Thursday 26 September 2013

Ecandies Traverse

The weather has been stunning for the last week here in Cham and with it all forecast to change over the weekend, I decided I'd better leave the laptop for a day and get a route done. As ever, Peter was psyched and so we decided to do the Traverse of the Ecandies, high above Champex. We'd started the walk in to the route once before but turned around when it started raining so a return date had always been on the cards. 

All the guidebooks talk about walking in from Champex but with us trying to do the route in a day (without a bivi after the approach) we thought that we could get in just as quickly from the Col de la Forclaz. The theory went that any extra time walking would be made up in having to drive 40 minutes less each way. It didn't quite work out!

Initially the walk in went fine and we made good time towards the Fenetre d'Arpette col before branching off across scree slopes towards the Trient Hut. Although long, the approach was fine and we were at the Col des Ecandies by 10.30.

Me on the walk in, with the Trient Glacier behind. Photo Peter Riley.

Me early on the traverse, checking the route. Photo Peter Riley.

Looking along the ridge from near the beginning. 

The traverse itself is just fantastic, with plenty of easy but brilliant scrambling plus the odd trickier pitch. The one bit we did skip is the famous "Saut de l'Ange" (Angel's leap) which involves jumping from one pinnacle to another. We'd naively imagined that this would be between 2 big, flat areas but it is actually between 2 small, sloping little ledges with massive exposure and a horrible potential swing if you messed it up. I was leading and didn't fancy it but when Peter arrived he assured me that we just needed to "man up". One closer look and he quickly decided that he was with me and didn't fancy it either! A quick abseil and a shuffle along a ledge saw us back on the route and on our way, with our tails firmly between our legs. 

The remainder of the route went very smoothly and we were on the summit 3 hours after starting. From there the fun really started when we realised that in order to get back to the car, we'd have to descend towards Champex, cut across to the Fenetre d'Arpette path, climb up the Fenetre and then walk down to the car. Ouch. We ended up walking for just under 9 hours and climbing for 3 so I guess all the guidebooks are right when they say to come in from Champex. Still, it was great to be out and we got a superb route done as well as clocking up some good mountain mileage. 

Heading for the final summit. Photo Peter Riley.

Just below the crux. Photo Peter Riley.

Me heading off on the final section before the summit. Photo Peter Riley. 


The Fenetre d'Arpette

All change with the weather now but with a bit of sun still lingering around for a few days. I might just have to get out at the weekend...

Monday 23 September 2013

Passage du Derochoir & Perrons Traverse

With winter (hopefully) fast approaching, I've been trying to get some long mountain days under my belt in an effort to build up some fitness for ski touring. To be honest, rock climbing hasn't really happened for me this summer so my thoughts have already turned to what I need to do to make the most of the coming winter. The answer is fitness and checking out new places and areas that I'd like to tour in. 

First up was a charge up and over the Passage du Derochoir, above Passy. Starting in the mini ski area of Pleine Joux, this is a brilliant journey which takes you all the way round the stunning Pointe de Plate. Passing through the Rocher des Fiz and featuring 1000m of ascent and descent, this is a great journey with some incredible views. I managed to scope out a few ski tours too....

The Rocher des Fiz. Unfortunately I can't get off the floor on any of the routes on this peak, but if you're good enough it looks an awesome place to climb. 

The Pointe de Place from the parking at Pleine Joux.

Next up was the traverse of the Perrons, high above the Emosson Dam. I did this route last year (click here for the write up) but it's so good that I wanted to do it again. The walk in went a bit smoother this time and we found the right path but it was still a hard slog. The route itself was brilliant though and the combination of views and amazing scrambling is hard to beat. If the walk in and out was half the length, this would literally be the best low grade route in the Chamonix area. As it is, the route is fantastic but you need to be psyched for the walk. Overall, a brilliant day and a good workout - the pizza when I got home was incredible!

The Emosson lake from half way up the approach.

Me rigging an abseil with the Chamonix peaks behind.

Panoramic from one of the summits on the traverse. On the left are the peaks of the Valais (Matterhorn, Dent Blanche et al) then the peaks on Chamonix are central and a very snowy looking N face of Mont Buet is on the right. Click on the photo to zoom in.

Looking back along the traverse.

The weather is looking good for a while now so hopefully I'll be getting out a few more times before the autumn storms arrive - stay tuned for updates.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Chalk and Granite 3

Another great job from Toby and Rachel at Seven Twenty Productions

Love it!

Tuesday 17 September 2013

So much for autumn!

