Aiguille du Tour 3542m

Wet again. This summer we have seen our fair share of bad weather. I try to make the most of every sunny day but this week we only had one good day and that was spent up Aiguille du Tour. Sam and I had spent all of Wednesday in the Perroux bivi waiting for a break in the clouds to climb a mixed route on the Tacul. After a few hours playing cards and having a little kip it never came, we went back to town to watch some Jazz aiming to get on something the next day as the weather was set to improve. He went rock climbing and I had a nice 8am wake up and a bus ride up Le Tour. I`ve had the idea of alpine running since watching Killians Summits of my life. Not being a keen runner or fit enough to tackle something big I set my eyes on Aig. du Tour. If you get the Le Tour chairlift up you only have 1350m of vertical to gain the summit. This ground consists of smooth alpine trails that lead to just above the Albert 1er refuge then there is over 700m of snow plod and a small rock scramble to reach the top.

Running with big boots, crampons and trousers in my bag it added a bit of weight but changing at the snow line meant I had an empty pack for the second leg. The snow was firm even at 10am and I tried to cover ground quickly stopping on occaison to catch my breath. I made the summit by midday after 3 hours. This wasn`t the fastest time I am sure but it was a good starting point. After a quick bite to eat I set off on the descent leaving my crampons in my bag so I could move quickly. Changing back to trainers again at the hut I ran back to the chair in 1 hour 20minutes from the summit, giving a total time of 4h 20m with 1350m+ ascent and roughly 14KM distance.

I would like to thank Latitude60s for providing me with some high quality Merino apparel. I have used their baselayers, boxers and beanie on several climbs in the past few weeks. Ranging from a 2 day climb on the Fredo Spur where temperatures went from high 20`s in the day to around 0 in the night. Long runs like Aiguille du tour and the VKM and also just day to day activities. I have had trouble in the past finding a base layer that works well and doesnt smell after the day is out.  The 100% New Zealand Merino feels great and works really well at keeping you cool when you need it and getting rid of any moisture. Not washing the garments for several days also gave me the opportunity to see if they start to smell and I was surprised by the outcome. Normally wearing a helly hansen synthetic layer I would stink beyond belief after a big day up the hill and I found that the merino only had a hint after 5/6 days of warm weather activities. These garments will be great on expedition in Krygyzstan, where there is no washing machine! Latitude60s products are 100% New Zealand Merino wool and 100% New Zealand made.

Check out their great products at Latitude60s.com

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Frendo Spur, Aiguille du Midi 3842m

Climbing on the Aiguille du Midi is ideal. To climb a small or big, alpine or rock route then get the cable car back to town has major advantages. Given that they say the majority of accidents happen on descent you are completely taking this out of the equation. I have climbed one route previously on the Midi North Face, The Eugster diagonal couloir last June with Emily. This was a long climb but with no real difficulties. Returning to the foot of this 1200m high wall of rock, snow and ice I was ready for another go. Teaming up with Nick after our recent success on the Migot Spur, Aig. du Chardonnet, we opted to climb in a true alpine style. Over two days with our bivi gear on our backs. You can climb this route in one day but it was long enough over two and having the upper 80 degree ice in cold morning condition was much better that the scorching afternoon sun. So here we go, The Frendo Spur

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Leaving the station at Plan d`aiguille around 10am we started the 1.5 hour walk up the moraines to the foot of the Spur. Moving together for the first hour we covered much of the grade III and IV ground before changing to rock boots and pitching the first grade V crux, the Rateau de Chèvre. This was straight forward and involved a small traverse along a narrow ledge, normally easy but with heavy packs on you had to keep your ballance. After this there was more grade IV rock which we moved together on again. Just as we set off Nick rested his hand on a fridge sized rock that must have been resting on grit on a slab, it came shooting past me before exploding below me, thankfully missing me and the rope. A couple more hours moving together and stopping for a coffee break and some fruit cake on the way and we were over the exposed col and onto the second Grade V crux. This steep corner was very exposed but offered great protection with large cracks and big flakes. It then mellowed to grade IV and was one of the best pitches of rock I have climbed.

We were getting tired and knew there was not far to go. Avoiding the new crux (fallen block) we pushed hard to get up to the proposed bivi site. Moving quickly so I could take my rock boots off and eat food I was placing little gear but the rock was solid and not too hard. The time was just after 8pm when we arrived at the top of the rock spur, and we quickly found the perfect bivi. A 2 meter wide ledge on the north face with a drop of several hundred meters overlooking Chamonix. Food, water, Port and Bed. We were tired, we had been on the move for over ten hours and were glad to take a rest.

