Droites North Face Solo.

I must say I’m feeling pretty drained.  I’ve gained (either climbing or walking) close to 5000 vertical meters in 3 days.  Tuesday was one of my all time biggest days in the mountains in terms of the mental and physical stress.  I’ve had it in my mind to solo a route on the Droites North Face for a while now but never found myself in the right situation to actually do it, either because of fitness/psyche or due to conditions. I absolutely love the mountains of Chamonix, especially the Argentiere basin in the Autumn.  I have fond memories of climbing my first grande course, the Ginat and the Colton/Brooks the following year with one of my partners in crime, Ally Swinton.   When the good weather comes in there is nowhere on earth I would rather be, which is saying something!  These past few days have left me smiling ear to ear and have given me that feeling of satisfaction that I only get from climbing a big face.

The Argentiere Basin. October 2014

Choosing which route to climb on the Droites was a bit interesting.  I  didn’t particularly want to repeat the Ginat, although it is the obvious choice being the most straightforward.   My memories of the descent off the back of the Breche des Droites are pretty bad and it wasn’t somewhere that I wanted to be by myself.  I also really wanted to climb the East summit. After scoping the conditions from the Col des Montets through my binoculars I knew that the top of the face had lots of good ice, so I knew I had a few options of ways to go on the headwall.

I headed up the home run of the Grands Montets ski area on monday about 3pm still feeling the Chere Couloir in my legs from the day before. I arrived at the Argentiere hut at about 7pm to find three other teams, one of which was already asleep!  I asked what time they would all be getting up. One team was planning on getting up at 12 (!), one at 3 and one at 4.30.  This proved quite disrupting to my already nervous sleep which meant I didn’t get much until they had all left. I had set my alarm for 5 but actually didn’t get up until 7 and left the hut just after 8.  Making my way across the glacier I could see a team on the central Ice field of the Ginat and another team starting up the crux pitches of the Colton/Brooks.  I was 50/50 whether or not I was actually going to climb the thing as I felt quite tired and a bit sluggish. I wanted to do it relatively fast and wasn’t sure how quick a pace I could keep especially with a rope, mini rack, stove etc on my back.

When I got to the bergshrund I had a bit of water and food and automatically got on with getting my spring leashes attached and before I knew it was over and starting up the hero Ice towards the Messner ramp. Meters and meters of Ice began accumulating below my heals as I made my way up to the crux wall. By this point I had caught up with the team on the Ginat and It had confirmed that I should go to a different route as I didn’t feel it was safe or wise to be underneath/near/above other climbers. I took a rest on an ice screw and prepared for the crux steepening, about 60m of 85-90º ice.  It took a lot of positive affirmations to fend off the rising pump in my arms and it felt pretty out there with more than 600m of cool autumnal air beneath me.

From the top of this steepening I slowed it right down and rested when I needed as the balls of my feet were killing me and I could really feel the past few days in my legs.  Weaving through the final steep section and on to the upper snow field I soon had the summit in my sights. I always love the moment when the sun hits your face after a long slog up a north face, and it didn’t disappoint.   Sat on the summit I contemplated what I had just done and what I still had to do.  Mostly I just took in the breathtaking scenery…

The descent went relativity smoothly with 10 or so 30m abseils, some down climbing and some shin-deep-slushy-wadding down onto the lower Talefre glacier. I spoke to Ross Hewitt on the phone and he suggested I stay in the Couvercle hut for the night, but I was felling ok so I began the long march back to down to town.  I made it back to my bed at 11pm, some 9 hours after leaving the summit. My feet and legs where destroyed and I was too tired to make food so I just passed out for 12 hours and when I woke began consuming calories like a mad man and waddling about like I’d aged 60 years.

The route took me 4 hours and 20mins from bergshrund to summit and was 1070m according to my Suunto. It was an amazing experience and just the kind of adventure I was looking for. If I don’t manage to do another route this autumn I’ll be happy!

Here’s some photo’s from the day. (Click to see them in gallery format)

Chèré Couloir, Aiguille du Midi. Speed Solo.

As I sit here stuffing my face with last nights Lasagna, I feel pleasantly happy with this mornings activities.

When you mention the Chèré Couloir to an Alpinist here they’ll instantly think of the popular classic on the Tacul Triangle. Robert, however, was a busy man during the 70’s and put up more than one route don’t you know ;-). The Chèré Couloir on the Midi north face is threatened by Serac fall for the first 800m (its only 930m) so it doesn’t often get climbed.  It stares me in the face from my balcony here in Cham, taunting me with its perfect looking ice.  I’ve been wanting to do it for a while and I wanted to do it as fast as I could. Today was the perfect day. The ice looked amazing, I was feeling fit and well rested and after scoping out the Serac from a few different angles over the past week I decided it would probably,hopefully be OK. Continue reading

Kyrgyzstan, September 2014

First off I want to thank my partner Emily (roo) Ward for all her hard work on getting this trip off the ground.  I saw what it did to her during the months and weeks leading up to the trip.  Now it’s over and it went (relatively) smoothly its been a great time to reflect on what could have been done differently. Bringing together 9 people, most of whom hadn’t been to mountains outside of the Alps before, is not an easy task and without Emily’s motivation and experience I doubt this trip would have taken off. So thank you!

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Jottnar, Aiguille du Midi.

Aiguille du Midi, Cosmiques Arete North West Face, AKA off the bridge. Scottish VIII 8 or M7+. 4 pitches, all of which are very good. With Ally Hurst.

