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!!

Jottnar, Aiguille du Midi.

Aiguille du Midi, Cosmiques Arete North West Face, AKA off the bridge. Scottish VIII 8 or M7+. 4 pitches, all of which are very good. With Ally Hurst.

Good route, Good conditions on the top pitch.  Had to take a rest on the crux wall.  One to come back and get free! Great route from Dave Almond and Mark Thomas (UKC News report here)

 

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…

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

Grande Charmoz North Face. A Day To Remember.

The Grande Charmoz North Face seen from Montenvers. Current Conditions.

The Grande Charmoz North Face seen from Montenvers. Current Conditions.

For years I’d looked up at the Grande Charmoz north face and never seen it in “good condition”.  I’d heard that the first third needed good cover to make it viable and in the past it always seemed that the crucial ice was never there.  This year however it has been “in” and some of my friends had already been and climbed it earlier in the winter and in the past week. No chance of a true onsight as we had some beta from them about the descent and the conditions on the face but we still wanted to do the route despite the adventure being mostly taken away.  With snow conditions deteriorating out here and motivation for skiing dwindling it didn’t take much persuading from Mr Psyche himself, John “spoon” McCune to give it a punt.  Johns been tearing it up in the past few months with ascents of the Eiger, Droites and Petit Dru to name a but a few so I knew we was going to be fit for it.

We meet up the day before to discus our plan of attack. We both decided we like our beds so quickly came to the conclusion we’d rather try and go from first cable car at the Midi than from the Plan d’Aguille refuge.  I toyed with the idea of borrowing some approach skis from some more dedicated climber friends but pretty soon convinced myself it wouldn’t be the best time or place to try and learn how to ski short skis in my climbing boots.

After dealing with the usual Aiguille du Midi morning clusterf*#K we were soon skinning our way over to the bottom of the Col de la Buche where we ditched our skis and ski boots  and raced up the ladders and snow. Down climbing and wading through knee deep (in places) snow from the col to the bottom of the face was pretty hot work with the sun beating down on us pretty much the whole way.

Once we passed the bergshrund (not difficult) we were on our way and both feeling pretty good.  We moved together through the first two thirds minus 1 short “chimney pitch” where we decided it would be a lot easier to haul our bags as it looked pretty tight from bellow.  It was pretty tight and it was and well worth the extra few minutes of faff. After the long snow field and some more perfect neve, 4x60m pitches brought us to the summit Col of the Grande Charmoz.  Not perfect conditions on these pitches but enough ice to cover the loose rock and some run out sections.  That said it was pretty fun mixed climbing and in a cool situation with the clouds starting to bubble away in the valley bellow.

The descent was pretty straightforward abseiling down to the Natillons Glacier with mostly 55m abseils.  We walked, down climbed and abseiled our way back to our ski’s that were waiting for us at the bottom of the Glacier.  A 1000 vertical meters of slush and the plan track brought us back to the valley and naturally straight onto Midnight Express for a much needed Steak, Frites, Fromage and half a liter of Coke….as a starter.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any big routes in the mountains not counting the Courturier.  I’ve either not been in Cham or I’ve been more psyched on skiing which is my poor excuses for not doing more big routes in the past years. I also haven’t mixed climbed much in the last year so yesterday was the perfect shake down for another season of climbing! Psyched!!  We were also pretty pleased that we manged to climb the route in 5 hours and complete the whole trip from car to car in 13.  All in all a super fun day to remember. Cheers John for the good company and banter.

Mileage

I must admit that my absolute least favourite month in Chamonix is August.  Its super busy, super hot and the Glaciers are usually at there most open making getting around in the mountains dangerous and tedious.  Strange that its also the most prolific time for alpine climbing with ques on all the popular routes and big routes seeing rare ascents (like  Calum Muskett and Paul Jenkinson on Divine Providence, good effort lads!).  I however have been working…… working some more and occasionally getting out for the odd rock route in the Aiguille Rouge on my lunch break or a sport climbing session in the baking heat.  This is all soon to change and its been great to get out in the past week and rack up some millage…..

Soloing the Super classic Mani Pulite with the index chairlift below on a three hour lunch break.

