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.

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!!