Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Monday 28th December 2009

There's plenty of ice climbing in Arolla at the moment. We were climbing yesterday at la Gouille and l'Usine Electrique, then today on the left hand route at the tunnels below la Gouille. Although overall there seems to be less ice than usual, what there is very good. In fact the tunnel route is better frozen than I've seen it in the last few winters with plenty of lines to choose.

 

Pitch 2, Tunnel route

Start of the third pitch, still smiling!

Leading the top pitch

This picture was taken by Kate on her I-phone and e-mailed to me from the car on the way home. Modern technology!

ABS Rucksack

~ Saturday 26th December 2009

 I've just, after lots of deliberation, bought a new 30l Vario ABS Rucksack. Thanks to La-Haut in Sion.

The 30l seems like the most useful volume, but the Vario system means I can get a lightweight 18l zip-on or a monster 50l for touring if needed. 

First impressions are that it's very well made, easy to use, carries very comfortably, and should be a really good ski sack. It's not lightweight, which apart from the price is the big problem. At 3kg for the 30l, you're carrying almost 2kg more than a standard rucksack. This OK for day tours and fine if you're not in a hurry, but it's a lot to carry on a big climb.

It's not just a rucksack of course, so you need to read the instructions and get used to using it. Setting it off by mistake would be easy, and amusing for everyone else. The "home test" is quite exciting - it makes quite a noise! The instructions are excellent and easy to follow, with a DVD to help. I'll write more when it's been better used. 

Here's a pic of the sack looking almost as big as Mont Blanc de Cheilon, and looking like it skinned up there on it's own which is what you'd expect for the money. 

ABS Rucksack - bigger than MBC

Evolene Ice Climbing

~ Wednesday 23rd December 2009

 Great ice climbing today on 2 routes above Evolene. First we climbed the route to the left of the via ferrata. This is a good 50m grade 3/4. Approach as for the VF and it's 25m further right. You can abseil or easily walk off down the gulley. 

The Via Ferrata ice climb

Next it was the slog up to the Coop Icefall - much further than it looks. This is called the Grande cascade d'Evolene in the guidebook and it's directly above the Coop and well visible from the town. 2 big pitches with a choice of grade 3 or 4+ on pitch 1. We went up the 4+ pillar which is in good condition. Some new belay bolts have appeared since last year which makes life easier. Pitch 2 is a great pitch of 4, and it's 2 easy abseils back to the bottom. Then a very fast bumslide through the trees - highlight of the day!

Pitch 2, Coop Icefall

 

Avalanche Death

~ Tuesday 22nd December 2009

 Sad news today with the first avalanche death of the 09/10 season happening yesterday at Tete de Balme above Trient. This is something of a blackspot, with very easy access from the Vallorcine/Le Tour lifts and frequent high winds causing lots of windslab. Conditions recently have been windy - strong westerly - with fresh, cold snow, and most of the skiing here faces NE. The victim was a young french snowboarder, and had no transceiver...he was buried under a metre of snow and without a transceiver he really had no chance of surviving. 

So, get the gear and learn how to use it. And learn how to spot likely avalanche areas. 

I've just got hold of a Mammut Pulse transceiver and Mammut Alugator shovel from V12 in North Wales. This some of the best gear and I'll write a review soon. 

 

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Wednesday 16th December 2009

 The recent cold spell (-18 in les Hauderes lasts night!) has at last brought some ice into condition. Good climbing today on the Cascade de l'Usine Électrique in Arolla, and reports of good ice on the left hand tunnel route too. The Cascade des Ignes is good too, and there's not too much snow around so the approach is easy.

Cascade de l'Usine Électrique

Flights to Sion

~ Saturday 12th December 2009

 Sion airport is really close to a lot of good skiing, so it's worth checking out flights with Snowjet

Transfer times should be very short - 25mins to Evolene, 45 mins to Verbier, maybe only 20 mins to Nendaz! Zinal/Grimentz, Crans Montana, even Zermatt and Saas Fee are all going to be less than an hour. And the lifts are open now!

Powder in Arolla!

~ Wednesday 9th December 2009

Second ski of the winter today, skinning up through a deserted Arolla ski area - no lifts open yet - to find a great ski. Knee deep fresh tracks!

blue skies and powder in Arolla

View from la Forcla, Dent Blanche, Tsa, Douves Blanches, Dent d'Herens 

Snow in the Alps!

~ Tuesday 1st December 2009

 Yes, winter is back. Weather here has been unusually warm - brilliant for rock climbing but with the ski season starting soon it was time for some snow. 

Well, it's here at last. A good 50cm in les Hauderes in the last 24 hours, and still snowing. Hopefully this will be a good base for skiing, and get a bit of water flowing to form the icefalls. 

Here are 2 contrasting pictures from the last 2 days. Shirts-off cragging in Sion, and the garden table this morning!
town centre crag in Sion

50cm of fresh snow

 

Website Update

~ Monday 16th November 2009

The website has had a bit of a tidy up - thanks to Chris at freerangedevelopers.

More, bigger pictures and a new gallery soon, a wider screen, and you can now subscribe to the blog to get up-to-date news and conditions reports. Today it was definitely summer again - despite the last blog entry - shirts off at the crag in Sion. Winter must come soon...

Winter is here!

~ Sunday 8th November 2009

Winter arrived this morning with the first snow in the garden. Only a dusting really, but high up the hills are well covered. Time to sharpen axes, wax skis and skin knuckles putting the snow tires on the car!

Winter ice climbing and ski dates are booking up now, so book early to avoid disappointment! (In fact next summer is booking up fast too...)

                                              

                                                      

                           I had an e-mail from these guys this morning BASS-Megeve. BASS have a good reputation for modern ski instruction and good off-piste ski courses, so worth a look when you're planning ski trips. Ideal preparation for touring later in the season!

