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.

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!!

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.

Continue reading

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

Spring. Like Autumn But… Better.

I do love the off seasons in Cham.. With the snow pack disappearing and the days growing longer it is the perfect time to split your days into two or more activities.  Skiing in the morning and climbing in the afternoon seems to be the best way to do it!  With only the most hardcore of mountain enthusiasts left in Chamonix the lifts are quiet and the snow still surprisingly good.

Dave Searle

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

With a lack of work and money and not having a passport to go home to work (until now!) I’ve been enjoying the simple routine of getting up and going out to ski or climb or both. Not managed to ski any particularly special lines apart from skiing the Col du Plan on the North Face of the Midi With Joel Evans and Bird a week or so ago. Joel’s Write up here.  Not much to be said about it really.  I’ve been wanting to ski the Midi North Face for a while and I finally seized the opportunity and it turned out great. Some icy side slipping at the top awesome powder in the middle and 3 rappels out the bottom.

I’m getting pretty psyched for the summer now so I’ve been out getting as much millage on the rock possible to try and jump start the old arms after a long lay off.  Haven’t really climbed rock for…. well a long time so its been a shock to the system but persevere I must! My new passport arrived today so I’m getting ready to head back to the UK for a months intensive work which should buy me a few more months of play time this summer!

Ski’s away for the winter! Bring on the summer!!

Touring Time in the Aiguille Rouge by Ross Hewitt

Broke my pole basket, snapped my tech binding leaver off and forgot my SD Card….Total fail from my part but hey it was a fun day all in all..

Ross Hewitt

It was pretty exciting waking up yesterday to a fresh coating of 40 cm of powder when snow has been so scarce this season. But that feeling was quickly replaced by anxiety knowing the lifts would open late and by that time everyone will be out of bed and queuing. We took the magic tunnel through to Italy, drank coffee and skied a quick 4 laps of the Entreve lowers which included a sensational spine feature where the sluff ran fast in the gullies bounding either side. Then it was back to Chamonix for opening time and freeride on amongst the pillows, rocks, roots and tree stumps of Plan de l’Aiguille. Too fast and too hectic to take photos. I was bushed by the end of the day and retired to my nest by 9 o’clock.

Today the plan was to go back for more but the lift company surprised…

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