Monday 25 August 2014

Arete du Doigt, Pointe Percee

The Pointe Percee, perched high above Sallanches, has long been on my to-do list, mainly because it dominates the view on the first 20km of motorway to Geneva - a section of road I know pretty well after a couple of seasons driving transfers.

"The" line on the peak is undoubtedly the Arete du Doigt, which has 12 pitches and difficulties up to 5c. Sharon and I thought about camping somewhere near the route the night before we went up but there was precipitation due during the small hours so we decided on an early start from Chamonix instead.

Reaching the parking area at the Col des Annes, we were slightly dismayed to see our rock climb looking very white - 

The Arete du Doigt is the left-hand skyline. The Doigt itself is the tooth about half way up the ridge.

Still, we figured that it's always worth having a look so we ploughed on up.

Sharon on the enormous slabs at the foot of the Pointe Percee N face.

The snow was getting thicker near the foot of our line and as we got closer I became convinced that our day was going to be little more than a recce. However, when we reached the first pitch there were 2 French teams already on the route (who we passed immediately and never saw again, although we could sometimes hear them in the mist so they must have continued) and the rock was surprisingly dry so we decided to give it a go. The first 4 pitches fell in one block of moving together and we could have gained a lot of time had it not been for having to warm our hands up every 10 metres or so. The climbing is straightforward though and we only had every third or fourth bolt clipped and still felt fine. 

Once on top of the "Doigt" itself, a 15m abseil and a short walk saw us onto the second section of climbing, which was stunningly exposed but technically easy. 

Sharon on the "Razoir" section of the route, between the Doigt and the crux pitches.

After this we found ourselves at the little notch where you can either carry on straight up (5c, 5b and then a short aid section), traverse right and join another route (3 pitches of 5b) or traverse right even further right and join the normal route (easy scrambling). By this stage it was absolutely freezing but I wanted to do the direct route so up I went. The climbing is actually pretty steady (definitely a soft touch for 5c) but the incredibly low temperatures caused all sorts of trouble and shortly after reaching the belay I got hot aches in my hands - not something you expect when rock climbing in August. The pitch was brilliant though and I was glad of the thick cloud which obscured what I imagine would be a pretty big drop below the crux moves!

Sharon on the crux.

Above this was a 5b slab which was quickly dispatched and then a short tower which is aided on bolts. 

After only the briefest of explanations from me about how to go about aiding efficiently, Sharon coped pretty well with her first aid pitch!

From the top of the aid wall it's an easy scramble to the summit. Just to prove that sometimes you earn a bit of luck, the clouds parted and revealed Mont Blanc to us as we sorted our gear out on the top.

Me coiling the ropes on the summit, with 2 choucas flying past and Mont Blanc reigning supreme behind. 

The scramble down the normal route was fun and fairly fast and we were soon below the clouds and heading for the car.

Me on the walk out, contemplating a final hour of effort before pizza and beer.

It's nice (and quite rare) when a route truly lives up to expectations but the Arete du Doigt is an amazing adventure. We spent virtually the whole day in cloud but the climbing is so good that it was still well worth doing and the highest praise I can give is that when there's better weather, I'd love to repeat the route and see the view. By the way, here is the best description of the route, which we found spot on and easy to follow -

One final thing; it can be hard to figure out how long a route like this will take and what you need so here are our timings for the day, plus a kit list, just as a guide for if you go and do it. Bear in mind that we aren't particularly fit, we weren't rushing and spent a good chunk of the climbing time warming our hands up! All in all, very doable in a day if you're halfway efficient and willing to walk a longish way.

Car to route - 2 hours 10 minutes. (Not including a 20 minute stop at the Pointe Percee hut)

Climbing - 4 hours, including a quick lunch stop.

Descent - 2 hours 15 minutes summit to car.


10 quickdraws.
2 slings & 2 snapgate karabiners.
2 screwgate karabiners, 2 prussiks and a Reverso belay device each.
1 x 50m single rope.
Harness, rockboots & helmet each.

Clothing (per person)- 

Trekking trousers & base layer
Stretch Fleece
Belay Jacket
Thin Gloves


Sandwich & 1 litre of water, plus drinks bought at the hut on the way up and down.
Photocopy of map & route description

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Crochues Traverse and Aiguille du Belvedere

There might be high winds at altitude, some low lying snow and plenty of cloud but just having some dry weather is very welcome right now. Today was a "45% sunshine" day according to the forecasts which, in my experience, could mean just about anything. 

