Monday 15 December 2014

Tête du Pré des Saix

Despite the stubborn refusal of winter to make an appearance this year, I was determined to get out over the weekend. Sharon and I took a punt on there being some snow in the Flaine area and drove up to have a look.

We were pleased when we got past Les Carroz to find that we could start from the Les Molliets car park, at 1400 metres, instead of needing to carry on up higher to reach the snow line, and from there we decided to go for the Tête du Pré des Saix. So far so good.

The first sign of winter that I've seen this year!

The skin was enjoyable but we were both pretty worried about the lack of snow, the cover being so thin that there were several long sections we weren't even sure we'd be able to ski on the way down. 

A very dry Vernant Valley.

Sharon nearing the summit.

Just below the top, with a great view of the Mont Blanc Massif.

The wind was howling when we got to the top so we didn't hang around but we were there long enough to notice that the snow cover looked much better on the back side of the peak. The pistes had clearly been bashed quite a bit and they looked much more appealing than the rock and grass we'd been skinning up so we decided to follow our noses back to the car. It turned out to be pretty easy to find our way back and we linked some really nice pistes with some cruisy, slushy off piste and generally had a really fun time. 

Me loving the view.

Nearly home.

Overall we managed to have a really good day but there's no getting round the fact that this is an extremely dry start to winter. It looks like there might be some snow coming mid-week but generally it's looking a bit bleak. I chatted to one of the top men at Chamonix ESF last night, who's lived here his whole life, and he assured me that, "it will come - it always comes". Hope he's right!

Friday 12 December 2014


It's been a busy old couple of weeks for me (unfortunately not due to me doing lots of amazing skiing) hence the lack of blogging. However, I've taken some interesting photos recently and also received an email with the best photos that Ben Tibbetts got when me and him were out last week with Tom Grant so I figured I'd stick them up here.

So, for no particular reason, here are some cool photos -

The man, the myth, the legend, Adam Ondra watching some amazing climbers not being as good at climbing as he is, at the La Sportiva Legends Only Competition in Stockholm. I had a go at doing one of the competition problems with some expert tuition (this is a horrendous name drop) from Alex Megos, of onsighting 9a fame, and couldn't do the first move, despite his assurance that it was "easy". I guess all things are relative.

Me and Tom Grant bootpacking towards the Breche du Carabinier. 

Photo by Ben Tibbetts ( &

Tom showing me how it's done. Photo Ben Tibbetts.

Me and Tom skiing. We set off at the same time from the couloir above on the right and as you can see, Tom has already reached the bergschrund while I am on turn number 4! 
Photo Ben Tibbetts.

Me and Tom skinning. Photo Ben Tibbetts. 

A couple of days after skiing the Carabinier, Sharon and I went over to Morocco for a quick 5 day adventure and had an amazing time. They've got a lot more snow over there than we have in the Alps right now!

It's amazing the places that Google Maps sends you! We sacked off the smartphone and went back to good old map reading shortly after taking this.

It's worth getting a bit lost to see this sunset over the Atlantic.

I'm off for a couple of ski tours this weekend but can't say I'm that optimistic about conditions. It's always nice to be out in the hills so I'm sure a good time will be had despite the lack of snow.
I'll report back here on Monday with what I find.

Friday 5 December 2014

Breche du Carabinier

There's still no sign of any more snow here in Cham and I'd mentally filed skiing away for a few weeks. That was, of course, until Tom Grant turned up with his usual enthusiasm and convinced me to head out. I haven't been out in the hills with Tom anything like as much as I'd like over the past year so I didn't really take much convincing.

He'd skied the Gervasutti Couloir on the Tour Ronde with Ben Tibbetts yesterday and reported good conditions (but then he always does!) and was keen for a return trip. Ben confirmed that the snow had been really good and was also up for another day out so the 3 of us headed through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and rode the Helbronner up.

The visibility wasn't up to much initially but we stuck with it and got a really nice pitch of cruisy snow leading down to where you put skins on, underneath the Aiguille de Toule. 

Looking across to the Midi.

Ben at the start of the skin.

From there, we decided that actually we were keener on doing the Breche du Carabinier, next to the Grand Capucin. I'd skied this back in March and knew how good it was, plus we saw some guys breaking trail up it, which would significantly ease our passage.

The skin over was easy enough and the bootpack went smoothly but we decided to branch off left just before reaching the Breche, taking a thinner couloir instead. I stopped not far up this as the section above looked like terrible snow and although Ben and Tom carried on briefly, they soon headed back down having found even worse snow above.

The ski down was.....interesting. The odd patch of good snow was mixed with plenty of awful crust but the lower section was just about OK and provided a few fun turns. Overall, not classic but it was just amazing to be back out in the hills on skis, especially with such high quality banter flowing all day! 

