Feeling Hot Hot Hot

My Parents enduring one of the hottest Spanish summers for a while!

TWO DRIFTERS

forecastThis picture says it all about our first couple of weeks of our Summer cycle tour.

Spain has been in the grips of a heat wave. This part of Spain is often in the 40’s in July, but this year temperatures have soared into the mid to high 40’s.

route plan

We set off from Vejer de la Frontera on 9th July with a three month plan to wonder around Spain, then cross France, ending up in Chamonix in the French Alps in late September.

The map shows our projected route, with the red line being our first two weeks.

Early days were OK,  but by the time we reached Sevilla the heat had really kicked in. So cycling days were shorter, and Sylvia had to kick me out of bed for an early start. Generally we have coped with the temperatures, except for one hard day climbing the Sierra Morena.

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The…

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Mont Blanc from the valley floor

Winter has well and truly finished here in Chamonix so climbing and running has taken over. Finishing the winter with our attempt of traversing the Mont Blanc massif pushed me into thinking that 2000m isn’t a big day anymore! The first day of our traverse was 2700m with heavy packs and skis on so what could I do with a light pack and without the 5kg of skis?

My summer goal was to try and hit the biggest peaks of Italy, France and Switzerland all in single pushes. Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc. Each climb would be a little bigger than the last with the aim to finish with a Valley up Mont Blanc at the end of the summer. But for some reason I went and did Mont Blanc first.

I had already climbed Gran Paradiso in a single push with Tim back in December and wasn’t really looking forward to doing it again without the prospect of skiing the 2000m back to the car, so I sort of scrapped that one. Monte Rosa was next on the list. I have never been the the Monte Rosa massif before so had no real understanding of what would be in store for me. The idea of climbing it over two days, like normal, on a scouting mission and then returning to climb it in a single push really put me off. Especially given I’m a massive tight arse and driving through the tunnel and on Italian tolls means I would have to work more/harder during the summer months, something I’m not quite prepared to do! So this just left Mont Blanc!

I chose the Gouter route as it is safer than the Grand Mullets route at this time of year and is also the more sensible option given I was going solo. It was also the first route I did up Mont Blanc back in 2012 ( my 3rd alpine route and first solo!) so I had a vague idea of where I was going!

The weather looked good for my 3 days off and rather than waste my first day resting I finished work around 6, had some food then went to bed before waking up at 10:30pm and getting ready to go. The forecast was for a warm night so I chose to get the initial slog up to the Gouter refuge out of the way before day break.

11pm- Leaving Les Houches Church, walking up the tarmac road to the start of the trail I passed a group of friends having a BBQ and some drinks, I was envious of them I’m not going to lie. They probably looked at me and though ‘what an idiot’, I couldn’t disagree. The first 15 minutes are always the hardest for me. Thoughts are going through my head- why am I doing this? I could be drinking a beer on my sofa, I want to go to bed, so on and so forth. But I suppose thats what they call the mental element of these things. As soon as I got into the woods and turned Creedence up in my head phones I started to get into it a bit more. Sweat was pouring off me wearing just a t-shirt and leggings, it was so hot! As I got closer to the Tete Rouse someone caught me up, a lone french man armed with a parepente who was hoping to fly from the summit. We ended up chatting and walking together for the next hour until we reached the Gouter refuge, at which point he packed it in and was going to fly back from there. Taking only 2 litres of water and topping up what I had drank along the way from streams I was really looking forward to a can of coke at the Gouter only to find out that its open 2-3am and then from 7am onwards. Arriving at 5am I wasn’t going to wait around, so donned crampons and continued the never ending slog without my much needed sugary beverage.

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The sun started to come up and it was turning out to be a beautiful morning. As I got over the Col du Domes the wind picked up and I put on my last layer of clothing and continued to the Vallot where I took shelter for ten minutes and tried to eat another snickers. Lack of water made this difficult. I had just under 1L left but knew it was going to be a long, hot walk back to the Midi so was trying to save as much as I could.

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The Vallot and the summit

From the Vallot onwards I passed several people going up and dozens of people coming down, Fearing a crowded summit I made sure that no one overtook me and hoped the windy would deter people hanging around too long up there. So just over 9 hours after leaving Les Houches and 3900m of climbing I reached the top, It was very windy but it was all mine. Not another sole in sight. It was quite surreal at the time and I don’t think I stayed long enough up there to appreciate it. I have been on the summit several times now and although its still amazing its never as good as the first time for me!

