Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Zinal/Grimentz

~ Saturday 28th December 2013

 Big snowfalls over Christmas have left great piste conditions in the Val d'Anniviers and some good off piste - but it's still pretty thin and rocky! Careful skiing needed, and careful route choice. Lots of the regular descents are just too rocky to ski safely, and the recently much talked about weak snowpack is very unstable, with lots of slab avalanches on all aspects. 

Skier released slab not far from the Grand plan lift...

Surface cracks, a sure sign of hidden weak layers

Chamois piste

Tignes/Val d'Isere

~ Thursday 19th December 2013

 Challenging conditions in the Tarentaise but there was still some good skiing - reward for battling through a lot of crusty, windblown snow! Not surpringly some of the classic descents of the area were deserted, giving a remote feel to the skiing in the Sache, Tour of the Pramecou, Col Pers, Cugnai, etc. 

Dome de Pramecou

 

 

Val d'Isere/Tignes

~ Monday 16th December 2013

Skiing in Val d'Isere and Tignes this week in some challenging conditions. Great piste snow, but off piste things are "variable". Always worth trying though, and there's been some really good skiing. Pics on Facebook

Fingers crossed for more snow on Thursday!

Arolla Ice Conditions

~ Friday 13th December 2013

 Things are building nicely now, and teams were out this afternoon at la Gouille (bravely) and the tunnel routes. 

Brave man on transparent ice - from the road you can see flowing water behind the ice. 

team on tunnel right hand

tunnel left hand route

Ski News

~ Friday 13th December 2013

There's more snow in the Alps than in Scotland...but only just! Hopefully Santa will bring some more - there's a glimmer of hope for next Thursday but the forecast is only saying "light precipitation". 

In the meantime, there's plenty of firm piste skiing to do! Touring-wise there's some good snow around but - beware! - it's just a thin covering over rocks. Today at the Pas de Chevre it was only just skiable back down, lots of tiptoeing!

Great views from la Forclaz

The long period of dry cold is producing some fine suface hoar. Nice to look at, worrying when it gets buried by the next snowfall .

 

 

Dynafit TLT6 Boots

~ Tuesday 26th November 2013

First day out in the new Dynafit TLT6 today - mainly because my trusty old TLT5s exploded yesterday!

Note: this is the rare GF model.

A loud bang and the spoiler hinge gave up...which meant tricky left turns all the way home. Happily, Dynafit sell spare spoilers (do lots of them break?) so the TLT5s aren't finished yet. Getting the replacement ordered was the usual Swiss "customer service" experience. This used to be a shock, but now I'm used to the process. Having distracted the staff from shelf arranging you should expect a good 10 minutes of being told off for using your expensive boots (what are they for?) followed by disapproving comments on the "worn-out" state of your expensive boots, before finally they finally concede that they could possibly just order a new bit, you'll have it  by Friday, is that everything sir? 

Anyway, new boots...TLT6 seems at first glance very similar to the old 5, which was a huge step forward in touring boot design. Finally, a light boot that skinned, skied - even big skis - and climbed! The main difference in the new boot is the lack of forefoot flex. To be honest I never really noticed the flex on the old boot (but then my previous touring boot was the super-bendy Scarpa F3) but the lack of it in the new boot is very obvious. The boot feels much stiffer and more "skiable" even without the tongues in. 

Apparently the shell is wider too. I've fitted into a smaller shell than in the 5 (28.5 instead of 29) and I'll need the shell stretching a bit around the forefoot (I have broad feet) but fit is otherwise much better. 

Buckles are better and feel more solid. Double hinge on the top buckle is a minor improvement, but the front one now stays shut when skinning too, yippee! Remains to be seen if the rivets last - I'm on my 5th replacement buckle on the 5s. 

The boot feels stiffer already without the flex - mine are the Performance with the carbon cuff. Adding the soft green tongue makes it feel like the old boot with the tongue in. The new stiff black tongue is really stiff! I haven't tried yet but it feels like it should cope well with a bigger ski. 

So overall impression after 1 day skinning and skiing is that it's like the old boot but better, which is exactly what fans of the old boot wanted. Phew!

