Wednesday 26 June 2013

Contamine - Grisolle

With no real idea of what conditions were like up high, Tristan and I were scratching our heads for the best use of a final sunny day. Through the power of the internet, reports began filtering through of there being some powder on the N face of the Tacul, so that was us psyched for a ski.

Neither of us are keen on being in danger for any longer than necessary, so instead of climbing up the serac-threatened Tacul normal route, we decided to do the Contamine-Grisolle on the Tacul Triangle instead. 

The Midi was really busy this morning, so despite getting there at 7 (10 minutes before the lift opens), we were on the second bin, and by 8 o'clock we were down at the Col du Midi swapping skis for crampons.

Tristan at the Col du Midi

You know you got up early when the moon is still out!

The route itself was great, and save for the odd bit of black ice, conditions were excellent. There isn't really any proper technical climbing, but it's all nicely sustained at a level that keeps you interested. Best of all, the route is pretty brief so you get your fix of axes and crampons, and then you're done; no cramp, exhaustion or fear - a nice contrast from lots of alpine routes!

We moved together all the way as we'd heard (Thanks Joel and Emily!) that there were some awkward chimneys, and we weren't keen on negotiating them unroped and with skis on! Furthermore, I'm not into soloing, and opportunities for having a breather every now and then are much more common when using a rope.

Amazing views across one of the Tacul seracs

Tristan near the top of the route

Once on top of the Triangle there is a spectacular and exposed snow plod to the Tacul summit ridge. We decided to unrope here, as we were both heaving from the altitude and it seemed wiser to go for "every man for himself" instead of having a rope on! 

Tristan heading for the Tacul summit

Once at the top, we quickly got our skis on, and got underway in an attempt to escape the brutally cold wind that was blowing on the summit ridge.


Once on the skis, things just got better and better, with some amazing powder, especially in the middle section of the face. After the winter we've had, I knew I'd be skiing some sort of snow in late June, but it never occurred to me that it would be cold powder! Result.

Me skiing, with the Midi behind. Photo Tristan Wise.

The one unpleasant bit of the day was slogging, unacclimatized, back to the Midi. That trudge up the ridge never gets any shorter! 

My taxi arrives

So conditions are still pretty snowy up high, and anything without a track into it will provide some very tough trail breaking. The snow conditions are a bit funny too, with some areas feeling firm and secure, and others bottomless and spooky. Many of the classic rock routes are dry though, so I would stick to rock climbing or snow routes with a decent track.  Having said that, the next couple of days don't look too sunny, so things could all change, but there isn't major precipitation forecast so I doubt it. 

Grand Montets opens at the weekend, so summer truly is here, but no-one seems to have told the weather Gods!

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Crochues Traverse

After some shaky weather over the last week, today (Tuesday) and tomorrow were forecast to be good and I was keen to get out. Tristan and Owen were psyched too, so we decided to go for a blast up the Flegere, starting with the Crochues traverse, and then continuing to the summit of the Aiguille du Belvedere. 

Before talking about the route, I have to include this - the most confusing toilet sign ever, which is at Flegere. I think  that the one on the right is the woman, but I'm really not sure. 

Unfortunately things didn't turn out quite as planned, as the cloud never burned off (although the Midi was above the clouds most of the day apparently) and we were engulfed in mist all day. Having done the Crochues we got to the Breche below the Belvedere, and our desire to carry on scrambling along a wet ridge whilst getting gradually soaked really diminished, and we headed home. 

Tristan on the ridge

It would have been good to go to the Belvedere, but the Crochues was great fun, and it was nice just to be out. There is a frankly ridiculous amount of show still up in the hills, and I can't help wondering if we should have been ski touring! Maybe tomorrow....

Skiing! Sort of

Tristan looking up longingly at the Belvedere

Current conditions at Lac Blanc. Hard to believe that July is a week away!

Sunday 16 June 2013

Aiguilles Marbrees Traverse & General Conditions Update

The good weather looks set to last here in Cham, so despite an ever growing list of things I should be doing, I've been up the mountains again today. 

There seemed to be plenty of options to choose from, but I was keen to get up high and do some alpinism, so Sharon and I decided to make use of the Panoramique lift and get across to Italy. We didn't have a firm plan, but having got over there we decided on the traverse of the Aiguilles Marbrees, which I'd somehow never got round to doing.

You can skip out the trickiest section of the ridge and join it half way along, but we did the "Integrale" and had a great time. Never tough (with the exception of a short 5m wall early on...) and in an amazing position, the traverse was a really fun, stress free day out.