As soon as I had reach the top the daunting fact of the descent quickly overpowered the joy of summiting. I made quick progress to the Col Maudit where I was greated with a awkward, icy down climb. Not normally an issue but wearing glorified running shoes combined with crampons tied together with string and a 240g axe it was a down climb not to be underestimated! Only to be made worse that after the down climb you had to traverse a steep slope littered with rock fall debris and over a menacing crevasse! Why do I like mountaineering again? A short snow slope followed this then a 300m traverse under millions of tonnes of ice and I found myself lying at the Col du Tacul eating the last of my haribos trying the regain the energy I just consumed on my serac death run.

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It was getting pretty warm now and time was ticking on, it was around 10am when I reached the shoulder of the Tacul and started my last descent to the Col midi. This felt like it went on for way too long! Arriving below the Cosmiques refuge I called my Girlfriend (she worries) ‘as long as I don’t fall off the arete I should be home safe’ I told her. The walk back up the midi arete always seems to take a long time, whether it be from a spring ski or an alpine climb, but after already doing 4200m of ascent this time it seemed to take a little longer!

Finally reaching the cable car there was no queue, which was a shocker for a Sunday in the summer but I was relieved to be able to sit down for both 5 minute rides back to Chamonix where a pint and burger were waiting for me! What an adventure!

 

What’s in your bag?

Ski touring these days puts so much emphasis on ‘fast and light’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer of this practice and will try to cut out most items that I don’t need on an everyday ski tour. There are, however, some items that are essential to your back pack that can’t be left at home. With these ‘mandatory’ items I try to cut down the weight or find alternatives that can be used in their place.

The pack I have dissected below is what I would take for a glaciated ski tour where I am unsure of the approach conditions but has no real technical climbing.

It is not a ‘recommended’ list of items and it also excludes any extra items of clothing but it is what comes with me everywhere I go!

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  1. Cilao harness. Its a fine line between comfort and weight when it comes to mountaineering harnesses. This French made, 135g harness fits in my pack nicely and I can wear it under my pants for a comfortable minimal fit.
  2. Petzl Ride ice axe. New this year these short, curved, alloy axes are great for Ski-mo. Having a steel pick they can bite in ice and paired with a trig grip make them a great all round tool. Weighing in at 275g I often carry two for good measure.
  3. Tranceiver. I used to carry a light single antenna transceiver but after reading stats about their performance I upgraded last year. Its all well and good having a light one but if you can’t find your friends in a slide then whats the point.
  4. Gloves. I usually carry a pair for up, and a pair for down. Petzl make a great leather glove that can tackle most rock without falling apart, paired with my Salomon Goretex glove for the way down or if it gets too snowy I’m covered for all occasions.
  5. Ski crampons. I used to not bother with these. But for the sake of 200g in the bottom of the bag you barely notice they make all the difference on a long and icy ski track. Gram for gram worth the weight!
  6. Poles. I use the Salomon Carbon S3. Light and strong these adjustable poles have great long grips that make traversing easier.
  7. Crampons. I mostly use the Camp X450. A lightweight alloy crampons that I like to beat up in the rocks. No anti-balling plates can often be frustrating, but at 450g for the pair I turn the other cheek.
  8. Shovel. For the last 4 winters I have been carrying around a 800g monster. I now carry around the carbon alternative that shaved 500g from my pack. At 295g this is the lightest shovel you would want in your pack as it actually still works to move snow!
  9. Probe. This year I dropped to a 240cm probe from the 320cm one I had before. 200g
  10. Boots. Salomon MTN Lab. In my opinion the best ‘real’ ski touring boot on the market. 1850g in 28.5
  11. THE BAG! I squeeze all this and more into the Xalp 30. Designed for this sort of thing it has been well thought out. It has a separate compartment for your crampons/rope. 2 ice axe loops, and the best ski carry system that saves time. I can go a whole day without taking off the waist strap but still getting in and out of the bag. A great feature for anyone who has tried to get in their bag at the top of a 55′ couloir!
  12. First Aid Kit. This has all the essential plasters and bandages as well as pain killers, a multi-tool, wire and cable ties for repairs and a head torch.
  13. Your eyes are key! Sunglasses, goggles and a spare lens always come in my bag. Its great when you can see!
  14. Rope. A crucial item when on a glacier. I have gone for a 30m 6mm line that works great as a crevasse rescue rope, and an abseil line. its lighter than a 30m 8.1mm rando line but not as strong when placed over sharp rocks. 950g
  15. My go-to touring ski. Salomon MTN Explore 95 with MTN binding. 1750g it is a great all mountain tool. floats in powder and holds an edge on 50′ boiler plate.
  16. Skins, I don’t take the bag if I’m going super light, and forget the cheat sheets. Grams are grams after all! 520g
  17. Water. 500ml does me for most days. 1L if its hot or more than 5 hours.
  18. Food. Snickers, cereal bars, energy gels, whatever I can find in the cupboard as I rush for the door! Mainly just calories in some form or another.
  19. Crevasse kit. I can haul a friend out of a hole with these simple items. There is also a belay plate and a prussik for abseils. 700g