5am came quickly after a(nother) rubbish nights sleep at altitude. I was eager to get going but Nick was not. I had to re-heat his coffee by the time he traversed the bivi ledge to meet me. After the slowest wake up call we were on the snow slopes with crampons and axes just before 7am, Tired and wanting to get on with it. The snow was firm and the sun was rising. The arete that leads up from the rock was the most exposed I have felt. Almost on all fours I lead the way up bfore Nick swung back into the lead for the 80 degree ice. Craving a cafe Bluebird sausage sandwich we powered on up the arete and got the cable car back down. Following our route up the face while going down the cable car you get a true sense of the scale of the North Face and we were overjoyed at our achievement. It was the biggest route both of us had climbed and we were glad we worked well together, First the Migot Spur now the Frendo Spur, whats next? Maybe the Tournette Spur!

You can read what Nick had to say about the climb HERE!

Midi-Plan Traverse, 3673m

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Traversing the Chamonix Aiguilles is a very big and committing route, to go as far as the Aiguille du Plan however is a classic and relatively easy half day climb. The Midi-Plan traverse is a classic AD route that requires a good head for exposure and some rock skills. You spend the day along a knife edge ridge with a 1500m north face drop on one side and the Vallee Blanche the other. Traversing some delicate slopes with little or no protection, a couple of abseils and some grade IV rock moves in crampons thrown in for good measure. Annie joined me for this perfect day up high. The weekend before saw bad weather hitting Chamonix and there was a lot of new snow up high. With good weather on the tuesday I knew there would be a track in and with cold overnight temps this would re-freeze and make our day more enjoyable. Leaving the ice tunnel about 7:40am we were making quick progress along the ridge, over taking a few guided groups. Meeting one team at the two abseils we soon passed these on our push to the summit of the Plan where we arrived just two hours after setting off. The Aiguille du Plan is a proper summit. Standing on a block the size of a dinner table overlooking Chamonix you get a true sense of exposure and a great 360 degree view of the Mont Blanc Massif.

On the return journey to the Midi you have to re-climb what was abseiled on the approach. Some awkward grade IV rock with a small section of snow inbetween. It was really good fun and easy to protect. Downclimbing the exposed snow slopes was a little tricky even with firm snow, maybe its easy for others. I hate downclimbing! After this you are back on the ridge by Col du Plan and have a couple of hours slog back to the Midi. I was suffering from a twisted ankle from the weekends football and Annie had only been back in Cham for a few days and had not been up high. We were slow! Taking just under 4 hours from the Plan back to the Midi, twice as long as the first half. The snow stayed firm in the roaring midday sun even though the temps must have been in the teens up high. This route definitely lives up to its reputaton as a must do climb and I can highly recommend it.

Contamine-Mazeaud, Triangle du Tacul

Relatively straight forward and easy climbing can be found just 30 minutes from the Aiguille du Midi. The Triangle du Tacul offers many routes of differing grades and can be found in good condition all year round. Last year I climbed the Chere Couloir and the Contmine-Grissole so the next obvious route was the Contamine-Mazeaud.

Mostly a 60 degree snow slope this route offers varied climbing with great views back towards the Aig. du Midi and looking down the Vallee Blanche. Failing to climb this route on Friday due to high winds I went back up yesterday with Tim and we were quick down the arete, reaching the bottom of the route by 8am. After pitching the first 70/80 degree ice pitches we moved together until we hit the easy mixed ground so we could change the lead. Reaching the summit of the triangle in under 4 hours we then abseiled down 120meters onto the Tacul north face and then walked the normal route back to the Midi, Taking just over 6 hours from bin to bin.

The climbing was superb with good ice and firm snow up the central slope which made trail breaking a joy. These quick routes are great for days where the weather is deteriorating in the afternoon. Get there quick while the boot pack is still in.

Migot Spur, Aiguille du Chardonnet 3824m

Aiguille du Chardonnet is one of the most aesthetically pleasing peaks in the Mont Blanc range. It is also one that neither Nick nor I had set foot on. There are many routes up its north face with the Migot Spur being the most classic option. This is what I had my eyes set on. We arrived at Le Tour about 15:30 on friday afternoon and as I set off on the cable car Nick started the grueling 3 hour trek straight up to the Albert 1er refuge. I took the rope as I only had about 500m vertical and just over a hour of walking in front of me. When we arrived at the refuge it was clear that the builders who are working on the new summer refuge didn’t want climbers waking them up at 3am so after some food we set off onto the cloudy glacier to find a bivi spot closer to the start of the route. We found a small outcrop of rocks about 45 mins walk from the refuge and set up camp there. Awaking at 3am to clouds we had a little doze until I shot up at 4am with stars lighting up the sky. Shaking Nick up we had a quick coffee and we on our way at 4:30am.

