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

Friday, 29 November 2013

Holiday snaps

In some ways it seems only five minutes ago since I got back from Pakistan and in others it seems a long long time ago and a distinct lack of posts here. My motivation for climbing was pretty much at an all time low after getting back from the Charakusa valley.  Partly due to  letting Jon down but also just the fact it was another unsuccessful trip, two in row after the Chamlang expedition with Nick last year. Now that’s pretty standard for the Himalayan game (unless you’re Mick Fowler who seems to manage to nail amazing objectives on every recent trip!) but it’s still very frustrating.

I haven’t managed much climbing in the past few months but have a had a couple of great weekend trips out to Chamonix and the odd day out on the grit. 

Running up on the Chaine des Fiz, definitely the quite side of the valley but equally as stunning

Amazing views of the Mt Blanc Massif, a very special place

Reminding the arms and head how to rock climb at Cratcliffe (photo Chris Coleman)

At the end of October Josie and I headed off to Sicily for 9 days. There is such a difference between holidays and expeditions and after the pressure, stress and disappointment of Pakistan, Sicily was utter bliss.

Somewhere on Mount Etna... no we didn't see very much of it

A very moody looking Taormina with Mount Etna in the distance
We had an amazing time exploring the Island and in between taking in all the sights and local food managed to squeeze in a bit of road biking and a few days climbing.  The climbing development is fairly recent and growing every day.  We based ourselves in San Vito Lo Capo for three days climbing, a small coastal town on the NW corner of Sicily. It is home to the most concentrated and extensive climbing on the island and makes a great Euro sport climbing destination.

Looking across at the San Vito Lo Capo coast line and sea cliffs that are home to a lot of the climbing.
We weren't there purely for climbing and with only three half days of climbing hardly touch the area.  We both really enjoyed it though and although some people have said that the quality isn't amazing the few routes I did were really good with a mix of all styles. It definitely more than just the climbing quality that makes it a good destination, the setting and local region all make it a worth while visit.  More importantly it definitely got my psyche back for climbing.  Just be warned about the crazy and sometimes very baffling 'pig's tail' lower offs, they take some working out when you're pumped stupid!   

Exploring the streets of the medieval town of Cefalu

They sure knew how to build stuff back in the day, the ruins of Sergesta

Josie riding in the hills above Castellammare del Golfo

Water stop in Scoppelo

Sicily was great, road biking, climbing and and a whole load of culture thrown into one.  A few of the other highlights were watching Stromboli erupt five times during dinner - pretty amazing!  Exploring the old medieval streets of Cefalu and enjoying the local food and very nice local wine...  And on top of that, not stressing about getting up a big mountain everyday!

Loving Life!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Heading home

I bailed. The weather window held and we went back up for a second attempt on Link Sar, found a way through the glacier and onto the face and after one night on the route I did something I’ve never done before, I had to bail when everything was looking good.

We’d had a big day on the first day trying to beat the incoming weather, leaving base camp early morning, making the approach, and then climbed up to about 6000m on the north face where we managed to get a very small bivi ledge on top of a rock. I hadn’t felt amazing on the first day and Jon had done most of the leading as we moved together up the North Face.
Jon finding a way through the glacier to access the face

Jon on the lower part of the North Face

After a very slow start the next morning Jon headed off and as I followed I just knew straight away I was way more tired than I should have been. After taking over the lead I knew it was all over. I couldn’t even lead a full 70m pitch, having to stop and belay after 50m on ground we should have been moving together on. Not wanting to give in I set off again, but exactly the same thing happened, I just ran out of steam after 50m and had to stop. I’d never felt like this on a climb before, completely exhausted. My legs weren’t too tired, but it just felt like there was nothing in me to power them. I’ve never thought of myself as the most technical or fastest climber, but one thing I know I can do is push on when my body says it’s had enough. But not this time there just wasn’t anything there.

Jon heading up the North Face

Jon coming up to the ridge where we’d hoped to get the tent up

I’d been fighting a stomach bug for the last couple of weeks which had seen me struggling with psyche for a bit, but after a prescribed ‘bowl bomb’ from a doctor friend back home between our attempts I thought I’d sorted it and on the way back up the psyche was definitely back and I was super excited to get back on Link Sar. I guess in the end it had taken a hell of a lot more out of me than I thought and at altitude I just wasn’t recovering.

On the airy ridge 

Ignoring the massive disappointment I’d love to be able to say it was a difficult decision to make to go down, but with how I felt there was only one option for me. Then with how I felt on the descent and the walk back to base camp there was no doubt in my mind I had made the right decision, as difficult as it is to accept now. To say I’m gutted and disappointed is an understatement but more so for Jon, he has acclimatized well, as always is as fit as ever and the route was good to go. I really feel I’ve let him down massively, but Jon being Jon is being great about the whole thing even though he must be so disappointed. I’ve had expeditions fail in the past due to weather or conditions but to fail because of my body letting me down is something I’m finding hard to accept and very frustrating.

The ridge looked like we should be able to get a good bivi, but we soon realised it was going to take too long so lowered back down to start chopping an easier but smaller ledge on a rock 

Jon trying not to fall off the bivi ledge

I really don’t feel I’m recovering up here and don’t have confidence in getting fit enough for another go, so we start the journey back to Islamabad tomorrow.  It's always difficult going away empty handed from a trip, especially when you don’t know why you haven’t been able to give it your best effort.  But the Charakusa Valley has been an amazing place to visit and I feel very lucky to have been able to spend the time here that we have and I hope I can come back again one day and actually climb something here. 

Amazing view of K7 against the night sky from our bivi