 

oooh, Arolla

~ Tuesday 26th November 2013

 Silly blog titles but more nice skiing and great weather this morning at Arolla. There are teams hard at work getting the ski area ready for the season - this is the unseen work that goes on out of season but is still paid for by the skipass. It's easy to forget how much work is needed to put a ski area together!

More snow for the weekend apparently!

PLUM bindings 

Mrs Frostguiding getting distracted from interval training

ahhh...Arolla

~ Monday 25th November 2013

 Yet again it was brilliant at Arolla today. Busy, with 3 other people out, but otherwise great skiing in lovely weather. Plenty of skinning and fresh tracks on the descent. Great start to the PDG preparation. 

Arcteryx Atom Jackets in brownian motion

 

Every good day has a river crossing

Every good day has a river crossing

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Sunday 24th November 2013

 Great weather and some good snow today on the Pallanche de la Crettaz. Snow cover is still (obviously) thin in places but there's some good skiing. 

Arcteryx Clothing

~ Tuesday 19th November 2013

 Santa came early today with a big parcel from Arcteryx. I've been using bit of their kit for a while now and it's hard to think of much to say- which is a good thing! It fits. It works. It lasts.

My Atom LT  Hoody was bought deliberately big (XL) to fit over other layers, but everything else is size large and the fit seems consistent through the range. Fury ski pants skied maybe 75 days last winter with barely a mark on them. The BMG logo'd Gamma MX Hoody and jacket are great and also unscathed after lots of hard use, summer and winter. If anything it's too warm for summer alpine use so I've got a Gamma SL Hybrid for warm days...and for cold days the Atom SV Hoody. For legs, the Gamma AR trousers are great, and not black! 

 

 

Rock Climbing in Wales!

~ Tuesday 19th November 2013

 Yes, in November! Just back from a great trip, thanks everyone for tea, cake and sofas to sleep on. 2 days climbing were a bonus. 

The team approaching Gogarth Main Cliff.

Next day we went to Tremadog, climbed Vector and Valour. Luckily it got dark before we could do any other routes starting with "V"

Linking the first 2 pitches of Vector to avoid leading the last pitch

Seconding the excitingly damp top pitch.

Autumn Skiing

~ Thursday 7th November 2013

 Loads of snow recently and perfect weather today so it looked like time for another trip up the Pigne d'Arolla. Last time it was dry all the way to 2700m, then perfect spring snow. This time we skinned from the car park. Good conditions on the way up, but not ideal for coming down...calf-deep crust over boulders on the lower part - nice! Lovely pic-nic in the sun at the Col des Vignettes though. 

Pretending not to be an Arcteryx advert...wearing Atom LT Hoody and M-270 Harness

Dent de Perroc, Aiguille de la Tsa and Douves Blanches

Mont Collon, Eveque

 

Good skiing on the glacier

Good skiing on the Glacier

 

Tracks say it all. No point pretending it was powder. 

Autumn News

~ Monday 4th November 2013

 Snow down to 1800m yesterday, and more forecast...

Ski season is booking up fast but there are still a few dates available. 

New lift in Grimentz to look forward to. Will it be finished in time for the season? They're spending CHF25million so you don't have to get the bus anymore! Because you're worth it. But then you won't be allowed to ski the mines face anymore either...

Patrouille des Glaciers training progressing slowly but surely. 

 

Nearly Winter...

~ Friday 25th October 2013

Beautiful weather in the alps at the moment, but after doing 3 days ski work in Saas Fee at the beginning of the week, thoughts are turning to winter. The dreaded Facebook is excellent for photos, no idea why I resisted for so long. Here's a few highlights from the last 2 winters. 

 

Patrouille des Glaciers

~ Wednesday 16th October 2013

 It's official, we have a confirmed Patrouille des Glaciers entry. Gulp.

Looks like a winter of plenty of this

and much less of this

Photo: Tea time!

I pinched the cake pic from Judes CupCakes which is why it doesn't fit...