Rock Climbing - Bramois

~ Wednesday 28th October 2009

 Great weather here at the moment - cold at nights, but warm days so you can still climb in a t-shirt in the sun. Here's a picture yesterday from the excellent, steep and sportingly bolted Folle Illusion wall at Bramois. 

Graeme Ettle on Folle Illusion, 6b+

V12 Outdoor Online Climbing Shop

~ Wednesday 21st October 2009

 Winter is just around the corner - more snow is forecast here over the next couple of days - so it's a good time to check out the deals on offer at

 V12 Outdoor Online Climbing Shop 

Great prices on ropes, axes, crampons, boots, avalanche kit, plus the top quality Mammut gear and a lot more...

They also have a shop in the Llanberis High Street, so call in next time you're in North Wales.

Sion Crag

~ Thursday 15th October 2009

 This is Roches Brunes, the crag above Follomi Sports in Sion. There's a lot of rock here but there are access issues with most of it. 

Still, it was too cold to climb in Evolene, but very nice in the sun in Sion. The climbing is a bit of a shock after a week of granite in Corsica - it's "classic" steep limestone, polished and harshly graded with most of the climbing being a bit upside down. An outdoor climbing wall. Quality, and you can climb here on warm days all winter. 

Here's an illegible topo - if you want one either ask in Follomi or e-mail me. Route names are painted on the rock.

                                            

                                                    

         There were only 2 other people climbing - a Mr and Mrs Ueli Steck. They were impressed as team Frostguiding on-sighted 2 F7b+ and a 7c. Oops, that should be 6, not 7...

 

 

Corsica Rock Climbing

~ Tuesday 13th October 2009

 Back from an excellent week in Corsica - hot sun, beaches, and some of the best granite rock climbing I've ever done. I didn't know much about Corsica - this was my first visit - but I'm impressed and will be going back!

We started in Restonica with some single pitch sport climbing - bolted granite cragging at its best. The rock here is exceptional quality and weathered in to some incredible features. 

Next we headed down south to Bavella. Another day cragging at the Col de Bavella, then the Petit route on the Punta de l'Acellu - good climbing, worth taking a few friends along as the bolts are a bit spaced. 

Pitch 2 on the Petit route

 

                              

                                     

                 Keen for more, we battled up through the woods to the Punta Rossa to climb Alexandra. 5 Pitches of flawless granite.

 

Pitch 2, Alexandra

      View to le Dos d'Elephant                      

                                            

Back north again to Restonica for more cragging and a night in the excellent Auberge de la Restonica - very comfortable hotel, great food and some eccentric staff!

Last route of the trip was the classic Symphonie d'Automne on the Point des Sept Lacs at the head of the valley - again, 5 pitches of perfect rock in a beautiful mountain setting.  

Pitch 4, Symphonie d'Automne

Itchy Feet!

~ Friday 2nd October 2009

Just had 3 days in Grimentz with John and Nancy from "Itchy Feet" in Bath. Itchy Feet is a travel clothing and equipment retailer, with shops in Bath and London as well as online retailing, run by 2 people with vast travel and adventure experience and a real passion for getting out in the mountains, as well as beaches, deserts, oceans...

We'd been ski touring a couple of years ago, so it was good to see them back for more - this time, an introduction to alpine mountaineering and glacier travel. We went to the Moiry area - perfect terrain for learning the skills you need for glacier travel, and deserted at this time of year. 

Alpine rope work

On the Moiry glacier

 

 

 

 

 

Evolene rock climbing

~ Friday 2nd October 2009

This crag is literally right above the road on the way up from les Hauderes to la Sage, before the tunnel. It's been cleaned and re-bolted, and is now a great spot for a quick visit. The rock is a bit dirty at the bottom, but leads into a steep wall of solid orange rock. Routes are (right to left) 6a+, 6b, 6b, 6a, 5c, 6c+, 7a.

Climbing at Vogler

Moiry Hut

~ Friday 2nd October 2009

Here's a picture of the Moiry Hut extension. Work is going well and it should be ready for next summer. At the moment the hut is closed and there's no winter room - hopefully there will be some winter accommodation ready for the ski season. The Moiry  Hut extension

Mont Blanc success!

~ Friday 11th September 2009

 Yes, another successful Mont Blanc ascent, making it 4 out of 4 this summer. 

This time we went from the Cosmiques hut, climbing the "3 Monts" route in perfect - if a bit chilly - weather. The route is in great condition at the moment, and we made a quick 5 1/2 hour ascent. 

Crevasses on the Tour glacier

Col de la Brenva

Summit!

Vignettes Hut

~ Friday 4th September 2009

 The Vignettes hut will be closing next Thursday (10th September) which is earlier than planned. 

There is still the winter room though...

 

 

Alpine Introduction Course

~ Friday 4th September 2009

 

                                    

                                        

                              A 3 day Alpine Intro course this week - a very busy 3 days!

There's a lot to cover, but by day 3 were standing on a summit with a view from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn - endless peaks to climb. 

 

View to Mont Blanc (in the cloud!)

Lagginhorn and Weissmeis

~ Saturday 29th August 2009

 A 2 day trip staying at the Hohsaas "hut". This is a modern hut - really a ski restaurant with accommodation, so lacking any traditional appeal, but it does have hot water, showers, single beds and some very nice views. 

Day 1 we climbed the South ridge of the Lagginhorn. Easy access from the hut, good climbing on an exposed ridge and an easy descent make a great day out but somehow I forgot to take any pictures. 

Looking down Weissmeis north ridge to the Lagginhorn

                                  

                                

                          Day 2 we went for a shorter option, climbing the Weissmeis normal route. Even easier access from the hut (or lift) leads straight into serious glacier travel under seracs! Great. This is classic "easy" alpine ground - dangerous hill walking - and not a place to dither.

