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Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Arolla Ski Conditions

~ Monday 26th December 2011

 Not too bad in fact...as long as untracked powder and no crowds is what you like! The pistes are in great condition too, both here and in Evolene, so skiing is great at the moment. It's forecast blue skies tomorrow and Wednesday then more snow before the weekend, hooray!

Some pics here from Arolla by Andy Teasdale...

Verbier Nocturne

~ Saturday 24th December 2011

 Relaxing with (too much?) coffee after a pleasant morning skiing powder in Arolla it suddenly seemed a good idea to accompany Mrs Frostguiding to the Trophée Verbier Nocturne race. This turned out to be a very fine event, with a "populaire" class for mortals and an "elite" class for the others. There's an infectious atmosphere to these things though, and even the populaire class seemed pretty competitive with plenty of lycra and skinny skis. All put into perspective by the arrival of the elites, sprinting the finish with the winner completing the 965m climb from Carrefour to Attelas in just 41 minutes...

The next local race is the Barlouka in Veysonnaz, 30th December.

Headtorches racing up to Attelas.

 

Christmas Skiing

~ Saturday 24th December 2011

 It looks like great conditions for the Christmas holidays. Perfect pistes and some more fresh snow today means there's good off piste too. Evolene is open, and Arolla yesterday was excellent. Expecting crust after Thursday's rain we set off for some skinning exercise only to find more excellent powder - Arolla is high enough to have been above the rain level. There's still plenty of unstable snow, so lots of care needed off piste. This huge full-depth avalanche is just one of many...

Excellent powder skiing above Arolla village.

And more, with the Pigne d'Arolla in the background.

Evolene Skiing

~ Thursday 22nd December 2011

Best day of the season (so far !) 

It snowed again yesterday in Evolene, frustrating the ski area team who've been putting huge efforts into preparing and stabilising the snow, but making for some brilliant skiing! After the long haul up, skinning through yet more fresh snow (we've been breaking trail every day for 5 days) the descent was fantastic. 

Sadly today was awful. Hmm. Rain to 1900m has turned the lower slopes to awful heavy slush, but it does mean still more fresh snow above there. With good weather forecast it looks like being a great skiing Christmas. Evolene lift area should open on Saturday, with good piste right down to the car park. 

The Evolene cross country tracks are open too.

Thanks to British Guide Andy Teasdale for the pictures:

Powder in Evolene

~ Monday 19th December 2011

 More excellent skiing today in Evolene. There was a lot of piste preparation going on and it looks like opening soon. Great news for Christmas skiers, but a shame for the tourers who've had acres of untouched powder for days...

Arolla ski lifts are open now - and the road is open too. 

 

Powder in Evolene

~ Sunday 18th December 2011

 Well powder every where really, and plenty of it. Snow is like London buses, always too much or too little...

There's been a good 70-80cm of fresh snow at 1400m. Higher up there's been more fresh snow and plenty of wind creating some huge drifts. All this is lying on wet, unconsolidated old snow...

Both Arolla and Evolene were supposed to open today, but the Arolla road has been closed since Friday. In Evolene the road is open and the parking is neatly ploughed but there's no sign of the lifts opening, everyone who can drive a snowplough being busy elsewhere I guess. Still that's good news for tourers. The sky cleared enough to allow helicopter flying and furious blasting on both sides of the valley, which added an interesting dimension to the trailbreaking. All well worth it though, with a(nother) great ski below the mid-station. 

Great Ski Conditions

~ Wednesday 14th December 2011

 Huge snowfall in the Alps! It's been snowing all day and is forecast to continue, with heavy snow on Friday. Colder after that, with more snow, so it looks like great conditions for Christmas ski trips, and a great start to the ski season. Phew. 

Here are a couple of pictures from the excellent Leukerbad Night Race which was held last weekend. Uphill is the new downhill...

Mrs Frostguiding pre-start with Kate Brown from Peakfitness

Pre-start with Kate Brown from PeakFitness

The start!

And the start! Only 777m vertical to climb before dinner.

If you're still into going downhill here's a stunning video 

 

Powder in Arolla!

~ Thursday 8th December 2011

 First ski of the season in Arolla today. After yesterday's bad weather it was a surprise to see blue skies this morning. With reports of 40cm of new snow - looks like good pistes for Christmas now - it seemed worth the long slog to the top of Arolla. There are no lifts open yet, so you have to "earn turns". Luckily I set off second, following a trail through deep snow - there's at least 40cm at the bottom of Arolla. Unluckily I soon caught the guy ploughing the trail, and ended up in front.

By 2600m we were calf-deep on skis, but with another 300m to go we were overtaken by the piste machine. Phew. 

The ski down was well worth it, great snow (70cm at 2900m), no rocks, fresh tracks. Great start to the winter. 

Skiing!

~ Tuesday 6th December 2011

 Today we went skiing...there's been some snowfall - at last - in the alps and a lot of hard work making snow means there are now runs open. Today we went to the Veysonnaz "Piste de L'Ours" which is open down to the mid-station, but skiable quite a lot lower. Good skiing too, with well made piste. Grands Montets in Argentiere should open  this weekend and Zinal is apparently good. And it's forecast to snow all week...

Avalanche Academy

~ Thursday 1st December 2011

 Avalanche Academy Ltd Home Page

 

 

 

 

As we all wait for the snow to arrive it's worth mentioning the Avalanche Academy, a new organisation based in Chamonix and run by 3 British Mountain Guides. Their aim is to provide 1 and 2 day "on-the-hill" training courses in all aspects of avalanche safety for skiers, boarders and mountaineers. The late snow this year could well mean an odd snowpack and some tricky conditions, so getting some training or a refresher makes sense. 

Ice Climbing!

~ Monday 28th November 2011

 First day ice climbing today. The weather has been settled and dry for so long now the hills are very dry and there's no snow, but high, shady crags have plenty of ice now. A not too cold autumn is quite good for ice, keeping water moving longer rather than freezing everything solid in the ground. 

Today at the Cascade des Ignes the walk-in was dry - in fact easy in trainers! - when often snowshoes or skis are needed. There's loads of ice and it's not too cold so it's great to climb. By midday a few stones were falling, so we continued to the top instead of abseiling and then walked round. 

