The skiing is a bit boney at the moment.. We desperately need more snow in the alps but that being said its always worth going out and enjoying the good weather! Thanks to Ross Hewitt, Johnny Collinson and Griffin Post for a sweet day.
First up I’d like to apologise for my lack of blogging in the last few months.. I’ve been pretty busy and I’ve not really been doing any properly interesting days out in the mountains due to the lack of good conditions. I’ve been out loads though and Ive been enjoying training, climbing and skiing on my days off.
This summer I was in North Wales preparing to take me British Mountain Guides Summer test. The other Trainees and myself had lots of days out learning the finer points of short roping in the rain and I also rediscovered my love of Trad climbing. It feels like the past few times I had been back to the UK to climb Trad I’ve had an underlying agenda of ticking off routes for the application to the scheme so I forgot to enjoy the climbing 100%. I managed to get some great days out climbing in the mountains and at Gogarth as well as going out with some great folk to practice my guiding skills. In August, with the test looming in the first week of September I was feeling quietly confident about passing and being able to move on to Scotland for the winter climbing module. Things didn’t quite pan out perfectly….
The test is divided into 6 days and 5 parts. Day one is the personal Climbing day where you show your ability to climb E1 5b. I ended up climbing an E2 5b at Gogarth called Resolution Direct at main cliff which is a totally mega route for that grade and proved to be a good choice for the day.
Day Two is Rescue Day where you show the assessors you can perform sometimes complicated rescues on multi-pitch terrain. We ended up going to Wen Zawn which felt pretty wild as the thick sea-mist and drizzle made everything super greasy and the wind buffeted us as we were hanging off belays trying to stop the ropes from touching the waves bellow. The day went well and we managed to get out of the zawn in one piece which probably counted for most of the mark for that day.
Days Three and Four are the formidable expedition. Starting off in the morning the drizzle was drifting up the pass and myself and Duncan where trying to get motivated for what we knew was going to be a long couple of days. After a false start on Dinas Mot I took over and started leading us up Jammed Boulder Gully which is a notorious Grade III scramble that can feel like E4 when it’s wet, which of course it was. I resorted to full aid on one pitch and a little later I gave up and decided I’d had enough and it would be to dangerous to carry on. After managing a somewhat slimy retreat down the gully I got to the bottom and was thankful it was Duncans turn to lead the way. We navigated and scrambled over Crib Goch, and down to the bottom of Persons Nose. I took over again half way up that and took us over to the top of Cloggy where Paul Warnock asked me to lead us down to the bottom of the face so we could have some food. I’d never been to Cloggy before so it was an interesting experience short roping in very serious terrain in the mist, on a cliff that I’d not even seen before.
At the bottom we cooked up some grub for the team and headed back into the night for some navigation. We went up to the summit of snowdon and down to the other side to a Bivy at the col. In the morning we woke up and got the bodies going again despite no water. I did my usual and didn’t bother with a sleeping bag so I was happy to get moving for sure. We made our way down and around to the Llanberis pass and headed for some sunny cragging at Careg Wasted. The last route of the day was my chance to show I could climb VS in big boots which is also required. I started up Ribstone Crack feeling a little jaded but slithered, knee-bared and jammed for glory despite feeling like I could be off at any moment. The heat of the day had sunk into the rock and without a chalk bag to soak up the sweat on my fingers it felt pretty insecure whilst I was placing gear. After I made it to the top and we headed back to Plas Y Brenin for a much needed pint!
Day Five and Six are client days. You get some information about the client at the end of the expedition and have to give them one day Guided Climbing and one day Teaching. My client was already a good climber and had done quite a bit in wales before aswell as being a mock student for the past 3 years. Tricky would be a good word to describe the two days. Although the Guiding day went well I made a total pigs ear of the Teaching day and this meant I had to come back to resit the day at a later date. I basically didn’t teach enough and was restricted by only having 2 ropes where three would have been better. I learnt a lot from the day though.
I was pretty crushed when I got the result especially as the rest of the week had gone relatively well. Still it wasn’t catastrophic and I was able to rectify my mistake without having to take a year out. I went back to the drawing board, looked at a load of teaching techniques, different clients and their needs and came up with a good plan with how I would deal with the reassessment day.
