Saturday, 7 June 2014

48 hours in Chamonix

This year definitely seems to be more about running and biking than climbing and that was what last weekend was all about in a mini 48 hour trip to Chamonix.  The thought of having no expedition or big climbing trip planned for the year was at first a bit of a blow but I'm pretty happy with it now and to be honest with you think its a good thing.  Physically my body needed time off to recover and mentally I also needed a break from expeditions.


Cooling off in Tré-le-Champ after a the run up from Chamonix through Argentière, La Planet and Montroc. From here we headed up to Flégère and along to Brévent before finally dropping back down to Chamonix.
The trip to Pakistan last year was a disaster for me and turns out to probably been down to some sort of post viral/chronic fatigue I already had but hadn't noticed until I really pushed myself.  That trip really knocked my confidence in my own abilities, I'd never felt so weak and small in the mountains.  Discovering there was maybe a reason for it (and not just the fact I'm two years into my thirties!) has also give me a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.


Josie heading down the long decent from Brévent
The local wildlife blocking the path
I still needed something to aim for this year and goals to help motivate me and gradually build up the fitness again.  I had already applied for a place in the CCC (one of the races that is part of The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc) but in my post Pakistan low had all but written it off, as well as been advised against it.  In the end I've gone for the opposite approach and entered a couple more races out in the alps to build up to it and just see how it goes.  More to act as markers for my fitness progress than anything else.  I've got the Mont Blanc Cross at the end of the month and then the 60km Tour des Fiz at the end of July before the CCC at the end of August.

Swapped the running shoes for the bikes on Sunday and headed off down the valley to explore Mont Salève, Geneva's local mountain. Josie heading up the nice and gentle climb from Cruseilles after having gone up and over the very steep climb from Collonges-sous-Salève. Lac d'Annecy in the background.
Originally I'd hoped to try and get a relatively decent time (relatively speaking for me!) in the CCC but that goal has definitely shifted to just completing it one way or another.  One thing is for sure with the way my legs felt after Saturdays run I definitely need to start getting the miles in but on the major plus side the massive fatigue I'd feel for days after a weekend like this seems to slowly be abating.

Josie looking out over Geneva from the top of Mont Salève. The views down to Annecy, across to the Mont Blanc massif and out over Geneva and the Jura Mountains are stunning from up here.


Monday, 5 May 2014

A belated Easter post

A bit late posting this but here's a few pics from 10 days I spent in Chamonix over Easter. It was probably the first time in a long time that I have spent that much time in Chamonix and due to various niggling health issues had no plans of trying to bag a big alpine route. And to be honest it was pretty nice to just wake up see what the weather was doing and decide what to do! 

Josie and I started off by heading up Mont Dolent taking the easier option and staying at the Fiorio hut for a night. The weather wasn't so nice looking in the morning so we had a lazy lie in at the hut and headed up as the weather cleared around 9am (behind most of the people that started from the valley that day, opps!). After a lot of time in Chamonix I'd never actually climbed Mont Dolent but stared at it many times so it was nice to eventually stand on top and for Josie to fulfill a long time ambition of standing in France, Switzerland and Italy at the same time.  Through luck rather than good planning we timed it perfectly and had a really good ski back down to the hut on lovely spring snow.  It really does make a great ski peak.

A Haute Savoie breakfast in an Italian hut
Just above the Fiorio Hut
Josie approaching the ski depot and the last few hundred meters boot pack up to the summit
The summit!
Josie touching France, Switzerland and Italy all at the same time

High winds shut the valley down for the next few days so I settled for a bit of running and biking in the valley rather than heading up high. Plans for the Easter weekend had been to head out ski touring to Zinal or round the Mont Rosa massif but the weather was looking pretty crap so we did what most people do in Chamonix when the the weather sets in and ran away to Italy.
Great views of the Mont Blanc massif from down the valley
First stop was to head up to the Refugio Bezzi above Valgrisenche. I'd never been up to here before but will definitely be back, loads of touring potential on all types of terrain and the Bezzi is definitely more like a hotel rather than a hut. The weather was coming in the next day so we just did a short tour over the Becca Giasson and back down to the valley, no spring snow like on Dolent this time but I would imagine this would be a great ski in better condition.

