Thursday 22 August 2013

Petite Aiguille Verte & Aiguilles Dorees

This hot and sunny summer just seems to keep coming, so I've been out for a few days over the last week trying to make the most of it. First up, Gary and I went for a lap on the Petite Aiguille Verte and the E ridge of the Grand Montets. Given that the weather has been good for 90% of this summer, it seemed ironic to be out in the mist and cold, but we had a good time, and it was nice to get out despite the lack of views for most of the day.

Gary on the Petite Verte

A quick glimpse of some moody looking Drus

Where else can you have a coffee in your own house and then be here an hour later?

Me on a short, tricky section on the Grand Montets E ridge. Photo Gary Tulloch.

Looking to up the ante a bit, I teamed up with super keen London based climber Matt Groom and after much deliberation we headed up to the Albert Premier hut to do the traverse of the Aiguilles Dorees. With conditions quite dry after a long summer, we wanted something rock based, and with no danger of rockfall, either natural or kicked off by other people. The Dorees seemed a good idea, and with it being a slightly neglected classic, we figured we'd find some solitude. The guidebook says that the route is long, difficult to follow, and quite serious, so we also knew we'd find some adventure...

Sunset views from the hut. The Dorees is normally approached from the Trient hut, but with the chairlift which takes you most of the way broken, we decided we'd rather go from the Albert Premier.

The approach was pretty long (just under 3 hours), but we got our heads down and managed to beat daylight to the route, and so had to sit in the freezing darkness for half an hour and wait for the sun.

First light on the route

Matt and the Aiguille d'Argentiere

Matt on the ridge

The climbing on the route was great, and the route finding interesting, so spirits were high by the time we reached the snow traverse section. Unfortunately the snow was gone and had been replaced by patchy black ice, so we had to take the direct line, which takes in a 6a corner. Matt was up it in no time though, and we still thought all was well. 

However, when we finally reached the foot of the Tete Biselx, the whole thing looked like a pile of chossy, awful rock. On the approach to the route we'd seen the evidence of 2 huge rockfalls, and now it looked as if one had originated from where the route was supposed to go. Add this to the fact that smaller rockfalls had been more or less continuous from the face, and we were suddenly not that keen on pushing on. There looked to be no good way up the peak, and nor did it look possible to get around the face and continue another way. We were both gutted to turn around, especially after putting in so much effort on the approach, but neither of us wanted to go anywhere near the Biselx, so that was that.

I've been meaning to climb the Dorees for years now, so I was disappointed not to do it, but a good time was had despite not finishing the route.

Matt looking back at the bigger rockfall

The smaller of the 2 rockfalls!

It looks as if there is now a spell of dodgy weather coming up, but I'll still be getting out where possible and blogging when I do.

Postscript - I had a text from Matt today saying that having checked a few guidebooks it seems that the chimney we were supposed to climb had indeed fallen down in the major rockfall! Scary stuff.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Aiguille de la Perseverance, S Ridge

Keen to get some mountain fitness in, Gary, Sharon and I decided to go and check out the South ridge of the Aiguille de la Perseverance, high above Lac Blanc. The route has classic status, and with a 2 hour approach from the Index chairlift, you certainly deserve to be rewarded with a decent route.

The approach is pretty tough, and the final hour is a really tough slog across boulders and up some horrible scree. 

Gary on the scree slope

Once on the route, the first 2 pitches are good, after that things get a bit loose and chossy unfortunately. There is the odd good section, but generally the situation and views were better than the climbing. The final ridge is really exposed and enjoyable, but the rock quality still isn't great. 

Me on the ridge. Photo Gary Tulloch.

The summit is just brilliant though, with amazing views across Chamonix, and into the Berard Valley. The descent is obvious enough, with a 25m abseil, then a short scramble along the ridge towards the Col de la Perseverance, and another ab of 20m. 

Summit views

Sharon on the second abseil

From the bottom of the second abseil is a frankly horrible slide/scramble down the scree slope below...