After an hour or so the route climbs on to a ridge, great views and the top is in sight - an empty summit, reward for the early start.

The descent is fast, careful cramponning, and soon we were scampering back under the seracs. 

Weissmeis top, Mischabel peaks behind

Weissmeis south top

Dent de Tsalion West Ridge

~ Friday 21st August 2009

 With a bad forecast for Friday we decided on an early start for more leg bashing, climbing the Dent de Tsalion west ridge from the valley. You can approach this route from the Tsa hut, but it's "only" 2.5 hours from the car park in Arolla, so feasible in a day. 

The climbing is on good solid rock, AD with some bits of IV, all easily protectable with nuts...so I was amazed to find a brand new bolt...then another! About a dozen in all, new bolts, placed in the last year. This is outrageous, a real backwards step placing bolts on a route first climbed in 1897. Worse, most of the bolts are very near good wire placements. I'm trying to find out "whodunnit", but can only think it is a local guide - presumably one too lazy/fat to make grade IV moves and place his own runners. 

Anyway, ranting aside, this is still a great climb. A quick (but not uneventful) descent via the Col de la Tsa saw us back in the valley for tea and cakes. 

Excellent exposed climbing

Big holes!

Alphubel Rotgrat

~ Friday 21st August 2009

 Following on from the Dent Blanche, we went over to Tasch to climb  the West Ridge "Rotgrat" of the Alphubel. 

Legs were a bit tired after the 2400m downhill from the DB, so it was a relief have a gentle 1 hour 30 mins walk to the Tasch hut. This is a fantastic hut, recently modernised and extended, with single beds, running hot water and showers!

Alphubel is usually climbed from Saas Fee, where it's a short snow route from the lift. From the west, it's a different mountain with a steep rocky face towering above Taschalp. The Rotgrat is a 2.5km ridge rising 1600m from the hut. 

Rotgrat from the descent

A harsh 3am breakfast and a steep uphill walk lead to the start of the ridge (and a meeting with a  team who thought they were on the Taschhorn) Good rock, the sun comes up, only 1 other team on the route. We reached 3900m in quick time, but then struggled to find the right corner on the final bastion...described as "easier then it looks", our corner was still quite hard! 3 pitches later, we're back on route and soon on the summit, with a great view back down the route. 

The wrong corner!

Nearly there

 

Dent Blanche

~ Monday 17th August 2009

 Perfect conditions today on the Dent Blanche South Ridge. Well frozen snow and dry rock, and only 2 other teams on the route - ideal. 

We climbed the "direct route", going straight over the Grand Gendarme instead of up the couloir, then sticking to the ridge all the way. This is great climbing on solid steep rock in fantastic positions, and a very worthwhile variation on the usual route. 

Steep climbing up the front of the gendarme

In front of the gendarme

Bernese Oberland Week

~ Saturday 15th August 2009

 5 days in the Bernese Oberland, 2 huts, 3 peaks and an adventure - the "Oberland Odyssey" lived up to expectations!

We walked up to the Konkordia hut from the Fiesch lifts. Impressive scenery on the Aletch glacier, and looming black clouds forcing the pace - we arrived just before the downpour. 

Racing the clouds up the A;etsch glacier

                            

                                 

                     Tuesday brought perfect weather for an ascent of the Grunegghorn. Stunning views and a wave to friends attempting the Eiger (they didn't see us)

Descending the Grunegghorn summit ridge

 

                            

                         Wednesday we traversed the Wyssnollen to the Finsteraarhorn hut. This small peak has good climbing on the snow face and ridge above the Grunhornlucke, and an easy scenic descent to the Fiescher glacier

Dawn at Grunhornlucke

 

 

                         

                       Thursday's plan was the Finsteraarhorn - the highest peak in the Bernese Oberland. It's a long climb on steep snow, follwed by a dramatic mixed ridge with stunning exposure above the 1000m east face - no pushover at PD. 

Finsteraarhorn summit, Eiger behind

 

 

                       

                           After a second night in the excellent Finsteraarhorn hut, all that remained was to walk back out to civilisation and a well earned bath. Instead of retracing our steps, we boldly chose to go the direct route down the Fiescher glacier. Descibed in the Martin Moran 4000m guidebook as "a fine way to complete an expedition in the Oberland", we were prepared for a "full day" - and we got one!

At first everything went very well, with fast progress down the dry Fiescher glacier. Some tricky ground leaving the ice took us to a waymarked path. 

Climbing off the glacier

 

 

                                  

                                    More fast progress, following new paint marks, new ladders, new cables - had the route been completely re-equiped?

No! Despite careful searching for the Via ferrata ladders, we found ourselves stuck in the "crevassed bend" Retracing steps up the glacier, we finally spotted the cables...and the place where the ladders used to be...oh dear. 40m of loose UK Severe climbing lead up to new equipment on the via ferrata. New, cemented bolts, steps and pig tails.

Via ferrata above the glacier

                         

 

                            Then came 500m of alarmingly steep grass, and a chain leading down to where the glacier used to be. Now, there's 50m of unstable moraine. We lowered and abseiled down. Climbing up would be unpleasant and dangerous. 

We came down there! Nice.

 

 

                        

                           Surely we were nearly there? More rubble glacier took us to the foot of the climb up to the path - a tottering pile of unstable blocks, which looked too dangerous to attempt. We battled on down the glacier looking for an escape until a chance meeting with an odd man, the first person we had met all day. He told us about a bridge and a path just a little further on. Phew! Soon, we were walking through the hamlet of Titter (which raised barely a smile from a tired team)

So, all's well that ends well. However, this route must have changed significantly since guidebook publication. In current state, it can't be recommended as a descent, even less as an approach to the hut. 