 

Douves Blanches Arete

~ Thursday 10th October 2013

Sometimes the weather forecast really ruins your plans. On Tuesday morning it was saying good all day then terrible for the rest of the week, perfect for our blast up the Pigne with a nice rest promised afterwards. Sadly, by Tuesday evening "they" had decided that Wednesday would also be nice, the bad weather delayed til Thursday. Oh well, it seemed a shame to miss the sunny day so Tuesday's tired legs were slapped and forced up hill again. It was worth it. 

The first of several pinnacles

The Douves Blanches is the impressive ridge on your left as you walk to the Bertol hut, an Arolla classic, with fine exposed climbing and generally very good rock. Unusually for the Alps there's no obvious hut to start from - Bertol is a good 2 hours further uphill from the start - so a bivvy or walk-in from the valley make sense. Finding the start isn't easy - it goes up some unlikely-looking ground immediately left of the huge slabs below the "Quille". Once on the ridge it's all pretty obvious though...

Route description superfluous 

Fine climbing high up

Probably the crux, an awkward little traverse followed by a steep corner. There's very little fixed gear on the route but there are a few pegs around here. 

Brilliant scrambling to finish, increasing cloud adding (unnecessary) extra atmosphere. The descent is quick and obvious with some loose downclimbing to reach the glacier, then a quick trot down snow to the col. Or so we thought. In fact the glacier was very wet knee deep slog. The col de la Tsa gets steeper every visit and needed an Abalokov thread abseil. From there it's quick and easy down the glacier, find the stashed trainers, and off down the path to the car hoping it rains tomorrow. 

First Turns of the Winter

~ Tuesday 8th October 2013

 Autumn. Time for diggng the potatoes and thinking about skiing...

Happily the Frostguiding parents dug spuds while we went skiing!

Spuds

It's a long way up the Pigne d'Arolla but it says "race" on my new skis and bindings, so no excuses. Starting in trainers from the car seemed a bit odd, but I was sure that the glacier would be snowy having snowshoed up it a couple of weeks back. In fact there's way less snow now, and we didn't get skis on until around 2800m. From there it was skis all the way except for a short bit through the rocks, snow softening nicely all the time and promising a good ski...

Uphill skiing

Skinning through the rocks , Vignettes in the background

Perfect spring/autumn snow!

 

More perfect spring through the rocks back down to the Col des Vignettes. 

Baffled-looking bloke in ski kit. Where's the snow gone? 

Winter already?

~ Monday 7th October 2013

 Snow forecast to 1000m at the end of the week. Might be time to dig the skis out from the back of the cellar? 

Facebook

~ Saturday 5th October 2013

 Well, we held out for years but in the end resistance was futile. You can now find us on Facebook... 

Pouring rain today, but snow high up so maybe some early skiing this week...

Great pictures and news on the Yakshuloche site too. Look at the brilliant cloud pictures

 

PLUM Ski Bindings

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

PLUM are the new big name in lightweight ski bindings and the clear leader in the race to better the already brilliant class leader Dynafit now their patent has expired. Where Dynafit have diversified and added  running and biking kit and clothing to their existing huge range, chez PLUM it's pretty much bindings only (oh, and some terrifying roller skis) The PLUM tag-line is "100% made in chez nous" and it's true. I visited the factory last week and saw the whole process - huge aluminium bars (OK, it's German aluminium) come in one end and finished bindings leave at the other. Inside, CNC machines run 24/7 making the component parts (80 pieces in a Guide binding!) Only a few bits, like springs, are bought in. It's all very high tech and I expected to see a robot assembly line putting it all together, but in the fact there are just 2 blokes in a small workshop who make every single binding (and brake, roller ski, and mounting jig) by hand! Sometimes a third guy comes in to lend a hand, but otherwise just 2 guys make 12000 bindings a year!

Anyway, I'm now the happy owner of the Race 165 binding. When will it snow? 

Poor "spot the fruit" joke. PLUM rhymes with "room", not "drum". Doh. 

Chandolin Vertical KM Race

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

Running uphill isn't everyone's idea of Saturday fun, but a surprising number of people seem to like it(!) A lot of them were in Chandolin yesterday for the Vertical KM race. This was the second year of the event, and sadly this year it was run in memory of David Salamin, the  runner, skier, climber who died with Ludovic Rey in a fall on the Weisshorn recently. In a fitting tribute the mens' 1KM race was won by friends of his who crossed the line together, joint winners. 