Good route, Good conditions on the top pitch.  Had to take a rest on the crux wall.  One to come back and get free! Great route from Dave Almond and Mark Thomas (UKC News report here)

 

Vent du Dragon And Meeting Up With An Old Friend

When mountain guide and general good guy Stu McAleese called me up looking for a partner I was more than happy to go out for a climb.  I first meet Stu when I was 18 years old.  I was set fast on a career as an outdoor instructor and I managed to convinced my parents to pay for my first big outdoor qualification, the Mountain Leader Award.  Soon I was packed off to Plas Y Brenin where Stu was working as an instructor whilst he was working towards finishing his guides exams. We had an action packed week in the hills of North Wales where I learnt a lot about navigation, group management and general safety in the hills.  At the end of the week and during the evaluation Stu and Phil Dowthwaite (the other instructor/guide working at the time) obviously saw something different in me to the other brasher boot wearing candidates and all but put me off my chosen career with just a few words! They suggested a different, ultimately more appropriate for me, path to a life in the mountains.

“It seems like you just want to go climbing more Dave.”

“Well yeah.”

“Just do that for a few years, come back to it when you’re ready”

I thought I was ready but in hindsight is a teenager ever going to be ready to take a group of people into the mountains as the leader? Perhaps they were right. Perhaps I should just go climbing. It’s funny how words from someone you look up too can change your outlook on life.

It seems strange but also really cool to be shoulder to shoulder on a belay with the same guy from all those years ago racking up for our first route together. And what a cool route too! Easily and quickly accessed from the Midi bridge, Vent Du Dragon, although only 4 pitches, provides a fun fast day’s worth of mixed climbing in a pretty awesome setting.  Thanks to Stu McAleese for a fun day and some wise words back in the day to set me off on a path that I’ve followed for the last few years.

Topo For Vent du Dragon here…

Matterhorn North Face, Schmidt Route.

Arriving back from Kyrgyzstan on Thursday evening I was feeling weary from the traveling and slightly frustrated from the lack of climbing in the last month. Lots of snow made it difficult to access most of the objectives from our base camp and I cursed my choice of boots on numerous occasions finding the temperatures more akin to winter than summer alpine (full expedition report coming soon). I needed to do something and I wanted to do something big. My long time friend a climbing partner Gav Pike asked if I wanted to drive through to Zermatt on Friday to attempt the Schmidt route over the weekend.

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Rebuffat Gully, Tour Ronde.

Grande Pilier d'Angle

Grande Pilier d’Angle with the breva spur infront. The view from the Forche bivouac!

Finally some stable weather and a route in the mountains! What a fun little route too. I can’t believe this little gem has evaded my sights before now.  This inconspicuous gully on the north face of the Tour Ronde (but not the actually Tour Ronde North Face if you get me) is only properly visible from the approach to the Fourche hut and would normally be considered a winter/spring route.  Being as this summer hasn’t been very summery up until now, there has been a lot of good ice forming on the north faces up high. Continue reading

It can only get better…

Despite living in Chamonix and having a lot of spare time over the past few months I’ve got very little to show for it in terms of big days in the mountains, which makes me sad and frustrated.  The weather this Summer has been abysmal with lots of wind, rain and snow up high. On the bright side this poor weather has been building some awesome conditions on the high north faces which bodes very well for this Autumns mixed climbing season.

Verte North face

The north faces of the Verte and Droites already looking good for this Autumn.

Shameless Selfie soloing the Chere Couloir one afternoon.

Shameless Selfie soloing the Chere Couloir one afternoon on one of my only foray’s into the mountains this summer.

This summer has been a good opportunity for me to get into the swing of a good training regime.  With the help of Steve House’s new book Training For The New Alpinism (full review on here coming soon!) I’m already starting to feel stronger and more focused on what I need to do to improve my fitness. The hardest part for me was realising that what I thought was a half descent way of training was actually making me weaker for what I wanted to do. Its great to finally have an extremely well thought out and well written manual on training for Alpine climbing.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting back on how I felt before, during and after previous climbing efforts.  It’s made me realise that I could have been a lot better prepared for some of the objectives I was planning.  Especially looking back at my 2012 expedition to climb the north face of Talung (7349m) in Nepal, I can now see just how far away I was from being ready to climb an objective like that.  I may have just been able to drag my scrawny butt up it but it would have been preferable to have been feeling on the top of my game for that one.  I was recovering from a knee injury, I wasn’t strong or even particularly fit but I still felt confident.  Had I trained harder or with more structure then I might have been feeling even more confident and had even more chances of success.  I still remember the feeling of the rucksack straps digging in to my shoulders on the acclimatization climb to 6300m and my lungs being compressed under the fairly average pack weight. Not good.

With my focus shifting away from the alps and the fantastic, although often crowded, climbing that it has to offer, I feel I want (or need?) more stimulation from the mountains which I’m just not getting from what is on offer out here. I have by no means done everything I want to do in the alps…far from it, but I crave the adventure that can only be found from going to the greater ranges and for this I need to be stronger and fitter above all.

For now I’m super psyched on training and looking forward to getting out for some bigger days when the weather allows.  I’m also going away to Kyrgyzstan for a peak bagging trip for September which I’m very excited about.  With an awesome team of fun loving friends and nothing too technically challenging this should be the perfect opportunity to wet the appetite for bigger trips to the Himalaya and hopefully get a few good peaks under my belt outside of the alps. It should also be a great warm up for this Octobers mixed climbing season! More info on this trip soon but check out the team blog here to start with to see what everyone has been up too. Some really well written posts up already by the team.