 

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Saturday 8th August 2009

 We made a very enjoyable ascent of the Mont Blanc de Cheilon normal route yesterday. This has to be one of the best PD climbs in the alps - long, varied climbing on rock and snow, an easy approach and a great finale up the summit ridge. It's in good condition, although the slopes above the first rock section are hard snow-ice and need careful cramponing. We then traversed the "winter" top and descended the winter route under the Ruinette which is still good - easy snow through impressive scenery. 

on the summit ridge

 

Dent Blanche South ridge

~ Wednesday 5th August 2009

 We're just back from a record breaking ascent of the South ridge of the Dent Blanche - the longest any of us could remember!

The reason was the weather on Monday. Walking up in rain which turned to snow, we were expecting some tricky conditions. Tuesday morning dawned clear and cold, but with 30cm of fresh windblown snow at the hut. 

Dawn onver the Matterhorn

                                

          

                           

                                   On the climb, wind had plastered the rock with snow and ice, meaning slow going and careful movement on corniced ridges. 

Looking up the South Ridge to the Grand Gendarme

                                    

                                        

            

                        The bonus was that only 4 teams were on the route. The South ridge is a reasonable choice when snowy, but it still took 12 hours round trip - and a second night in the hut.

Descending, just above the Grand Gendarme

Rock Climbing - Aiguilles Rouges

~ Saturday 1st August 2009

Rock climbing in the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla today on a brilliant new route recently bolted by the incredibly active Jean-Marie Moos.

In an area not known for solid rock, this is an impressive find - 9 pitches of steep climbing up to 6b, well bolted (13 quickdraws) abseil off - easy with 60m ropes...but we had 50m so there's now an extra belay at the end of the second abseil.

Approach from Arolla via Pra Gra (we drove up the track) from where it's a 2 hour walk, or from the Aiguilles Rouges hut. The route is above the Glacier Inférieure Des Aiguilles Rouges (find a quartz vein near the lowest point of the face, and look for bolts) There is a topo in the hut and also in Follomi Sports, Sion.

Moiry hut

~ Saturday 1st August 2009

 Finished off the week at the Moiry hut - there's still lots of work going on on the extension, but it's service as usual in the hut. The new part is a futuristic all copper box, with a wall of windows overlooking the glacier. It should be finished next year...

After a hot walk up in the morning, we climbed a great rocky ridge above the hut - up to the Col du Pigne and turn left. Ideal ground for practising moving together. 

The next day we set off for the Pointes du Mourti - again, a great mix of snow, glacier and rock so ideal for putting into practice everything learned in the week. 

The start of the rock

Blue skies in Arolla

~ Thursday 30th July 2009

 Yes, perfect weather here this week - no wind, warm sunny days and clear cold nights, ideal alpine conditions.

After a night at the DIx hut we warmed up on the Luette (good effort to the 2 who reached the top just after us having started from Arolla!) and then traversed the Pigne d'Arolla the next day. The Pigne was in good condition - firm nevé meaning fast progress - but there  are some BIG crevasses opening up now, demanding respect and a long rope. Still plenty of "one in all in" ropework going on though, plus a team of 3 having lunch on an obvious snowbridge beneath the Mur de la Serpentine serac...

View from the top was amazing, from the Écrins to the Oberland, Mont blanc to Mont Rose.

Near the top of La luette

Short rope, big holes...

top of Pigne d'Arolla

Zermatt Breithorn

~ Saturday 25th July 2009

 A nice gentle end to the week yesterday with a quick ascent of the Breithorn. Cold and windy on top, but stunning views and some inspiration for next year!

breithorn summit and the Matterhorn

Looking the other way!

Arolla climbing

~ Thursday 23rd July 2009

Pictures from the Couronne de Bréona on Monday. This is a great low level rocky ridge traverse, ideal for acclimatising, or for days of dodgy weather. Approachable by a steep drive on a rough track from Forclaz, or walk in from the Moiry car park.

Couronne de Breona, climbing up to the Clocher

                               

  The long walk back from the Eveque, after turning round due to illness, tiredness, weather....excusesCrossing the glacier to the Vignettes hut from l'Eveque

Via Ferrata, Evolene

                                 

                           Today on the Evolene via ferrata, rushing to beat the imminent rain!

Arolla Climbing

~ Friday 17th July 2009

Great conditions here in Arolla for this week's Intro Alpine Climbing course. 

On the ridge above the Pas de Chevre

                                

                                    

                               After a glacier day and a rock day at the Pas de Chevre, we climbed the Mont Blanc de Cheilon from the Dix hut. Conditions are great here - we climbed the snow right of the rocky ridge that is the usual start to the normal route, traversed the "winter" summit and descended the spectacular winter ski route. 

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

Descending the winter route

                                  

                               Next day we climbed la Luette in some very  changeable weather, then went back down to Arolla. 

Another good glacier session on the way to the Vignettes hut on Thursday, but unfortunately the weather "window" closed for Friday! Big thunderstorms forced a retreat to the valley. A slightly disappointing way to end the week, but it really isn't worth taking chances in thunderstorms...

Mont Blanc Information

~ Saturday 11th July 2009

This year the St Gervais commune is again running the Mont Blanc Info scheme. All summer 2 "wardens " will be stationed at Nid d'Aigle and at the Tete Rousse. Their role is to inform, not to police, and they are both friendly guys who are happy to chat. They are also gathering information on numbers of climbers, success rates, problems, rescues, hut overcrowding, etc.

The warden tent at Tete Rousse

                                            

              There is also an excellent website here with all the info you need on hut prices, opening times, contact details, etc. 

This seems to be a pretty positive move by the commune. They have a serious issue with crowding on Mont Blanc - there are over 30 000 attempts every year!-  which causes safety and environmental problems, and this seems like a very reasonable way to deal with it and plan for the future.

Mont Blanc Success - Again!

