For every outing in the mountains I blog about, there’s probably a good 20 or so that I never bother to write about. This page is my attempt to try and blog a bit more about those days. My aim is to keep things short and sweet, hopefully making this page serve as useful source of conditions info. It will also hopefully encourage me to bring my camera out more often and take better photos!
5th Apri 2017 – Aiguille du Midi, Jumeaux Spur
Alex has left the flatlands of Bristol and come over to Cham for a couple of weeks of pre-Alaska alpine training. To kick things off, we thought we’d climb something ‘easy’ on the Midi north face. We figured this would give us a good cardio workout as well as a bit of acclimatisation. After discussing a couple of options, we opted for the Jumeaux Spur. Though there’s little information out there about this route, we figured it looked relatively simple an we could do it bin-to-bin.
In the end, we certainly got a good cardio workout. Unfortunately, our hopes of a bin-to-bin ascent would fade away. To my surprise, the route was buried in deep, fresh powder. Great for skiing, but tiring and slow to climb. The upper snow slopes were soul-destroying, with hundreds of metres of wallowing in chest deep powder. By the end of it, we were reduced to no more than 15 steps at a time before having to stop to catch our breath. Brutal!
We eventually arrived at the Midi in a complete whiteout and growing storm. We ran through the cable car station hoping to get the last lift back to Chamonix, but to our dismay missed it by just four minutes. The lift attendant gave us a sympathetic look and a hot chocolate then pointed us in the direction of the Midi toilets, the one part of the station left open at night that is ‘heated’. A fitful night’s sleep ensued with a good amount of time spent ruing our lazy start that saw us miss the first lift of the day up the mountain. At least we got in some solid acclimatisation though!
Alex on the approach. The Jumeaux spur is situated directly above him in the photo.
16th-17th Mar 2017 – Aiguille du Midi, Frendo Spur
Dan and I climbed the Frendo Spur on the Aiguille du Midi. It was great fun. Read more about it here: Winter on the Frendo.
14th Mar 2017 – Les Droites, Lagarde Direct
Alex and I went to climb the Lagarde Direct on the north east face of Les Droites. We got shut down by strong winds. One to come back to.
13th Mar 2017 – Aiguille du Tacul, NW Shoulder
The Aiguille du Tacul’s NW shoulder is a line I’ve been keen to ski for a while. It was cool to finally get on it with Joel and even better to find it in really good snow. I’m not the biggest fan of skiing above cliffs on steep slopes, but in this case it was well worth it and is definitely a tour I’d do again.
Joel skinning up the Périades basin.
Another team heading in the direction of the classic Brèche Puiseux.
Joel booting up to the NW shoulder.
Fun skiing all the way down. Finding the right line can be tricky first time and we certainly benefited from a set of tracks in front of us. The terrain is exposed but never too steep.
Joel ripping it down the exit gullies.
Back down in time for lunch at Elevation. Spring touring is awesome!
26/27th Feb 2017 – Scotch on the Rocks and Star Académixte
I’m finally back in Chamonix after a month in Scotland (more to follow on that at a later date). The mountains are still super dry but with some psyched partners I’ve managed to get straight into some alpine climbing and get a couple of quality mixed lines done before the much needed snow arrives.
First I headed over to climb Vol de Nuit with Morgan. This is a classic Robert Jasper test piece on the east side of Mont Blanc du Tacul that carries the intimidating grade of M8-. I was happy to ‘offer’ the crux to Morgan! Unfortunately, due to a combination of super dry conditions and no big cam to protect the crux pitch (#5 useful!) we decided to bail off this, but we climbed Scotch on the Rocks instead which I’d never done before and was super fun. In true Cham style we chose to rappel off after climbing the crux pitch – very poor style! One to come back to and climb in its entirety some day.
Morgan on the approach slopes.
Morgan on the second pitch, which goes at around M5+. Never desperate but pretty sustained and very little in the way of usable snow or ice.
Morgan on the crux pitch of Scotch on the Rocks.
The next day I headed back up high with Nick. We had our eyes on Star Academixte, a rarely climbed mixed line on Pointe Lachenal. The climbing gets better as you get higher and finishes with a quality mixed pitch that has both super thin slab climbing and a pumpy section torquing and hooking your way up a crack system. It’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for something to do during this dry spell.