Looking for something fun but not too serious, Sharon and I decided to link the Crochues traverse with the normal route on the Aiguille du Belvedere. The cloud was thick most of the day but the scrambling was superb and it was nice for me to finally get on top of the Belvedere after having turned around on various routes on it in the past few years. We belayed the first pitch of the Crochues and then didn't get the rope out again other than for a couple of abseils and it felt great to cover so much ground. 

We got the odd glimpse of a view here and there but overall it was a murky day, saved by the fact that we didn't see a soul after the Crochues, giving the Belvedere a really adventurous feel. 

In a wonderful change from the recent trend, the forecast is now excellent for the coming few days. I'll be out enjoying it over the weekend so check back next week for an update.

Moody views down to Lac Blanc.

Me just below the summit of the Belvedere, scrambling down some horribly loose rock. 

A little fatty keeping watch near the Index chairlift.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

August skiing on the Le Tour Glacier

Nobody could quite believe their eyes this weekend when the forecast said that there would be 2 perfect days coming up but, for once, the weatherman was right. There was plenty of wind but after the summer we've had, it's been great just to see the sun.

I wasn't really sure what to go for seeing as there was low lying snow and a cold wind at altitude but then I had the excellent idea (if I may say so myself) of going for a ski on the Le Tour Glacier. Caroline was over from London and as keen as ever so we caught the first lift up to Col de Balme and got stuck in.

With a cold wind keeping us cool, the walk to the newly refurbished Albert Premier hut was actually quite nice, even carrying skis and boots. Photo Caroline Mulligan. 

Once above the hut we skinned up the glacier and then swung round to a small col facing the Table Couloir on the Aiguille du Tour. 

Caroline with the Aiguille du Chardonnet behind.

The final section of the skin. Photo Caroline Mulligan. 

From the Col, I couldn't resist shooting up a final little bootpack to ski this really aesthetic hanging snowfield. The snow was bullet hard and there was a big crevasse below so it was a pretty interesting reintroduction to skiing! Photo Caroline Mulligan.

From our little Col we skied down and found some of the best spring snow I've had this year.

Caroline skiing.

Signatures in the snow next to some poor unfortunates who'd chosen to walk!

Once off the snow we ran into British Guides Rob Jarvis and Jonny Baird and provided them and their group with some amusement when we couldn't find our carefully stashed trainers. Having eventually found them (the rock we'd put them under didn't look quite as obvious as we initially thought) we made quick work of the walk down and were soon toasting our day over a cup of tea and a piece of cake (thanks for the brew Peter!).

It might not have provided us with the best walking:skiing ratio but today was one of the best I've had for ages. The funny weather is now firmly back and there is already a heavy layer of fresh snow above about 2800m so after spring snow at the weekend, you'll probably be able to find powder right now!

Saturday 16 August 2014

Voie Caline & Voie Princesse

With sublime irony, the weather has finally cleared in Cham but only after a huge storm had plastered everything above 2500m with a thick covering of snow. As a result, options are limited but Tom and I weren't too bothered what we got up to today, as long as we got out and saw some sun.

In the end we decided to have a bit of a fitness day and do 2 of the long scrambly routes which go from Les Bois up to the Mottets Buvette, below Montenvers. With no idea how wet things were and only a vague idea of the difficulties involved, we opted to wear rockboots and carry a short rope in case anything looked tricky. As it turned out, the rope never came out of the bag meaning that I needlessly carried it up 2 routes and down 2 descent walks! To be fair to Tom, he did do his bit and carry the enourmous rack that we'd brought.

After a leisurely start (by the time we'd met up, had a nice hot lunch and a drink it was after 2pm before we even reached the parking area) we did the Voie Caline, walked back down and then did the Voie Princesse in what felt like good time, before walking down once more. Both routes had some good climbing, some scrubby, grassy bits and overall provided us with an excellent mileage day.

Tom low down on the Voie Caline, crossing a slab that was about 20 degrees but would have been pretty harrowing if the wet patches had been any wider...

Tom "Ueli Steck" Moores showing the French team below how it's done. Incredibly enough, we passed that team at the foot of the slabs on our first lap, finished the route, walked down, climbed the Voie Princesse and then saw them on the final section of our first route! To get lapped on a grade 3 scramble by 2 unfit Brits must be hard to stomach.

Just to finish, here's my attempt at capturing the beautiful evening light. The photo I got was so bad and covered in sun spots that I had to make it black and white to make it acceptable, but you get the idea.

The forecast is for 2 sunny days now and whilst I'll believe it when I see it, just having a break from the rain is amazing. Is summer getting underway? Stay tuned.