The joy of spring ski touring, shorts and flip flops to find the snow
Skiing in to the Refugio Bezzi 
Refugio Bezzi is definitely more like a hotel than a hut, really friendly gardians, hot showers, espresso machine and a wine selection to match!
The other joy of spring ski touring...
With the weather no set in in the mountains we headed South to join some friends in Finale Ligure on the Mediterranean coast for three days.  More knows for it's climbing we were down there to make the most for the smooth, quiet roads and get a couple of good days road biking in.  Oh and the food and coffee....

Back in Chamonix and a final morning on the skis to finish off a great 10 days and get the final ski of the season in with Bet and Josie










Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Profit/Perroux Goulotte Video

Jack has put together a nice video complete with Yorkshire sarcasm from our day on the Aiguille du Midi last weekend.  I'd never done any of the routes that are accessed off the bridge at the Aiguille du Midi before but will definitely be back for more.  They certainly maximize climbing time and are a great choice for a relatively relaxed day of alpine climbing (bear in mind you are committed to climbing something after the first abseil!).  The Profit/Perroux is one of the easier lines and there has been a number of harder mixed lines added recently.


Friday, 21 March 2014

Weekend Alpinism

There had been a big high pressure sitting over the Alps for the last week and spending the weekend in Chamonix I was pretty excited at the prospect of good weather and getting up high in the mountains again.

Starting off the weekend with a skin up the Les Houches pistes on Friday evening with Josie and Emily
As usual the ease of access to the high mountains in Chamonix made for a really good two days.  Josie and I took the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi on Saturday and headed off to the Breche Puiseux.  

Josie skiing below the East face of Mont Blanc du Tacul on the way to the Breche Puiseux

Josie heading up the couloir to the Breche Puiseux - from the Breche two 30m abseils lead to the Leschaux Glacier
I've done this a few times now but I never get disappointed by the ski down under the Grandes Jorasses North Face (which is looking very dry at the moment).  The actually skiing was pretty crap, there hadn't been enough sun to soften up the snow so the day was definitely about the mountain experience rather than skiing lovely spring snow!

Trying to get psyched for the refrozen crud we're about to ski!

Josie skiing down the Leschaux Glacier below the North face of the Grandes Jorasses
Fancying a more relaxed day on Sunday and wanting to blow the dust off the ice axes I headed back up the Midi with Jack and Maury to climb the classic Vent du Dragon.  This is one of the routes that climbs out of the Cunningham Couloir to the Cosmiques Arête and is easily accessed by 5 abseil from the Aiguille du Midi bridge, the first being pretty atmospheric.

Jack heading off the Aiguille du Midi bridge into the depths of the Cunningham Couloir
The day started off cold, windy and with a distinct lack of psyche.  But the sun soon came out and I remembered I actually enjoyed this and it was just great to be out climbing some alpine ground again.  A lack of topo and a slight misunderstanding of where to go meant we didn't actually do Vent du Dragon but ended up on the Profit/Perroux Goulotte which although pretty dry was good fun.  It was the sort of day where it didn't matter what we ended up doing, just nice to be out and enjoying it.

Maury neither on Vent du Dragon nor the Profit/Perroux, we should have been way to the left for Vent du Dragon or just to the right in the hidden ice chimney for the Profit/Perroux - sorry Maury!
Jack high up on the Profit/Perroux
Andy on the final pitch of the Profit/Perroux (photo - Jack Geldard)
Jack topping out onto the Cosmiques Arete and into the warm sun
Cold goulotte to sun soaked granite on the Cosmiques Arete
Finishing up the Cosmiques Arete (photo - Jack Geldard)
A view I never get tired of

Friday, 14 March 2014

Loving the longer days

Andy on Ritornal
Not long until the clocks go forward and longer days are definitely on the way.  I managed to escape work early the other day and make the most of the evening sunshine and get completely burnt off by Rob Greenwood on the grit.  We managed to catch the last couple of hours of sunshine and rattled off eight routes up at Brimham.  Fun times and after a long time of not getting outside climbing it was perfect.  Can't wait the longer evenings and lots more post work cragging sessions.

