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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 09.02.07

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 08.58.42

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.

tricot

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.

NE-Spur-of-the-Courtes

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.

Mont-Mallet-line-768x1024

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.

topo camp to camp

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.

taculsouthface

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.

 

 

Tricot, North East Couloir

With what seems like weeks of high pressure settling in here in Chamonix there has been a lot of great stuff being skied. With the first few days spent finding great powder off the lifts we have started to go further afield in the search of powder.

Having seen the Tricot couloir last year when approaching the Trappier couloir I did some research and found that my dear friend Dave Searle had skied it before so I stole his photo for the topo. Cheers Dave.

tricot

 

Teaming up with my regular partner Tim, we were also joined by Tom Grant and Chippie.  First lift up the Bellevue we headed up the tramway before skiing down to the Bionassay glacier and heading up towards the start of the couloir. We headed up the sometimes waist deep snow at a steady pace until have way up a lone skier popped out from a variant line and made us all question how he was ahead of us when there was no boot pack?! He had come up a different ridge and skied a different line that joins onto the NE couloir. After starting up the bootpack again we topped out just after 2pm. Enjoying great snow all the way down it felt very much like a free ride line and we all enjoyed the ski.

Continuing down the glacier to the village and then skinning back up to Col Voza we were enjoying beers before the sunset.

 

Shit Route

Since I made my way 2/3rds of the way up the Rebuffat-Terray route last week with Tom Grant I have been keen to get in some more mixed routes before the snow starts to fall and stick, and the approaches get longer; The Aiguille du Midi closes in the first week of November.

I had heard that a couple of my friends Alex and Ally had climbed Vent du Dragon on the north face of the Cosmiques Arete and after Tom had also climbed it last week and said it was in good condition I thought that could be my next objective.

IMG_3777

Vent du Dragon follows roughly the red line.

On Tuesday I bumped in to James Clapham, a very strong climber who took my up my first Alpine climb, Aiguille du tour-Table couloir, over a year ago. He mentioned that he is heading for work in Scotland on Saturday and was keen to get on one last route before he leaves.

IMG_3778

Pitch 3 of Vent du Dragon, perfect 75′ gully, Taken the day before. Climbers unknown.

Meeting at the Midi at 8:15 there was a lot of climbers who already had their helmets on and looked ready to go, this was a good sign that they were going to rap of the bridge and head to the same route we were going for.

We tried to be quick out of the bin and down the tunnel but despite our speed there were at least 6 teams ready to rap. Vent du Dragon was out of the question!

Climbing for me is fun, I don’t want to get involved with 12 or so people trying to get on the same route then having ice and spindrift hailing from above for the whole climb!

As I was up the Midi the day before scouting routes and checking conditions I suggested the ‘Shit Route’. I had heard about it before and had a good idea of the route; Emily had climbed it last month. It gets its name because the top pitch of ice is made from the overflow of the toilets, or so I’m told!

IMG_3783

The ‘Shit Route’ is the obvious gully starting up from the red arrow and finishing on the hanging ice.

There was only one team on the platform when we went to rap down the route and they took their time so we started rapping down the route. There are 2 50m rappels to the bottom of the 100m mixed gully. James did have to climb back up 10m after the first rap as the rope became stuck in a crack.

IMG_0012

After James had built a belay and I had joined him we started the climb. With the steep icy granite walls all around you get a true north face atmosphere.

James started up the first mixed pitch with no real difficulties.

IMG_0013

I then came up second, this was some of the hardest mixed climbing that I had done but I felt safe on top rope and really enjoyed the climbing.

P1050904

Meeting again at the belay there was only one pitch left to climb.

The next pitch was slightly harder with some difficult moves near the top, finishing on 15m of 85’ water ice which had a distinct smell of toilet water and cleaning products.

As James was nearing the top of the Ice he knocked down what he thought was either frozen turf, or a frozen turd. Whatever it was it hit me on the knee and drew blood through my soft-shell trousers. James then finished the ice and was onto the metal platform and started setting up a belay for me to second.

P1050905

I was quick seconding the first 20m then I hit the steep mixed ground before the ice which I found much harder than the lower section. I had one new pick on my Quarks, Snell had only one in stock and after reading my last blog my Dad decided that I could use some new ones for my birthday, I wish they had 2 in stock! Before you got on to the hanging ice there was an awkward step over some large rock bulges and you had to get some high axe holds over the ice and then pull yourself up and over, it was daunting and hard but I made it over without falling just breaking a big sweat.

P1050911

I was now on the 85’ ice and my calves were burning, James wanted me to stop for a photo and I gave him one second before moving again, so I could get off my front points and rest my legs. I was up on the Cosmiques ridge and into the sun and I could relax.

We were 2 hours on the climb plus 30 mins for the 2 rappels down. We were chuffed that we had managed to climb something even after our first choice was a no go. Finishing at midday you could still see many teams on the Vent du Dragon and I was glad not to be stuck in the thick of it on hat route with all those climbers.

Thanks to James for the climb and some photos and my Dad for the new pick(s)!

Rebuffat-Terray, V5 M 550m, Aiguille des Pelerins 3318m

After living with Tom Grant for over a year this was my first climb with him. He could find no-one else to climb this challenging mixed route so in the end he had to settle with me, even though I thought that the route might be slightly above my level, but with nothing else to do I would give it a go! What we climbed was mainly an ice and snow route because it was so filled in; normally there is more mixed ground and ice filled corners.