I organised the day for two weeks after the original assessment and went out again with Paul and had a great day with him and Sarah my mock student for the day. It was great to finish on a high note and draw a line under my time in wales. Now I can move on to Scotland with good knowledge about how I perform under the pressure of the test and with extra practice on the teaching.
I’m back in Chamonix now and Ive been enjoying climbing, and recently skiing due to the massive dump of fresh snow we’ve just had. Im looking forward to moving on with the guides scheme and getting some good climbing done up in Scotland too. For now I’m pretty happy getting out skiing as much as I can to get my fix before I head up North for the winter proper.
I’m trying my hand at vlogging. Check out the video bellow and let me know what you think in the comments section or share the video with a friend who you think might be interested. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to see the next one! A great day out ski touring on a Chamonix Classic. We were pretty lucky with the conditions too!
Here a list of my 5 favorite pieces of gear from the summer so far. Things that have made my life easier, or more comfortable.
Petzl Sitta Harness
The Petzl Sitta has been a big surprise for me. Its super comfy, yet light weight and easy to pack in the rucksack. Enough gear loops for trad climbing and perfect for sport. It works for nearly all my climbing and I don’t need to worry about choosing the right harness for the job as I know it will work for me. Check it out on the EpicTV Shop here.
DMM Pivot Belay Device
It’s surprisingly hard to find the perfect belay plate but I’m pretty close with the DMM Pivot. Easy to use in guide mode and very smooth for giving out rope and abseiling. Great stuff from the welsh manufactures. Check it out here.
Salomon Bonatti WP Jacket
At a mere 190g I keep one of these In my pack even if I don’t think I’m going to use it. IT packs down super small into the chest pocket so I can clip it to my harness when Im doing multi-pitch rock climbing. Not as burly as other Jackets but a good emergency shell. Buy here.
Edelrid Aramid Cord Slings
These are a great evolution in slings. If you knot them they are super easy to undo. Really useful when taking out beginner climbers! Get some here.
Salomon X-Alp boot
The Salomon X alp boot has been a game changer for me. Perfect for fast and light alpine summits where you don’t need to do long sections of ice climbing. However I have used it on the Contamine/Grisole on the Tacul North Face and it worked super well! Really worth looking at if your a runner going into alpine climbing or if you are looking for a boot for quick alpine approaches for rock climbing. It’s also small in your bag when climbing muti-pitch rock routes with a walking descent. Ditch those heavy boots and try a pair of these out! More info here! Below is a Vid from earlier in the summer out climbing on the Col du Midi
With the summer well and truly underway and after an abysmally rainy June it feels pretty good to get some short easy alpine routes and a tone of good rock climbing done. With the British Guides Summer assessment looming in September I’ve been trying to focus on getting back on the rock to practice the skills we need to pass the test, namely rescues, short roping and navigation. This means that my personal objectives have fallen by the wayside, but it’s OK because I was mentally prepared for this situation when I started the scheme last year. Soon I’ll be heading back to north wales to practice more in the appropriate environment and get my head back in the trad game! It’s going to be awesome!
Hopefully I can have one last jaunt into the big hills to propel me in to the summer in wales. Fingers crossed for the weather!
Here’s some shots from the summer so far.
We do love a bit of Spring here in chamonix. Skiing, Biking and Climbing are all possible depending on what the weather dishes out. Ive done a bit of everything in the past week which is awesome. We’ve had a lot of snow this spring but it’s not necessarily been “useful” for skiing. The last storm brought a lot of precipitation and with it immediate warm temperatures and wind. I skied the Vallee Blanche at the begging of last week and felt that it was to dangerous to ski anything steeper for a few days after that.
After what seemed like a good amount of time for things to stablise, yesterday myself, Joel Evans and Guillaumo Mars headed up to ski the south face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. I had my reservations from the start as to how safe it would be to ski something south facing at this time of year, however a couple of friends had skied it the day before and reported good spring corn snow. This gave me a bit more confidence in it being a reasonable objective and I knew I could bail from the summit if things looked bad.