Tom Grant doing what Tom Grant does.

Me loving being out in the hills, with the Grand Capucin towering behind. 

Tom and Ben post-ski.

Snow forecast from Tuesday onwards, stay tuned!

Sunday 23 November 2014

Trou de la Mouche, Les Aravis

According to the weather reports, which are forecasting sun for the foreseeable future, it seems that this early snow we've had has been little more than a false start to winter. Before all the white stuff disappeared, I was keen to sneak in one more day on the skis.

Verbier seemed a decent idea but we were sure it would be super busy and with off piste options limited, it seemed like a lot of effort and driving just to ski crowded pistes. Eventually we opted to head over to the Aravis for some touring above La Clusaz. The snow tends to linger at relatively low altitudes over there and the terrain is excellent so it seemed as good an option as any we could think of. Of all the many possible tours, the Trou de la Mouche ("the hole of the fly") seemed the best, mainly because skiing through a hole has got to be cool, regardless of the snow conditions. We ended up not rushing to the start and only managed to start skinning at midday but that seemed like just enough time, and so it proved.

Sharon skinning up towards the Trou.

Passing underneath some impressive cliffs higher up.

Sharon nearing the end of the skin, with the Trou behind.

Me slightly higher, enjoying the sun and the solitude.

Sharon on the beautiful final ridge, with Mont Blanc reigning supreme behind.

Me bootpacking to the Trou.

The skin up went fine but for the last few hundred metres the snow was awful and we ended up with huge amounts of snow sticking to our skins, making it really hard going. Initially we cleared the skins every few steps but in the end it just seemed easier to try a bit harder and plough on.

Suffice to say we were glad to reach the top...

The view through the Trou.

The snow we'd passed through on the way up was almost universally bad so we weren't too optimistic about the ski down but it actually turned out to be pretty good - a nice combination of powder and slush followed by some tough crust lower down.

Sharon in the slush.

Me loving the low angled powder.

After making good time in the upper section, the crusty, thin snow slowed us down as we got lower and we eventually gave up and walked down the last 100 vertical metres.

On the plus side, we got treated to this view whilst walking - 

Having been held up on the final section of the skin and then the last bit of the ski, we just sneaked back to the car before sunset. That burger tasted SO good back in Chamonix!

See you again soon, winter.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Verbier & Punta Croce

The snow line is creeping ever lower here in Cham and I decided it was about time to get winter started. With Verbier opening at weekends I was keen to go and check out conditions over there last Sunday and had a really fun day ripping around the pistes. The snow is surprisingly thin so off piste options were limited but the groomers were excellent and it felt amazing to be skiing again, even if it did prove beyond all doubt that I have retained zero ski fitness from last season!

Atmospheric views from Verbier.

Charli making some friends at lunch.

Tom and me loving having winter back!

Sharon and Charli on one of the few off piste pitches we found.

Today Sharon and I were keen for some touring and some solitude and headed over to Arpy, above Morgex in the Aosta Valley, to ski the Punta Croce. It is surprisingly tough to find good snow right now because the snow line is only down to about 1600m but there have been strong winds at mid altitudes which have got to much of the fresh snow. Furthermore, the Italian avalanche forecast doesn't seem to be working right now and the French one is pretty sporadic, so working out what is going to be safe is just as difficult as figuring out what will be good. It all added up to us looking for something conservative and the Punta Croce fit the bill. There's a brief section on the way up where you pass under some big, avalanche prone couloirs but we figured that if we got up there early, before the sun hit, we'd be fine.

Sharon getting ready in the Arpy school playground.

Me heading along what will become the Arpy cross country ski track once it gets pisted.

Sharon breaking trail in the woods.

 After gaining about 400 vertical metres of height, we emerged at the Arpy Lake, which was even more stunning than I'd imagined. 

Amazing views at the Lake.

Above the lake we continued breaking trail and, having not quite researched the route as well as we should have, we just followed our noses and it seemed to work out fine. It was tough going to break trail all day but to have the whole mountain to ourselves made it well worth the effort.

Sharon following me near the summit. 

Sharon on the final summit ridge. There is an old fortification on the summit and the last bit of skinning goes along the top of this wall, which makes for a pretty unique finish to a ski tour.

The summit itself is fantastic and Mont Blanc looks incredible, which you'll have to take my word for as we both had really cold hands on top and didn't bother taking any photos.

On the way down we chose the north-east face and found some fantastic powder in the trees, which put a big smile on our faces.

Amazing skiing on the north east face.

With the powder skied, we zipped down the final section of forest tracks and were soon back in Arpy, working out where the nearest pizza place was. 

