothorn & Ober Gabelhorn 

Matterhorn gets the first rays of sun

Tom and I on the busy summit

Starting down

Me on the verglassed rock just near the summit. 

COLD!!! I wore all the clothes I had when we left the hut at 4.15, and still had them on when we got back! My water froze too, so pretty wintery all told.

Looking back up at the ridge

Heading home as the clouds thicken. It started raining a few hours later.

Final thing - when we were checking out Peter's photos, we came across this one; in which Tom and I seem to be having a competition on who can look the most camp. I'm confident I won but cast your votes now please.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Aiguille des Chamois S Ridge Integrale

Last week I was down on the Cote d’Azur, and returned to Cham over the weekend to find the sun shining and the temperature no different to Monaco. The mountains have clearly dried out hugely over the last 10 days or so, and it sounds like people have been pretty busy on big routes.

However, the heat was such that the weather seemed to be becoming a bit unstable, and I wasn’t keen to get stuck into anything too big and then be committed if a storm did arrive. The first idea I came up with was a quick hit in Switzerland to climb the Dent Blanche. 2 hours into the walk in the heavens opened, and we promptly turned around and walked back down. Win some lose some.

Tristan and I decided we had to get something done even with the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, and opted for the South Ridge Integrale on the Aiguille des Chamois (2902m) in the Aiguilles Rouges. The route is supposedly about 90 minutes from the top of the Index chairlift, but I was walking with Tristan so we did it in just over an hour....

The lower section of the route climbs the Pilier des sept lacs, and then over several towers, along some easy terrain, and finally onto the summit. It all adds up to about 450m, and with pitches up to 6b, we knew we’d have our work cut out to finish the route in time to catch the lift down.

Tristan on the lower buttress

And on the "Red Gendarme", the 4th tower.

Chamois family just below the summit

The climbing is mainly superb, although there is the odd loose section here and there, but nothing too grim. Also, the supposed 6b crux pitch on the 3rd tower is actually much easier than the second 6a+ pitch on the 2nd tower, which is the actual crux – worth knowing if you’re trying to trick your mate into leading the tough bits (which I was). The final good bit of info is that the route is really well bolted, and you only need gear occasionally (although the bits where you need it, you really need it), so there’s no faffing making belays as they are all in situ, and some pitches are entirely bolt protected. 

Tristan and me on the summit

 Tristan on the summit, about to start heading down

Looking down on the Berard Valley and across to Mont Buet. 

We made good time on the route, and by 3.30 were on our way down, and made it back to the Flegere with time to spare. A great day and a great route finishing on a spectacular summit – makes me wonder why I ever climb on the other side of the Valley J

Sunday 12 August 2012

Aiguille du Plan, Dent du Crocodile & Dent du Caiman traverse

With a few days of perfect blue skies forecast, and with Tom back in the Valley after a few months away, we were both pretty psyched to get back into the hills and get something big ticked. We had a day up the Midi on Tuesday to have a look at conditions and ended up climbing the Pointes Lachenal and Arete a Laurence in the process, both of which were fun as ever.

Having sussed out that everything above 3600m (ish) was plastered with snow, we decided to go for the traverse of the Chamonix Aiguilles, a route I'd been thoroughly hammered by a few years back, and which I'd always wanted to finish. 

The route can begin either at the Midi, or by climbing the Grand Charmoz first (much harder), and takes in the whole of the skyline in between the 2 peaks whichever way you do it. We opted for starting from the Midi, and made quick time over to the Aiguille du Plan, having tagged the summit and descended back to our bags less than 3 hours after leaving the Midi.

Tom heading for the Aiguille du Plan

From there, things started to slow down, as the route to the summit of the Dent du Crocodile was supposed to be PD and take half an hour, but rockfall meant that we had to climb some horrific loose choss and then up a much more difficult ridge to the north. The descent is pretty confusing too, and involves some tricky abseils and route finding. 

Parts of the route are pretty exposed!

Me climbing terrible choss on the way up to the Dent du Crocodile. Photo Tom Grant

Me on top of the Dent du Crocodile. Photo Tom Grant

Luckily the climb up to the Dent du Caiman is great, with golden granite leading up to one of the pointiest and most exposed summits I've ever seen. However, the abseils on the descent are so full on that in the 3 line description of the Aiguilles traverse in the British Alpine Club book, there is virtually no detail on the route save for, "...including a spectacular piece of rappeling off the Caiman".

It certainly lives up to its reputation...

From the bottom of the Caiman we traversed beneath a couple of minor summits via some pretty scary, loose rock, and found ourselves looking down a relatively low angled face leading to the Envers Glacier far below. By this time we knew that we weren't going to manage our goal of reaching the Blaitiere at the end of day 1, and as such would either have an enormous second day getting all the way to the Charmoz, or we'd have to stop at the Blaitiere and descend the rockfall-prone Nantillons Glacier. With neither of these options looking very tempting, and with the route so far having been a pretty tedious combination of loose rock, scary abseils and general faffing, we decided to bail. We had no idea what the face below us was, but it looked pretty amenable, and seemed to be pretty featured and we were confident it would provide abseil anchors if there weren't any in situ. 

About half way down the face, and having used a combination of in situ anchors and our own abseil tat, as well as a bit of downclimbing, we found a huge ledge with a massive snow patch. Neither of us were too keen on abseiling through unknown terrain in the dark, and so we settled down and got the bivi kit out. Although we were disappointed at having not done the route, the bivi site had an incredible view and we passed a pretty comfortable night.

