Learning to Guide

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.

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Col De l’Aiguille Verte, (5.4, 700m)

(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.

 

So Long 2015, Hello 2016!

First off… Happy New Year and thank you for following this blog or even reading it from time to time.  It means a lot to me that anyone at all cares what I have to say and this gives me reason to keep going!

2015 was a bumpy year with a rough start.  With the loss of friends from skiing accidents and also my dearly beloved Grandfather who was a great inspiration to me, motivation for skiing and general mountain activities was low.  Ordinarily I’d expect to ski off a mountain or two and have at least a handful of long days in the mountains with friends. Looking back I realise that I hardly had any stand out days last winter due to work commitments, lack of snow and lack of psyche.

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Weekend Bliss And Suffering.

I’m really digging having an extra day off a week. This weekend was a good mix between sublime autumnal adventures and purgatory suffering, topped off with great weather and alright company. I guess.

Friday

Psyche was high and the weather was good.  The plan was to meet up with fellow Salomon athlete (ahem) Philipp Brugger for some easy mixed cragging on the Triangle du Tacul.  I haven’t swung tools in what feels like a year so I  was glad for an easy re-introduction into mixed climbing. We climbed most of the German gully then finished up the Cosmiques Arete.

Conclusions: Mixed climbing is in fact like riding a bike.  Even if you never do it, you still remember how its done. Got cold toes and fingers but I remembered how to suffer.  Drank 6 pints to try and forget the pain.

Saturday

Woke up with inevitable hangover as Midnight Express was shut and we couldn’t buy cheep burgers to absorb the beer.  Drove to Italy (where the weather is always nicer) with Ally, Ross and Tom (who seemed less hungover than me (perhaps not Tom)). Flailed about on some rock climbs that I shouldn’t have been flailing on.   Enjoyed the sunshine and amazing scenery of the Valgrisenche. Ate pizza, drove home.

Conclusions: Beer is bad, especially for my guts. 6b+ is hard. Italy is beautiful.

Sunday

When the alarm went off at 6.45 I thought it was a bad joke. Driving to the Midi my psyche was low but the can of red bull helped a lot. The plan was to climb the Eugster Direct on the North Face, again with Phillip.  Stumbled over the moraine to the bottom and got to the Bergshrund in good time.  Spin-drift hell was pouring down the gully and we decided it wasn’t  for us. We ummed and arrred about what to do and took a look at another entry to the face to the right (about 150m to the right). It went and we were soon (but not that soon) in the gully.  The crux pitches looked kinda dry and we didn’t want to sleep in the toilets (we have jobs don’t you know) so we bailed up the Diagonal instead.  I was feeling the burn in the top half but we made alright time. Cheese burgers at Macky D’s afterwards.. Cus we are true athletes.

Conclusions: 4h 30m  on the stair-master-3842 is tiring.  Weekends are great.  Water is overrated.

Here’s some proof!

BUY YOUR CLIMBING/SKIING KIT 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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Couturier to Whymper. The Great Connection.

Team Summit shot (L-R Mikko, Ross, Me)

Team Summit shot (L-R Mikko Heimonen, Ross Hewitt and Me)

This day has been a dream of mine and Ross for some time. We had talked about it for  three seasons and had yet to find the perfect day when all the stars were aligned. Sometimes its best just to throw caution to the wind and get out there and chase your dream, even though we knew conditions wouldn’t be ideal.

The plan was to stay in the Grandes Montets top station to make an early start to climb the Couturier Couloir to the summit of the Aiguille Verte. From here we would descend down the ridge to the top of the Whymper Couloir where we would start our descent on ski’s.

The climb up was less than ideal with several sections of black ice, some funky serac climbing and some deep crevasses to cross high up on the Grands Montets Ridge.  It was however mostly just steep snow climbing it still took its toll on the body and mind.  I took my lightweight ski touring axes with me, which weren’t perhaps the best tools for the job but I still managed to bash my way through the bullet hard ice sections. It was gusting pretty hard on the summit and we knew we had little chance of finding good spring corn in the Whymper. The wind was blowing straight onto the couloir and counteracting the suns affect of softening the snow.  We meet Seth Morrison and his partner at the top of Couloir. They had climbed up and reported that it was super hard snow. After watching them ski we knew it would be manageable but not pleasant but there was no talk of abseiling.

We jumped turned and scraped our way down the couloir.  Not in the best style admittedly but what little soft snow there was had already been scrapped and what was left was either very firm or slightly crusty. Not ideal ski conditions but we still managed to make it all the way down the face without getting the rope out.  This was my first time skiing on the Verte and my first 5.3 in hard snow. It was also Ross and Mikko’s first time on the summit which was a great moment to share. It was also my first time skiing with Mikko Heimonen, who is probably one of the most understated extreme skiers operating in Chamonix at the moment.

Thanks for a great day guys…even though you might count it as type 2 fun it will be one of those days that is etched into my memory forever.

Mikko’s pictures here 

Chamonix Alpine Information Service.

I quite often find myself answering questions about climbing and skiing in the mountains of Chamonix.  I love helping people out with information or advice so I’ve decided to offer my knowledge and experience in the form of informal consultations.  The idea is to meet up somewhere in Chamonix for a drink and a chat or talk over the phone to help with any questions you might have.  Please help me to promote this service by sharing this post or the poster below on facebook/twitter or by simply emailing it to someone who you think might be interested. Thank you!

Chamonix Alpine information Service

Email me here.