Patrouille des Glaciers

~ Friday 25th November 2011

 

Badge PdGThe Patrouille des Glaciers ski-touring race runs every 2 years, with teams of 3 competing on a course between Zermatt and Verbier - basically following the classic Haute Route in reverse. The draw for places in the 2012 event was last week - the race is so over-subscribed that places are allocated by lottery - and team "les Hauderes" has a place...my team-mates have both taken part before but it will be my first go - so I'll be out skinning more than usual this winter in preparation.

As well as training for the race myself I'll be arranging some training/preparation/course reconnaisance dates for other teams - dates coming soon. 

 

Pigne d'Arolla Traverse

~ Thursday 17th November 2011

November has been cold and dry this year - not ideal for the imminent ski season but it does mean there are some great conditions in the mountains. In peak season the classic Vignettes- Pigne d'Arolla - Dix traverse is very busy, but over the last 3 days we saw...no-one!

It was cold and hard going in deep snow up the glacier de Pieces to the Vignettes but the new winter room is excellent and very confortable. We were gambling on finding better conditions on the "sunny" side - and it was a relief to find them - firm snow and well bridged crevasses. Luckily the firm snow lasted most of the way to the Dix hut. This side is much more open, but still manageable. 

 

November in the Alps

~ Monday 14th November 2011

 An excellent day today on the Couronne de Bréona. The track up from Forclaz is still driveable - with a few exciting ice patches! - and there's no snow up to the col. Above there it's a different story...the sunny side is dry but in the shade the rock is very snowy, giving some challenging climbing!

 

 

 

 

Summer Tick List

~ Thursday 13th October 2011

 It's been a good summer despite the dry start and the unsettled spell in July. Here's a list of routes guided this summer:

- Cosmiques Arete

- Pointe Lachenal Traverse

- Mont Blanc up the Gouter route - great condition in early season

- 2x Miroir d'Argentine Direct Route 

- Mont Blanc de Cheilon Normal Route

- Mont Blanc de Cheilon Traverse 4(!) times. Once from Vignettes over the Pigne, once from Dix west-east, once from Dix west-east over the Pigne and on to the Vignettes, once from Dix east-west. Each time the traverse was deserted

- 2x Eveque Traverse, once from Bouquetins, once from Vignettes. Just us the first time, 1 other team the second. 

- Dent Blanche South Ridge

- Tete Blanche from Bertol to Dent Blanche hut

- 2x Bishorn normal route, once breaking trail all the way

- Pigne de la Lé, Pointes de Mourti, Dent de Rosse

- Grand Cornier South ridge from the bivvy hut

- 2x Nadelhorn normal route from Bordier with the Ulrichshorn, and once from Mischabel with just us on the mountain - in fact just 3 of us in the hut.. 

- 2x Zinal Rothorn North ridge, just us on the mountain second time. 

- 2x Matterhorn Hornli ridge

- Lagginhorn South ridge (just us)

- Weismies North Ridge - again, just us on the route. 

- 4x Couronne de Bréona traverse. Met another team once. 

- Lenzspitz-Nadelhorn via ENE ridge. Climbed with another pair in snowy conditions. 

- Gran Paradiso north face. Perfect condition, and deserted. 

- Rimpfischorn normal route from Tasch hutte

- Alphubel normal route from Tasch hut - just 2 of us on a cloudy day. 

- Alphubel Rotgrat

 

 

Zinal Rothorn

~ Saturday 1st October 2011

 The North ridge of the Zinal Rothorn is classic alpine ridge climbing - one of the best in the Alps. Luckily the Grand Mountet hut had stayed open longer than planned to host the Mountain Academy group, so we had a very comfortable night with one of the best views from any hut!

The North ridge has a long approach and a spectacular start up the Arete du Blanc. This can be easy in good conditions but it's definitely not at the moment...no track and hard snow on the north side with steep sun-rotted snow on the south made it quite nerve-wracking. We avoided the lower bit by climbing the rocks below the ridge on the south side, bit still had to teeter up the narrow crest for the upper section.

The rest of the route was in good condition - crampons off - and the climbing is brilliant, both exposed and sustained. As usual in late September there was no-one else on the route, although we did see one other team in the distance on the normal route...

Dawn on the glacier

Riding the "Bourrique"

 On Friday we had a lazy 7 o'clock breakfast before making the arduous 15 minute (!) approach to the Mammouth...soon we were climbing perfect rock in warm sun, a very pleasant end to a great week. We started up "Génepi" then continued along the whole ridge, which is brilliant exposed climbing on perfect rock. 

"threading the needle"

 

Couronne de Bréona

~ Saturday 1st October 2011

 After a tiring day on the Cheilon traverse we drove up the track to the Couronne de Bréona on Tuesday. The traverse packs in a lot of climbing without too much walking - especially if you continue over the Clocher! (The track from the Evolene side is quite eroded now and only really passable with a 4x4. If you drive up there make sure you park carefully and check with the farmer first)

Descending from the Clocher

 

Mont Blanc de Cheilon Traverse

~ Saturday 1st October 2011

The Dix hut is now closed for the season so we used the winter room - which was quite cosy with 9 people!  The long climb up to the Col de la Serpentine is fairly crevassed and complex, and the slope up from the col is dry scree for 100m now, but the rest of the traverse was in good condition. We downclimbed the normal route from the top before heading over the winter summit and making a quick descent of the glacier below the Ruinette, which passes through some spectacular scenery. As usual at this time of year the mountain was all but deserted - we saw no-one on the route until meeting 2 Dutch guys coming up to the winter top. 

 

Nadelhorn

~ Saturday 1st October 2011

The end of the summer season is often a great time to climb in the Alps with quiet hills and stable weather, but it was still a surprise to be the only people in the Mischabel hut! Weather was perfect, and the wind the day before had blown away the fresh snow and left ideal conditions on the Nadelhorn normal route. 

Rimpfischorn/Alphubel

~ Saturday 17th September 2011

 Both the Rimpfischorn and Alphubel are popular peaks in the summer, but late season the area is deserted - there were only 8 people for breakfast in the Tasch hut yesterday, and 7 this morning.