The North Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul is pretty evil this spring with big gnarly looking seracs above you for most of the time you are climbing up. Nearing the top I was glad to get off the face and onto the summit however I couldn’t shake a twisted feeling in my stomach. This is something that I get when I’m nervous about something, call it a gut feeling if you like, something I know a lot of people don’t get. Sitting on the summit and checking out the snow conditions that seemed very good I didn’t feel any better. Did I not trust myself to make good safe turns? Was it something else I was worried about?
I made a decision to turn back and leave Joel and Guillaume to ski the line without me and offered to take pictures of them dropping into the first section of the face. I made my way over to a perch which overlooked Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc and the initial slope of the descent. I managed to snap some nice shots of the boys dropping and watched them making their way down.
Then something very strange happened, something that I later admitted to the guys when we got down. A strange emotion washed over me. I had to go with them. At first I thought it was because it looked like fun skiing down the perfect corn but later when thinking about it after everything was done it seems like something in my brain told me to go with them perhaps to keep them safe. I shouted down to them that I would join them on the first abseil.
I returned to my skis and quickly joined them on the face feeling hesitant but fairly comfortable with the skiing. We made a short abseil through a choke and continued down through the crux section to the start of the long 45m abseil in the middle of the face. Here I took to coaching the guys on the short, loose climb to get to the anchor and rigged the ropes for the abseil.
Joel made a short video here.
At the bottom of this abseil things changed dramatically. The cloud that had been sat in the Brenva basin had spilled over the ridge and was moving up the slope towards us. This made it difficult to see and alongside the snow becoming deeper and heavier due to the warming it had had from the sun we decided to down climb the next section through a small Icey choke. After setting of on crampons down the slope I spotted an anchor that would get us down the steep section and decided it would be safer and easier to utilise it for an abseil anchor should anything come down from above. I clipped to it and backed it up with two Ice screws. Guillaume and Joel joined me and just as they had both clipped onto the belay next to me a rumbling noise made the pit of my stomach drop away. Is this it I thought? I was convinced it wasn’t but when the heavy wet snow pummeled down onto us bringing with it small rocks I think we all feared the worst. I took the brunt of it being closest to the gully line it was coming down and after what seemed like eternity it slowed down. Thankfully we were totally fine with nothing more than a neckfull of wet snow each.
Time to engage survival mode. We quickly rigged to ropes rappel and Joel started down. After he was 40m or so away another avalanche ripped over or heads. Lucky Joel was out the way of it by then and I had moved away from the firing line too. Guillaume followed him and I took the screws out of the belay and started down. By now the clouds were in around us and we were had no choice but to make our way down as quickly and safely as possible, calling for rescue was out of the question. I wanted to stay on the rope figuring that being attached to the mountain was a good idea given the previous situation. We made two more long abseils to within spitting distance of the bergschrund. Here we put our skis back on and made our way carefully over the ‘shrund and down onto the flat glacier and relative safety. Following down the Vallee Blanche and back to the train I felt emotionally drained and thankful things hadn’t gone any worse for us.
A strange day which goes to show how unpredictable the mountains can be. Also for me, how important it is for me to make good decisions based on my feelings and instincts. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone but if I hadn’t would things have panned out well for the other guys? Did I fall into a heuristic trap or was I justMont Blanc Du Tacul South Face worried about the other guys safety? Who knows, but all I know right now is I don’t need to go skiing again for a while…
(Col De l’Aiguille Verte Trip Report From Sunday 10th April 2016)
It’s fairly evident to those who live here that the mountains are getting busier and busier as time goes by. The Argentiere Glacier has been, and always will be one of the stomping grounds for Extreme Skiers out looking for the perfect day on the steep north faces. I wouldn’t really class myself as an Extreme Skier. Strapping it on for a 5.4 (Technical Ski Grade) is about the limit of what I would ever feel comfortable skiing and only once every blue moon at that. I like the feeling of skiing steep powder for sure but the worry and stress associated with putting yourself in that situation is draining to say the least.
