Monday, 31 March 2014


The Grands Montets ridge is a pretty cool place to climb! With easy access from the top lift station, these routes have a bit of a cragging feel as well as giving a taste of being on a cold north face. All of the routes I've been on along this ridge have top quality climbing, but the Frendo-Ravanel is definitely my favourite so far! 
A good wade up to the bergschrund... At least there's a track in now!
Questing up into the mixed ground.
After Sam's epic battle up the initial slopes, the unconsolidated powder fortunately changed to bomber neve. The mixed scrambly pitches (and icy chimney) were fun and mellow enough to move together on. We ended up at the first crux much faster than I had expected and suddenly it was my turn to pull a thin, sketchy, ice lead out of the bag... Edging upwards between dodgy hooks and even dodgier gear I finally pulled up onto thicker ice at a much easier angle, phew! Getting congratulated on my efforts at the belay by the nicest ever French Mountain Guide definitely made me feel better for being so terrified!
My new favourite mountain guide opted for the right hand crux, but turned around as it was too thin above.

Sam had a bit of an awkward choice for the second crux: go right over a mixed overhang or try the thinly iced slabby corner to the left. He chose the second option and stormed up it, even though he had run out of rope and had me climbing for the hardest top section. I was pretty glad it wasn't my lead! 

Sam heading up the second crux, which was surprisingly fatter than the first...
Being told by some french climbers that the rest of the route wasn't worth doing and the gear was hard to find we decided to call it a day and head down. After what felt like an eternity of abseiling we were back at our skis. Sadly the ski down was probably one of my worst ever ski experiences. Icy bumps, chomped up pistes and an angry piste-basher driver are not much fun when you are feeling a bit strung out! Still, we eventually made it down in one piece and at least the interesting climbing more than made up for it.
One of about a million abseils...
Hanging out on the north face of the Argentière basin is pretty cool!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Claire Chazal

Firm snow and ice steps made the first section of the route pretty quick!
Sadly I once again didn't top out another route.... This time it was Claire Chazal on the Grands Montets ridge. I wouldn't have blogged about this but I think the lesson that I learned will be useful for other people! Basically: take bigger cams than you think for granite mixed climbing!

Dave heading up mixed ground on Claire Chazal.
Pretty happy to be back mixed climbing at last!
Having climbed most of the way up the crux pitch, I realised that our wild country size 2.5 cam, was nowhere near big enough for either of the cracks that protect the last section. Looking down, my last (and only) bit of gear seemed a very long way away. I wasn't completely certain I could climb the last few metres without barndoor-ing off and didn't fancy the 20+ metre fall that would come with it. Somehow I managed to downclimb the icy groove that I had been quite proud of climbing up! Dave wasn't too enamoured with the pitch either so we decided to abseil back down to the bags. Waiting for us at the bottom were our bigger cams, which we had chosen to leave behind. Ooops!
Heading up towards the thin icy groove, thanks Dave for the photos and patient belaying!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Two very different alpine days - the Rébuffat and Gabbarou-Albinoni

Psyched frenchman...
Sometimes all you need in life is a super psyched Frenchman... When Arthur rocked up from Grenoble saying that he wanted to climb the Rébuffat rock route on the South face of the Midi, I had my doubts. I had so many doubts that I insisted we take along crampons, technical axes and a full set of screws as well as rock and ski gear, just in case we had to come up with another objective. It just seemed very unlikely that we could actually go granite climbing at 3800m in March! Even though several Vallée Blanchers declared that we would definitely get frostbite, we chose to ignore them and have a look at the Rébuffat anyway. As we were gearing up, Arthur said he was glad I was British as none of his french friends would have followed him!

The route looked good from the bottom with only a few patches of snow about. Choosing to leave our skis midway between the start of the route and the abseil descent (I have climbed the Rébuffat once previously in 2012) and then stomp up the snow was probably a bit of an error. The slope turned out to be pretty well consolidated icy neve which wasn't very pleasant in rock shoes or trainers. Traversing a final snowy ledge saw us onto the actual rock and life got a lot more fun!

Some snow negotiation...
Other than a few more snowy ledges the rock was clear, dry and warm in the sunshine. Although I was wearing ski pants and two synthetic belay jackets, we weren't anywhere near getting frostbite PHEW! The ski down the normal route on the Vallée Blanche was fairly horrific, but Arthur and I had a good walky pointy session and got a good look at what routes may still be in.