We arrived at the Bergschrund just before 6am and this gave us 6 hours before the storm was forecast to roll in. We had to get a move on. The initial mixed ground was easy to cover and we made fast work of the first snow arete. Hitting some deep slushy snow before the steeper mixed ground this did take its toll on Nick and added some more time on the accent. We took the left hand route below the serac as there was a nice streak of ice. This was a relief after the soft snow and we had no problems flying up the 70/80′ ice gully. A brief period was spend climbing under the serac but it was still cold and didn’t have much sun hitting it so we avoided any potential problems. We had made the upper snow field before 9am so we were on target for a 10am summit. This last snow slope seemed to go on forever. I led it with fast 10m bursts followed by a few minutes of heavy breathing and swearing. We were so close. The wind was picking up and the clouds coming in so we dug deep and continued on to the summit ridge. A few meters of rock and we were there. Another great summit to add to the list.

 

We spent a few minutes celebrating on the summit before making a speedy scramble along the highly exposed ridge in gale force winds to find the decent route. I came across a couloir with foot steps in and went for it. Quickly finding some tat we started rappelling. We ended up not on the right descent route but going down a climbing route. After 6 30m abseils on some dodgy gear, one piton I pulled out before hammering it back in solid, we could see the normal descent route. To get to it involved crossing a 10m wide icy couloir and by this point it was blowing a gale and snowing quite heavily. We wanted to get down. Nick led across on belay and then I seconded. It felt like winter with the blizzard and it made finding the cairns tricky. A 20 second window allowed me to spot the next ab station and I went for it. Communicating with Nick at this point was hopeless. He could not see me and I could barely hear myself let alone him over 30meters away. With a few big tugs on the rope he came down to me and we could make the last 4 30m raps. With the gale still blowing the sun came back out and we finally made it on to the glacier. There were 2 more 30m raps to get over the schrund and we then ran down to our bivi to get out of the wind and rest for ten minutes.

Packing up our gear we had just over one hour to get to the Le Tour mid station to make our descent easier. Nick took the heavy wet rope for the first half then I had it to the lift. My feet were in agony from the 2000m descent and I was happy to get on the lift, Nick was also as he had no lift pass but the Lifty saw the exhausted look on his face and let him on for free. We had been on the go for over 12 hours and climbing for 10. We wanted nothing more than a feast as we had only had coffee and a couple of chocolate bars all day. Straight to the shops for pizza and milkshakes. What a day, it was so close to becoming an epic but with the correct decision making we made it down safely. This was my second time climbing with Nick and I think we make a good team. I hope to get back into the mountains with him soon.

Here is a quick video I made of the route.

Arête des Papillons, Aiguille du Peigne

This classic granite ridge seamed with clean cut cracks offers great climbing in exceptional surroundings. Situated at the base of the Aiguille du Peigne it covers over 250m of vertical height with the grades topping out at 5c+. I very rarely climb rock as I am bored with the valley crags and have little experience with alpine trad. Teaming up with Emily in preparation for our Krygyzstan trip we started early at the Midi so that we would have plenty of time before the afternoon showers and cloud rolled in. With its close proximity to the mid station we were at the base of the route within the hour and started up the easier lower climbing before hitting the first small wall where we roped up. The route follows a series of 4 towers with their being a difficulty on every one but the first. Within 15m minutes of climbing the route the clouds came in and we could feel a few drops of rain. We waited it out on a small ledge for 30 mins hoping that it would stop so we could continue, as we were close to the point of no return. The sun came back out and we carried on up the ridge climbing mostly 4c. Over the 1st tower and onto some harder pitches. There was a very exposed step across onto the first 5b slab and it was a shock for me. Glad Emily led the entire route as I had difficulties climbing the 5b and 5c+ let alone placing gear as I went. Over the 2nd tower we could sit in the sun for a little and enjoy the views, before tackling the crux wall. Emily started up the cracked slabs before coming to the hard move. Placing a cam high up in a crack before moving around a corner it created a lot of rope drag that left her, and me, not feeling confident. She would ask for slack and no matter how much I would pay out she would still be pulling on the rope. Fair play to her she made it up and over and was glad to find some bolts. Now it was my turn. As she started pulling in the excess rope I started coiling it up as with the drag it was taking a long time. For the first half of the pitch I did have a lot of slack but the climbing was relatively easy so no bother. I did wait when it came to the overhanging slabs so she could keep the rope tight. Even though I pulled on an in-situ sling it was still one of the hardest pitches of climbing I had done. Exposed and awkward with a slack rope! On to the 4th tower. Just as Emily was half way up the 5c slab it started to rain. I was next. With this tricky slab that required a lot of smearing I had a nightmare. It was very greasy and wet and my hands were freezing with no chalk left in my bag. Probably some of the worst climbing I have done. We were glad to get this last slab out of the way as it led to a small traverse and we were at the raps. One 30m rap brought you to the exit couloir that was fairly dry, maybe 20m of snow to downclimb. Back to the midi for about 3:30 and we were happy. Slabs, cracks and smiles.

