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!!

Droites North Face Solo.

I must say I’m feeling pretty drained.  I’ve gained (either climbing or walking) close to 5000 vertical meters in 3 days.  Tuesday was one of my all time biggest days in the mountains in terms of the mental and physical stress.  I’ve had it in my mind to solo a route on the Droites North Face for a while now but never found myself in the right situation to actually do it, either because of fitness/psyche or due to conditions. I absolutely love the mountains of Chamonix, especially the Argentiere basin in the Autumn.  I have fond memories of climbing my first grande course, the Ginat and the Colton/Brooks the following year with one of my partners in crime, Ally Swinton.   When the good weather comes in there is nowhere on earth I would rather be, which is saying something!  These past few days have left me smiling ear to ear and have given me that feeling of satisfaction that I only get from climbing a big face.

The Argentiere Basin. October 2014

Choosing which route to climb on the Droites was a bit interesting.  I  didn’t particularly want to repeat the Ginat, although it is the obvious choice being the most straightforward.   My memories of the descent off the back of the Breche des Droites are pretty bad and it wasn’t somewhere that I wanted to be by myself.  I also really wanted to climb the East summit. After scoping the conditions from the Col des Montets through my binoculars I knew that the top of the face had lots of good ice, so I knew I had a few options of ways to go on the headwall.

I headed up the home run of the Grands Montets ski area on monday about 3pm still feeling the Chere Couloir in my legs from the day before. I arrived at the Argentiere hut at about 7pm to find three other teams, one of which was already asleep!  I asked what time they would all be getting up. One team was planning on getting up at 12 (!), one at 3 and one at 4.30.  This proved quite disrupting to my already nervous sleep which meant I didn’t get much until they had all left. I had set my alarm for 5 but actually didn’t get up until 7 and left the hut just after 8.  Making my way across the glacier I could see a team on the central Ice field of the Ginat and another team starting up the crux pitches of the Colton/Brooks.  I was 50/50 whether or not I was actually going to climb the thing as I felt quite tired and a bit sluggish. I wanted to do it relatively fast and wasn’t sure how quick a pace I could keep especially with a rope, mini rack, stove etc on my back.

When I got to the bergshrund I had a bit of water and food and automatically got on with getting my spring leashes attached and before I knew it was over and starting up the hero Ice towards the Messner ramp. Meters and meters of Ice began accumulating below my heals as I made my way up to the crux wall. By this point I had caught up with the team on the Ginat and It had confirmed that I should go to a different route as I didn’t feel it was safe or wise to be underneath/near/above other climbers. I took a rest on an ice screw and prepared for the crux steepening, about 60m of 85-90º ice.  It took a lot of positive affirmations to fend off the rising pump in my arms and it felt pretty out there with more than 600m of cool autumnal air beneath me.

From the top of this steepening I slowed it right down and rested when I needed as the balls of my feet were killing me and I could really feel the past few days in my legs.  Weaving through the final steep section and on to the upper snow field I soon had the summit in my sights. I always love the moment when the sun hits your face after a long slog up a north face, and it didn’t disappoint.   Sat on the summit I contemplated what I had just done and what I still had to do.  Mostly I just took in the breathtaking scenery…

The descent went relativity smoothly with 10 or so 30m abseils, some down climbing and some shin-deep-slushy-wadding down onto the lower Talefre glacier. I spoke to Ross Hewitt on the phone and he suggested I stay in the Couvercle hut for the night, but I was felling ok so I began the long march back to down to town.  I made it back to my bed at 11pm, some 9 hours after leaving the summit. My feet and legs where destroyed and I was too tired to make food so I just passed out for 12 hours and when I woke began consuming calories like a mad man and waddling about like I’d aged 60 years.

The route took me 4 hours and 20mins from bergshrund to summit and was 1070m according to my Suunto. It was an amazing experience and just the kind of adventure I was looking for. If I don’t manage to do another route this autumn I’ll be happy!

Here’s some photo’s from the day. (Click to see them in gallery format)

Chèré Couloir, Aiguille du Midi. Speed Solo.

As I sit here stuffing my face with last nights Lasagna, I feel pleasantly happy with this mornings activities.

When you mention the Chèré Couloir to an Alpinist here they’ll instantly think of the popular classic on the Tacul Triangle. Robert, however, was a busy man during the 70’s and put up more than one route don’t you know ;-). The Chèré Couloir on the Midi north face is threatened by Serac fall for the first 800m (its only 930m) so it doesn’t often get climbed.  It stares me in the face from my balcony here in Cham, taunting me with its perfect looking ice.  I’ve been wanting to do it for a while and I wanted to do it as fast as I could. Today was the perfect day. The ice looked amazing, I was feeling fit and well rested and after scoping out the Serac from a few different angles over the past week I decided it would probably,hopefully be OK. Continue reading

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

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.

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