The weather looks set to stay sunny for at least a few days now so I'll be aiming to get out for more at the weekend. If you're doing the same then go and check out Punta Croce, it makes for a fantastic day in a quiet and wild part of the World. We worked hard to put that skin track in too and we'd like to think that someone else might get some use from it!

In summary, winter is back and I love it.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Aiguilles Rouges Binge

This is a fantastic time of year to be climbing up in the Aiguilles Rouges so I've been making the most of Chamonix's Indian summer and getting some climbing in. First up was a couple of days messing around on the Aiguillette d'Argentiere, which is always fun. As well as firing up the normal routes, I also went and checked out the harder lines on the pinnacle and they were superb.

Stunning autumn views from the Aiguillette.

At the weekend Sharon and I fancied a multi pitch route and decided on "Cocher - Cochons", above Planpraz. I'd done the route a couple of years back and the climbing was just as brilliant as I remember. That final pitch up the arete is something else...

Sharon on the final pitch of Cocher Cochon. 

Looking across at a climber who had just finished a neighbouring route, with the Berard Valley visible behind. 

Today I had a half day free and having come down with a cold earlier in the week I wasn't too bothered what I did, provided I got out in the fresh air. In the end I decided to go and have a solo mission on Mic et Maousse, a short 5a rock route near the top the Brevent which I did last autumn.  I coughed my guts up on the walk in but I was glad I made the effort because soloing easy rock with no-one in sight was blissful. 

Easy, fun and occasionally exposed climbing on Mic et Maousse. 

I'm now off back to UK for a combination of work and play and by the time I get back, the Montenvers train will be only the lift open in the Valley and town will be empty. Winter beckons!

Monday 20 October 2014

Les Chercheurs d'Or, Berard Valley

The Chamonix Valley looks as stunning as I've ever seen it right now so I was really keen to get out and have a big day in the hills this weekend. There was talk of going somewhere up high but given the amount of snow that has fallen above 2500m, I think routes at altitude might have to wait. Eventually I found a route that looked to provide the ideal combination of a big day, a good summit and some fun climbing - "Les Chercheurs d'Or" in the Berard Valley, which finishes on the summit of Mont Oreb. Peter, Tristan and Tom were all keen so at the very least it was going to be sociable because we'd be climbing in 2 pairs.

With such short hours of daylight at this time of year we had to get up early and we were walking in by headtorch at 6.30 in order to start climbing by 8. Given that Peter had his ankle completely reconstructed less than 4 months ago, Tom has arthritic toes, Tristan's back is best described as "fragile" and that my hip is buggered and my back and shoulder aren't too flash either, we weren't expecting to set any speed records and needed all the daylight we could get!

At the foot of the route, with me being laughed at for bringing such a small water bottle. 
Photo Peter Riley.

 The lower buttress is fun enough but fairly sparsely bolted and we quickly realised that although it is referred to as "partially equipped" in the guidebook written by Michel Piola, the first ascensionist of the route, this is very much a trad climb with bolted belays. There is the odd bolt here and there but be ready to protect virtually the whole thing with nuts and cams.

Peter on the first pitch of the second buttress. To the right of Peter here is the "Chercheurs d'Or" bivouac where Michel Piola stayed whilst doing the first ascent of the route. Peter got a giggle from everyone when he suggested that, having seen how sparingly bolted the lower section of the route was, we should leave Michel "a new f**king battery for that drill of his". In all seriousness, Peter and I have had some of our best days climbing on Michel Piola routes ("Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune"being the obvious highlight) and he has probably done more high quality new routes than anyone else I know of so he can do what he wants as far as we're concerned! 

Tom leading the same pitch.

The second buttress is by far the best of the 3, with some classic pitches in amazing positions, then after that there is a bit of a walk up to the third and final buttress.

Looking up to the third buttress which follows the solid rock just to the left of the deep, shaded gully.

Tom, me and Peter sorting the kit out above the second buttress. Photo Tristan Wise.

Peter belaying below the last tricky pitch.

Peter and me just below the summit. Photo Tristan Wise.

Tristan, Peter and Magnum on top of Mont Oreb.

The third buttress is basically not that great, with the odd pitch thrown in amongst lots of grassy scrambling. Luckily it all leads to a fantastic summit which looked even better than I had hoped because of the fantastic autumn colours. 

With hindsight we should really have done slightly more research into how to get off the peak...

We vaguely knew that if we nipped over a col near Mont Buet then walked a bit we'd hit the Buet path but it turned out not to be quite so simple and it took some fairly tricky route finding to eventually get us onto the path and the refuge, which we reached just as darkness fell. Still, the views were nice.

Photo Peter Riley.

All in all, I got my long day and what a fantastic one it was. The climbing on the route isn't really that great on the whole but the overall experience and the ambience are unbeatable. Thanks Tristan, Tom and Peter for an amazing trip.