Looking down from my shady pitch to our skis.
I was wearing a lot of clothing!
The start of the rock climbing season made me realise how pitifully little mixed alpine climbing I've done this winter. As Sam felt similarly we decided to remedy this by go having a look at the Gabarrou-Albinoni on the East Face of the Tacul. From the bottom, the steep climbing didn't look particularly fat but we decided to go and have a look anyway.

Getting over the massive bergschrund was a little bit intimidating, it's huge! Very undercut and pretty wide with just a tiny balanced snow bridge to tip-toe across. Most of the initial couloir was uneventful, except for the one slightly steeper ice step where I suddenly got pelted with spindrift avalanches. This was then followed by quite a lot of ice and rock too! This is the main problem with being on an east face in the morning.

My psyche just about lasted until the bombardment stopped and I could continue upwards. Still expecting to get taken out by a massive rock I was surprised to see a bright orange helmet bouncing down towards me... Somehow I managed to catch it as it went past without letting go of both axes and peeling off into the great beyond. Definitely the highlight of my day, although the French climber who dropped it probably felt differently!

Once on the steeper climbing, the ice stopped being quite so soggy. Even though we were dodging loose rocks quite a bit we still thought the route was a goer. Looking up the next steep pitch, I realised that I had used up my bravery for the day in the spindrift avalanches earlier on. Thinly iced rock is not one of my favourite things to climb so I handed my lead over to Sam. Sadly on the 'thick' ice a few metres off the belay his tools were still bouncing off the rock underneath, so we both decided to call it a day and descend. The abolokov thread halfway up this pitch probably should have been a bit of a sign!

Sam questing up some steeper ice
The top few pitches of steeper climbing were pretty thin when you got to them!
After a lot of abseiling (that first couloir is long!) we got down and crossed the 'schrund without dropping ourselves or our gear in it. Shame we couldn't do the last pitches of actual climbing but good to have another good day out in the mountains.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Snatched mountain days.

Coming back to Chamonix for a long weekend of work, I didn't really plan to get out in the hills at all. Having two days of mini adventures off the Midi felt even better as they were totally unexpected!

As ever the north side of the Midi ridge is an amazing place to be! If a bit terrifying...Not so scary when you can't see the whole way to town though!
For some reason, since I first started to ski, climbing the traverse of the Midi-Plan and skiing down the glacier to the Requin hut, has been appealing. After another skiing versus climbing conversation with Dave on Saturday, this seemed like a good objective to combine both on Sunday!

As I've never actually skiied the Grand Envers variation of the Vallée Blanche before, I was pleased that the first pitch didn't feel 'that' steep. After skiing across to the Col du Plan were soon taking off skis and putting on crampons. At this point I was feeling smug about how much faster the route is in winter. Being able to ski down so much of it is so much faster than walking it! Then we started trenching through waist deep snow and time vanished into suffering. After what felt like an eternity (probably just because my heart was beating three times as fast) we got to the last steep slope before the Rognon du Plan and decided to bail.

A bit of actual climbing on the route broke the trenching monotony.
The couloir below us was inviting, trenching up more snow slopes was not. Although it looked quite steep, the Grand Envers seemed pretty close and the snow down to it looked beautifully flat and powdery. After somehow managing to put on my skis without dropping my crampons and ice axe I left the safety of my ledge, determined to put some turns in. Only the snow was absolutely terrible, refrozen and grabby with ice underneath. Definitely not powder! As I don't really understand jump turning and am somewhat of a sideslipping aficionado, I gracefully chose the latter method of descent for the first half of the couloir...
Trying to make myself turn did not go very well....

At this point I remembered that I don't understand jump turning.
Me in the top of the couloir, really wishing that I knew how to jump turn!
The 20% sunshine forecast on Tuesday seemed totally inaccurate. At 10am, Mont Blanc and the Midi were basking in sunshine. Definitely not rest-day-Mount-Everest-Foundation-presentation-writing weather after all! Instead I tagged along with Liz and Dave to do a tour off the Midi. Sadly the weather did exactly as predicted and came in from the East as we skied down. By the time we stopped to put skins on beneath the Salle à Manger it was definitely snowing, so we decided to bail and headed down the Mer de Glace. Nice to have a quick hit though before a 3.30am transfer home again!
Still pretty sunny for 20%
Liz is a professional snowboard poler! Good job really when we made her ski the not very steep Gros Rognon on a pow day...

As I forgot to get my camera out on Tuesday, the 3 photos above are courtesy of Dave.
Sunny Midi days are the best thing about Chamonix, even when it's already tracked out.