The Rimpfischorn is a long way from anywhere, but it's a spectacular glacier trip with an airy finish.

Alphubel is also a long way and was a bit of a race against bad weather, but we had the top to ourselves and made it back to the hut dry. 

Gran Paradiso North Face

~ Wednesday 14th September 2011

 The beautiful Chabod hut has an excellent webcam which has been showing a very white North West face of the Gran Paradiso for a few days now despite some warm weather - a promising sign that it's actually well covered and not just a dusting. From close up the face still looked good...

Reaching the bergschrund from the hut takes longer than you'd think - a good 3 hours of moonlit moraine-stumbling and some huge crevasses. It was a relief when the first axe placement at the bergchrund was perfect...and the next...and the next. The whole face turned out to be covered in 5-10cm of squeaky snow-ice, 500m of first-time placements.

Radek can't believe how good the snow is...

The mini-Madonna has gone!

Breithorn Traverse

~ Sunday 11th September 2011

 Breithorn traverse today - the weather forecast was - correctly - for thunderstorms in the afternoon so we decided that wallet-bashing Zermatt experience was worth it. (The Klein Matterhorn lift gets you from 1600m to 3800m for a mere CHF98.-,  or 32p a metre)

Strangely the Breithorn was deserted. A team of 3 turned back early leaving just us on the traverse, and we had the summit to ourselves. 

And this solo adventurer made it safely to his tent on the Breithorn pass...

Lenzspitz-Nadelhorn

~ Saturday 10th September 2011

After a very dark,windy and cloudy night stumbling around the glacier we emerged - in improving weather - onto the very fine ENE Ridge of the Lenzspitz.

This has a reputation for being tricky if snowy, and it was! More reminiscent of the Northern corries than the Mischabel range.

Some trailbreaking later we reached the fine summit of the Lenzspitz. The Mischabel range is well known for it's AD ridges, and the summit of the Lenspitz is definitely only halfway there. "AD" here means "All Day"! The traverse to the Nadelhorn is on fine red rock - unfortunately heavily rimed and very time consuming. The sun had dried the south sides of the "several" gendarmes, but left the northern sides covered in 15cm of rime. 

A big thankyou to the Mischabel hut team for their excellent food and warm welcome (and very clean toilets)

"substantial and sustained weakening of the Swiss franc"

~ Wednesday 7th September 2011

 The best news this year for British alpinists and ski tourers? 

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Wednesday 7th September 2011

Another traverse of Mont Blanc de Cheilon yesterday - we started up the normal route which went quite well, so we continued over the traverse, which went quite well...so we carried on over the Pigne to the Vignettes hut. (Best wishes to the Dutch pair following us who were rescued from the traverse - I hope you are both OK) The traverse is in good condition with a bit of snow, but we didn't need crampons. Compare the pics from earlier this season here and here

Team following us on the MBC normal route

Descending from the MBC summit

Passing the "horns"

Today's plan was the Eveque traverse. We set off from the Vignettes hut (which closes this Thursday) with a stunning sunrise and a very red sky. The Col de Chermontane is completely dry now, but the climb to the start of the route involves passing some huge crevasses. With strong winds, fast-building clouds and an iffy forecast we decided to call it a day, down-climbing the Bouquetins approach and walking out down the Arolla glacier - a scenic but long walk! (Reaching the SW ridge from the Bouquetins bivvy is still possible but now needs 10m of steepish rock climbing - we walked up here on snow in June)

Couronne de Bréona

~ Saturday 3rd September 2011

The Couronne de Bréona traverse makes a good day trip for unsettled weather - interesting climbing on an airy ridge but not too high. We traversed north-south and continued over the Clocher de Bréona, but you can go the other way too. 

High above the Moiry glacier

September Snow!

~ Thursday 1st September 2011

After a summer of reliable pessimism MeteoSuisse fooled us with what turned out to be a hugely optimistic forecast. We believed it and headed up to the lovely Mischabel hut. After an excellent meal and a comfortable night we woke to find heavy snow falling...not ideal. Setting off in the hope it was just a shower we ended up spending an hour at 3600m in the group shelter until we finally gave in and turned back, fresh snow making the planned ENE ridge of the Lenzspitz out of the question. 

 

Lagginhorn/Weismies

~ Tuesday 30th August 2011

The two 4000m peaks of the Saas Grund area make an excellent 2 day trip. We stayed at the Hohsaas "hut" - aptly described as "unsightly" in the guidebook but an ideal base for the Weismies and Lagginhorn, saving an hour's walk over the Weismies hut. With an early breakfast we were the only team stumbling through the boulders in the dark on both days.

Day 1 we climbed the Lagginhorn South Ridge, a long climb with the tricky bits at the top on the exposed summit ridge.

The top of the Lagginhorn south ridge Today - with the team reduced to 2 by blisters - we went back to the same col before turning right for the Weismies North Ridge. This time the tricky bits are in the first half, but the ridge goes on for 2km! The Weismies normal route gives a quick descent with the usual worrying dash through the seracs and crevasses...

Zinal Rothorn

~ Friday 26th August 2011

Gambling (again) on Meteosuisse pessimism we set off for the North Ridge of the Zinal Rothorn. The approach to the Grand Mountet hut is a long hot slog from Zinal but it's worth it - this has to be one of the best views in the Alps. The hut was quiet, food excellent and the staff as usual were very friendly and well informed on local conditions.

The North Ridge is in excellent condition with dry rock (crampons off from the shoulder) and good snow on the Arete du Blanc. The weather, despite producing some threatening clouds, stayed good for the day. Phew.

I was working with BMG guide Dave Kenyon, star of the back cover of Martin Moran's excellent 4000m peaks book. Here he is climbing the Rasoir...

Climbing the Rasoir

Descending the Bourrique

And Dave re-enacting the back cover shot on the Rasoir. Descending the Rasoir

Descending Arete du Blanc

l'Éveque traverse

~ Tuesday 23rd August 2011

Perfect conditions today on the Eveque traverse. The Col de chermontane is totally dry glacier and we only hit snow on the climb up to the start of the route. There are some big crevasses to avoid on the way!

