Long live the summer!

Although I’ve not blogged in a while, I’ve still been ticking over here in cham and I’ve really enjoying getting out on the rock and getting up high for the odd alpine mission.  It’s been pretty hectic with work and a quick trip back to the UK to MOT my van, but I’ve managed to get out and about quite a bit in the last few weeks.  Although I haven’t done anything major, this past while has given me time to reflect and time to think forward to the future.

About this time last year (or earlier actually) I was having a tough time deciding whether or not to put an application into the British Mountain Guides scheme. I decided against it in the end mostly because I didn’t feel ready, either financially or with motivation. It’s strange to read words that I wrote only a year ago and thinking how much has changed for me in that time.

A few weeks ago I submitted my application to the guides scheme and I’m currently waiting to hear if I can start or not.  A couple of good friends are also applying this year which was one of the bigger factors in getting me psyched to apply too. I now know that I’m completely ready and fully psyched to start and I really hope they give me a chance!  Fingers crossed!

The other big news for me is that I’ve recently been taken on by Salomon as a climbing and skiing ambassador. I couldn’t be happier about being given this opportunity and I just hope I can live up to what they expect and that the relationship can grow in the future.  I genuinely love the kit they make and i’m super happy with everything I have at the moment.  Thanks to those who helped me with this, you know who you are.

Looking forward to this summer my main goals aren’t necessarily specific routes or mountains.  I mostly want to train hard, and try, at least to really push my fitness further and see what kind of gains I can make with a more focused approach.  I’ve been running and rock climbing along side doing strength and core training session as a start this spring and I’m already starting to see the benefits. I also sure that I will get out and try some bigger objectives aswell and hopefully this summer is fruitful and long and I have the chance to experience some more of the mind blowing climbing Chamonix and the alps has to offer.  I’d also love to take a trip to the Himalaya again soon and hopefully I can find a way to fund it!

I leave you for now with a few shots of some climbing fun from the past week! Thanks to Ben O’connor Croft for the bouldering shots and Dave Thexton for the alpine shots!

When It Comes…

If your a fan of reading Chamonix based blogs it’s likely that you’ve not been reading mine very much recently! But why would you? I’ve not written anything for a while and there are surely some better options for you out there right now.  First off I’d like to apologise to anyone who genuinely cares what I’ve been up to (Mum and Dad?!) and say that I’ll try harder to put some content up on here for you. What follows is a wingey paragraph of why I’ve not done much and why I haven’t blogged. Feel free to skip to the one after.

Its been a tough winter to get out skiing and climbing. The weather has been all over the place, the snow has been weird and I’ve dealt with some tough emotions due to the loss of friends and changing circumstances.   After a reasonable successful period in January and February, March has been a slightly frustrating month. I’ve started a new job For EpicTv.com which despite being an awesome job (ski reviewing!) its taken a lot of energy out of me. When I have had days off it’s either been poor weather or I’ve been feeling clapped out! BLAH BLAH BLAH…What a winger, geez.

I started with epictv back in Feb and was originally taken on as there web master for climbing and skiing content. After a few weeks they asked me to do a screen test for being the ski reviewer for their online shop.  Somehow I got it and a few days later I was out on the hill skiing, shooting and reviewing skis for them.  This gig should last for at least a few more weeks and its been awesome to have the chance to test so many different pairs of skis and get paid to do it! Sometimes skiing chairlifts can get a bit dull (I cant really help the fact I’m used to more excitement than that) but on the whole its been great fun and certainly the best work I’ve ever had!

When the stars align and I get a day off with good weather, snow and energy I feel pretty lucky that I have some super stoked friends and one of the best ski lifts in the world to harness my lust for big mountain skiing. Sometimes I think I’ll never forget the feeling of blasting fall line on some big skis in steep powder but it felt like a almost new sensation yesterday. Grinning ear to ear as I pushed down on the tips of my skis with my toes to give myself another face-full of cold snow.

Nothing new went down and it was really just another Midi powder day but it felt so so good to be out skiing for myself and with a pesky layer of cloud sat around 3000m it felt pretty adventurous navigating 20 or so lost freeriders back to the mid station after the first lap ;-).

More of the same soon please!! :-)

Turbulence in the Vortex.