Overall, not a glowing recommendation! The approach and descent are really tough going, and the route basically is a great line, but not a great climb. That said, the views from the route are hard to beat, it's a classic line and a famous summit, and the banter was excellent, so by no means a wasted day. I'm definitely keen for a better walking:good climbing ratio on my next day out though!

A bit of company for the walk back to Index

Friday 16 August 2013

Chalk and Granite Episode 2

The second episode of the Chalk and Granite series came out today, and once again Toby and Rachel at Seven Twenty Productions have surpassed themselves and done an amazing job. This long and sunny summer just keeps coming, so hopefully this video will help keep the psych up!

Thursday 15 August 2013


As followers of this site will have noticed, the blog has been pretty quiet this summer (sorry!), but I'm now back in Cham and revved up to get the season underway properly. 

The last 5 weeks has seen me driving (or being driven - thanks Mark and Jack!) to Germany, Paris, the Ecrins, Tuscany, and finally from Liverpool back to Cham - ask me anything about European toll roads and service stations. After all that, I'm dreaming of my own bed and plenty of Cham time so hopefully blog activity will pick up considerably!

It's always good to be back in Cham

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Rochefort Arete, Papillons Arete, and general conditions

I only got back to Cham late on Saturday night after a blissful week of lounging around in Tuscany, so it was quite a shock to the system to go from hardcore tourism in Pisa on Saturday to kipping at the Helbronner with Matt on Sunday night. 

From the sublime (complete with tourists all doing the "I'm holding it up" act)...

to the ridiculous - The Alpine Clown in full costume

With neither of us acclimatised nor keen for trying too hard, we were looking for something to do which was neither too high, dangerous or committing, and something which would provide some good views. The classic Rochefort Arete seemed to tick all the boxes so that was that.

Away from the hut by just after 5, we were taking crampons off and beginning the scramble up to the Salle a Manger an hour later. It would be fair to say that we were both pretty lukewarm about the loose nature of the terrain, and when the seemingly inevitable happened and a huge rockfall flew past us, it was quickly decided that we didn't need this sort of thing in our lives, and we headed off. Always a shame not to be rewarded for a rubbish night's sleep, but I'll wait until Spring when the approach is a bit more glued together before going back. Everyone else who'd been behind us carried on by the way, so it's perfectly possible to get up there if you have the required psych/danger tolerance.

A sight rarely seen - Matt doing summer alpinism

Beautiful morning light on Mont Blanc

Matt enjoying his second breakfast after our retreat

Having turned back we decided to go and climb the Entreves just to do something with the day, and to check out conditions. If I could summarise things right now, it would be "dry". Some of the bergrschrunds, particularly on the Tacul are enourmous, and routes like the Tour Ronde N face look really icy and unpleasant. The rock, however, looks great, and just about everything is dry, including big routes like the Gervassutti Pillar. If you're climbing up the Midi right now, I would recommend sticking to rock climbs - there are some amazing routes to be done so get on them while it's too hot and dry for anything else.

With that in mind, Sharon and I decided today to do the Papillons Arete on the Aiguille du Peigne. The route itself is just brilliant - perfect granite, nothing too hard (provided you don't get lost at the crux...oops!), loads of gear, and amazing views of the towering Chamonix Aiguilles. 

Early morning light on the M and Petit Charmoz, with the Drus and the Verte behind.

Looking up at the Papillons

All was going smoothly until the end of the route when the weather suddenly went from sunny to misty in seconds, and then a minute or 2 later, a flash of lightning came so close to us that I felt a jolt through my feet. Quite the incentive to hurry down! We duly hurried, and the "storm" only lasted about 10 minutes, so we walked out in perfect sunshine to a very welcome can of Orangina at the mid station cafe.

Conditions are great around the Aiguilles now with just about everything dry. I could hear rockfalls all day though, so choose your route carefully and you'll have a great time.