Amazing views of the Grandes Jorasses at sunset

Me letting the sun soak in the next morning. Photo Tom Grant

The next morning we carried on abseiling and everything went smoothly until the terrain began to really steepen for the final 100m to the Glacier. I was leading the abs and on the second to last ab managed to go virtually to the end of the ropes without having found an anchor on the very steepest part of the wall. The terrain was in fact so steep that I could only just touch the wall, and so was left hanging in space. With no option but to start prussiking up the ropes, I started heading back up after a load of grunting and faffing, and after about 5 metres I spotted a little flake. Keen for a rest I chucked a sling onto it and clipped in, and then suddenly realised that going all the way back up the ropes wasn't going to get me anywhere as an anchor wasn't going to suddenly appear. After much internal debate I unclipped from the rope and called for Tom to head down to the flake. His face said it all, but to his credit he came down and we both clipped into the tiny sling and hung in our harnesses, feet on nothing, thinking light thoughts and trying not to shift about too much.

This is what fear looks like. Photo Tom Grant

It's up there somewhere!

Unfortunately we both felt that the traverse was a bit of a let down. It is supposed to be a major classic, and maybe things improve after the Caiman, but overall it seemed like a lot of scary abseils and climbing on loose rock. Still, 3 good summits climbed, a good time had complete with plenty of Tom banter, and one less route on the to-do list, even though we didn't finish it. Onwards.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Aiguille du Moine S Ridge Integrale

The last week has seen sunny days followed by thunderstorms most evenings, so Matt and I were looking for a nice rocky ridge, but nothing too long, hard or committing. Having read Jon Griffith's account of the Aiguille du Moine S Ridge Integrale (5c, D+, 500m), we decided that it fit the bill perfectly and headed up late afternoon in search of a good bivi spot (Matt deciding we should give the hut a miss as he "didn't want to pay for a bad night's sleep"). We found a great spot right between the 2 paths to the hut (one coming up from the Mer de Glace, the other from the Charpoua Hut), which provided comfy grass to sleep on, running water and an amazing view. Bomber.

View of the Grandes Jorasses N face from the bivi.

Matt "The Alpine Clown" Livingstone gets psyched for some dinner

After a good night's kip the alarm went off at 5, but that felt far too early so we pressed snooze for half an hour, and then got away about 6.30. Finding the start of the ridge is pretty easy, and from there it was a bit of a faff for the first section, but after an hour or so we got onto some amazing granite and stayed on it all the way to the summit. The climbing varies from easy scrambling through to some quite physical chimneys (including one that provoked some "industrial" language from both leader and second!), and the overall quality is extremely high. Best of all, the Moine is surely one of the best viewpoints in the Massif, with views of the Verte, Courtes, Droites, Grand Jorasses and all the way across to the Chamonix Aiguilles and up to Mont Blanc.

Having made it to the summit about 5 hours after starting, we had a quick bite to eat and then spent just under 2 hours downclimbing the Moine normal route. There are ab points all over the descent but we opted to downclimb virtually everything, only abseiling a chimney quite near the bottom and then doing 3 short abs (we only took one 50m rope) above and then over the bergschrund. 

Most of the S Ridge Integrale in profile

Ridge views - 

Matt on top

Matt and me super psyched for 2 hours of downclimbing

How the hell did this get there?!?!

Matt on the descent, Leschaux Glacier behind.

One thing we couldn't figure out about this route was why it was so quiet. I'm forever hearing that Chamonix is too busy and it never fails to make me laugh because I never seem to share a route, and today was no exception. If you stick to the 20 most famous routes in the Valley then expect to queue, but we were on a low altitude, mid grade, superb route and didn't see a soul all day. If you're looking for a great day out which is low enough to do virtually unnacclimatised, and want to see some incredible views and climb some perfect granite, look no further.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Back in Cham and praying for some sun

Just like everyone else!

After a fantastic trip to India (report on my site for those who are interested) I'm now back in Cham and itching to get into the hills. It seems like I've just missed the first really solid spell of good weather this summer, but there is still sun to be had and a roadtrip may be in order to get some blue sky next week, so let's see.

Sharon and I have managed to get one day of climbing in already, and with me feeling a bit weak and knackered from India, we opted for the ever reliable Chesereys slabs, climbing "Un Pere Noel pour Lucy", a 5 pitch 6a. The route is great, and the 2 6a pitches at the top are superb, so well worth a look overall.

Sharon on the final pitch

This guy came and checked us out while we were having lunch after the route. The animals seem very tame this year, and it's great to see them so close.

After the route we decided, on a whim, to go and recreate the picture in the Chamonix Crag Climbs book of someone doing a tyrolean traverse between the Aiguillette d'Argentiere and the cliff behind it. This was a bit of a random thing to do but turned out to be great fun, well worth the effort. I couldn't be bothered tensionning the rope properly though, so it all sagged a bit and made getting back to the end pretty tough! Still, good fun and very photogenic - 

The walk out provided yet another animal close up!

One sad note to finish - we encountered a guy walking up to Chesereys with a massive Alsation dog, and dogs aren't allowed in the Aiguilles Rouges. I told him this and he promptly told me to mind my own business! After a bit of an argument I gave up and left him to it, but having seen so many animals yesterday it made me even more annoyed that people flaunt the rules. If you see someone with a dog, do something about it and stand up for the ibex and marmots!

To quote my mate Pete Croudace - "You never need to pack an idiot, one will always turn up when you get there"!