 

Summer is here.

Going back to Wales at the end of May I knew that it would mean the end of another winter skiing. Seeing what I was missing on the internet was annoying but finishing on the Col du Plan NF was an amazing end to a exceptional winter.

Upon my return to Chamonix I was keen to start my training for an expedition to the Tien Shan mountains in Krygyzstan in September with Emily, Dave and a few others. When asked to join I was nervous as I have never done anything like this, but knowing that it could be the adventure of a lifetime and a chance to climb some previously unclimbed 5000m+ peaks and routes I could not say no.  Flights have been booked and I have started to put in the work to make it a succesful trip.

With some great weather and equally good conditions it has been easy to get up high and get some easy routes in such as Point Lachenal traverse and Cosmiques arete. These are quick and in close proximity to the Midi and they can both be done in a little over two hours. Great to get something done in the morning before most people are out of bed. I am planning more big routes for this summer and a lot of training. Keep checking back for more condition updates and trip reports.

A few days up high

With no work and plenty of good weather days I have been spending a lot of my time wandering about up high off the Midi. Starting to work on my climbing strength for the long summer ahead I went into the hills with Nick  for the first time. We were aiming to climb the Tour Ronde north face, which I climbed last summer, and then ski the Gervasutti couloir, which I skied a couple months back. I thought this would be a good link up and with Nick not having done either the climb or ski he was keen. After a short skin we were at the bottom of the north face. Down climbing from the schrund to retrieve my jacket I was back at the start and we were off before 10am. Making reasonably quick progress up the 45/50′ snow slope we hit the ice and saw what we had to climb. Thin, brittle black ice. Nevertheless we started on up over placing screws as we didn’t trust what little protection the ice would give us. Topping out of the difficulties we noticed big fat clouds coming in from the south. Not wanting to get stuck on this mountain we turned back and rapped the ice. We enjoyed good skiing on the steep lower half of the north face just before clouds engulfed the upper face. We made it down to a beer, job done.

 

Summer freeride camp started the next day with James, Dave Searle, Tim and Davide De Masi. Making big turns down the north face of the Gros Rognon in good powder. I managed to find the only patch of bare ice on the whole face and after setting off first was last to enjoy the pow.

 

Next objective. Midi-Plan traverse. This is one of the Chamonix ‘Classics’ and it lives up to its reputation as one to remember. Me and Tim opted to take skis so that we could approach it quicker then ski the Envers du Plan glacier back to Montenvers so we didn’t have to return to the Midi. Quick to the start on skis I could still see my tracks down the Col du Plan as we started the highly exposed traverse on the north face. Placing a few bits of gear as we didn’t trust the wind affected snow we made it to the rognon du plan with no difficulties. From here it all went tits up! Wandering off route I headed up to the highest ridge on the rognon and thought I knew where I was going. We knew there were a couple of raps somewhere so finding a good piece of Tat I thought it would be it, or we could at least get down. I was wrong. At the bottom of one 30m rap I found a good spike to start the next rap. After 30mins of trying to free a stuck rope and Tim failing to climb the impossible slab to retrieve it we were very close to a PGHM call until I gave it one last whip and wiggle and it dropped to our feet. What to do now? Tim led round on a spicy traverse to find a lone piton, where were we? Thinking that it was left from a climbing route we backed it up with a wire and made another 30m rap down to some cord that was looking very old but still strong. Maybe one more 30 could get us to the glacier, if it didn’t we were going to make the call. As Tim went over the edge and out of sight I heard a cheer as he saw the ropes sitting piled on the glacier floor, the end was near. By this time it was too late to push for the summit despite it being in view for 3 hours and so close. I was gutted but just wanted to go home. We had to then negotiate the horribly crevased glacier to work our way down to Montenvers. Wet slides met us after every turn and it was one of the most gripping descents I have made. Two foot crowns and huge avalanches came and went as we finally made it to the safety of the flat glacier floor. We made the last train by 5 mins, that would have been a long walk down if we left it any later.

