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!…

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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.

 

 

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.

Dent du Geant SF & Les Courtes NE Spur

A good couple of days spent in the mountains. Meeting Mikko at the lift for first bin we were already a couple of people short of our original 4 team so it meant more boot packing for the both of us. Heading over a very ominous looking bergschrund we started the boot pack up the NE Spur. Soon we were joined by Jose who came along with us and shared the effort. After being plastered by howling spindrift and heavy sluff for the most of the climb we came to the diagonal ramp about 2/3rds of the way up. Here the couloir narrows and the only way up was to climb through the heavy spindrift/ sluff that was puling down the face. We called it a day here. Strapped on our skis and enjoyed a great ski back down. At the bottom we crossed the bergschrund on a bridge that was not there 2 hours earlier when we started. Lots of moving snow!

The day after I was heading through the tunnel with Sleigh to search for some spring corn. I have admired the south face of the Dent du Geant for a couple of years now. Its a great looking hanging face that requires you to traverse to avoid the cliffs below. After a 2 hour mixed climb in the baking hot sun we reached the top of the line by 11:30. Starting off down the steepish couloir we found great spring powder that then turned into corn. Enjoying the descent we soon realised that we would have to start making the traverse to skiers right. Just as we started the traverse the thick cloud came in and we were in a white out.  Moving from ridge to ridge in the dense cloud was unnerving but we eventually found the exit ramp down to the Marbrees. Lots more spring skiing came after until we arrived back at the car. Great morning out.

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.

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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.

 

Y Couloir, Aiguille d’Argentiere

This winter has made us look away from the norm. With the unstable snowpack and fresh snow falling on an irregular basis we have to consider alternatives. We went to have a look at the Y couloir on the Aiguille d’Argentiere which normally is a spring steep but we found it in condition mid February.

It was a scorching day and with the sun on your back things warm up very quickly. Plodding our way up the 500m+ reasonably narrow couloir we stopped when things started to get very loose and soft. Just after the split on the lookers right branch.

 

The snow was perfect spring corn on a firm base, and allowed for comfortable fast paced turns all the way down to the choke, which plays in your head the whole descent. Its a 20/30m ice and rock band that was definitely worth bringing two axes for on the way up.

A great ski and a classic line. Just need to go back and ski it from the top…

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.

Monday…

Monday was a mixed bag of skiing. Waking up early for first bin at the Midi at 8am then having to wait until 10am to get on a bin, Already behind schedule… After getting to the top and reversing the upper section of the Cosmiques Arete to go and ski the South Couloir we found ourselves waiting again. A guide was taking two clients up the couloir and they were unbelievably slow. The guide wanted us to wait, but after 20 minutes of hanging around watching the sun slowly melt the snow and start to sluff off we told the guide to move his clients to the side and we skied it one by one. He gave each one of us a mouthful as we skied past! Nice skiing but the snow was not 100%.

Next delay! After skiing the south couloir we then arrived at the right hand rappel of the Cosmiques west Couloir. Waiting another 20/30 minutes here as some guys tried to pull their rope down and got it stuck we were becoming very impatient and we were watching some big movements across the Gouter face and the snow was starting to change and become heavy. Watching Pete and Grant finally rap in, James and I decided we would just go and do a Gros Rognon as we couldn’t be bothered with the exit after al this time we had taken. Such a good choice!

Thigh deep, cold powder awaited us all the way down Gros Rognon and with the James Bond track in perfect condition. We were back to town pretty soon. Grabbing some beers and Luke we were on last bin at 4pm going back up the Midi. Chilling with a beer on the arete soaking up the views we were the only 3 people skiing Gros Rognon at 5pm! The snow was still perfect and after stopping for another beer at les Mottes hut we skied the James Bond at dusk to return to Elevation for 6:30pm. All in all a great day despite the waiting around! Thanks to James, Luke, Pete and Grant for another great day up the Midi!

Click HERE to watch a video from Monday!

Mont Blanc du Tacul – 4,248m

Another first bin at the Aiguille du Midi except this time I am with Emily because last night I convinced her to come up Mont Blanc du Tacul with me.

After climbing with Ally yesterday you could see the amount of people that were still going up with skis, so as I had today off work and the weather looked good until the early afternoon I though I should give it a go as I have not been up there before and I still don’t want to put my skis away!

Arriving at the Midi at 7:30 there was no one there but then by 7:45 there was easily a few bins worth of climbers and skiers waiting to go up, well worth getting there 15 minutes earlier and eat breakfast at the front of the line!

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The Aiguille du Midi at 7:35!

At the top by 8:30 and a quick ski to the start of the climb just to the right of the Triangle. There is a over 600m of vertical from the Col to the summit, and then you have to climb back up the Midi arete when you have skied back down.

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This climb has to be done early and quite quickly because the snow warms up quickly in the sun and also there is a lot of exposure above you on the first half of the climb, very big seracs looming above.

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Have to make it a quick drink of water!

The going was quite good to start off with then Emily started to feel the altitude a little when we were over 3900m, this only slowed us down a little.

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Emily charging up with the Sallanches valley way in the background.

Just as we were over the 4000m mark the clouds started to move in, I could see the summit at this point and it looked very close. The wind had also picked up and it became very cold. Emily had said that if I wanted to go to bag the summit that she would have waited where we had got to which was around 4100/4150m judging by where the summit was. I didn’t fancy it, by this point you could only see it every now and then and it was not looking like it would improve.

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The summit just before the clouds came in, we went a little closer than this.

We then decided just to head back down before we couldn’t see a thing, we still had over 500m of decent with big seracs and crevasses to negotiate.

The snow on the way back down was pretty good considering it hadn’t warmed much and was still quite firm. There was no crust and you could even kick up some snow with more aggressive turns.

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There were lots of patches of untouched snow that was much nicer than the chopped up walking and skin track parts.

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Overall the guide book says its 30/40′ slopes on the descent, it was not very steep overall but with a lots of clear danger you still had to take care where you were going!

I think we made a good decision by turning around, as we noticed that many of the other skiers that had set out from the first few lifts had aso turned back just before the summit and speaking to others in the lift after, only people staying at the Cosmiques refuge and lycra clad ski-mo types made it to the top before the clouds came in. Arriving back at the Midi at 1:45 it was a white out, we just made it up the arete in the last bit of sunshine.

It looked a lot different at 9am!

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Another quality day up the Midi and its definitely  something I will have to go and finish off, Maybe next week!