I digress. Oh yeah busy….. busy busy busy. Jostle, hustle push and shove. “got to get the first bin!” got to get there before its too late. Exiting the first bin on a busy day such as yesterday (Sunday) and polling off into the basin, it’s hard to not feel smug. We have the pick of all the amazing routes in their shinning spring condition. But what if someone follows us?! I don’t want to race. I want to clip into my skis fresh without stress. I don’t want anyone above me or below me. I want this day to be ours.
When I spoke to Joel about skiing the Col De l’Aiguille Verte I could tell he was nervous. He’s not been skiing that long (even less than my 7 seasons!) but he’s proved himself on a few bigger faces and is super keen. I knew he’d be happy to bail at the first sniff of trouble which is an admirable quality some lack.
When we reached the bottom of the slope that heads up to the Col De l’Aiguille Verte things looked good and we quickly changed over and started up the short skin to the bottom of the face. Over the bergshrund we ditched the rope, shovels and probes. We wouldn’t be needing the weight and reasoned an avalanche on a 53 degree slope would be unlikely or catastrophic.
On the climb up we passed a ski that was sticking out of the slope. We’d found a hat at the bottom too and scratched our heads as to what had happened and what to do. We carried on and found an ice axe about 400m up too. It later transpired someone had fallen (I still don’t know the circumstances) and had managed to “get away with a broken leg”. Lucky guy.
We kept a steady pace and about 2/3 of the way up were caught up by a friendly Frenchman, Boris Dufour who was on the 4th cable car. He’d set a good pace to catch us and remained close for the rest of the climb to the Col and during the descent knowing that the danger would be sluff management (by sluff I mean loose snow which grows and gains power the further it goes). After taking some photo’s from the top we slowly and hesitantly started skiing. The first turns were tough with the deep crusty snow but soon things got better and we were able to make some more relaxed, but much steeper and more intimidating turns in the guts of the face.
We pitched it carefully staying out of harms way by tucking under rocks and sticking to spurs as others skied. The snow was pouring down the face as you skied funneling into massive sluff trains that went all the way to the glacier, cascading off rocks on the way.
Hopping the shrund and heading back to the ski area it all sunk in and a feeling of accomplishment mixed with joy washed over us. A line I’ve always dreamed of with fantastic snow and excellent weather means it will be a day etched into my memory forever. I’m glad to have shared it with Joel and Boris…… and only them.
I’ve wanted to climb Mont Dolent for many years. Although not a massive peak compared with other alpine giants, Mont Dolent is quite unique. Its the point where three of the great alpine countries meet, France to the NW, Switzerland to the East and Italy to the south. With the classic Ice Goulotte of the Charlet-Couturier route on the Argentiere basin face and moderate ski terrain to the south it is an unsung gem of ski mountaineering and offers a near perfect day out if you can just get the timing right….
When Colin Haley asked me if I wanted to do it with him at the weekend I was pretty damn stoked and honored that he wanted to bring a Brit punter like me along. Of course I said yes and we made the necessary preparations in terms of equipment and logistics. I packed a tunnel pass and mentally prepared myself to have to pay a friend to pick us up from Courmayeur at the end of the day (We choose this descent rather than down to La Fouly because we figured it would be cheaper, even though it was longer). When Colin broke the news to me that he’d be taking his Skimo Racing skis I felt slightly despaired. My thinnest, lightest skis are 95mm under the foot and weight almost twice as much, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
In the morning we jostled our way onto the first bin pushing and shoving the others around us in the usual hectic Chamonix style. We clipped in and set off across the “high traverse” under the north faces. Much to my bemusement Colin set a fierce pace on his tiny skis… somewhere along the line I forgot he was a pretty handy skier aswell as being a top level alpinist.