A certain Janine Frost was also running...

 

Aravis Rock

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

Just to the west of the Mont Blanc range lies the beautiful Aravis region with top quality walking, mountain biking and lots of perfect limestone climbing. We walked up to the Pointe Percée hut and climbed a short route on the Gramusset face on the first day. 

...before enjoying another amazing sunset. 

The next day we set off for the classic Arete du Doigt on the pointe Percée - 12 pitches up a fine ridge with stunning positions and a steep and exposed aid pitch to finish. Top quality. 

Pigne d'Arolla on Snowshoes

~ Sunday 22nd September 2013

 After the knee-deep ploughing on Tuesday we decided it might be wise to take snowshoes for the Pigne d'Arolla traverse. They're a nuisance to carry if you don't need them so it was a gamble, but it paid off - on the shady aspects the snow had hardly consolidated and we'd have been knee deep again. 

snowshoeing up the glacier des Pieces

We were the only ones in the winter room at the Vignettes, which is nowadays very cosy with a great log-burning stove. Evenings are long in winter rooms and there's not much to do, but then we were treated to a stunning sunset and some frantic photography. In the middle of this a lone chamois crossed the col de Chermontane, and a weasel peaked in through the hut window. Not a bad evening! Plenty of pics here as I couldn't choose the best ...

No Photoshoppery either...

The next day dawned in spectacular fashion...

and we set off up the Pigne. No-one else in sight, no tracks in the mountains, a perfect day. The summit was cold and windy though!

summit of Pigne d'Arolla

Descending the Dix side was untracked and snowshoes were again useful. We swapped them for crampons on the Mur de la Serpentine, the back to snowshoes for the rest. 

Crampons for the Mur de la Serpentine

It's important that your snowshoes match your rucksack. 

All was going very smoothly until...

Happily a shaken, not stirred, Jim was hauled out of the hole. Fresh snow + wind = thinly covered crevasses!

Moiry

~ Wednesday 18th September 2013

Winter has arrived early this year! Last week's snowy and cold weather has continued, with lots more snow. With fingers crossed we went to Moiry on Monday for the friendly welcome and usual huge meal, plus a kilt-wearing Canadian - you don't meet many of them!

On Tuesday the weather quickly improved but we were knee-deep on the glacier and abandoned plans for the Pointes de Mourti. The Pigne de la Lé providing more than enough trail breaking. 

Sun and snow

The other team swimming up the NW ridge

Full conditions in Coire nan Moiry

Nice patterns in the top lake. 

Mont Vélan

~ Saturday 14th September 2013

 This is the peak above the Grand St Bernard pass, "only" 3700 but stunning views, rarely climbed ridges and a great welcome at the Vélan hut more than make up for a few metres of height. With cold and fresh snow affecting conditions on the higher mountains it seemed like a good bet. We climbed the La Gouille ridge in great firm snow, the only people on the route...

The la Gouille Ridge is the skyline. At the col, turn right...

Summit view. Not Bad. 

Dent (very) Blanche

~ Saturday 14th September 2013

 Ah, la Dent Blanche, emblem of the Val d'Hérens and one of the best "normal" routes on any 4000m peak in the Alps. If the rumours are true it's mis-named after a mapdrawing error and should be called the Dent d'Hérens. After all, it's in the val d'Hérens, and isn't usually that white. This week however, the White Tooth seemed a pretty appropriate name...

With poor weather on Sunday we made along approach via Bertol, where we enjoyed an excellent night and a huge lasagne. The weather at 5am the following day was distinctly uninspiring so we went back to bed and started late for the Rossier hut. Luckily the clouds cleared and left us with a stunning trek in fresh snow over Tete (very) Blanche. 

Dent Rose

Dent Blanche

The next day saw just 4 of us set off for the Dent Blanche south ridge. It was cold and windy, and the other 2 soon turned back leaving us alone on the mountain. Climbing conditions were good, if a bit chilly...

 

Cold Couloir

Recent snow has left the couloir in good conditions, climbing on snow all the way. 