~ Saturday 11th July 2009

 Yes, another successful Mont Blanc ascent with 4 out of 5 clients reaching top makes it 3 out of 3 this year.

We started the week with training and acclimatising at the Albert Premier and Trient huts, climbing the Aiguille du Tour and Petite Fourche. The weather was from from ideal with a mix of rain, snow, and sunny spells - on Tuesday there was 45cm of new snow at the Gouter hut. The forecast was promising better,  so on Wednesday we headed up to the Tete Rousse hut. 

Thursday brought perfect weather - cold and clear with no wind. Some teams left at 1.30am then turned back because of the cold. We left at 4.30am, reaching Gouter at 7.00, so were in the sun for the rest of the route, reaching the top above a great inversion.

10 minutes to the top!

Summit hug!

Descending the cables below the Gouter hut

 

Evolene Climbing Festival

~ Saturday 4th July 2009

 Party atmosphere today at Evolene Falaise du Pont. The crag has been tidied up and rebolted, with lots of new routes, and today there was a small "festival" to raise funds for more work. 

This is the crag visible from the road before Evolene. It's bigger than it looks, with routes up to 5 pitches and grades up to 8a. There's also plenty of good single pitch climbing as well as some aid routes, and today there were slack lines and zip lines rigged in the trees. 

Thanks to Jean-Marie and Stéphane for their efforts. 

Evolene Fakaise du Pont

Rock Climbing

~ Tuesday 30th June 2009

 Climbing yesterday at a crag near Champex - La Dyure. This is a great spot, lovely setting in the woods above Champex d'en Bas, good rock, and excellent bolting. Flattering grading too! There are 3 routes up to 7 seven pitches. We climbed Moments Authentiques, 6b. 

Pitch 5

Pitch 6, 6b

Mont Blanc

~ Saturday 27th June 2009

Another Mont Blanc success!

The start of the week was quite snowy and windy - we climbed the Aiguille du Tour in "scottish" weather after a bit of navigation via the Col du Midi des Grands and were rewarded by a great view from the top as the clouds finally cleared. 

Snowy conditions on the Aiguille du Tour

 

                                 

                                                  

                                                The weather for Thursday was looking good...until a French guide arrived in the hut with a forecast of late morning storms. To beat the weather we left early after a midnight "breakfast". Conditions were good on the Gouter ridge and 90 minutes later we had second breakfast at the Gouter hut. We reached the top at 6.35am - great views and perfect weather. Back to the Gouter hut for third breakfast at 9.00am, down the ridge to the Tete Rousse - fourth breakfast? - and still more downhill to the train, cable car and a very slow drive home. Excellent day. 

On top!

Mont Blanc Success

~ Friday 19th June 2009

 A great start to the summer reaching the top of Mont Blanc yesterday!

The start of the week was a battle with the weather and some random forecasts, but we still climbed the Aiguille du Tour and Tete Blanche - both are perfect for acclimatising and training for Mont Blanc.

Climbing the Aiguille du Tour

Tete Blanche

                  

      

                                     By Tuesday we were ready for Mont Blanc. We climbed the Gouter route, leaving the Tete Rousse hut at 2.00am and reaching the top at 9 o'clock. Great weather and good conditions all the way.

Mont Blanc summit on a perfect day

 

 Smiles on the summit!

Chamonix Climbing

~ Tuesday 9th June 2009

Yes, the "summer" season is here, although skis would have been useful yesterday! Bad weather over the weekend has left about 40cm of fresh snow at 3500m, and like the rest of the winter the wind has blown a lot of snow around so there are some big drifts. 

I was climbing in Chamonix yesterday. Some pictures here of the Cosmiques Arete, Aiguille du Midi - great climbing despite the weather!

We started up the Arete a Laurence. This is the ridge below the Cosmiques  hut, starting from the col du Midi, and it's a good extension to the Cosmiques Arete when well snow covered.

Hello to the 5 British guys we passed - apologies for barging through! I hope you all made the last lift...

 

Will on Arete a Laurence

Scottish weather in the gully left of the normal route

The last pitch

 

Gogarth!

~ Friday 15th May 2009

 I found this today - me on Britomartis at Gogarth - hidden in the UKC picture archives. It brought back memories of...hmmm it must be 18 years ago! Certainly a long time since the days of long hair. Thanks to photographer Jethro Kiernan.

Britomartis, Wen Zawn, Gogarth

2009 Season Slideshow

~ Tuesday 12th May 2009

 There's a little slideshow here with some of the best bits of the winter   "Highlights of the 2009 season". Guided off-piste and ski touring in Arolla, Evolene, Grimentz, Zinal, Zermatt, Chamonix, Les Diablerets, Villars...and more.

End of the Ski Season

~ Sunday 10th May 2009

Well, that's pretty much it for another season - no more skiing for 6 months! End of season parties in Chamonix, heard the first cuckoo, saw the first motorbike crash...time to get the mountain bike out of the cellar, it must be summer!

My work season finished yesterday with some fresh powder tracks on the Grands Envers at L'Aiguille du Midi.This was supposed to be a Mont Blanc week, working with Dream Guides, but the weather turned stormy on Thursday, leaving no hope our summit attempt. It did mean 25cm of fresh snow though...

Earlier in the week we'd skied perfect spring snow - skiing the Gros Rognon from the Midi in the early morning sun, skinning up to Col du Tacul in the shade, having lunch while the snow softened, then skiing another great descent.

The bottom of the Vallée Blanche is a bit bare now. Some huge wholes opening up, and the Salle a Manger area needs careful route choice. Lower down there's some exciting skiing with alternate bare ice, wet snow and some proper water skiing! 

Skinning up to Col du Tacul

Lunch stop, Mont Blanc behind

Fresh tracks in May!