With skins on I set my pace close to my lactate threshold pushing hard but not getting overly tired. Colin would catch up and take some photos whilst I carried on and the catch up again soon after. We passed a couple waking from a night in a tent and up ahead at the end of the glacier we saw another pair near the bergshrund of our route. We were soon there and strapping our skis onto our packs about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving the lift. The other team had just got over onto the bergshrund when we set off and we simul-soloed past them on the first pitch being careful and delicate not to knock ice down on them. However with the near perfect Névé this wasn’t much of an issue. After the first few bulges I noticed it got a little thinner and blacker and also a couple of small stones were coming off from above. We decided (or rather I asked) to put the rope on, at least for a bit. After about 90m and with the difficulties done we put it away and carried on up and out left along a snowy ramp to the ridge. Up the ridge a little way and out left across a large snow bay (in Switzerland) we crossed another bergshrund onto the upper slopes. I was feeling the burn quite a bit on the last few hundred meters primarily because I hadn’t managed my hydration and food that well until now (learning by mistakes is good). We topped out a little after 1.50 and began our descent down into Italy finding some good and bad snow that lead us all the way down to the Val Ferret. What ensued was my least favorite and what Colin later told me was his favourte part of the day… About 12km of polling and skating down the valley on forest trails and cross country tracks. I was suffering hard on my “heavy” skis trying to keep up with Colin who looked like he was out for a quick sunday Ski du Fond after lunch.
Rather perfectly we arrived the end of the snow at exactly the same time a bus did. We jumped on it and pondered if the Helbronner lift would be open so we could save the cost of going through the tunnel by skiing back to Chamonix down the Vallee Noire… With jelly legs we quick marched through the streets of Entreves to the lift which was still running at 3.40. I was feeling pretty thirsty by this point and was looking forward to a bottle of coke or something at the top station before the long ski back to Cham.. I joked with Colin that we could theoretically make the last train if we rallied.
“We should totally try….Come on man lets do it!”
“Errrrggghh… Ok” I agreed. Without a moment to spare we rattled off down through the flat light skiing, without stopping, from the Helbronner to the bottom of the stairs at Montenvers. The loud speaker informed us we had five minutes to march up the 300 or so stairs to make the last lift up to the train station… Pushing deeply into oxygen deficit I lolloped my way up the stairs gasping for breaths some way behind Colin. I nearly collapsed in the bubble but was thankful to have the train to take me back to town. We agreed it was one of the best days of this winter for both of us, apart from some scramble he did with some guy called Alex down in a place where its really windy all the time. All that was left was for me to rescue my car from Argentiere but luckily as soon as I put my thumb out and the first car stopped for me…..perfection.
Ski Mountaineering for me is about finding great link ups involving climbing, and skiing and traversing peaks. Last Sunday, after a cruzy day exploring Les Contamines with Irene, me and Josh Fawcett headed out to make some SKIMO (ski Mountaineering) and scored a pretty good day almost by mistake. With a vague plan to hit the Traverse of the Noire and “possibly something else” and a even vaguer forecast suggesting some wind and precipitation at some point during the day we went into the day with an open mind.
We headed out from the Aiguille du Midi down the classic Vallee Blanche and over to the Italian side. Hiking up the glacier to the start of the climb through the cold gusty wind with flakes of snow whipping past our noses we were slightly hesitant and came close to turning back a few times.. The weather was clear on the french side and we hoped the small localised weather spilling over from Italy wouldn’t follow us into the Traverse of the Noire. Thankfully by the time we reached the boot pack leading up to Pointe Yeild things were dying down so we carried on over the ridge to the top of the face. I’d been here a few years ago with Tom, Ross and Michelle.. We got spooked out by wind slab and decided to head back. This time however there were about twenty tracks, ten going skiers left and ten going skiers right down the convex face. We opted for right hand option and skied down a little way to the steep choke which is normally pretty icey.
We side stepped down through this which was both tiring and intimidating due to the nature of the crumbling snow, but managed to score some pow turns on the lower face before busting hard skiers right through the glacier and over to the bottom of the Breche Puiseux. From here we decided we had enough time and psyche to go and ski the NW shoulder of them Aiguille Tacul aswell. The climb up the final gully was roasting hot but it was worth suffering the heat and softening snow as we found a few good turns on the way down this line. The best snow however was on the moraine bench hard skiers right going down to the Leschaux Glacier at the end.
A great little link up of about 1200m vertical ascent with some really good snow on the descents and with a variety of different terrain and views to keep us amused. All in all a good day out on the hill!
Click on the Pictures bellow to see them in gallery format.