Descent was fine, still snowy on the steep bit .

Nadelhorn

~ Saturday 20th August 2011

Off to the Bordier hut at the other end of the Mischabel range to climb the Nadelhorn via the "Nadelgrat". This was plan A, but as usual plan B turned out to be better. The glacier was poorly frozen and very crevassed and at 5am we were all going knee-deep, sometimes waist and armpit deep and occasionally deeper! With a distinctly uninspiring first view of the Dirruhorn couloir plus concerns about re-crossing the glacier late in the day we diverted to the Nadelhorn normal route. Other teams reported lots of stonefall and poor conditions in the couloir. We returned over the Ulrichshorn which gives great views of the Nadelhorn and Lenzspitz, as well as having a bench on top!

The Bordier hut deserves a special mention for selling the most expensive bottled water in the Valais - an eye-watering CHF17.- per bottle. Ouch.

I was working with aspirant guide James Thacker - here he is reaching the top of the Ullrichshorn.

Alphubel Rotgrat

~ Tuesday 16th August 2011

Good conditions today on the Alphubel Rotgrat - the west ridge. This is a great and direct line to the summit. A nice path starts from the hut and quickly leads to interesting and sustained scrambling with the occasional bits of Valais rubble. We descended the south ridge which is still quite snowy and offers a quick descent to the Tasch hut.

Matterhorn Hornli Ridge

~ Friday 12th August 2011

Back to the Matterhorn yesterday. Conditions haven't changed much since last week - still good although it's snowy and we put crampons on at the site of the old hut. We had a good ascent after a prompt start from the hut and with time to spare we traversed over to the Italian top. It was much busier on the descent than last week though - we had to negotiate teams of wobbly soloing Japanese and a large group of slow moving Spaniards plus the usual confusion at the Solvay hut on the way down!

Above the Solvay

Fixed ropes above the shoulder

The summit slopes

On top!

Swiss summit from the Italian summit

Amazingly for August the North face has been in good condition. Successful ascents on Wednesday and we saw 4 teams on the route on Thursday.

Spot the teams on the north face

Grand Cornier

~ Tuesday 9th August 2011

Excellent day today on the South Ridge of the Grand Cornier. This peak just fails to make the 4000m mark so is very quiet compared to it's neighbour the Dent Blanche. It's a sizeable haul up to the Bivvy hut - 1700m from Ferpecle. Worth it though - the site under the Dent Blanche north face is awesome and the hut is very cosy. The route starts straight from the hut and quickly becomes quite airy. Lots of up and down, great situations and although the ridge climbs only 500m from the col it packs in a lot of action!

Matterhorn Hornli Ridge

~ Friday 5th August 2011

 Success against the odds today on the Hornli ridge. The as-ever pessimistic Meteosuisse forecast showers in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon - not ideal. Luckily the morning was clear and we made fast progress with only about 30 people on the route. After a brief tustle at the start it all went very smoothly. Crampons on early at the old hut site so that slowed things down, but the rest was in good condition and the top slope is very good and snowy. With many nervous peaks around the ridge to check the incoming weather we made the top around 8.30, then made a quick descent to beat the rain...

As usual on photogenic routes I forgot the camera. 

Moiry

~ Wednesday 3rd August 2011

The search for a comfortable hut with showers took us back to Moiry this week. It was Swiss National Day on Monday so the hut was busy, but we got space in the conference room (!) Luxury, lots of space and no snoring!

On the Moiry glacier

National Bonfire Day

On Monday we climbed the Pigne de la Lé while everyone else went up the Point de Mourti, and had the top to ourselves before heading up the beautiful Bouquetins ridge.

Climbing the Pigne de la Lé

Great views to Grand Mountet

Next day - 3 days in a row of perfect weather being unusual this year! - we climbed the Dent de Rosse, a long glacier approach leading to a short scramble on good rock and again, the summit to ourselves.

Dent Blanche South ridge

~ Friday 29th July 2011

 More snow in the Alps...With bad weather on Wednesday we decided to walk up to the Bertol hut and approach the Dent Blanche hut from there, a scenic trip along the ridge dividing the Val d'Hérens from the Zermatt valley . It's a long haul from Arolla, 1300m of steepness. There are new ladders at the hut now but more exciting still - new toilets! At last, the infamous Bertol hanging sacks have been replaced with modern units, a huge improvement. Still only 2 of them though...

The new Bertol ladders

After a snowy aftenoon the next day dawned cloudy but slowly improved. Good tactics saw us leave the hut last and avoid any trail breaking on the way to Tete Blanche. Carelessly we found ourselves out in front from there on for the traverse to the Dent Blanche hut - a long, calf deep slog with great views. 

More snow in the afternoon...but after a early breakfast the skies soon cleared to give stunning views. The south ridge is a good route when snowy but it was slow going and sadly we turned back before the top, time passing quickly and a long descent ahead. 

High on the Dent Blanche South Ridge

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Monday 25th July 2011

 The unsettled weather continues, and it's cold too. It was snowing as we left the car in Arolla on Monday, and -6 at the Dix hut this morning. As well as unsettled the weather is very localised - very little snow at the Dix but apparently 30cm at Vignettes. 

We set off for the traverse of Mont Blanc de Cheilon, choosing to start up the normal route and do a "reverse traverse". This is climbable dry or in crampons if snowy...and it was. Worth mentioning the serac fall on the normal route too. This looked innocuous last week but collapsed at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, right across the upper snow section of the normal route. We avoided it completely by steeper snow on the right, and from above it still looks unstable. There's a big crack up and left. 

The summit ridge was snowy and climbed in crampons - but was dry 3 weeks ago. Descending from the summit is quite tricky at first but soon easily down climbable. Reaching the east summit we were very glad we'd chosen to go this way - there's a lot of soft snow which would have been hard to climb up.

Summit ridge with serac fall visible behind

Down climb from the summit

The descent from the Serpentine col was calf deep, untracked (amazingly no-one has traversed the Pigne d'Arolla) and quite crevassed... 

