Monday, 26 August 2013

A lesson in failing (and route finding!)

Giving a new Choucas harness and lanyards a whirl; liking the ice screw holders.
Its easy to get used to mountaineering success. A couple of summers ago I had a very unsuccessful Alpine summer, although it did mean that I got a lot slicker at abseiling! This spring/summer in Chamonix has been an extremely succeson a route, we haven't backed off it. Although a few times we have changed to plan Bs, once we've started a route we haven't backed off. Until the South Ridge of the Peuterey Noire that is!

With Hannah developing food poisoning we were a man down and a day later than planned. So Sam and I went for our classic 'single push from the car' approach to alpinism... But this time we took enough food and kit for an (uncomfy) bivvy. We also took more than 1.5l of water between us! Finally learning from past mistakes and all that!

The walk in, complete with scrambly via ferrata, went well and fairly fast. We were gearing up for the start of the climb, by the fixed rope, just afterw the sun reached the bottom of the face. The climbing was pleasant and easy, although the grassy ledges were more numerous than we had reckoned on. We were climbing really fast, simul soloing as there wasnt a lot of gear to be had. 

Turns out we were climbing a little too fast though as suddenly we pulled up over the ridge and had a lovely view onto the Freney glacier. Definitely not where we should have been! We had been following tat and had made the terrain fit the guide description, we had totally missed the rightwards traverse under point gamb! Some fantastically sketchy downclimbing abseiling followed as the tat anchors definitely werent good enough to fully weight! It was 10am by the time we were back on route; too late to start again and not bivvy. Although I had accepted the inevitability of an uncomfy bivvy, Sam was more psyched for a single push so we wisely decided to head back down rather than pushing it.

From a distance, we stopped to figure out where we had gone wrong. Turns out that the 'triangle feature' described in the guide wasnt a pinnacle but a HUGE white shape on the cliff! In full daylight it was so obvious yet in the pink dawn light we missed it completely! Least we will know where not to go next time!

As I wanted to leave Chamonix on a high note, I went up the midi the following day to get in some pre-work soloing. As I got stuck in queues and nearly killed by falling rock on the Lachenal (avoid the last chimney/couloir! !!!) I decided against doing the Grisolle aafterwards and finished up the Cosmiques arete instead. Even though I once again got stuck in queues, I did the route surprisingly fast. I didn't feel particularly restricted by having 2 nomics, crampons and 120m of rope in my bag! Can't believe I have been scared of soloing this route all winter. I also got to test out some of our lovely new Blue Ice kit, so all in all an amazing final day in thelp Chamonix mountains!
Too high On point Gamba!


Red is where we went, green where we should have been!

Back to the french side and the good old Lachenal.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

An impulsive day hiking..... up Mont Blanc!

First time to Mont Blanc summit!
Monte Bianco.... The most popular mountain to try and climb in a week long trip to Chamonix. Being the highest in Western Europe and not too technically challenging, it's easy to see the appeal! Normally people put in a lot of planning and training for their first ascent. I impulsively decided to join Joel on his solo, first bin, Mont Blanc traverse at 9.30pm the previous night...

Perfect morning on the Col du Midi.
Walking under the big serac, I had a super bad feeling in my gut. I was sad to hear about the fatalities when it collapsed the following morning. Just goes to show that quite often you should follow your instincts.
As I was pretty tired on Sunday evening and wanted to get some none mentally challenging expedition training in, Mont Blanc seemed like the perfect solution! Going from the Midi over the 3 Monts seemed like a fairly mellow day, and we completed it fairly fast. Snow conditions were good making the ascent pretty forgiving. That is until we became exposed to the 'moderate to strong' winds on the final summit ridge. As we both knew the suffering would be short-lived, we pushed on. As we were unroped we could just could deal with our personal misery in silence, not having to stop and start when the other person did. Foolishly I only had thin liners and powerstretch gloves which weren't so amazing in -20 degrees of windchill. My nose and cheek weren't very impressed either! Somehow, I avoided frostnip again and the numb-ness soon went away.

We summited at lunchtime and still beat a lot of climbers to the top, easy day done! Shame I didn't take into account the potential for 4000m of descent back to Les Houches. Which we walked the entire way! I wondered what the Grand Couloir fuss was all about, we saw very few rocks coming down it as we were descending the left bank, until we were about to cross it that is! Some fridge sized blocks came down the far side followed by some more chunks just as I was about to make the final dash across the middle. Trainers and a helmet were definitely much appreciated.

Positively Himalayan!
Doing the last 2000m without any water between us was the final straw. Not helped by our failure to secure a lift back home from Les Houches. Fortunately Bella came to the rescue with juice and snacks, I don't think I would have managed the final few kilometres back to Chamonix.
One of the many huts on the Gouter side, we have definitely left out mark on this mountain!
I'm pretty happy about how good I felt at 4810m. It means that the altitude in Kyrgyzstan shouldn't be a problem especially with several days gradually moving kit up to basecamp. Unfortunately we won't have Bella to drive us back home at the drop of a hat!

The view from the top of Europe! Mont Maudit is surprisingly far away.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Six years of Alpine Dreaming - Forbes Arete on the Aiguille du Chardonnet

My first night ever in Chamonix was a night of classic Alpine thunderstorms. On the transfer in, we saw nothing of the stunning mountains, just an occasional glimpse of the snouts of the glaciers. The weather was so bad that Mr Bernard allowed us to bivvy in his garage rather than have to put up our tents. When we were turfed out at 6am the next day, the first mountain that we saw was the Chardonnet, looking exceptionally wintery! It was truly awe-inspiring, I really wanted to reach it's summit one day! But the sight of it also made me wonder if we had bitten off more than we could chew...

Time moves on and I guess I've gotten used to Alpine walk ins! The wander up to the Albert Premier was no where near as bad as I remembered it being on our Conville Course in 2007, the hut seems nicer too! Getting up at 2am was quite traumatic though, I guess that never gets easier!

Josh and Hannah ahead.
The snow and ice is in really nice condition just now and we romped up it, having two ice axes definitely helped though. For some reason I thought that the snow was the meat of the route and was feeling pretty smug that we had gained the ridge at 6.30am and the summit was so close. Easy day out! Or not.... The ridge is actually quite engaging climbing with a lot of ups and downs interspersed with dubious snow traverses. Generally if you follow the polish your in the right place!

Good snow conditions before the sun hits the slopes
Trine on the summit, AT LAST!
The descent surprised me as it wasn't anywhere near as epic as I thought it was going to be! Although luckily Hannah and Josh found the abseils and we could just follow them, I don't know how quickly we would have found them ourselves. The snow slopes beyond were a bit sketchy, having been in the sun for a while they were rapidly resembling a slush puppy. All the large crevasses and rimayes seem fairly avoidable just now at least.

My main problem on the descent was that I was wearing a pair of G20s, which kept balling up extremely badly! I would know the snow off on the first step, take a second, faceplant on the third. After a couple of hundred metres Trine wisely suggested that I take them off completely. Life got significantly easier, although jumping crevasses crampon-less was a bit scary. At least now I know not to take them to the Tien Shan with me!

Safely down! I gave up wearing crampons about half-way down the central snowslope....