The weather is frankly horrible here in Cham right now, with heavy rain throughout all of yesterday and no sign of any sunshine until Thursday. Snow has now fallen to roughly 1700m and I think there will be more people up the Midi with skis than with crampons when the sun does come out. 

The Flegere and Brevent lifts are now closed so options will be quite limited for climbing in the coming days. I'd say that heading down the Valley to climb in the Arve area or going through the Tunnel to Italy would be good ideas, although the best solution is probably to get in the car and head for the south coast!

The scene at 1900m this morning

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The beginning of winter?

The last week or so has seen some pretty changeable weather here in Cham, and with a long list of things to be getting on with, I've been inside and trying not to think about getting out in the mountains. Today was supposed to be another similar day, but having opened the curtains and seen this view, I'm wondering if I should be getting the skis down from the loft at the weekend!

More of the same is forecast for the next couple of days, which is a shame for rock climbing, but OK for those of us who want the glaciers filled in well for winter.

We didn't have a spring this year, we just went straight from winter to summer in about 3 days, so maybe we won't have an autumn either. Fine by me!

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Conditions up high

Yesterday I went up and climbed at the top of the Midi for the first time since mid June, which made me realise just how little I've done this summer. Still, I've had a good time, and it made it all the sweeter to be out and about in the hills again.

It looked at one stage as if this was going to be a dry, hot summer, but some bad weather in mid August really filled in the glaciers again and put some much needed snow down up high. Right now conditions are pretty funny, with most snow/ice based climbs looking dry and black, but many rock routes having snow on the ledges, keeping the routes damp.

If you're heading out now, I would climb either south facing rock high up, or mid/low altitude rock on any aspect. This seems to have been a pattern for the last few summers, with a damp spring and occasional patches of heavy precipitation keeping many routes out of condition all summer. As far as I know the last time the Walker Spur was climbed in dry conditions was 2010, and that certainly won't change this year.

One the upside, conditions could be superb for autumn as the snow consolidates and is topped up by the storms forecast to arrive at the end of this week. Stay tuned...

Sunday 1 September 2013

Brevent binge - Hotel California, Vioz Traverse & Crakoukass

The last few days have been continually sunny here in Cham, so I've been getting out and making the most of it with 3 great days up at Brevent. If you get Brevent on a powder day in winter there is nowhere better to be, and the same is true when you get a sunny day in summer. 

First up was "Crakoukass", a nice 7 pitch route with sections up to 5c which I've done a few times but which never fails to provide an excellent day. We were filming the day for Episode 3 of Chalk and Granite, so check back next week to see the final edit! Thanks Toby and Sophie for an excellent day.

I didn't get any climbing shots from the day, but I did see some people wingsuiting from the top station and I managed to get this (I think) quite cool sequence of photos of a guy jumping. SCARY stuff!!!

Next up, Sharon and I decided to go and investigate the Traverse of the Vioz. This series of peaks is accessed from the top of Brevent and gets a bit of a hard time in the guidebook ("Abseils from a single point, non-existent cleaning, vegetated get the picture, this route is far from perfect") but we figured it looked fun and we fancied an adventure.

We were actually pleasantly surprised by the route, and though there are indeed some oddly placed bolts, poorly bolted abseils and plenty of vegetation, the Vioz does provide a good day out. The only issue we had was on the crux 6a pitch, which is covered in lichen and has some really snappy and loose feeling rock. I led up and was above the crux move, but then the slab steepened to almost vertical, everything got even more lichen covered, and the moves suddenly became quite tricky, with lots of sidepulls and poor footholds. As if that wasn't enough, the bolts just stopped, and there looked to be no prospect of any more. I wasn't keen to push on into the unknown and risk a huge fall so we backed off and climbed to the summit of the Pointe des Vioz via the route normally used in descent. This actually provided an easy, fun scramble, so I'd recommend doing that unless you are feeling very brave indeed and fancy taking on the slab. Overall, a fun day, and great to be on something a bit different, away from the crowds.

Me with the Aiguille Verte behind

Sharon on the 3rd tower the Vioz traverse

Some company for the walk down

I'm on a bit of a fitness drive right now (it won't last), and I'm looking to do routes which cover plenty of ground and get me moving, so with that in mind we decided to go for a classic itinerary today, and climb the 10 pitch "Hotel California" and then the Clocher - Clochetons traverse. A lie in and leisurely breakfast threw a spanner in the works though, and we ended up just doing the first route (which was excellent). I told myself that everyone needs a steady day every now and then...

Mystical views of Mont Blanc

It's hard to get lost at Brevent!

The good weather looks to be continuing into next week, so I'll be out enjoying it - stay tuned for a full conditions report when I've been up high.