Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Manning up

After chickening out on Ex Libris, Ally said I needed to get some determination again. Alongside speed and fitness, my mental psyche is definitely a big weakness in my climbing. So being back home and in Snowdonia, where I learnt to climb, it was time for some manning up! I decided to try and lead a route that intimidated me. However standing under Suicide Wall, I decided that was a bit too scary so Dave led that un!

But Left Wall, on Dinas Cromlech, is a route I have often considered. Although I was quite aware that I would probably bail on it if I tried it, just because it is so intimidating and long! I also get a bit confused by which British climbing grade I can successfully climb. My previous experience of the route involved belaying a strong friend during his 3 hour battle with the pitch. Remembering his hefty lobs off the final traverse concerned me somewhat! But the route actually went pretty well. The climbing is super fun, steady and well protected, I actually had to ration my gear! But then part way up the top crux I felt 'some' (turned out it was just one) small nuts fall off my harness. I panicked and jammed in a mediocre placement, then remembering that the previous bit was also pretty terrible, I chose to sit on it and calm down rather than fall and probably rip out both pieces... A little bit sad to blow the onsight but it's such a good route that I'm psyched to climb it again!

Dave also decided to get on a wish list route and gave Right Wall a go. It was going well and he was cruising up, but then he snapped a hold in the crux sequence. Unfortunately he ripped two bits of gear so took a good 60 foot of airtime, clipping the ledge on the way past. Good job he bounces well!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A week for plan B's and remembering how to play the Midi-summer-queue game.

So sometimes climbing ideas don’t quite pan out as you expect them. Even when you choose an appropriate objective, have good weather, the right partner and kit, sometimes it just doesn’t quite work out. This is why it’s always worth having a few extra plan B’s and C’s in mind! Fortunately there are many classic routes to choose from in the Mont Blanc range.

Ally Frison Roche. Not bad for a back up!
Chamonix is a popular place in the summer, that's a given; yet I find this popularity a bit unpredictable. One day we had to queue for our route on Pointe Lachenal, the following week, with a similar forecast, there were only 4 of us on the entire face! Ally and I suffered from a busy route queue on Monday when we went up to do Ex Libris, a trad route right under the Brevent cables. The party ahead was waiting until the first belay became free before leaving the ground. This was going to take a while… Good job there is a classic multi pitch sport route just around the corner!

By the time we negotiated the scree back down to Frison Roche, its queue had disappeared. This route deserves its reputation and the pitches get better the higher you go. It is pretty well bolted, not really run out by any stretch of the imagination…. But we had carried up a pretty huge trad rack up so we were going to use it! I just threw in a couple of bits on the crux corner pitch whereas Ally went full out and ‘Greenpointed’ the last pitch! Not too sure what the Finnish climbers behind us made of this but it was fun and Ally laced it with gear.

Apparently this is greenpointing... Shiney number 4 camalot gets christened!
Tuesday was going to be a rock climbing on the Lachenal day, but I had forgotten about the Midi summer queue… Which by 9am was already well out of the building. Be warned fellow lazy alpinists! It’s probably worth getting up early for first bin after all. Plan B was a shorter route off the Midi but soon we turned to Plan C; back up Brevent to do Ex Libris - totally queue-less today though! Although this time we didn’t have the size 4 camalot, which did mean a lot of gear hopping. All good and well whilst you have decent cam placements but if it fails when you fall, there’s a massive whipper on the horizon. I attempted to lead the two 6a+ pitches and gave up on both of them… Slightly annoyingly I was half a move from the end of the difficulties on the 3rd pitch, oh well next time I may have more patience for figuring the moves out.

Felt like we had been below this corner before somehow... Ally found a hands free rest this time!
We completed the climb via the two pitches marked in the topo. You can run them together with 60m ropes but I would highly recommend finishing up Frison Roche instead. The ‘mediocre’ rock described on Ex Libris is actually very loose and grubby. The climbing is easier but unpleasant, nowhere near as good as the top out on Frisson Roche. Although by belaying on the fence, you do provide a good show for the sightseers on the Brevent viewing platform.