All of this kit fits in the 30l bag with space for a down and a shell layer. the bag weighs just over 4.5kg with everything in. Not the lightest but far from the heaviest but it has everything you need.

North by Northwest

My adventurous parents and their 6 month cycle around Argentina!

TWO DRIFTERS

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We landed safely at Buenos Aires and started the logistics to get ourselves and all of our kit up to the top left hand corner of Argentina. ( the red dot!)

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And all went well, with a bit of Spanish usage we were booked on the Monday bus to Salta and our bikes deposited with the cargo handlers, which gave us a free day in Buenos Aires. Neither of us are city people and a few hours was enough for us to take in the sights.

Monday Afternoon found us at the huge central bus terminal (busses are a major intercity form of transport in Argentina) tickets in hand. It was a relief to see that our bikes and bags were already safely in the luggage compartment, and we set off on our 22 hour bus trip to the North West. Despite the duration it was not that bad a…

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The Wet Welsh Summer

Wales is renowned for being wet. What did you think keeps the hills so green! I think the trick is to not let the rain get to you and to get out and make the most of the day reglardless of what the elements might throw at you. With this being said I have been back in Wales for a few weeks now and have only got up on the mountains a handful of times.

After running the marathon earlier in the summer I have been trying to keep up my running fitness along with combining running with scrambling to keeping my alpine agility skills. North Wales and Snowdonia is a great environment for practicing the art of alpine running. With narrow ridges like Crib Goch and more technical fast scramble found on Tryfan there is plenty of choice for all weather. Returning to Llanrug alone in mid July I had a week before my girlfriend arrived so I was determined to get some long solo days out in the mountains. My friend and ski/climbing partner Ally Hurst introduced me to the Snowdon Horseshoe in May and ever since has been reminding me that it can be done in under 2 hours. This is my goal for the summer. SO far I have had 3 attempts but all have been in wet weather. The first one being just under 3 hours then bringing it down to 2h20m. I am waiting for a nice dry few days and some fresh legs to go for my sub 2 hour attempt. I will keep you updated when this happens!

North Wales is also renowned for its amazing quality rock climbing. I have not climbed outdoors in Wales before as I only developed an interest in climbing when I spent my first summer in Chamonix 4 years ago. My friend and Trainee guide Dave Searle is also spending the summer in Wales in preparation for his first guides scheme test in September and has been showing me and my girlfriend around and teaching me how British people climb, without the need of fixed anchors and bolts!

With the weather being rubbish most days in the LLanberis pass Dave took me out to the well know climbing mecca of Gogarth on Anglesey. Arriving to the top of the sea cliffs with 40mph winds tearing over the top was not the most welcoming but regardless of the conditions we were ready to climb some rock. The thought of abseiling into routes never crosses my mind when climbing in Chamonix as you usually abseil off after climbing something so it is usually the last thing in my mind. I am not a great fan of Abseiling at the best of times, let alone when you are going backwards off a blind cliff, towards the sea, with a 40mph wind whipping the rope around. Safely down at the belay with the strong waves crashing meters below we started up the face. The rock was superb and the climbing varied and nothing like I have climbed in the Alps. I was lost in the moment and completely forgot about the sea below. I was loving it!

Moving around to the Gogarth crag after this I was excited to get another route in. Escaping the wind my nerves calmed and I started to enjoy myself even more.

I am yet to lead my first Welsh climb but when the next sunny window arrives I will be straight out of the door with either my rack ready to get on some rock or my trainers to get a sub 2 hour horseshoe. The summer is far from over!…

Early summer in Chamonix – Running in the snow

Since winter finished I have been back in Wales for a few weeks doing a little running and working in Snowdonia. It is a great place to get some training in for the Mont Blanc Marathon which I signed up for months ago and it sure came around quickly!

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Snowdonia

Arriving back in Chamonix in early June I spent a few days up high on my skinny skis enjoying the last of the spring corn. Mainly this was just spent touring around the Aiguille du Midi and a quick jaunt up the Tour Ronde with Pete. This was great to re-aclimatise and get back into the high mountains.