The Marbrees. The traverse goes right to left.

French team on the final section

Summit smiles

One of the best parts of today was that I was able to get loads of pictures from the lift, so you can check out current conditions. There is still a massive amount of snow, but a surprising number of rock routes were dry, and more are drying out by the minute. There were plenty of teams on the Midi S face, Pointes Lachenal and Eperon des Cosmiques, and the Pte Adolphe Rey, Pyramid du Tacul and Grand Capucin all looked good to go. The freezing level is high too, so this in conjunction with the bright sunshine is getting rid of a lot of snow. However, what snow there is is poorly refrozen, so walking on the glaciers is tough, and any routes reliant on snow are either best left for a few days, or will require an early start.

The weather is said to be lasting 2 more days, and possibly into Wednesday morning, so here's the shots from today. Enjoy!

Midi N Face

Blaitiere & Peigne

Looking down the Vallee Blanche

Talefre basin - looks snowy from here!

Toule, Tour Ronde & Mont Blanc

Tacul E face

Tour Ronde, Grand Capucin & Pointe Adolphe Rey

Supercouloir & Gervassutti Pillar

Pointe Adolphe Rey, Petit Capucin & Pyramid du Tacul

Overview of Tacul E Face

Pointes Lachenal

Triangle du Tacul

Midi S Face

Saturday 15 June 2013

Grand St Bernard Touring

Quite the tour of the St Bernard passes over the past 2 days! After seeing yesterday how much snow is still lying below 2500m, Sharon, Matt and I decided to leave behind all the freshly opened lifts in Chamonix and head for the Grand St Bernard pass. The Col is officially closed to vehicles until 11am next Monday morning, but you can actually drive up both sides and there is about 10 metres of snow covered road right at the top which is unpassable, so you can't cross the pass. Seems a bit strange not to just get it opened completely, but there you go. 

With no firm plans we skied into the Italian side (having driven up the Swiss side) and started skinning towards Mont Fourchon in baking heat. It would have been good to do Fourchon, but when a peak with visibly better terrain and a much shorter approach appeared on the right and we soon changed our plans. I think it may have been Pointe 2823 on the map, but we weren't sure.

Matt earning his turns

The Pain de Sucre N face. I skied this in November - quite surreal to be back here nearly 7 months on and still be touring.

Me on the final summit ridge

Having reached our little summit we quickly pulled skins off and skied down before the sun cooked the snow even more. 


Getting psyched for the ski

Although heavy, the snow was really fun to ski, and the terrain was awesome.

Me on a fun little ridge about half way down

Matt on the same spot

Sharon on the lower slopes

After a quick beer at the Col, we were back in Cham by late afternoon, but not before snapping a few pics to show just how snowy things still are in the hills - 


The weather looks pretty good for the next few days here but looking at the synoptic charts, I think that the recent sunshine has been a result of a weak high pressure, not a really solid pattern of good weather. All of the weather forecasts are slightly different and although it seems that there will be plenty of sunshine over the next week, things aren't that predictable, so I'd advise making plans at the latest possible moment. There will be plenty of options for getting out though, so good luck and stay tuned for updates.

Friday 14 June 2013

Petit St Bernard Touring

After spending a fun few days with rock climbers, I was finally allowed to go skiing when Matt arrived back in town. The climbing had actually been great, although I managed to forget my camera on both days. I had a day at Gietroz with Jack and Alan, and then on Wednesday Alan and I climbed "Into the Wild", next to "Ete Indien" in the Berard Valley. The route is excellent, and whilst not quite as good as its neighbour, it is well worth the walk, and you could easily do both routes in a day if you get up early enough.

Today (Friday), Matt and I went in search of spring skiing, and headed to the recently opened Col du Petit St Bernard. There wasn't quite as much snow as we'd hoped for, but we still managed to get some really fun turns in on great spring snow, and probably skinned up about 500 vertical metres, so a really good use of a morning, and best of all we were home by 1pm. Nice. 

The view from just below the Col

Getting geared up

"Ain't nobody here but us chickens"

Except for a lone Italian rando-man as it turned out!

Matt on the little summit that we skied from

Poetry in motion

"It's like Antarctica!"

The marmots are much tamer over in Italy

Heading for a coffee on the Col - still plenty of snow to go at!

Although summer is very much arriving in the Alps, there is still far more snow than normal for this time of year, so the choices over the next few days include rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Not a bad set of options, and I'll be blogging once I've made my decision and have more to report.