Ski Touring in Switzerland

~ Sunday 26th April 2009

Probably the best week of the year! Good weather and some of the best ski touring in Switzerland. Our planned Haute Route Impériale was sabotaged by Air Canada and missing bags. Instead we started from Arolla, did part of the Haute Route, and finished with the final 2 stages of the Tour du Ciel. There are more pictures here.

Day 1 we headed over the Pas de Chevre to the Dix hut for lunch, and then skied la Luette in the afternoon - some good snow, but had our first suspicions about the "ubiquitous crust" covering the alps...

Powder on la Luette

                         

                         

Next day we left the hut first by mistake - and had to break trail all the way up the Pigne d'Arolla with 40 people following us. We left the crowds at the summit and skied down the Brenay glacier, then over the Col des Portons and down to the Otemma glacier - fresh tracks all the way. There was a welcome refreshing breeze for the climb back to the Vignettes hut.

Using a rope for the steep entry

                            

                          

                        

                          Day 3 started in clouds, but with enough visibility to ski the steep Glacier de Vuibe descent below the Vignettes hut - and another battle with "ubiquitous crust" - before climbing up to the Bertol hut. 

Day 4 we climbed the Tete Blanche, then on to the Tete de Valpelline. We were the only team on top - after more trail breaking - and skied some good snow from the summit, with fresh tracks back to the col. Unfortunately the rest of the Stockji glacier was pretty awful! Well earned big beers at the Schonbiel hut with one of the best views in the alps!

Big beers and big smiles at the Schonbiel hut

                         

                               

                  

             On friday we headed down from Schonbiel, then up to the Col Durand - a big, steep climb through impressive scenery. Skiing the north side of the col is steep, but we found good snow, with more perfect powder (at last!) on the glacier below. Amazingly, in the space of 2 turns, the powder turned to spring snow which made for a very fast descent and a quick climb up to Grand Mountet hut in time for lunch. The hut had sold out of big beers, so after a quick small one we headed up to the foot of the Arete Blanche on the Zinal Rothorn - and another 600m descent of excellent spring snow.

 

Last day, and maybe the best. A steep climb on hard snow up to the shoulder of le Blanc de Moming. The summit is reached by a steep scramble, roped up and carrying skis. This is an incredible viewpoint, surrounded by 4000m peaks - Dent Blanche, Ober Gabelhorn, Zinal Rothorn and Weishorn. Skiing the north side is a 2000m descent in amazing scenery below the Weishorn and Zinal Rothorn. Knee deep powder at first, 2 crusty turns, then perfect spring snow right to the car park in Zinal!

Roped up fpr the final climb

 

 

Powder in April, north side of Blanc de Moming  

 

Dynafit Guide Skis - More!

~ Thursday 16th April 2009

 Well,  I've had a few weeks on these skis now. At first it was a bit of a shock - I've spent the rest of the winter skiing on 188cm Movement Thunders with Scarpa Spirit 4 boots, and the change back to a smaller ski and bendy Scarpa F3 took a while to get used to. 

The Dynafit info says they designed the ski to cope with "the daily needs of mountain guides" - which is a broad design brief! So far I've skied piste, powder and everything in between and they seem to cope well - all crashes definitely blamed on the skier not the ski. 

The first thing I noticed was going uphill - with relatively little sidecut compared to my old Movement Demons the ski goes in straight line when breaking trail, and gives better edge grip on hard snow. 

Although it is quite short - 178cm - the Guide ski is fairly stiff, especially in the tail. It has a "dual radius" sidecut - this means the radius is slightly tighter in the back third of the ski - ie behind the foot (are you reading this Alan?) The idea is to make faster short turns and it seems to work. Maybe it makes life harder in tricky snow, when accidental forward/backward weight movement  seems to have a dramatic effect. 

So overall I'm really happy - this is a fairly lightweight, fairly wide ski which still works well on hard icy snow.

The Dynafit Speedskin system works well - but no better than any other system really. The only advantage is that racers can remove the skin without removing the ski - this saves crucial seconds but means you don't get a rest at the top of the hill! A possible problem is when skiing short distances downhill with the skins on - the rubber front clip stretches and I've twice lost a skin. I'm also a bit concerned about the durability of the rubber whereas a normal Coltex metal clip lasts ages. And you can't use the skins on other skis. Other systems will fit Dynafit skis though.

The new Coltex non-sticky skin glue is great. It's odd stuff - it really doesn't feel sticky and even skin-savers won't stick to it. No problems though, hot or cold, and even after dropping a skin in the snow it re-stuck easily. 

Salewa Clothing

~ Thursday 16th April 2009

 salewa

 

 

                          For the last few weeks I've been skiing around in the Salewa "Mountain Guide Edition" clothing. This range is designed by Salewa with the help of the Austrian guides, and includes a shell jacket, softshell jacket, trousers and thermal top - and a head band for the full "euro look". Both jackets have factory glued IFMGA badges, and all the clothes have subtle "Mountain Guide Edition" labels. It's all based on existing "Alpin Xtrem" models though, so is a good guide to the rest of Salewa's gear. 

First impressions were good - well made gear, nice colours - (even "pineapple") and a very fast efficient service from the staff. Sizes seem small - I'm a Large in other makes, but an XL 52 fits well in Salewa, 

The "Clark" thermal is a neat fit - it's supposed to be, but I probably wouldn't wear it to the pub. Really comfy base layer though. 

The "Pleasure" jacket is a Paclite shell. It's amazingly lightweight, good pockets, hood fits over a helmet and is easily adjusted, and the jacket fits well even over a duvet. Excellent.

The "Elemento" softshell is a strange mix of softshell with Primaloft insulation front panels. Actually, this seems to work well - it's a neat fitting jacket which is surprisingly warm. It has good pockets plus a skipass pocket on the sleeve. 