The black dot indicates roughly where we turned around.

pelerins

We arrived at first bin at the Aiguille du Midi cable car at 8:30 and we were well on our way, after a quick toilet stop, by 9am.

Picture 1

The nice footpath quickly changed to breaking trail through huge boulder fields in the moraines in sometimes thigh high crusty snow. After an hour we had made it through this minefield and onto the lower slopes of the Aiguille des Pelerins and we were ready for crampons to start the climb.

Picture 2

To get to the start of the serious climbing we had to start up the small mixed gully to reach some 55/60 degree neve slopes that took you up to the first pitch.

Once at the start of the first pitch I could get a grasp of the extremity of the climb and it didn’t look too difficult, I changed my opinion after the first pitch difficulties though!

Picture 3

The first mixed pitch. 65/80 degrees of mixed ground.

I was still feeling ok after this first mixed pitch and then there was another 60m or so of open neve to climb before the next mixed pitch which was steeper than the first one.

We had a little trouble when Tom was trying to get over a 80/90 degree ice bulge which did not look very safe, and three Italian climbers were rappelling over him and kicking down a lot of ice and spindrift. He made it over after a short wait hanging from his tools and then it was my turn to second it.

The next pitch was the hardest climbing I have done on rock or mixed. I really had to trust my front points and tools as I tried to reach over the bulge and get a strong hold before putting all my weight on two axes, which are very blunt and in need of new picks!

After I managed to use brute strength and no technique to overcome the crux move I had to stop for a minute or two to regain my breath before joining Tom at the belay.

memidswing

Me just after the vertical wall and just after my five minute breather!!

The next pitch looked very manageable but I insisted to Tom that we head down, I was pleased to have made it as far as we had and I really didn’t want to miss last bin at 4:30 and have to walk from the plan down to Chamonix! We had climbed about 350m of the 550m route.

Tom was fine with this as I only agreed to climb with him if I decided when were done! So with this we started the 5 or 6 rappels we did to get back down to the start of the route.

IMG_0007

The next pitch above where we turned around, The route is in a much fatter condition than Tom remembers it the last time he climbed it about 3 years ago.

The rappels went smoothly and we made quick ground back down.

Picture 8

Me on one of the last rappels, you get a feel for how steep this route was.

We had a much quicker walk back to the Plan as there was a more established path in by this time. We made last bin and I still had a smile on my face!

IMG_0010

Thanks to Tom for the climb and for wearing my GoPro and getting some cool shots!!

And so it begins…

I have not posted a blog for over two months but with all this recent snowfall in the Alps it looks like things will start to change. I failed and bailed on a few alpine routes in september and I have spent the last two weeks in Finland which has been amazing, I got lucky with the skies and witnessed my first Northern Lights which is by far the most impressive sight I have ever seen!

IMG_3482

The Northern Lights, taken in Rovaniemi Just inside the Arctic Circle, Northern Finland.

After being back in Chamonix for two days I was already in the Aiguille du Midi que with skis, Compagnie du mont Blanc getting ready for winter with a 11am opening after snowfall, and I was going to meet up with Charlie Boscoe and Tom Grant.

There was SO MUCH SNOW! It had snowed a few inches down in the valley at 1000m so we knew there would be a fair amount at 3842m and there was, around 100cm of perfect cold powder. After a very scary swim down the arete we had our skis on. Tom and a few of his friends had already dropped in the north face and skied down the south face of the arete so we could see that it was stable and deep.  Me, Charlie and his friend Matt decided to ski the south face also and after a couple of falls by me, getting back into skiing!, I was down ad ready to get some photos of the boys dropping in!

IMG_3601

Snow was blowing everywhere, you would think it was mid January!

IMG_3604

Charlie Boscoe getting some early season face shots on the south face.

IMG_3610

And the result!

After the first ski down the arete we met up with another one of Charlies friends who suggested the Petit Envers, We knew we would have to hike out but it is October, this was a great idea as it is a pretty mellow return to the midi and there was some deep light powder to be had!

IMG_3633

Charlie and Matt on the top section of Petit Envers. Loving life.

IMG_3635

Trench digging!

1380681_406392256156929_1569834309_n

One of me where I manage to stay upright.

photo 1

Three happy people!

photo 3

Starting the skin back up to the Midi, I’m thankful to Ben and Charlie who did all the trail breaking through the deep snow!

A great start to the winter, I ended up having my first apres ski too and I am paying the price now. Fingers crossed for more snow and some early season touring.

July 31st and still Skiing!

After a hard days raining on Monday and seeing that the rain snow limit was down to 2700m Me and Tom Grant headed up the midi with the hopes of some good summer powder! Not getting up there too early we were half way down the arête just after 8am with our skis on our feet. The arête was great fun with a few inches of fresh powder and as it was still pretty cold up high it was staying in good shape.

P1050420After having a look about we decided that the North Face of the Tacul was out because there would be a high risk of wind slab, we saw a few groups attempt to break trail up it turning back just after the crevasse after a small slide almost took them back into it. We decided to have some fun on the small ridgeline below the Cosmiques refuge near the Perroux hut. Lapping this a few times we got some good powder turns in and some great photos! It was worth it for the novelty of end of July Powder!

IMG_2671

IMG_2702

Fingers crossed for some snow up high in August to be one month away from skiing a solid 12 months here in Chamonix.