Myself on the crux pitch of Star Academixte.
As for other lines in the area, on the whole everything is really dry. I’ve never seen the mountains so devoid of snow and ice at this time of year. Nevertheless, there’s still stuff to be done. On Pointes Lachenal, M6 Solar, Pellisier Gully and Tentation all looked climbable, albeit certainly on the dry side. We also saw two teams head up to Gabarrou-Albinoni/Modica-Noury. Both looked very dry but are possibly climbable. Next to Scotch on the Rocks, Pinocchio and Slave to the Rhythm both looked too dry to be fun/safe to climb.
24th Jan 2017 – Rive Droite, Jumelle de Droite
Exciting day out at Rive Droite. The area is in great condition at the moment and it seems we weren’t the only ones looking to take advantage of the good conditions. There must have been at least 12 teams in the area. We ultimately settled on climbing Jumelle de Droite after our first choice, Jumelle de Gauche, already had a team on it. This ended up being quite an adventure and we got massively sandbagged on the crux pitch. The guidebook said ‘WI5 – 10m at 90 degrees’. It was certainly a lot harder than this in the conditions and more challenging than the WI5+ to the left. A good reminder that one should always take ice climbing grades as a rough guide and judge the difficulty based on the conditions!
Pat on the first pitch. A nice warm-up at around WI4.
Following Pat up the first pitch. (Photo: Pat Brownlie)
Another climber on the neighbouring Jumelle de Gauche. At the moment this is in far better condition than Jumelle de Droite and is probably the better option.
12-14th Jan 2017 – Ecrins Ice
A fun few days spent in the Ecrins climbing ice. I’ve been wanting to check out the ice out here for a while and it was great to finally visit. Though we only got a small taster of what’s on offer, I’m certainly psyched to come back for more! Some of the ice here makes Cogne look simply boring!
A combination of illness, lack of snow tyres and a trip that coincided with the Ecrins Ice Festival (apparently over 800 climbers attend!) prevented us from exploring some of the more remote and exciting looking lines, but we still managed to get some fun routes in. Capitaine Courageux (WI4+), Les Formes du Chaos (WI4) and Y de Droite (WI3+) and Y de Gauche (WI3+) were all good fun and in condition (Sombre Héros (WI5) was not, but with the current cold temps should be very soon).
Rob on easier ground at the start of Capitaine Couageux (WI4+).
Rob on the super atmospheric Les Formes du Chaos (WI4). An awesome line that lived up to its reputation as one of the best routes at its grade in Europe.
Though Les Formes du Chaos was in condition, it was certainly the wettest ice climbing route I’ve ever climbed. Everything was soaked through by the end!
Rob on a fun little section on Y de Gauche (WI3+).
9th Jan 2017 – Cogne, Monday Money
Another day in Cogne on another great line. This time Monday Money, the classic WI4 at the end of the Valnontey valley. It was a great little climb, every pitch interesting. Contrary to some reports, we found the last pitch to be in good condition though it is very steep for the grade and more like WI4+ at the moment.
The first half of the line in bon con.
Robin on the second pitch.
Robin on the final pitch, which is currently very hard for the grade, with a sustained vertical section at the end. Great fun though!
7th Jan 2017 – Cogne, Cold Couloir
Dan and I spent the day climbing Cold Couloir. It was awesome! Read about it here: Cold Couloir
5/6th Jan 2017 – Trient, A Boire! and L’Entonnoir
It’s been about 7 weeks now since the last proper snowfall. Skiing conditions are pretty crap and alpine climbing conditions aren’t much to talk about either. On the plus side though, this has encouraged me to get more into ice climbing, which I usually neglect at this time of year in favour of skiing. Whilst ice conditions aren’t excellent at the moment, there’s still plenty of good icefalls to be found with a little bit of work. Dan and I spent two days in the Trient valley searching for icefalls. Neither of us had been here before and it was great to explore somewhere new and find some fun ice.