Not too cold on the sunny side. 

Very cold in the shade

This is near the end of the difficulties. Just a long pitch up a corner remains. It seems to me there's a new bolt belay and an new bolt above it in the final corner. Why? Why not just turn the whole thing into a clip-up? When will they fix a via ferrata cable the whole way? 

 

cold on top too. 

Still cold on the way down. 

The wide crack above the couloir. Still cold. 

La Dent Froide. 

 

Matterhorn

~ Saturday 7th September 2013

A few weeks ago we were passing time trying to name famous Belgians. Is Eddy Merckx Belgian? Does Tintin count? Anyway, Thursday provided aclear winner - Ernst Solvay, of course! Who? Solvay was definitely Belgian, a sickly child who suffered from pleurisy (because he didnae wear his wellies?) He spent his childhood in the hospital or infirmary and wasn't allowed to go to university. Still, he invented the conveniently named Solvay process and became very rich, so it turned out all right in the end. In later life he took up mountaineering, became concerned with the lack of shelter high in the mountains and funded the construction of the little shed which today bears his name, which leads us neatly to the Matterhorn last week. Phew. 

The fixed rope on Pollux, perfect Matterhorn practice

We started the week with an ascent of Pollux and a nice night at the Ayas hut, then returned to Zermatt over the half Breithorn traverse in excellent weather. 

Suitably warmed-up and ready for a go we walked in to the Hornli hut on Wednesday. The hut is being rebuilt, and will be completely closed next summer, so climbing the Matterhorn next year will need some  cunning planning.

An early start and some tricky climbing in the dark is the typical start to Matterhorn days. The climb begins just 5 mins from the hut, which means about 25 minutes after waking up. 

Dawn. Phew. 

Upper Moseley slab

The Upper Moseley slab is probably the technical crux, and leads to the Solvay hut at 4000m. The second highest toilet in the Alps. 

Solvay hut

You're now at 4000m, over half the height gain but about halfway in time to the summit - you slow down above here due to altitude. It's a good time to take stock - with the descent typically taking longer than the ascent, your time to Solvay will be less than a quarter of total up-and-down time, so more than 3 hours to Solvay means you're in for at least a 13+ hour round trip. We took the prudent choice and turned back. The Matterhorn will still be there next year (even if the hut isn't!)

Back at the hut, construction and wacky heli-craning was going on flat out, right next to the busy hut terrace.

 

Sanetsch Rock Climbing

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

 Hooray! A day off that at last coincided with good weather and a keen climbing partner. Sanetsch has yet to disappoint - perfect rock, fine setting, great climbing and amazing views back to the high mountains across the valley. 

Talker gets stuck into pitch 2. 

Steep on pitch 3!

Steeper on pitch 4!

Looking back down  pitch 4

 

Besso, Grand Mountet

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

 We dodged showers and managed some good rock climbing on Tuesday - 6 pitches of Terry at Miéville, finshing just as it started raining, then some good single pitches at Dorénaz (It never rains at Dorénaz)

On Wednesday the forecast at last gave some hope, and we made the long ascent to the lovely Grand Mountet hut. This hut sits in one of the most impressive spots in the Alps, with stunning views of the Zinal 4000m peaks, and a fine herd of friendly Ibex. As the cloud cleared it was obvious that there was a lot of snow high up, so we changed plans for the lower Besso, which promised excellent technical ground on good rock. We weren't disappointed! After a bit of a slog up rough ground on the approach, the route quickly gains a fine position on the ridge with great climbing on solid red rock. The route is pretty obvious ( for once the AC guidebook is useful!) and is liberally marked with red paint dots! 

Early morning low on the Besso SW ridge

Tiny climbers on Besso

From the Besso summit you can retrace steps, but we continued on the the fine ridge to the Blanc de Moming. Seen from Besso it looks like an hour's scrambling but in fact it's a long and complex ridge with several pinnacles to deal with, a fair bit of "a cheval" shuffling, and huge exposure!

The airy edge of the first pinnacle

Looking back to Besso and climbers on the "a cheval" descent"

The snow ridge to Blanc de Moming

After a "proper" day on Thursday we opted for a shorter morning route on Friday - the excellent Mammouth traverse. This starts 10 minute from the hut and would hopefully leave time and legs for the long afternoon walk-out. 