Bishorn Revisited

~ Friday 22nd July 2011

 Despite changeable weather all over the Alps there was a glimmer of hope in the forecast for the central Valais. So back to the Bishorn!

Heading up from the beautiful Turtmann valley is longer but nicer than the haul up from Zinal and has the advantage of a night at the Turtmann hut.  Unfortunately the new snow spoiled plans for the Brunegghorn - which is a long way anyway never mind in fresh snow - so we headed straight up to Tracuit, the only team on the impressive glacier. This was dry last week but very snowy now. 

The afternoon weather was awful, and there's not much to do at Tracuit...but we were rewarded by perfect weather this morning. Clear skies and no wind. Phew. A quick breakfast meant we were first away, breaking trail all the way to the top but earning ourselves a deserted summit with superb views of a very snowy Switzerland. 

The last move!

Moiry

~ Tuesday 19th July 2011

This was the first time I've stayed at the Moiry hut since the new extension was opened - it's fantastic. The copper exterior has darkened and now blends in quite well, and the inside is very comfortable. Arriving soaked in a downpour we were shown the showers and the drying room! There seems to be tough competition this year for the tastiest food and largest servings - last week I thought Turtmann were clear winners, but Moiry was very good...and all locally sourced and organic. 

We approached the hut up the lower Moiry glacier, which was perfect - if wet - crampon practice ground. Rewarded with nice weather in the morning we climbed the Pointe de Mourti, a varied and interesting route with stunning views above the cloud inversion. 

Dent Blanche and Dent d'Hérens above the clouds

Gore Tex

~ Tuesday 19th July 2011

 For the past 2 years I've been part of the Gore Tex test team. We've been testing the next generation material and comparing it to the current Pro Shell - which I think is already the most waterproof and breathable material on the market. The last couple of weeks have seen some very "testing" weather conditions - wind, cold, snow and a lot of distinctly un-alpine rain! 

 

 

Bishorn

~ Saturday 16th July 2011

 We were lucky with the weather last week, getting a perfect day yesterday on the Bishorn after 2 wet and cloudy days.

After a couple of days warm up rock climbing and on the excelllent Moiry glacier we drove round to the beautiful but very wet Turtmann valley for the short walk to the Turtmann hut. This has to be one of the nicest huts in the Alps, very well run and with fantastic food in huge servings. 

The next day started wet again, and we climbed up the Gassi gully in thick cloud. A few clear spells allowed glimpses of the Bishorn summit before the clouds came back. The glacier up to Tracuit is already completely dry and needs some carefull footwork!

Amazingly Friday dawned clear and cold with a spectacular inversion in the valley - perfect conditions with hard snow and blue skies, a great end to the week. The Bishorn has a reputation as a straightforward 4000m peak but still needs respect - the glacier is currently very crevassed!

Swiss Rock

~ Friday 8th July 2011

 With the forecast saying wet and stormy in the high hills we headed down to Bramois to finish the week. Bramois is like a different world - driving down 1500m from Arolla to the vineyards and orchards in the valley is a big change.

We went for "La Voie des Diedres", a 7 pitch route on a steep and impressive part of the cliff. Although bolted the route has an adventurous feel with some loose "rock" and outrageous situations. 

Pitch 3

Pitch 5

Last pitch!

Arolla Conditions

~ Wednesday 6th July 2011

 Just back from an excellent 3 day trip in which we climbed 2 of the best AD routes in Arolla - the traverse of the Éveque and the Pigne d'Arolla-Mont Blanc de Cheilon traverse. 

After a night in the cosy Bouquetins bivouac (hello to the guys who arrived at 11pm...) we ploughed through soft snow and a tricky cornice to the start of the SW ridge of the Éveque. After a scrappy start this route turns in to excellent, exposed and quite tricky climbing on great rock. 

A comfortable night at the Vignettes and an early start for the long haul over the Pigne to the Mont Blanc de Cheilon - happily a good over night freeze meant excellent hard snow and fast progress. The Cheilon traverse was completely dry and we made quick progress, encouraged by the fast approaching clouds...A swift descent of the dry west ridge - climbed in crampons and corniced 2 weeks ago - saw us quickly back at the Dix hut for lunch before the long trek back to Arolla...

Miroir d'Argentine

~ Sunday 3rd July 2011

 Excellent day on the Miroir d'Argentine today. This is quite a big day driving over from Evolene but worth it for the amazing climbing. We did the Direct route with the direct start - great and varied climbing. 

Very Weismies...

~ Monday 27th June 2011

 Perfect conditions for the traverse of the Weismies today - it's hard to imagine better. We hit snow 20 minutes from the hut and made quick progess before taking off crampons for the excellent rocky climb to the summit ridge. The descent was on good snow all the way through some dramatic scenery - and of course like all good alpine routes there's a bar at the bottom!

Sunrise from the south ridge

Arolla Conditions

~ Saturday 25th June 2011

 Here are a few pictues from the last couple of days around Arolla - 2 nights at the Dix hut with ascents of the Cheilon normal route and a breezy traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla today. 

Excellent conditions on the Mont Blanc de Cheilon, although the summit ridge is still corniced and needs careful footwork. 

Going has been soft recently but a clear night and a good freeze sorted the snow out for the Pigne today - firm all the way. The Dix side looks well filled in but the snow cover is thin and some big holes are already appearing. 

Despite leaving under a clear sky with no wind, by the time we reached the Serpentine it was cloudy and blowing a gale - on top it was hard to stand up. Luckily we quickly dropped out of the cloud and snow stayed firmish for the descent. 

Arcteryx

~ Wednesday 22nd June 2011

 Arcteryx, the Canadian outdoor gear manufacturer, have just signed a new deal to become supporters of the BMG.  Arcteryx claim their "central purpose is to build the finest products possible" and they have a reputation for top quality equipment.

First impressions of their gear are very good. I've just received my first order, completed online with minimum fuss via the excellent website and delivered within 5 days. Great quality and feel, sizing seems consistent across the range, and with the next few days forecast for mixed weather the clothing will be getting a thorough test - more news soon!