Friday 8 August 2014

Pointe de Bayere, Grand Montets

The weather has finally cleared for a few days here in Cham but things are still far from settled, leaving Tom and I looking for a good objective but nothing too serious if the weather man had got things wrong - a distinct possibility judging by his recent performances. We opted to go for the SW ridge of the Pointe de Bayere, a peak on the ridge which descends west from Grand Montets, high above the Pas de Chevre ski route.

Tom on the approach with the Dru, Mont Blanc and Chamonix in front of him - not a bad start to the day.

The approach down took about 45 minutes and there's no real path but you'd struggle to get lost with a big rock ridge next to you. The start of the route was made obvious by the fact that British guide and general nice bloke Rob Jarvis was stood at the bottom, but if he happens not to be there when you climb it, it's where the approach terrain really starts to steepen, at the end of a 50 metre long section of white rock. There's also a random collection of old ski poles at the foot of the route but you only spot these once you're on top of them.

The initial few pitches are ok but slightly grassy and quite a shock to those who haven't climbed granite for a while (like Tom and I). Granite is such a funny rock because there are often no real holds and it's a case of jamming limbs into cracks and contorting your body to move upwards. This route specialised in this sort of climbing and once you remember how to do it you feel fine but it's a rude awakening for a pitch or 2.

Me hamming it up on pitch 1, with Tom laughing below. At least, I hope I was hamming it up and not genuinely gripped - this bit was only given 4a in the guidebook!
Photo Rob Jarvis, High Mountain Guides.

Rob's client Matt was pretty worked after a hard week in the hills so they decided to head home after a few pitches, leaving Tom and I on our own for the rest of the day - a rare state of affairs 45 minutes from a lift in Cham.

The rest of the climbing was absolutely superb but very traditional in nature - if you haven't climbed much grit or granite you might find the grades tough and strong fingers will not save you! The quality is high though and the pitches started passing with relative ease, all in a fantastic situation.

Tom on one of the lower pitches.

The view from the belay on the stunning corner pitch. This and the one above it (more of the same but a shorter) are the crux pitches.

Tom on the traverse round to the north side of the ridge.

This pitch (plus the corner pictured above) are the highlights of the route. This features very easy climbing on a beautiful slab, hanging hundreds of metres above the glacier below.

Once the technical pitches are done, it's just a case of scrambling along the ridge until you're above the Bochard telecabine and then walking down to the Lognan lift. The walk down is pretty grim, with steep gravel tracks all the way, but with such a good route in a bag it seems well worth it. 

Sunday 3 August 2014

Sea Kayaking in Croatia and more of the same in Cham

STILL no sign of summer here in Cham - surely it has to come soon?!?! To escape the gloom, Sharon and I made the long drive down to the stunning Croatian island of Rab for some sea kayaking, an activity marginally more suitable for my knackered shoulder than cragging in Cham when the showers let off for an hour or 2. 

Ironically enough we didn't enjoy perfect weather and had to make some changes to the trip but the scenery and overall experience of living out of the kayaks was incredible. I did a few kayak/canoe journeys years ago in Norway and Canada (plus numerous rain/midge infested jaunts around the Scottish lochs and coasts) so it was great to rekindle my paddling career. I avoid anything involving white water like the plague but slowly paddling along on calm seas is the most fantastic way to travel and we will definitely be back to Croatia for more in the near future.

So, absolutely nothing to do with Chamonix conditions but here's some shameless showing off - 

Coffee in Trieste on the way down. Possibly the best coffee I've ever had.

Typically beautiful scenery and crystal clear water.

Moody light and vast space.

Sharon dwarfed by the scenery (click on the photo to see her) on the north side of Grgur island, which was a prison camp during Tito's reign of Yugoslavia.

A scary looking sky! About 5 minutes after this was taken we decided that we disliked the look of the weather so much that we should pack up the kayaks and paddle to a village a kilometre away and find a hotel. Our good sense/cowardice was rewarded when a storm of biblical proportions arrived shortly after nightfall. Watching it from the hotel with a beer in hand definitely beat the prospect of watching it from the tent.

A quick snorkel before dinner on our final night of camping. 

A brief trip into Venice to do the tourist thing on the way home. 

So I'm now back in Cham and though I'm keen to get out in the hills, I think I'll just get my head down and work as the weather looks pretty shaky for at least the rest of the week. One thing to bear in mind when all looks lost is that the last time we had a truly awful summer (in 2011), the sun came out in late August and we had the most fantastic autumn that anyone can remember. In the space of just over 6 weeks that autumn (after getting tap all done in all of June, July and early August), I managed to squeeze in 2 routes in the Vanoise, the Kuffner ridge, the traverse of La Meije, the Aiguille Verte, the West ridge of the Salbitschijen, plus a 3 week trip to Bolivia!!!! 

Stay positive :)