Sometimes, living in Chamonix, spending most of my time pursuing my passions, feels a little like being in a vortex. A constant cycle of checking weather, looking after equipment, managing rest and having, what often feels like, some of the best days of my life hanging out with some of my favorite people in the world.  The more you do it the faster it seems to go. Friends come in with you for a while before returning to there own vortex. Life seems pretty good until something snaps you out of it…

Its been a tough month with the loss of two friends (Brendan and Dave) and also the passing of my Grandpa Den. Almost two different types of deaths. My friends on one hand were doing what they loved. Striving to live life to the fullest. It feels like an injustice for them to leave so early in comparison to most. There loss sends shock waves around the world, shaking the lives of those who they have met.  I for one passed a few pensive moments of wondering what I was doing and why. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

On the other hand my dear old grandpa had lead a long and full life.  As I sat at the wake watching a slideshow of his life I was reminded of just how amazing he was. He’d been in the navy and then the mounted police in Africa, defending villagers from many perils and also going horse riding with our current Queen. After this he devoted his life to building schools in Malawi and other country’s around the world for which he later received an MBE. He was a fantastic football player, he once played against Bobby Moore and captained the Rhodesian football team many times.  He then moved onto teaching and later mountain leading. This is just a brief list of his exploits. He was a huge inspiration to me and my family and I have very fond memories of time spent walking on Dartmoor with him as a kid and listening to his endless stories of adventures.  I don’t feel like he was taken from us to early.  I feel he’s still here in someway.  I feel like he made the most of his life and also touched the lives of many along the way enhancing them with his teaching. He will be sorely missed of course, but the last few years he wasn’t his normal self, happy and full of life.  It almost feels like death was justice and the ceremony a fitting send off to a great man.

Before this news I passed one of the best weeks of my life.  I’ve spent a lot of time skiing in Chamonix and little time else where.  I traditionally don’t have holidays either…But why should I, my life is one big holiday, right? I’m not sure.. Holidays are supposed to be (correct me if I’m wrong!) stress free, relaxing (not having to worry about work etc) and fun! Yes I’ve been on a few expeditions but they are aren’t very relaxing and yes I get out most days into the mountains but its almost like work sometimes…almost.  I was invited on a trip by my friend Chippie (Stephen Windross) to ski in the Ecrins (Serre Chevalier, Montgenvre and La Grave) shooting for a Fall Line Magazine article. It felt like a proper holiday and despite the poor quality of the snow earlier in the week we had a lot of fun and got some good shots too.  Later in the week, whilst we were skiing in La Grave, we were  treated to a 80cm+ dump of snow that turned the bulletproof Sastrugi into skiing perfection.  I’ve wanted to go to La Grave for years and it was great to finally get the chance to ski there.  Somewhere I need to spend more time for sure.

A few weeks ago I flew back through the turbulence to Scotland to finish of my tick list for the British Guides Scheme.  After years of deliberation I’ve finally decided to put my application in.  Great conditions and company made for a really good, but tiring week, climbing some awesome routes.  My application is coming along and I really hope it gets accepted in May so I can move onto the next phase of my life. Here’s some shots from the week.

I’m back in Chamonix and starting a new job with Epictv.com and hopefully i’ll be back to the vortex soon.  With the conditions in the mountains this winter being pretty bad I’ll be bringing a lot of caution into the mountains, but I’m still looking forward to some big days out when things are stable.  Hopefully I’ll have some good stories to tell as the winter progresses. Keep it real. Keep it safe and keep on having your own adventures.

FOMO

“Fear/Feeling Of Missing Out”. The fear that if you miss an event you will miss out on something great.

Dave Searle

Me Skiing on the North Face of the Gros Rognon. Courtesy of Davide de Masi.

A phrase which has only, in the last few years it seems, come to fruition.  Most likely because of the massive surge in popularity of social media sites over the past decade.  If you ain’t bloggin, instagramin or updating your facebook status with all the rad stuff you’ve been up to how will people know you’ve had the best day ever skiing neck deep pow or climbing a perfect splitter in the sun? Without this huge and constant stream of media coming our way every minute of every day would we even have the sensation of FOMO? Would we live in the here and now more? Would we be happy with what we are doing and where we are?

I’ve had massive bouts of FOMO in the past when I’ve been stuck someplace I didn’t want to be, working a job that I didn’t want to do.  I would live vicariously through my friends and those I follow on social media, wishing away my time to something better.  I can’t complain though.  This past year alone has been pretty damn good with lots of fun skiing and climbing memories behind me. I’ve had a pretty good innings this far!