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When the Flegere ski area reopened for the summer this meant the Aiguille Rouge was easily accessible again. Heading up the Crouches-Berrard traverse with Dave Searle and Pete we went fast and light and enjoyed running around in the snow and traversing this classic ridge.

As the month of June was coming to an end this meant the marathon was close! I will am honest when I say I have only been on 4 worth while training runs ranging from 9-16miles. Entering the Marathon I was originally planning just to finish, to see if I could complete the big task ahead. After running some of these training runs in fairly good time I then set myself a goal of 7 hours for the 42km with 2750m of height gain. The nerves were felt in the morning but after a 7am start I just focused on the race. Getting off to a good pace I felt strong for the first half. After loosing some time on the big descent around the 15mile mark I had dropped 200 places. With the final long push back up to the finish at Brevent I gained almost 180 places and finished in a time of 6 hours 54  minutes. 659 overall place out of 2650 and 355 out of 981 in the senior mens.

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I am really proud of my time and I might be tempted to run again in the future, but might train some more before the race!

I am heading back to Wales for the summer so will be doing a lot more running and some Welsh trad climbing, before returning to Chamonix for the Winter.

 

 

Winter 2015/16: Looking Back

When the snow started to fall in November the anticipation grew for a great winter. People started brushing the cobwebs off their skis and heading up high to find good snow. The Helbronner was the place to search with the Aiguille du Midi being closed. There was some good skiing to be had but it was short lived. The temperatures rose leading up to Christmas and the snow ceased to fall. Most of the early snow melted away and Christmas came and went with no real precipitation. As the new year rolled in it brought with it some snow, a lot of snow. Powder was plentiful and there were too many deep days to count. Spending a lot of time in Italy dodging trees and the odd day up high in Chamonix it felt like winter was in full swing.

As with every year I like venturing into new corners of the Massif to find new lines that I have yet to ski. This is always condition dependant, but this year the conditions have led me to certain areas that I would have otherwise passed by without a thought.

Couloir Chevalier was the first line of 2016. I had been to the top of this a couple of years ago but had to turn around because of the poor build quality of La Sportiva ski boots. Returning to this line in good snow and with Mikko and the Finns was a great morning out and it felt good to get back on the steeps.

Chamonix TOPO

Chamonix TOPO

Table Couloir, Aiguille du Tour . This was my first alpine route and I have wanted to return for 4 years. Heading up there with Tim was great even though it is a long way away from the top of Col du Passon and was a real slog up with deep powder. It is a great small, steep line that rarely gets skied because its not that long and quite far away.

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Mont Oreb North Face was next. Skiing with Mikko and Jesper is great, they always have a plan B. After we were turned around at the midi with ideas about a nice little line we headed back to the cars and straight over to Buet. Smashing the climb up we were treated with powder down this steep and exposed face and a nice little ski back to the car.

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Tricot NE Couloir is located near Bionassay on the other side of Les Houches. This was a new area for me after only seeing this line once when I skied trapper last year. A beautiful little steep tucked away from the crowds of the Chamonix Valley.

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Dent du Geant South Face started what almost felt like spring. Corn decent down to the Italian valley below. Warm temperatures had transformed the snow and with little else to ski it felt right to tick this classic off the list. When the clouds came in it did make route finding difficult but with a big cliff below we knew traversing high was the only option.

the line. Teton Gravity

the line. Teton Gravity

Les Courtes NE Spur is one to return to. Although we made it 2/3rds of the way up we had to stop at the choke because there was too much powder pouring down the face. It made crossing the slough dangerous. Nevertheless we were rewarded with several hundred meters of deep cold snow on this classic steep north face.

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We skied from the circle

Mont Mallet West Couloir is a little known steep line tucked away below the Dent du Geants north face. Deciding to climb the line first we put ourselves in the firing line of some very big searches and in a wild and impressive little corner of the Massif. What Mikko considered as a training day was one of the highlights of my winter.

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The line (Photo- Lucapandolfi.com)

Col de la Aiguille Vert was my baptism into real ‘extreme’ skiing, my first 5.4. This rarely skied line is over 50′ for its entirety and you get a real feel  for its steepness when your standing at the top. Cold snow and good company made the day feel a little tamer than it should have been and it felt easier than some other less steep lines I have skied in bad snow. It goes to show that the snow quality is what can change a grade.