Rob on Ritornal
Rob on the classic E2 'The Black Chipper'

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Black Diamond Kandersteg Ice Climbing Festival

Last weekend before heading back to the UK after Christmas in Chamonix Josie and I made the quick dash over to Kandersteg for the annual Black Diamond Ice Climbing Festival.  In its 15th year the festival centers around a dry tooling competition which attracts many of the world’s top competition climbers.  Competitions aren't really my cup of tea, mainly because I wouldn't be able to get off the ground on the routes! But I still find it really inspiring to see such talented climbers doing what they do best and enjoy watching the finals each year.  Josie who hadn't seen any competitions before was mesmerized by the strength and fluidity of the competitors.


Getting upside down in the men's and women's finals
The festival is a lot more than just the competition though with lots of clinics running through the day, gear testing and some great slideshows.  We went to see Ines Papert who gave a really good slideshow with some amazing photography and film footage from a number of trips around the world.  I find it hard enough giving a slide show in my mother tongue and can’t imagine giving it in my second/third language (well I’d have to learn one first…).   But more importantly the whole weekend is just a great get together and a chance to meet up with old friends and meet lots of like minded and interesting folk.  All culminating in a big party after the competition finals on Saturday night.

A view down the valley from Kandersteg

There wasn't much ice around this year so instead of a days ice climbing on Sunday Josie decided to give me my first introduction to skate skiing on the endless Km’s of cross country ski tracks that Kandersteg has to offer.  Yes, a lot harder than it looks!  Once I’d got a vague bit of technique sorted and I’m using vague in a very loose sense of the definition I soon found why everyone raves about how good the workout is.  Don’t think I've ever gasped for air so hard going uphill and I finished the day with aching legs, arms and lungs.  Still to get the downhill sussed though.  Lets just say it was a good job there were some big run outs on some of the downhill corners as my ‘sod the snowplough and go for it’ attitude often ended up with me using them like gravel traps on a race track a number of times!  I would love to do more but unfortunately there’s a distinct lack of snow and cross country track in Nidderdale so guess I’ll have to stick to the running and cycling for the time being, too many sports to do….

Josie heading round the Kandersteg tracks
A big thank you to Christian and the rest of the Black Diamond team for a great weekend in Kandersteg.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A White Christmas


I headed back out to Chamonix for a guaranteed white Christmas again this year and although it wasn't quite a white as last year the snow did arrive just in time to give some good days on the skis. At the start of the trip conditions were mediocre to say the least but it was great just to be back out on the skis again after 8 months. I really had forgotten just how much I enjoy skiing, its just plain and simple fun!

Loving skiing again and enjoying the powder up at Brevent. (photo - Josie Allen)
Courmayeur was giving the best conditions early on in the trip and on top of that the coffee is so much better and cheaper there than in Chamonix.  So for various reasons there were quite a few trips through the magic tunnel, aka Le Tunnel du Mont Blanc – yes it really does transport you to another world of good coffee and snow.

In the first week conditions off the Aiguille du Midi (Vallee Blanche) did not sound great for skiing all the way down to the train at Montenvers unless you didn't mind trashing your skis at the bottom. But the snow up high sounded good and I was really keen to head up and just spend some time in the high mountains, I really do miss the ambiance and feeling you get up there. Ben was keen for a bit of cardio so we headed up mid morning and had a good ski across to the Col d'Entrèves and back. Just making the last lift back down from the Midi and both feeling the full affects of the altitude. A lot more breaking trail than turns but great to be up there again and just about have the whole Vallee Blanche to ourselves.
Mont Blanc du Tacul looking very wintry
Mont Maudit towering above
The snow did eventually start arriving and after fun Christmas Day in Courmayeur we got some good snow to ski in Chamonix. The Grands Montets was its usual Christmas/New Year chaos but we managed to avoid the crowds and get some good skiing around the valley and off the Midi which was filling in nicely to cover the crevasses (still a lot of open holes and weak snow bridges) and rocks.

Heading out from the Aiguille du Midi (photo - Roger Knox)
Letting rip up on the Midi (photo - Roger Knox)
Josie enjoying the snow on the Petit Envers
(photo - Roger Knox)
Roger heading into the shade lower down
Fun times on the last day of 2013 with Josie and Roger up on the Midi
I left for Kandersteg and then the UK last weekend but it sounds like there was another big snow fall and the season is at last starting to get going. The avalanche hazard in the alps this winter is extremely high and dangerous and has been very well publicized so I won’t say much apart from a lot of care is needed...

Roger making the most of the 'dust on crust' up at the Brevent
Looking down from Brevent on the Chamonix Valley clearing after a storm