Dent de Rosses, Moiry

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

With a mixed forecast for the  start of the week we went up to the Moiry hut hoping to find good climbing on the lower peaks. The Moiry glacier is still one of the best places around for a crampon technique session, and there's some excellent rock climbing on the crags behind the hut. 

Monday dawned clear - better than forecast - with a dusting of fresh snow providing some slippery climbing on the Pointes de Mourti-Dent de Rosses traverse. 

Abseil off the Pointe de Mourti

 

The Point de Mourti now has a bolted ab point on the summit

Long rope on wet glaciers!

Dent de Tsalion

~ Saturday 24th August 2013

 As a finale to a great week it's hard to beat the Dent de Tsalion west ridge - an Arolla classic. We had a pleasant morning rock climbing at the Chapel St Bartolémy crag near la Gouille - the Satarma crag is closed at the moment for rock stabilising work (and several routes will be a bit shorter when it reopens!) It's a short and pleasant 1.5 hour walk to the Tsa hut, where we enjoyed a HUGE meal on the terrace in the evening sun. 

From the hut the route is clearly visible, just an hour's walk on a bouldery track to the start. However, the West Ridge is developing a bit of a reputation - yes, it's short with only 600m height gain, low altitude, short approach, solid rock, etc, but there's really no easy ground on the route so 600m means a lot of climbing. At AD in the British guide I think it's a bit of a sandbag. The guidebook description isn't that helpfull anyway - "stay on the crest" would do. There are several "proper" grade 4 pitches low down, with a couple more high on the route (You can avoid some of the lower pitches by starting further right on broken and loose-ish ground) In response to a series of accidents and benightments the local guides added bolts to the hard bits a couple of years ago (keen blog readers may remember..."don't mention the bolts!") Lots of it is of course very protectable with a set of wires, slings and a couple of medium Friends. Lots of it is slabby and hard in big boots, so consider taking a pair of climbing shoes. 

Tsa shadows

Ah, the sun at last!

The final few metres

From the top of the Tsalion the Aiguille de la Tsa is temptingly close and you're going to walk past it on the way home anyway. A few pitches of nice climbing on good orange rock reaches this excellent summit, with fine views back down the Tsalion ridge as a reward - as well as the Matterhorn, Dent d'Hérens, Dent Blanche, Monta Rosa, Pigne, Cheilon, etc, etc...We left our 'sacks at the bottom, sadly with the camera attached, so no pictures. 

4x25m abseils reach the base, and a quick walk down the fairly crevassed glacier gains the Col de la Tsa. This is icy now, with a big bergschrund to catch fallers, so we made a big bollard and abseiled 25m down the ice. There were several recent Abalokov threads here - 2 of them pulled out by hand, so beware re-using old threads! All that remained was the long walk down the Bertol zig-zags. A great day. 

 

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Friday 23rd August 2013

 Back in the Val d'Hérens this week and my first visit of the summer to the Cabane des Dix, where the new guardians are doing a great job in their first season - it can't be easy following on from Pierre and Béatrice, who ran the Dix for 12 years. Poor weather in the afternoon left some fresh snow and surprisingly cold temperatures (it's still August!) but we climbed the Cheilon normal route in great conditions. It was amazingly quiet, with only 2 other teams. The winter route is still fine for descent too, and is a quick way off the mountain. 

Next day, hoping for sunny, warm rock, we drove up to Bréona. After a quick chat with the farmer we saw no-one all day, great climbing - and it was warm!

Oberland 4000m Peaks

~ Saturday 17th August 2013

 Back in the Oberland again this week, my fourth visit of the summer. Again, we made the scenic approach up the Aletsch glacier, this time dry glacier all the way to the hut with a fair bit of zig-zagging around huge open holes. Quite a contrast to the earlier trip. Walking up the Aletsch is a great way to approach the Oberland but it's a long way. You're walking "upstream", and when you're halfway there it's easy to start thinking the glacier may be flowing downhill faster than the official 180m per year

Still, we made it. On Tuesday we set off into a dark and depressing rainy morning, the only people in the hut who took early breakfast. The darkest hour is just before the dawn...but then the sun came out and it all seemed like fun! Great conditions saw rapid progress up the Grunegghorn and fine panorama of a deserted Oberland. From the summit a quick downclimb leads to a col and the fine summit ridge of the Gross Grunhorn - great climbing and spectacular positions. 