The "Zeli" trousers are amazing. They're pretty complex, with a mix of materials, removable braces, gaiters, adjustable width lower legs, thigh vents and 3 pockets. The legs fit well over ski boots - a problem with some trousers. The impressive thing is that Salewa seem to have made trousers which cope with everything from sweaty south facing skinning to 80kph blizzard at 3800m. They are comfy, stretchy, lightweight but hardwearing. Excellent.

Last, the headband...well more of a "buff" really. I've never owned one before, but now seem to use it lots! Neckscarf, facemask, spare hat, even a headband. 

So, only good things to say about Salewa. Ski touring days involve a big range of conditions, and ski touring rucksacks are always too heavy, so lightweight gear that works is fantastic. 

 

Zermatt Ski Touring

~ Thursday 9th April 2009

A brilliant 2 days ski touring in Zermatt taking advantage of good weather and snow. There are more pictures here.

First, we climbed the Breithorn from Klein Matterhorn, reaching the summit above a sea of clouds. 

Near the Breithorn summit

              

                                                                     We skied off the top and down the Theodul glacier all the way to Zermatt - 2500m of descent.

 

Theodul glacier with the Breithorn above

 

                              

                                         Next day, we skied and skinned round to the Schwartztor glacier, and again found good snow and fresh tracks. 

Schwartztor glacier, Pollux above

Spot the skiers...Schwartztor glacier

 

Arolla-Zermatt

~ Monday 6th April 2009

 A mini Haute Route from Arolla to Zermatt at the weekend with a group of Finnish skiers. They flew in from Finland in Friday - minus boot bags which went to Copenhagen! Luckily the boots turned up early on Saturday and we set off to the Bertol hut. This is a long climb, especially if you've just arrived from sea level...and have chosen a Volkyl Katana/Marker Duke touring set-up. Not exactly lightweight.

Next day we climbed the Dents de Bertol and skied great powder, then headed over to Tete Blanche. The descent to Zermatt had some varied snow, but was very fast with three strong skiers. A great weekend! (more pictures here)

Heading to Bertol, Mont Collon behind

Skiing to Zermatt, Matterhorn behind 

Zermatt Off Piste

~ Friday 3rd April 2009

A good day yesterday in Zermatt despite the weather.  More cloud, wind and a surprising amount of fresh snow meant we turned back from the Breithorn, but had a good ski down the Theodul Glacier. This is really well filled in and in great condition at the moment. 

Weather on the Breithorn

The gorge below the Theodul glacier

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Saturday 28th March 2009

Oh dear, no blog updates for a whole week! Here's a long one...

Last week was the "Arolla Summits" week for the Eagle ski club. The plan was to do some challenging skiing and to reach some of the big peaks around Arolla.

It started well - using the Arolla lift we reached Point 2959 of la Roussette by 10.30 on the first day, and found powder on the  north side.

Powder and blue skies

                                          

 

                                    We then made the long hot climb to the Aiguille Rouge hut, and on to the Pointe de Vouasson, 3489m. 

Monday - we headed up and over the Col des Ignes and a steep ski down to the Dix hut then up la Luette, 3548m, after lunch. We skied the steep SE face and got back to the hut just before the "weather" arrived. 

Skiing Col des Ignes west side

                            

                         Tuesday was awful - high winds and heavy snow. We left the hut in a clear spell but soon were in white out conditions - retreat to the hut!

Wednesday started well with a clear weather window, so we set off to traverse the Pigne d'Arolla. Around 3500m the weather closed in, and the rest of the day was a battle against wind and snow. We reached the col du Pigne, 3770m, with a unanimous decision to forget the summit! Then began an eventful afternoon of poor visibility, tricky navigation, roped skiing and a crevasse moment! All ended well though and we reached the Vignettes hut.

Somewhere on the Pigne d'Arolla - 4 people in the picture!

                              

Thursday - a great ski down from the hut. 1100m of fresh tracks!

The reward!

Tree skiing above Arolla

                                  

       Friday - with more weather forecast we went to Evolene. At 9.30 they started the lifts specially for us - there was no-one else there! We climbed the Pic d'Artsinol with only Chamois for company, then skied the deserted west side, with a long hot skin back to the Evolene area. A great finish to an exciting week!

Chamois on Pic d'Artsinol

Acres of untracked snow....

 

Arolla Ski Conditions

~ Wednesday 18th March 2009

 One for next weeks Eagle ski club group!

Today I was over at the Dix hut. Pics here of Mont Blanc de Cheilon and la Luette. Both are in good ski condition now after the recent warm weather, which has been perfect for stabilising snow. Today I found everything from powder to spring snow depending on altitude and aspect.

Cheilon north face from the Dix hut

La Luette from Dix hut

Mont Blanc de cheilon north face from the Dix hut                                                 

 

 

 

 

                                                                And here are views from Pallanche de la Crettaz (Friday). This is a good day tour above les Hauderes - an unrelenting 1200m climb rewarded by excellent spring snow skiing. 

View to the Weishorn and Zinal Rothorn

Pointe de Vouasson north face

Ski Touring, Les Diablerets

~ Wednesday 18th March 2009

 Just back from 3 days with an Aiglon College group. We stayed in the Chalet Roseyres, a superb CAS property in the Isenau lift area. Touring to the top of Pointe d'Arpilles, les Diablerets and Palette d'Isenau - good skiing and a good "safari" style trip. 

Looking back to Diableretes summit

View back to Villars from Palette d'Isenau

Dynafit Guide Skis

~ Saturday 14th March 2009

 Dynafit Guide Skis

I have new skis! This has been a long wait, hence the excitement. Way back in November I ordered a pair of the new Dynafit "Guide" skis - then, along comes a bumper ski season and Dynafit ran out of skis! After a second production run and a 4 month wait I finally receive my skis - onyl to be told by the shop there's a waiting list in the workshop for binding mounting!