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Camp to Camp Topo

Tour Ronde North Face is another classic alpine climb I have done that I had always wanted to return to with skis. This spring it happened and after flying up the Gervasutti in no time at all we were staring down the upper face in boot top cold powder. What a descent. Skiing above the mandatory raps your mind is telling you you can’t fall the whole time. Once off the rope on the lower section your mind eases and you know you have passed the exposure test.

Mont Blanc du Tacul South Face is about as technical a line as I have skied. Weaving in and out of couloirs and with a few abseils thrown in for good measure it made for a gripping descent. Add to that a 5.4 grade and some hard snow on the cruxes and you have the most challenging day on skis for me. When the face started to pour down on us in the lower section it started to get scary and we were glad to make it out safely. Possibly the last day on skis for me this year, I will have to see what the conditions are like when I return in June after  a couple of weeks back in the motherland.

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Photo – Tom Grant

Another great winter has past with some epic days and also some scary ones. It has been great to explore more areas close to home and to make the most of my skis from Voile, they have been everything I have wanted and more. This summer will be more about climbing and moving faster in the mountains and I’m glad to have Salomon onboard to help me achieve more of my dreams.

 

 

Dave Searle wrote a few words about our trip down Mont Blanc Du Taculs technical South Face

We do love a bit of Spring here in chamonix.  Skiing, Biking and Climbing are all possible depending on what the weather dishes out.  Ive done a bit of everything in the past week which is awesome.  We’ve had a lot of snow this spring but it’s not necessarily been “useful” for skiing.  The last […]

http://davesearle.me/2016/05/08/mont-blanc-du-tacul-south-face/

Tour Ronde North Face

After a week away in Corsica I was keen to get straight back out into the mountains. Seeing that Pete and Grant had skied the Tour Ronde North Face the day I arrived back and reported great snow I knew it was the time to go and bag this classic I had admired for years. The Tour Ronde is the first mountain I set my eyes on climbing on a summer trip to Chamonix 5 summers ago. When I climbed its north face for the first time in 2013 I was over the moon and have dreamt ever since of skiing it. I had already skied its east face, south face and the Gervasutti Couloir so the only face left was the North!

Heading towards it that morning with the intention of going solo I managed to convince my friend Ally Hurst to leave his group of four heading to the Diable and join me for some great snow. After he saw the face it didn’t take much convincing. We nervously crossed the big schrund on the Gerva and he stormed up the 350m couloir in 35 minutes. I was just behind with a chest infection, coughing my guts up in a time of 50 mins. Arriving back into the sun we took a look down the face. It still looked great, only 2 tracks and lots of good fresh snow to the sides. It was go time.

Dropping straight in and making controlled turns in the great snow felt amazing and I was so happy and content skiing this big and exposed face. Arriving at the abseil after 10 or 15 minutes we clipped in. Knowing that the exposed top face was the only thing playing in the back of our minds. Once on to the lower face after abseiling our worries were behind us and we could ski care free down and over the schrund. Arriving back at Montenvers just after 1pm we both had grins from ear to ear.

Col de l’Aiguille Verte

When Dave suggested this line I instantly became nervous. Even though I knew it was in good condition I had never skied anything this steep or this big before. With a toponeige grade of 5.4/5.5 E3 it is at the very upper end of skiable slopes. Known as one of the steepest sustained ice faces in the Alps it is not to be underestimated. I knew my ability could allow me to make turns on 50/55 degree slopes for short sections, usually cruxes on easier routes. This face would require me to make these controlled turns for over 700m of descent.

We could see tracks coming from the top and they looked good. With no signs of big sloughs coming down we headed up with light bags after stashing our gear just over the bergschrund. There was some evidence of a bootpack still there but we (Dave) mostly had to make a new one. Half way up the slope we were joined by a lone Frenchman Boris, who accompanied us to the top and enjoyed the descent with us. Near the top you make a traverse to the right and into the sun. Reaching the col my nerves were peaking and I knew what I had to do to get back down safely.

The first 100m was east facing and had a slight sun crust but still skied well. After the traverse back to the shady face the snow improved and so did the skiing. Making powder turns on 50+ degree slopes was a great feeling. Being in control and at the same time feeling madly out of control due to the location of the skiing, surrounded by towering faces and steep ice slopes.

Once we jumped the schrund it all sank in. A big fist bump and pat on the back and you could see our smiles from Argentiere. A short trip to retrieve our gear then a fun and fast descent to Argentiere and a quick drive to work. It is amazing how good snow can turn even the steepest line in to a fun day out, I have skied the cosmiques on crusty ice and I felt a lot more gripped! Thanks Dave for the fun day and for suggesting this truly superb line.