 Great climbing on the Grunhorn summit ridge

Descending to the col before traversing the Grunegghorn

Wednesday morning saw some company at early breakfast. Soon however we were alone battling through the lower icefall to reach the aptly named Ewigschneefeld. (translate as "eternal" or "never-ending" snowfield depending on mood) We met another team turning back from the Fieschersettel ascent - not a promising sign - but pushed on up steep snow and found a good alternative exit up rocks on the right. Some enjoyable climbing on solid red rock, and we were on the Gross Fiescherhorn summit! The descent to the Finsteraarhorn hut is fast and direct but needs some careful crevasse avoidance lower down - all quite exciting ground!

 We came through there! Reaching the upper Fiescherfirn

 

Grunhorn and Fiescherhorns at dawns

Dawn over the Grunhorns and Fiescherhorns

Day 4 and the team was sadly down to 2, number 3s' knees having succumbed to Oberlanditis. Perfect conditions, fast progress, stunning views and a spectacular finale up the Finsteraarhorn summit ridge - a great day.

Superb positions on the summit ridge

View to Lauteraar and the Grimsel pass

Descending, with the swiss 4000s on the horizon

All that remained was the long walk home - a scenic trip back over the Grunhornlucke to Konkordia and down the Aletsch glacier (this time with the flow)

As well as being the longest alpine glacier, the Aletsch is home to the last population of the very rare Alpine Mole, and they've been active in the recent warm weather. 

Fun

~ Sunday 11th August 2013

 Mark Twight said "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun"...but it certainly helps!

After 3 pitches on Friday we decided it definitely wasn't fun, and went home. 

Today it was very different, a perfect day on the Couronne de Bréona. 

 

Rock Climbing!

~ Wednesday 7th August 2013

 After recent adventures on some variable mountain "rock" it was a pleasure yesterday to climb at the unflatteringly named Pisse Vache. 10 pitches of perfect rock in a lovely setting. 

Lay-backing the flake on pitch 2 of Bravo Lap

High above Martigny on pitch 9

Alphubel Rotgrat

~ Monday 5th August 2013

 Perfect conditions today on the Alphubel Rotgrat - warm-ish but a clear night still froze the snow, and the rock was dry. 

Early morning on the Rotgrat

Climbing the "easier than it looks" corner

There's a quick and easy descent down the normal route but we chose to go down the South Ridge Eisnase. This looked to be still in good snowy condition - but sadly the snow was only 2 inches thick, which made for a tricky frontpoint down-climb. 

Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla Traverse

~ Saturday 3rd August 2013

It's back to normal summer conditions in the Alps - hot and sweaty and a big change from the snowy mixed we found on Tuesday! With a stable forecast and a team who've done all the usual classics, we headed up to the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla traverse for guaranteed adventure. This is one of the (in)famous Arolla traverses - it's in the 100 best routes coffee table books but no-one I know seems to have done it, and a reputation for length, mystery and looseness adds to the intrigue. It's Gabbro though, so should be like the Cuillin? Only one way to find out...and so we found ourselves at the lovely Aiguilles Rouges hut.  Newly privatised and now run by a local association, this is a great place to spend the night. Great food, friendly welcome - all good except that we'd chosen Swiss national day which meant fireworks...then the 2 year old started crying...the snorer snored...the baby cried...and a tired team woke for 4am breakfast. 

Happily it's an easy approach to the route, with a great sunrise. Camera shake has recreated bleary 5am vision. 

At the col, turn left. Continue...the rock is poor but quickly improves and the North summit soon appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where you climb up to the Central summit. The rock is poor but quickly improves and the Central summit appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where...there are only 15 more gendarmes.

The rock is poor...

This is climbing what the AC guide optimistically call "slabs on the left of the couloir" on the way to the central summit. Nice. 

