Saturday, 24 April 2010

Location, Location, Location

I love the spring time in Chamonix, it’s relatively quiet around the valley, the weather, more often than not, is settled, seasonal work is finished and the options for playing are endless. In the last five days I’ve had four very different days out climbing.
Monday was a big mixed alpine line on a 4000m peak (see previous post ‘Too Late To Say I’m Sorry’). Tuesday ended up as a forced rest day due to not been fit enough for the previous day! Wednesday and we made the steep walk up to Bionassay crag just above Saint Gervais for an afternoon of steep limestone bolt clipping, well trying to anyway, just like the legs weren’t strong enough for a big alpine day the arms definitely aren’t strong enough for Bionassay just yet.
Thursday Colin and I headed up the Midi with skis and rock boots for some alpine granite crack climbing. A quick ski down to the base of the Contamine route on Point Lachenal and you can quite literally step out of your bindings and on to 250m of perfect warm sunny rock (the perfect way to approach a climb??) before abseiling back to the skis. Then a good spring ski back to the Montenvers train station and a late lunch in Chamonix. Friday was multi pitch climbing on the big limestone cliffs of Balme down in the Arve valley. Jonny and I did a route called ‘Le vieux de la montagne’, 7 pitches of technical slabs and steep walls on good quality limestone.
Easy access alpine rock climbing
Colin high on the Contamine Route, Point Lachenal

Top of the Contamine route before a quick abseil down the route and a good spring ski back to the valley

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Too Late To Say I'm Sorry, Aig Vert

The volcanic ash cloud may have been causing chaos for travellers all over the globe but luckily it hasn't blotted out the sun in Chamonix yet, quite the opposite. Eventually the weather seems to have settled down here and we've enjoyed some rare stable weather for the last couple of weeks.

Heading up the last cable car to the Grands Montets in the evening Dave and I joined a number of teams already insitu for the evening, including the Spanish Alpine Climbing Team (a.k.a Spanish wads!). We'd headed up to do the Robert Jasper line of 'Too Late To Say I'm Sorry', a 1000m line with 300m of thin ice and mixed climbing starting out of the Couturier Couloir and finishing on the Grand Rocheuse (4102m). Crossing the shrund with the first rays of light we quickly moved together over neve and hard grey ice and the first technical pitch of the route before putting in a belay below the crux pitch.

Heading towards the line of 'Too Late To Say I'm Sorry' (marked in red)

Getting the second rope out Dave started a snow cleaning mission to unearth ice and a crack to make a difficult traverse rightwards under a roof. The second part of this pitch is the crux, with the main corner lacking enough ice to climb this year previous parties had either aided or freed the crack to the right at M6 to rejoin the corner 10m higher. Wasted from his snow clearing efforts and in the aid of speed Dave reluctantly pulled on a few bits of gear before tensioning across in to the corner. Seconding on a tight rope I just managed to get it clean, only just managing not to hold up one of the Spanish wads who was leading right behind me... impressive to watch.

The next two pitches gave me some of the best mixed climbing I’ve done in a while, good gear, thin ice and an amazing situation leading to the final ice gullies.

The final pitch was probably one of the most aesthetic and quality pitches either of us has climbed in the mountains, a 40m perfect ice runnel finished off the technical climbing.

The amazing final ice runnel

Wanting to get the full mountain experience we carried on up and easy broad gully to join the East ridge of the Grand Rocheuse and it's summit. A short abseil off the top and 15 minutes later we were standing on the top of the Aiguille Verte. Down climbing the Couturier Couloir in perfect conditions we eventually arrived back at our skis and just got back to the valley without head torches.

On the East Ridge of the Grand Rocheuse, summit of the Aig Vert in the top right of photo

Approaching the summit of the Aig Vert

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Piolet d'Or 2010

Over the last few years the Piolets D’Or event has come under quite a bit of fire. So when Nick and myself found out a couple of months ago that our ascent of Chang Himal had been nominated I think my initial feelings were firstly very surprised, pretty chuffed but also maybe a small bit sceptical. Looking back at the week now I can safely say there was no need for any scepticism, it genuinely was a really good week, interesting, fun and very enjoyable.
It was also quite a surreal week as the whole event gets quite a bit of media interest over here so from drinking champagne on top of the Helbronner lift to cragging in the Aosta valley there were cameras everywhere. Something I’m glad I won’t have to get used to, but I’d be more than happy to get used to the amount of good food and wine that was consumed over the week! The best part of the whole event for me was meeting a lot of people who share the same passion and interest for the mountains as you do and sharing stories and future plans over a few drinks.
This year they gave out two awards, the first went to the American/Scottish team for their awesome ascent of the North Face of Xuelian West (6422m) in China. This was definitely my pick of the five nominees and I was really psyched that these guys got it, their whole trip was very inspiring, as well as Xuelian West they also made a number of other first ascent in the area during the month they spent there. The second award went to the Kazakh team and their very committing high altitude route on the South Face of Cho Oyu (8201m) in Nepal.
It’s far from the reason Nick and I both go climbing but at the same time having our ascent of Chang Himal chosen for nomination by such an experienced and respected jury, as was this years, was for me a big achievement and something I was quite proud about. I’ve read elsewhere that the Piolets d’Or is ‘struggling for identity’, OK it maybe needs a few tweaks here and there but from how I saw it as a get together and celebration of alpinism it seems just fine.
I didn’t get any pictures from the week but there’s a load of photos here and you can see all 5 narrated films of the nominees here

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Late season snow

Spring made a brief appearance over here in mid March but for the last couple of weeks winter definitely had a good go at returning. Waking up a couple of mornings to an unexpected 5 inches of snow in the town and skiing over half a meter of fresh powder up high. I’m still to swing a tool in the mountains this season but to make up for it there have been a few pretty sweet days on the skis making the most of the late season powder.

Here's a few shots from the last few weeks...

Paul skinning up below the Dent de Géant to access the West Couloir of the AiguillesMarbrées

Enjoying perfect spring snow on the Marbrées

Escaping the Easter crowds of Chamonix down in the Vanoise, skinning up to the Col du Genepie

Over a 1000m's of fresh tracks skiing down from the Col du Genepi with not another person in sight.

Pete and Nick skiing off the Midi after the latest storm

Enjoying 60cm of fresh off the Midi