After these few days up high I have taken away a lot of lessons. Knowing when to bail with approaching weather. Taking a topo of the route and asking people who have done it before. Getting off a wet dangerous glacier before 4pm and generally if I’m going to go up high everyday eat more food and have more energy.  Going back to Wales for a few weeks now which probably means the end of skiing for this winter. Maybe there will be some snow, otherwise it will be full swing climbing season when I return. Watch this space. Thanks for reading, What a winter.

Chèré Couloir & Cosmiques Arete

With no real ski objectives in mind James and I headed to the Tacul triangle so he could try his hand at a bit of ice climbing on the Chere Couloir. This is where I first learned the skill just one year ago with Ally (Read Here). The approach to the route took no time with our skis on, compared to over 2 hours last year in deep snow!. Once at the bottom of the route we roped up and crossed the Schrund. It consists of 4 pitches of ice and a small section of mixed, with the difficulty increasing as you climb higher. Last year I led the final pitch but this year it was good for my confidence and gear placement skills as I led all the pitches. James had no problems despite this being his first time with two axes on anything steeper than a snow slope. It was in perfect condition with its usual kicked in steps full of neve. back down safely and the clouds had come in. Leaving the clouds by the Gros Rognon we had a slushy afternoon descent to Montenvers. Perfect day out.

 

After a couple of days drinking and getting sunburnt I needed to do something. Not feeling skiing I headed up the midi with a Cosmiques speed solo in mind. Running down the arete and around to the start of the route the altitude was hitting me after a few days off! Making good progress to the first rap I was caught up by 3 Germans who had not roped up yet and they used my rope for the two raps. After this I offered them to go ahead and break the trail through the 8″ of fresh wind blown snow, but they didn’t know the way so off I went again! I have done this route 5 or 6 times before but never alone and never with fresh snow on it. The rock section was not too bad but the traverse to the exit chimney and the chimney itself was very daunting and I was treading very carefully as a slip here would have meant the end and They would have found this picture on my iPhone somewhere down the Cunningham couloir…

Nearly home! Love going solo

Nearly home! Love going solo

At the top of the chimney there was a lot of fresh snow, It was hard to get a good footing and at this point I just wanted to be on the platform. Digging deep I buried my axe in and pushed off a tiny front point and reached the safety of the ridge and the ladder was in sight. Getting over the ladder the 2 minutes to next bin alert rang out as I started sprinting to the lift. Puffing and panting in the cable car I got some funny looks and a few “are you OK?’s”. Maybe I will wait for the snow to go before I try that again! 1:08 was my time from Ice tunnel to the viewing platform. Maybe a sub 1 hour next?

 

 

 

Arête de Flèche Rousse – Milieu Glacier, Aiguille d’Argentière 3901m

The idea of link ups has interested me ever since completing my first one on Mont Blanc du Tacul last year, Climbing the Contamine-Grisolle and skiing it’s north face. I knew Ally had been wanting to climb the Arête de Flèche Rousse for a while and given the near perfect weather we had been having I was keen for a full day in the mountains. It was also a new peak for me so I was all the more ready.

First bin up and we were heading across to the start of the route within no time. Making our way through the moraine and hard early morning spring snow. Arriving at the climb just after 11am we were convinced we would be on the summit before 4 for a nice corn descent. We were not! The initial ridge was fun, with some tricky climbs along the way. We covered this ground quickly soloing and put on a rope as we encountered a narrow snow ridge and the climbing intensified. Roughly following the guide book instructions we found ourselves doubting the route but just carried along following the faint footprints left ahead of us. Coming to a dead end at one point the only option was to squeeze through a narrow gap and passing our bags through one by one, its harder maneuvering  with 178 skis on your pack!

After a short rap we were back on the south face and out of the cold. More came across more mixed ground before a short traverse onto the snow slopes leading to the harder mixed climbing. I found myself really struggling at altitude and we slowed down a little before I could take a break as Ally assessed the 20/30m last mixed pitch. The climbing would normally be not to difficult but coupled with fatigue and skis it took a while. After coming up second I was so pleased to be back in the sun and warm up my hands. The summit was in sight. Traversing the ridge heading into the sun was amazing. It was about 4:30pm and we didn’t have far to go. A couple of short rappels and some more ridge traversing and we took our bags off and got ready to ski just about 5:30pm! It was getting late. We had initial fears that the snow might have re-frozen but the upper section was really good and the only bad snow we encountered was deep slush that was not easy skiing on small skis! 2700m of skiing later and we were back in Argentiere waiting for a bus.

A long day out but it was just what I wanted. Alpine Adventures resulting in a huge thirst for beer. Tidy