Mont Blanc Success

~ Saturday 18th June 2011

 Good weather and good conditions on the Gouter route for our ascent on Thursday. This is a good time of year for Mont Blanc with plenty of snow and not many people - the Grand Couloir is full of snow and easy - and safe - to cross. We had the summit to ourselves and no trouble passing teams on the narrow part of the ridge.

I forgot the camera, so no pictures of the spectacular full moon which lit our ascent of the Gouter ridge...

 

 

Chamonix Weekend

~ Monday 13th June 2011

 The weekend started ominously with heavy overnight rain followed by low cloud and showers in the morning. Not ideal. Instead of going high and hoping for improving weather we stayed low, finding the excellent Via Corda in the woods behing Les Bois. Deserted, very scenic and good low level training for bigger routes - the line winds up for around 500m with scrambling, pitched climbing, bits of walking and the odd tricky slab, all quite challenging in the wet. 

Via Corda

Yesterday the weather was back to normal. The Midi lift did it's best to add excitement, breaking down for 20minutes when the cables on the lift before ours got twisted, then making an emergency stop just below the top. It was a relief to get out! We then climbed the Cosmiques Arete, which was busy but for once everyone was relaxed and friendly. 

Ski Season Highlights

~ Sunday 5th June 2011

 Here are a few pictures from the ski season. The winter started and finished with great snow - but it was a bit dry in the middle. Still, that meant some good stable snow for steeper skiing, and touring means you can always find good snow somewhere...Long after more popular areas like Chamonix and Verbier have turned in to epic bump runs there's often still great skiing to be found away from the lifts... 

Only 5 months to wait for next season...

 

 

Weekend Alpinism

~ Tuesday 31st May 2011

 An excellent Chamonix based weekend - it's impressive what can be achieved in a 2 day trip to the Alps. We started off on Sunday using the Midi lift, which is quite pleasant in low season - no queue and only a dozen people on the lift.

Recent snow has settled fast and we found perfect conditions on the Pointe Lachenal traverse, plus blue skies and no wind, all very enjoyable.

Pointe Lachenal

With time and enthusiasm to spare we crossed over to the Col du Midi and climbed the arete up to the Cosmiques hut. In snowy conditions this is great fun, good mixed climbing with hot chocolate waiting at the top! As usual, the haul back to the lift station was longer and steeper and hotter than expected....

The Tacul normal route is looking unpleasant -  the hut guardian described it as "sporting". Look centre of picture where the track disappears for 300m into the crevasse/serac - the wall above is a good 40m high. 

For a change on Monday we drove over to Solalex in Switzerland and headed up to the Miroire d'Argentine. Usually still too snowy at this time of year, it's currently dry and snow-free. Planning to do the normal route we arrived just behind 4 teams so diverted up the excellent and sustained Direct route. 

 

15000 Bees!

~ Thursday 26th May 2011

...roughly. Anyway, yesterday they all decided to move into my chimney for the summer. We lit the fire and smoked out the house but the bees refused to leave. Mr Gaspoz the beekeeper turned up, climbed onto the roof and stuck his bare hand down the chimney...eventually today the bees moved out and headed for the campsite. Sorry if you were camping down there...

May Powder!

~ Tuesday 3rd May 2011

The unpronouncable Aouille Tseuque is a little peak above the Otemma glacier with a great ski face. After a long ski season this was a quick "holiday" trip with another British Guide, Tim Blakemore. We'd both seen the peak from the Vignettes earlier this year and planned to come back...

We spent a night in the excellent Singla bivvy worrying about the crusty snow, but in the morning we were surprised - and relieved - to find boot deep powder on the face. Phew. A very good ski descent and short plod back up the top of the Otemma saw us skiing good spring snow down the impressive Vuibé glacier before the inevitable walk-out down the moraine to Arolla. 

Aouille Tseuque from Vignettes

Heading up the Otemma glacier

 

Bishorn Revisited

~ Friday 29th April 2011

The last week of my ski season was by coincidence another Bishorn trip. Despite having been here last week  I was amazed by the change in snow cover - we walked all the way to the hut!

Climbing the Gassi

The next day - with skis on feet at last - we found excellent spring snow before a second very comfortable night at the Turtmann hut.

Having climbed up to the Tracuit hut we were ready for the Bishorn but disappointed to awake to thick cloud and snow. Not ideal.

Happily things improved enough for us to reach 4000m before finally turning back in deteriorating weather and poor visibility. We skied powder on a firm base down a deserted glacier, all very atmospheric, before walking out down the Turtmanntal in a blizzard. A strange end to a snowless winter!

There are more pictures here...

Bishorn Ski Tour

~ Saturday 23rd April 2011

This week was based on the Haute Route Impériale ski tour. We started from the St Luc ski lifts on the last day of their season - the lifts were still running but we had to walk down some of the piste on bare grass and rocks! Soon we were skiing in to the beautiful Turtmanntal on perfect spring snow, but around 2200m we ran out of snow and it was skis on rucksacks again for more walking up to the Turtmann hut.

Walking up Turtmanntal   

Day 2 starts with a steep crampon up the Gassi, which leads to vast glacier terrain beneath the north face of the Bishorn, and a spectacular ascent to the Tracuit hut. 

 

Tiny skiers below the Bishorn North face

Day 3: The Bishorn was in great condition although the lack of snow means there are more open crevasses than usual. Stunning summit views and a great ski descent. 

Moon and Mont Blanc from Tracuit

 

Day 4: The descent to the head of the Zinal valley is a great ski, but we ran out of snow around Roc de la Vache - more walking! Instead of a simple skin up the glacier to Grand Mountet we battled through moraine for an hour - it was a relief to finally put skis on. 

Day 5: After an very comfortable night at the Mountet hut we skinned up to the Arete du Blanc - an amazing feature on the north ridge of the Zinal Rothorn. Then, skis on for a huge descent, weaving a way through seracs and rock bands all the way down the glacier on excellent spring snow, a great end to the week. 