I had a super fun day on my own climbing routes around the Col Du Midi on wednesday.  I  started in my typical third bin fail way and headed straight over to the traverse of Pointe Lachenal to kick things off. After this I headed up the Contamine/Grisole on the north face of the Triangle Du Tacul which was in really good condition and gave me the first chance in a very long time to use my nomic’s which made me very happy indeed. The normal route on the Tacul looked like one giant windslab so I opted for the Chere Couloir rapels to get back to the col.  The Chere had a few teams in it and Jeff Mercier and his partner were climbing the Perroux Gully (just to the left of the chere, see Jeff’s blog here) so I was being peppered by ice on the way down, as to be expected. I had originally wanted to solo the Chere but decided against it due to the ice that was coming down so headed over to other side of the col and started up the short section (not sure what its called) of ridge that finishes at the Cosmiques Refuge.  Unbeknownst to me you have to take your boots off and walk through the hut to get to the start of the Cosmiques Arete proper.  I got some funny looks from people sunning them selves at the hut terrace as I less than gracefully took my boots off and flopped over the railings.  I also got momentarily lost finding the way out of the hut which in hindsight is pretty funny, but in my defense I had never been in there before!  I hadn’t been up high for a while (maybe three weeks) and the altitude really hit me when I started to climb the initial slope up the Cosmiques Arete so I was suffering hard on this part of the day but I finished off my journey in a 6 hour round trip feeling like I had had a pretty good work out!

Good to have the Nomic’s back on the bag!

Starting up the Cosmiques Arete with the Traverse of Pointe Lachenal to the left of my head and the Tacul Triangle to the right.

Showing the first half of my link up on the Col Du Midi.

Thursday saw me and Ally head out to Gietroz, an amazing sport climbing venue just up the valley from Chamonix for a leisurely half day working on Reve de Senge a super classic 8a which I have wanted to get on for a while.  I was surprised how well I got on with it and I hope that I can finish it off before I head out to the Himalayas this autumn, fingers crossed.

Today I headed out with Mike Thomas for a fair well Aiguille Rouge climb-a-thon (the Flegere lift system closes after this weekend) that saw us climb a total of 1000m of excellent quality rock up to 6a including such classics as the south ridge on the Index and Manhatten on the Lower Bastion of the Grande Floria.

Mike Thomas climbing the penultimate pitch to the summit of the Grande Floria. The index lift station looking pretty small below!

On the last pitch of Fraise des Boatchs on the Grande Floria.

The Dru and the Nant Blanc face. More Ice needed for the Dru Couloir but the Nant Blanc looks good to go.

All in all a fun week had by all and psyche is very high for this coming period!!  With less than 6 weeks left before we depart for Nepal its high time it got cold so we can all get out and play on the north faces!

Current Conditions Chamonix side

After the big snowfall of last week the north faces are looking a bit fresher but more snow wouldn’t go a miss.  The Colton/Macintyre, Shroud and Croz/Slovienian all look pretty good right now so as soon as it gets cold would be worth a go.  The Desmaison/Gouseault could do with more cover lower down but you could nip in from the top of the Shroud crux. Not sure about harder routes on the Jorasses right now.

Not much ice in the Cham Aiguille north faces or the Tacul East Face Goulottes.  The top of the Droites looks good but I haven’t seen the bottom of the face so can’t comment on whether its possible to do the Ginat or Colton/Brokes etc right now (anybody been up there?). The Tacul Triangle is pretty good right now as is the North Face of the Tour Ronde.  Not enough ice on the Midi north face right now but too much to make the Frendo not viable.

All the south facing rock is clear enough and its fairly warm so the Envers Des Aiguilles would be OK still.  Not sure about the Italian side of the Massif right now.  Any reports of the Grande Pillar d’Angle north face would be welcome as I’d personally like to climb it this autumn!

Hope this helps. Feel free to message me about routes your interested in and i’ll try and help you out or point you in the right direction.

Croz Spur with Slovenian start.

Croz Spur on the Grandes Jorasses with route Shown (slovenian start)

Croz Spur with Slovenian Start. Showing the Line of ascent.

I recently got back from climbing the Croz Spur with the Slovenian start with my friend Ben O’Connor Croft. I have wanted to climb this route on the Grandes Jorasses for sometime now. It was great to finally get it ticked. The climbing was varied and for the most part good, with the exception of the penultimate pitch which was quite tricky with steep, broken rock and poor protection. Normally this pitch has more ice in it but this year it is quite dry so it’s been putting up a bit of a fight! We were one of three teams on the route that day and I’ve been informed we were the only team to make it over the top with the other two teams being helicoptered from just below this ‘crux’ pitch. This however wasn’t the only helicopter action that the Jorasses saw that day….

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