I had hoped to camp up high Tuesday night in order to retain my acclimatization (back in the UK for a week) and test out some gear for Kyrgyzstan, but unfortunately that fell through too. So I woke up at 5.30am with the intention of wandering up Mont Blanc du Tacul from first bin. The previous nights storm was still lingering a bit though so I soon gave up on that!

Missed the crowds for once.
Next winters setup, psyched!
Eventually it cleared, so I went for the traverse of Pointe Lachenal, which was actually a much better way of testing out my new Baturas. Getting to the ice cave at 8.35am I realized that I didn’t actually have much time before my flight in the afternoon. Four and a half hours before my transfer in fact! The route is really nice, definitely a soft touch for an AD, but I always really enjoy the scrambling to the final point. Condition wise, the snow slopes are all good with only a few small patches of harder ice and the rock is fairly clear of snow. Weirdly, I think there may even be less snow on the mixed steps than there was at the end of last summer! The final chimney isn't as loose as it looks, but then I wasn't pulling on holds too hard, just in case.
Definitely somehow missed the abseil the last time I did the traverse.

A matching pair of axes (in colour at least!) I think I actually prefer a Nomic on snowslopes.
I think fear of getting stuck in a queue to get back down the lift spurred me on a bit and I managed cave to cave in 2 hours 45. Not as speedy as all the lads I’m sure, but pretty good for me! I have been known to take an hour and a half to get from the Col du Midi back to the lift station. Quite a surreal day really, going from a glacier at 3500m to sea level at Liverpool airport in under 6 hours! 
Unnecessary squeeze underneath the jammed block! Extra fun this way though.
Summit! Quick chat to my Irish friends on top and then a fast turnaround to make my flight home!
Looks like a big serac had fallen off the Tacul on Tuesday, some of the chunks were as tall as me! In hindsight I probably shouldn't have run across this way.... It's a very active serac this year!!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Summer snow time! The Kuffner and Contamine-Mazeuad

So I wrote this a little while ago, but it has been trapped on my dying computer for the past week! I can only apologize for the lack of useful condition reporting; snow changes fast.

Sunrise hits the slope and at last we are clear of the initial gendarmes.
Good snow climbing in July seems like an unlikely pastime but this is an unlikely year! Although the daytime temperatures are much more like summer at last, the snow up high is still pretty climbable. Having heard reports that the Kuffner Arete on Mont Maudit was in super fun condition just now, I was pretty keen to get on it in the good weather last week. Heading up to the hut on Monday with John, we were pretty surprised to find only one set of tracks up the snow couloirs to the Fourche bivouac. Looks like we were definitely going to get beds for the night! We were even more surprised to find out that the other occupants of the hut weren’t going to do the Kuffner the next morning. We had a slightly odd conversation in French between the four of us before John and I made a poor attempt to be extremely quiet over dinner whilst the others slept. It wasn’t until the middle of the night when the other two were setting out, that we realized that we were all actually English....

Long way down! But a surprisingly long way horizontally too.
The route itself was pretty fun, although very long. We had to trailbreak for the first section, which resulted in climbing up into a few dead ends and then reversing. Eventually, at sunrise, we joined the tracks from the Torino hut and life got a bit easier! The tracks weren’t entirely accurate though as we followed them across a snow traverse that turned out to be very thin and fairly sketchy. This lost us a lot of time as we realized that we had gone off route and could have got around it fairly easily. Oh well, it was absorbing climbing! Once again the day ended with me being totally beasted and struggling back up the arĂȘte to the ice cave. It just doesn’t get any easier but at least this time we weren't rushing for fear of missing last bin.

Thursday was another fine day for adventuring of the Midi. Ally and I decided to do the Contamine-Mazeaud as a nice first summer alpine introduction. Ally is by no means a newbie to alpinism, he’s just never been here in summer! Once again we managed to get lost twice on the route somehow and had to backtrack an unprotected traverse that I hated! Fortunately, climbing it the second time felt a bit easier. Luckily the snow is in very nice condition on the whole, really solid and not at all slushy, just a bit aerated in sections. However, the calf-burn from front pointing the whole route was pretty bad! I enjoyed the mixed scrambly climbing at the top of the Triangle a lot more than the steep snow slopes. Still a typical Scottish mixed climber it would seem!
Ally starting up the initial ice slopes, surprisingly easy to get waylaid on this route!
Nearly topping out...