On the Arete du blanc

Skiing beneath the Obergabelhorn

There are lots more photos here

Arolla Zermatt Ski Tour

~ Wednesday 6th April 2011

After blowing the cobwebs off my little skis and bendy boots we set off for lunch in Zermatt via Bertol and Tete Blanche. For most of the winter I've been skiing in big touring boots and wide skis - excellent for the downhills but it's not "all about the down". It's amazing how much difference lightweight gear and a daypack makes on the uphill. A pre-dawn start meant we made the long slog to Bertol in the shade, emerging into a cold wind which became a freezing gale by Tete Blanche. Luckily, we found perfect conditions on the Stockji glacier with fast, firm snow and soon we were eating pizza in Zermatt before the train ride home.  

Col de Bertol

Skiing past Tete Blanche

Haute Route

~ Sunday 3rd April 2011

Things started well with blue skies but the weather turned in the afternoon of day 1, making the planned Grand Lui variant out of the question. Instead we had a great ski down the Val d'Arpette in fresh snow, and taxied to la Fouly. With the return of good weather we managed a delicate stage through to St Bernard only to be foiled again by the weather - plan B saw us skinning from Bourg to the Vélan hut, passing the site of the terrible avalanche accident the previous weekend. Early morning cold meant fast progress the next day, up past Valsorey and over the Plateau du Couloir with no-one else around all the way to Chanrion. Another wild day followed, climbing the deserted and trackless Serpentine glacier on the Pigne d'Arolla and skiing to the Vignettes, where it was a shock to rejoin the hordes for the final stage...

Col des Écandies

Above la Fouly

Climb to Plateau du Couloir

Serpentine glacier

Pigne summit

Bivio Ski Touring

~ Saturday 26th March 2011

 An excellent week in Bivio with the Eagle Ski Club. Bivio has a small lift system with good off piste and excellent day touring, plus stunning views to the Bernina and Bregaglia.

Despite some very windblown snow we still found powder every day, and finished the week with a night at the Jengatsch hut and a fantastic descent from the Piz Agnel - 1400m of powder and then perfect spring snow. 

Pix Turba

Ca, c'est du peigne!

Climbing Pix Surparé

Ski off Tschima da Flix

Descent from Tschima da Flix

 Lots more pictures here

Ski Touring Arolla

~ Saturday 19th March 2011

Our Monta Rosa plans were scuppered by bad weather - plan B saw us heading to the Aiguilles Rouges hut, skinning across heather and grass in thick cloud. All very Cairngorm. Higher up the snow was better and after a quick tea in the hut we boldly headed up into the clouds again, eventually reaching the Col de Vouasson. There was some great snow...but awful visibility. An excellent meal and comfy night - we were the only people in the hut. 

Plenty of snow here

Next day the weather was worse...tricky route finding across to the Vallon des Ignes was rewarded by and excellent ski as we dropped out of the cloud, fresh tracks in good snow down a deserted valley. Well worth the effort. 

Telemark turns in powder

Beneath les Ignes

Excited by Friday's blue skies  we headed up the Pigne d'Arolla. At the col des Vignettes it became obvious that the endless heliskiers plus the wind and sun had left some dubious snow on the Pigne, so we went for plan B...col de l'Eveque and the Arolla glacier. This was a great journey - we saw no-one from the Vignettes to Arolla. Tough conditions past the Eveque with strong NW wind led eventually to perfect powder beneath Mont Collon. 

Col de L'Eveque

Windy!

Ski Touring Arolla

~ Saturday 12th March 2011

 Excellent skiing the last 2 days on the Col des Ignes and Pointe de Vouasson. The top lift at Arolla has broken down so there's an extra 45 minutes of skinning but it meant the the area was deserted - we saw 2 other tourers all day. The lift broke when someone slalomed the wrong side of a pylon, breaking a crucial piece which has to be specially made. The ski area team have worked extra hard this year to keep the skiing in great shape and it's a real pity that a moment's silliness can ruin the busiest weekend of the season for them.

Surprisingly for a winter with very little snow the Cassorte couloir is well filled and - steeply! - skiable, and we were able to ski all the way to the café in la Gouille for well earned chips. 

Broken ski lift

Cassorte couloir

Col des Ignes NE side

 Yesterday we set off for the long haul up the Pointe de Vouasson - 1600m from the road and much of it in the sun, so it felt like a long way. Worth the effort though - the north facing descent to Evolene was still good with fresh powder and good snow on the steep bit. Excellent. 

 Spring snow!

NE face Pointe de Vouasson

Ski Touring Verbier

~ Wednesday 9th March 2011

 After a slightly challenging 2 days in the Verbier lift system it was a relief to be back touring today...Whilst excellent the 4 Valleys area gets skied out very quickly and at the moment seems to be either rock-hard piste or bumps. Combined with the holiday queues this isn't ideal...

Yesterday we saw the Mont Fort North East face from beneath and it looked good. It was, boot up to the summit cross and the crowds were left behind for an excellent steep ski on good skied-out spring snow. A quick skin up the Rosablanche, lots of fresh tracks down, then Col de Prafleuri and more fresh tracks. Skate round the dam and then down into the land of bumps and queues!

 

Mont Fort summit and Grand Combin

View towards Pantalons Blanc, La Sale, Pleureur, Cheilon

Grimentz and Zinal Skiing

~ Saturday 5th March 2011

 I spent last week at the excellent Hotel Moiry in Grimentz with the Eagle Ski Club. This is a regular event in the Eagle calendar and so we were able to book a big dump of fresh snow for the start of the week - and of course 5 days of blue skies to follow...fantastic conditions on and off piste and a lot of fresh tracks!

The group split into 2 doing alternate days of ski intruction with Tom Saxlund of New Generation Skiing and Alison Culshaw from BASS, and guided skiing with me. The result was an impressive improvement in everyone's skiing and an eye-opening first try of some wider skis for some! 

Avalanche activity in the Orxival valley - left one is skier released

Fresh tracks and smiles

Chamois couloir, Zinal

Col de Louché, Grimentz

Bec des Bossons hut

Ice Climbing

~ Tuesday 22nd February 2011

 Two more excellent days ice climbing - Sunday on the Cascade des Ignes had something of a Scottish feel to it with non-stop snowfall and spindrift. Good climbing though on this remote and beautiful icefall. Worth the walk - and definitely worth taking snowshoes or skis. Anyone expecting to find the bolt belay will be disappointed - it's under several feet of ice, so go prepared to top out, or make threads to abseil. There's an old peg belay too but it leaves you hanging in space...