We climbed two routes there, A Boire! and L’Entonnoir, two nice WI4 multi-pitches that are both in good condition (as are most of the other routes in the valley). Whilst Trient is certainly no Cogne, it’s well worth checking out, especially for those looking for moderate routes in the WI3/4 area.
A Boire! on the right and Cascade du Bar on the left, two nice two-pitch WI4s.
The Mur du Haut area. Probably the best and certainly the most popular area, offering some fun 4-pitch WI3/4 routes. Get there early if you don’t want teams above you!
2nd Jan 2017 – Glacier d’Argentière, Rive Droite – Mer de Rêve
First time visiting this area for me. I don’t know why as there’s a whole load of great looking icefalls. I guess like many in Chamonix I’ve always headed to the honeypots of Cogne and Rive Gauche. After today’s outing though I’ll be sure to come back and check out more.
We climbed Mer de Rêve (WI4/4+, 100m; no harder than WI4 today) in great conditions. The walk/ski-in descent from above looks pretty awkward/sketchy at the moment due to lack of snow, so we rapped in, which I’d definitely recommend for the time being.
Gareth on the second of the rappels.
Gareth on la premiere longeur in tres bon conditions.
Current conditions on Rive Droite. Not exactly ‘fat’ but looks like there are a few options.
1st Jan 2017 – Glacier d’Argentière, Rive Gauche – EMHM
We only did the two main pitches. Top one in good condition. Bottom one not so much…
The first pitch. Thin. Very, very thin! The second pitch was far fatter.
The upper sector of Rive Gauche. Not looking so pretty at the moment. A couple of teams seemed to be making their way up Déferlante though. Not sure I’d want to be getting on any of the other routes around there for the time being. Nuit Blanche / Tequila Stuntman both looked far from being in good condition.
30th Dec 2016 – Gran Paradiso, Voie Normale
Not exactly snow to rave about on the descent, but worth it all the same. Fun day out and good a workout doing it car-to-car (a solid 2100m+). Cheers Joel for the idea!
What a view to enjoy a piss to!
Summit! Well, not really. Like nearly everyone else, we went to the Madonna summit as opposed to the true summit. One of these days I’ll actually bother with the extra 5 minutes of work and tag the real summit.
29th Dec 2016 – Pointe Farrar, Claire Chazal
Mike and I went to check out Claire Chazal, a classic snow and ice route just a short distance away from the Grands Montets route. We knew it was likely to be dry, but we figured this could make things more interesting. Given current alpine conditions in the Chamonix area, we figured there was little to lose by having a go.
In the end, it was a mixed bag. We got in a couple of quality pitches of mixed climbing that weren’t technically so hard (M5 max), but at times thin and insecure (think hooking tiny nubbins of granite in thin seems and frontpoints smeared on small granite edges). I even took a small fall at one point after getting careless with my tool placements. Oops. Ultimately though, we didn’t get to the top. A wide crack that we lacked the gear to protect and would be awkward and tenuous to climb had us rapping back down. It’s a shame as I think after this crack we would have made it to the top without much difficulty. If you fancy a go at it, bring a #3 cam with you.
The line. Not so much snow and ice at the moment!
Good views though.
Mike disappearing up and over the bergschrund.
28th Dec 2016 – Aiguille du Midi, Mallory
One of those days that reminds you why Chamonix is the ultimate alpine playground. After arriving back in Chamonix late the evening before I had no set plans for the day. Waking up at 10am I decide to go for an alpine fitness and acclimatisation day. At 11am I leave for the Aiguille du Midi cable car station and at 12:30pm arrive at the base of the Mallory on the Aiguille du Midi’s north face. A few hours later I arrive at the top of the north face and am back at home for 5:00pm. What a great way to go about training for alpinism!
Current conditions on the Mallory. It is quite dry, but fine to climb at the moment. The only part that is a bit unpleasant is the upper ice slope, which is grey in a few places. With strong winds on their way, I don’t think it’ll be long before the upper ice slope becomes pretty nasty.
I opted to climb the Cecchinel variation, an approximately 100m long goulotte to the left of the typical rock section. It’s a real nice little variation, giving about 3 pitches worth of fun ice and mixed. The crux is not so steep, maybe grade 3/3+ in current condition, but is quite thin and delicate in places.