Although the ski is available only to Guides, it's based on the "Seven Summits" ski and shares the same dimensions (113/80/100 in the 178cm length) It's fairly straight with a dual radius 26/22m sidecut, so is pretty stable and grips well on hard snow. It's pretty light - around 1400g for the ski or 1900g with Dynafit comfort binding. 

So far I've only skied an afternoon on them, but off touring for the next few days so more news soon. 

Grimentz off piste

~ Saturday 7th March 2009

 A great week in Grimentz with the Eagle Ski Club. I was working with ski instructor Tom Saxlund of New Generation on a week which tried to cover all aspects of off-piste from ski technique to building a DIY rescue sledge, as well as doing some good skiing. 

Amazing snow, some challenging weather and even some blue sky powder skiing made for an exciting week. 

At the Capucins, Roc d'Orxival

Slab avalanche over tracks, Orxival. "That wasn't there yesterday!"

Earning turns!

 

 

Ice Climbing

~ Saturday 28th February 2009

An excellent week of climbing. Starting in Arolla - 2 days with lots of snow at la Gouille and l'Usine Électrique - we had a "rest day" skiing then went over to Kandersteg where conditions are still great. We climbed Heizahn, Rattenpissoir and Arbonium - a fantastic 3 days. It's late season in Kandersteg but the ice is still superb and there are very few teams climbing. 

The top of l'Usine Electrique

On Heizahn - steep but great conditions

Climber on Rattenpissoir

Climber on Pingu top pitch

Chamonix Off Piste

~ Wednesday 18th February 2009

 It doesn't get much better than today - lots of fresh snow yesterday gave us perfect conditions on the Envers du Plan. Knee deep and plenty of fresh tracks, and good snow all the way to Chamonix. 2700m of descent. 

Wide open slopes above the Classic route

Envers scenery, Grand Capucin behind

More Kandersteg Ice Climbing

~ Friday 13th February 2009

Back to Kandersteg again yesterday - there's a lot of fresh snow and strong winds at the moment, so it seems the best place to be. Short walk-in, good conditions and great routes with low avalanche risk. Much colder than Tuesday, so no drips, good quality ice, and not many folk climbing. We climbed Pingou, the classic line. 

Looking abck at Pingou, with Arbonium on the left

Starting the first pitch

Starting pitch 3, the top wall

Smiling through the snow, Alan reaches the third belay

Kandersteg Ice climbing

~ Wednesday 11th February 2009

With heavy snowfall and high winds forecast for the Alps we went over to Kandersteg yesterday - a quick trip through the tunnel means it's an easy day trip from Evolene. Conditions are fantastic there, and there were only 3 other people climbing! 

The route follows the obvious central line in 2 pitches

Starting the first steep pitch

Off piste in Villars

~ Sunday 8th February 2009

Ski touring today with Aiglon College. The weather was awful - snow and low visibility all day - but we managed a bit of ski touring and some great powder skiing in the trees at Villars.  By the end of the day there was 20-30cm of fresh snow, and lots more forecast for the rest of the week. 

Ski touring in Villars, climbing to l'Encrene

Knee deep powder skiing in trees

Frostguiding History!

~ Friday 23rd January 2009

I managed to borrow a slide scanner and scan some old slides...poor quality pictures but good memories!

First time on Mont Blanc in 1988 - Ron Hills and Koflach boots!

On top at dawn

Starting up Central Icefall in the Llanberis Pass, 1996 (yes, the picture is back to front due to shoddy scanning skills. Oops)

Starting central Icefall, Craig y Rhaedr, LlanberisReaching the Col de Valpelline in February 1993 - 205cm Tele skis and leather boots.

At Col de Valpelline

Preparing for my first ever flight - from Grands Montets top station with the Dru behind.

First take off

                                        

 

                                                 On Midshipsmans Wall in Cornwall, 1994

Midshipmans Wall, Cornwall

Arolla ski touring

~ Thursday 22nd January 2009

Plenty of snow this week and conditions are brilliant for off piste and ski touring. There's a lot more forecast for the weekend too. Unfortunately the fresh snow has hidden a few rocks - I hit one on Tuesday - result, a lot of limping skiers around at the moment.

Early morning above Arolla

Fresh tracks

Avalanche risk assessment - digging pits

Nendaz off piste

~ Friday 9th January 2009

Brilliant ski conditions recently in Nendaz. This is a part of the Verbier 4 Vallées lift system, with fantastic off piste access and touring - so good I only managed to take 1 picture at our drink stop before the long run down to Pralong. 

Conditions today were very good ski touring on the Pointe du Tsaté - untracked powder and more chamois than skiers, and there were only 4 chamois...

Ice Climbing Conditions

~ Monday 5th January 2009

 Some more pictures from last week - the stable weather continues, blue skies and very cold today. 

Starting up Cascade de Brucholey

Headless climber on the freestanding pitch, Cascade de Bonatchiesse

 

Evolene ski touring

~ Sunday 4th January 2009

Tired legs today so we went to the Pic Artsinol (2997m). Reached from the Evolene lifts this is only a 1 1/2 hour climb but gives a great 500m ski on shady NE facing slopes back to the pistes, then another 1200m back to Evolene.

The steep entry to the NE face

Open slopes lower down

 Last slope back to the pistes

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Saturday 3rd January 2009

 The New Year arrived with 30cm of fresh snow and perfect blue sky weather. Arolla is busy - by Arolla standards! This morning we were the only people on the lifts and the only people on Monts Rouges for a 600m powder descent. 

Skiing from Mont Rouge

After lunch we skinned up to la Cassorte, then Col des Ignes and 1500m of powder down to the road at Satarma and a well-earned coffee at the Pension Lac Bleu 

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