After 3 days of peace and quiet in Arolla we went to Chamonix on Monday, timing our visit to coincide with the first powder skiing for 6 weeks and the usual Grands Montets queue chaos. Luckily there was no-one climbing and we had a great day on Nuits Blanches, which seemed to tick the "something a bit more challenging" box for John. This is still in great condition and we've swept all the fresh snow off it now...Thanks to Rob Jarvis of High Mountain Guides for the picture - he stuck his head over the edge to find me sweeping snow and cursing hot aches on the top pitch. 

Evolene Ice Climbing

~ Saturday 19th February 2011

More ice today, this time on the excellent Grand Casdade d'Evolene (or the Coop Icefall) Strangely there is almost no snow below the route so the usual snow plod has been replaced by hard frozen ground covered in larch needles - a surface which seems to give even less friction than ice. Once at the route the climbing was great - hard but good ice and lots of it. 

Top of the route with Evolene below

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Friday 18th February 2011

 Back in Arolla today - blue skies and perfect ice conditions. The skiing isn't brilliant at the moment but the tunnel ice routes were better than I've ever seen them. We finished the day top-roping the free standing pillar which has formed off the roof of the avalanche protection - road-side ice!

 

Chamonix Ice Climbing

~ Wednesday 16th February 2011

 When high winds and the end of the spell of settled weather frustrated our mountaineering plans we found ourselves heading for the classic Chamonix  Ice Climb "Les Nuits Blanches". Not bad for a plan B - quick access walking up the piste from Grands Montets mid station leads to 2 abseils in to the route. Steep ice always looks steeper from an abseil rope and this was no exception. Luckily, though steep, the climbing follows an intricate line weaving between amazing mushroom formations, with plenty of rests. 

Abseiling...

Second pitch

Near the top

 

 

Couloir des Toilettes

~ Sunday 13th February 2011

 The name is a bit misleading now the Vignettes hut has been modernised, but if you ever looked down the hole of the old toilets...yes, it's the obvious gully below the (in)famous "long drop"! The main track on the Glacier des Pieces currently leads very close under the Pigne seracs - it's well worth keeping to the left going up. 

Teams passing very close under seracs...

Funky sculpture on the glacier

Nice little sculpture on the big rock on the glacier!

The entry to the gully is fairly steep, convex, shady, lee slope, and leads to a 700m couloir...so not a place for dodgy conditions. 

The top

 The snow today was lovely for 5 turns...then crusty with huge sastrugi...then very firm the rest of the way down - easy to ski but important not to fall... 

In the firing line!

Narrower and steeper low down

Tsena Refien

~ Friday 11th February 2011

 More nice turns today on this big face - the one up and left on the way to the Pas de Chevre. Strangely no-one has been up here for a while so no up track meant lots of plodding, but it was all worth it. Some really nice snow. 

The big news is possible FRESH SNOW forecast on tuesday! 

Looking down...

 

Tsalion Couloir

~ Monday 7th February 2011

 The long spell of dry weather means some very stable snow for steeper skiing - today the Tsalion Couloir in Arolla. This is a local classic, not that steep but it's a long way up from Arolla...

Surprisingly firm snow - I climbed in crampons all the way - and a few rocks to avoid in the top section, but otherwise a good ski. Even the inevitable battle through the woods back to the village wasn't too bad...

Here's an excellent video by local guide Gilles Sierro of the obvious righthand branch - the Genolet couloir. 

Looking back up the couloir

Bit rocky at the top

 

 

Grimentz and Zinal

~ Monday 7th February 2011

 Another good week in Grimentz and Zinal. Despite the very dry winter the skiing is holding up well here. Excellent piste and off piste, and even the odd pocket of powder - though not quite British Columbian standards...

Good snow skiing to the Moiry dam

Steep entry to the Abondance descent

 

Grimentz and Zinal

~ Saturday 29th January 2011

 Off-piste in Zinal and Grimentz for most of last week. This is a great area and still has some untracked snow - incredible as it hasn't snowed for a month. To be fair there is a fair amount of crust as well....

A big thankyou to Eric and Penny at the superb SkiZinal Chalet Edelweis - fantastic food and a very good sleep - and all at the foot of the best off-piste descent in Zinal!

Credit due also to the ski area workers who have managed to keep the pistes in excellent condition. 

Sadly, I've discovered that my new camera isn't waterproof, so no pictures...

Winter Season Availability

~ Friday 28th January 2011

The winter season is nearly fully booked now but we still have a few dates available for climbing or skiing:

- 6-11 February: ice climbing, off-piste or ski touring

- 6-9 March: off-piste, ski touring or mountaineering

- 18-23rd April: off-piste, ski touring or mountaineering

- May...

Contact by e-mail or phone for details...

Repentance

~ Wednesday 19th January 2011

 ...the famous Cogne ice climb. Excellent conditions there yesterday. We made the long trek south to try to beat the warm weather that's stripped so much of the ice around here. The base of Repentance is at 2100m and in the shade. Plenty of brittle icicles, some very wet bits and no recent ascents meant some hard work, but the ice was very good. A painful 4am start from Evolene was worth it - we were first there, just in  front of a french team. 

A very wet Graeme Ettle arrives at the first belay

The French team climbing as we abseiled

French guys on the top pitch

Ski Touring Arolla

~ Monday 17th January 2011

 It's been long time since it snowed but there's still some powder to ski...today on the Pallanche the sunny side was terrible - well skied and re-frozen crust. We walked 100m down the north ridge from the summit and skied down the valley to L'A Vieille, finding 600 vertical metres of untouched powder - perfect. All that remained was 1000m of perfect crust to the road....hmmm. 

Because it's worth it

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Wednesday 5th January 2011

Great ice climbing on the Coop icefall in Evolene today. After a few cold nights the ice was very hard but the route is in good condition. 

Owain Jones on the first pitch

James Harrison on the steep right hand variation

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