FOMO is and will always be intrinsically linked to weather and conditions in the place you’d rather be. No snow = No FOMO.  Since the end of my autumn of climbing I’ve been working, nearly every day, in somewhere that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend my time. I’m back in Cham now and yes there hasn’t been much snow…or ice but times are changing (its dumping). I’m still working for the next week and I suspect that what is typically my most FOMO intense period will in fact pass quite easily. Yeah there’s people getting after it and I would rather be skiing or climbing if I wasn’t working. The thing is, I have to work.  I’ve spent too long avoiding it and its caught up with me. I’ve just left one of my worst financial periods behind (all be it self inflicted) and I’ve promised myself that I won’t be back in that position ever again.

The key thing that has changed in my mentality over the past year is trying to live more in the here and now. Wishing I was somewhere else doing something else seems like a complete waste of my time when I really think about it.  Better to accept life for what it is and find happiness in the small adventures or moments spent with friends and family.  Good times come and go and without the bad (or even not quite as good times) I’d never really appreciate the best days to the fullest.  Soon it will all kick off for me and I’ll be out doing the things I love again and it’s the knowledge of that that keeps me happy and sane.  Feeling like your missing out? Book a trip to go climbing or skiing or whatever you really want to do.  Even if you don’t have the time or money just do it. It will happen if you really want it to. :-)

Polish Route, Grandes Jorasses

After a few days of climbing by myself like a proper “billy no mates” it was absolutely awesome to head into the Grandes Jorasses NF with Jack Geldard and Andy Houseman. Despite feeling pretty out of it and very run down this weekend I had the best time I’ve had on a north face, possibly ever.  High class banter from start to finish, awesome climbing and, hey its the Grandes Jorasses in once in a lifetime (?) conditions, whats not to like?

It looked for a while like it was just going to be me and Jack heading up, but Andy was arriving in Cham that day and decided he could get his kit ready and meet us for the 2pm train. We had to buy him food and despite Jack remembering Andy is slightly lactose intolerant we bought a hod of snickers and cheese for our three day journey.

Heading into the Leschaux hut we speculated on the amount of other teams that would be there. Suffice to say its been “busy” up there this autumn with the perfect conditions and the social media fueling a veritable climbing frenzy on the modern classics of the Colton/Mac and the Croz Spur.

Never-the-less we weren’t deterred after arriving at the hut to find 10 others in there (it only sleeps 12). We stuffed our faces and settled into a very cosy night waiting for the 12.30 wake up call.  On the way up to the bottom of the face I punched my foot into an icy pool of water which fairly well soaked my foot. Not the ideal start to the day but it wasn’t enough to put me off. At the bergshrund I changed my sock and we brewed up some tea in the freezing night. We also tested out the two man bothy bag I had brought along as the emergency shelter.  After deciding that a night in that would be utter hell (not too different to my first experience on the Grandes Jorasses) we stopped larking about and made a break for our route.  Our tactical faff had allowed the other two teams that had bivied on the glacier to get a reasonable head start on us.  After a few hundred meters of moving together through spindrift and getting ice chunks to the eyes we made the decision to split off to the Polish route after initially wanting to climb Belle Helene.  We didn’t particularly want to climb underneath people for the whole day.

Arriving at the bottom of the first difficulties we switched from moving together to pitching and Andy took the lead.  On the thin ice pitch of pitch 2 Andy sent down a few chunks of the fragile ice, one of which hit me square in the chest and properly knocked the wind out of me.  The combination of a soggy, cold foot, sore ribs and a general feeling of lassitude that seemed hard to shake I (and Jack) resigned to the fact that Andy would do a much better job of leading the harder pitches. A true WAD shows he still has it only 24 hours after arriving in chamonix, unacctlimatised and having not mixed climbed in a while. A inspiring effort. Although the climbing was never super hard it required care and was sometimes pretty thin.

More climbing and a few stops later we were nearing the summit…

We topped out on the ridge and headed over to the abseils of Point Croz enjoying the sun but not the exposed ridge.  I’d never made the descent all the way down to the valley before and it was long and tedious to say the least. We stopped in the Boccalate hut and passed out after some food and tea.  Jack booted me out of bed and informed me we were leaving as they were bored of waiting for me to get up! Ooopps

Click to see in larger gallery format.

Thanks Jack and Andy for a brill weekender on the big one.  Lots of type 1 and 2 fun thrown in and more than likely the end of whats been an awesome Autumn season for me! I need to work now!!

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)