If using the Alpine Club guidebook you can throw it down the East face from here. If using the Swiss guide then chuck it either way - I'm sure it mixes up East and West at various points. We definitely saw the "hole" in the ridge between gendarmes 2 and 3, called a "tunnel" in the AC guide, and we avoided the terrifying Crete de Coq flake by a lower traverse, but little else in the description made sense as we followed our noses steadily South. This is a long ridge and there's lots of good, sustained climbing - mostly good rock too apart from some rubble around Gendarmes 2-4. Positions are amazing, with huge drops down the vertical East face. 

There are 2 bolt belays - looking slightly (no, very) out of place up here on long wild ridge. 1 for descending the North summit, 1 just above the "couloir" on the way up the central (guide says traverse out left, I climbed straight up to find the bolts) Both belays, of course, are next to good natural anchors. Just below the central summit is a single bolt. Really. Otherwise there is no fixed gear, so you'll be carrying a rack anyway.

Looking up the gendarmes - 1 other team just visible

the other team ahead of us - just beyond number 5. 

Number 6(?) Central summit in the background

Climbing to number 6(?) with the central summit behind. Great climbing on good rock. 

Descending number 10

Descent from south summit. The snow patch is col Slingsby

Nearing the end now, or so we thought. In a classic bit of guidebook writing the next hour is dismissed in 1 sentence! The south end of the ridge is rotten rock so the route instead winds down the West face (on rotten rock) Patience and careful route choice needed. 

 

15 gendarrmes. Count 'em.

So now we know. The Aiguilles Rouges traverse - brilliant adventure, definitely not Chamonix granite or Skye gabbro.

Lagginhorn again

~ Tuesday 30th July 2013

 Plan A was to climb the South Ridge of the Lagginhorn but Monday's weather turned out worse than expected - windy and quite a bit of snow. We set off this morning full of optimism but soon accepted the inevitable - the route was out of condition. Mustering enthusiasm for a second start is never easy but we climbed the normal route instead - great climbing in the fresh snow and very different from last week. Even with the new snow the wind has scoured much of the upper slopes leaving hard snow instead of the deep track from last week. 

Fresh snow and rime on the south ridge. Compare this to the same view in the last blog!

La Maya d'Eison

~ Sunday 28th July 2013

High on the ridge above Eison sits la Maya - the obvious big tooth clearly visible as you drive up the valley. It's a scenic walk up from Eison through the woods but you can drive quite a lot higher if you find the right track. 

Then, some exposed and steep climbing in great positions leads to an airy summit, all bolted with typical lack of restraint (it would be easily protectable with a small rack) An excellent off-the-beaten-track objective

Saas Grund 4000m peaks

~ Friday 26th July 2013

 It's turned into a hot summer here in the Alps (37 degrees today in Sion!) but on the high peaks above Saas Grund conditions were still really good.  Walking up to the Alpmageller hut we took the suspension bridge path above Saas Almagell - which livens up a long hut walk. 

Yesterday on the Weissmies traverse - perfect conditions, plenty of snow low down but dry rock, and the descent to Hohsaas is in really good shape - not too steep, but quite crevassed on the glacier. 

Today after another early start we found the Lagginhorn in excellent conditions too - dry rock low down but the upper slopes all good snow. Ideal. 

Lagginhorn summit

Pigne d'Arolla

~ Monday 22nd July 2013

 Perfect conditions this weekend for the Pigne d'Arolla traverse - clear and still with well frozen snow. Not busy either, which was a surprise for a weekend - there were only 30 people in the Vignettes hut. We went from Vignettes to the summit, then descended the Dix side seeing no-one until we started the climb back up to the Col de Riedmatten. 

Descending the Mur de la Serpentine in good snow. 

 

Back on dry glacier below the Mont Blanc de Cheilon. 

Is this enough signs? There's space for a few more I think...

Equipped last year with a shiny new chain, the Dix side of the col is now a washed-out runnel. The chain forces you to ignore the old zig-zags and go up or down in a straight line next to the rock. 

Oberland Again

~ Wednesday 17th July 2013

 Back to the Oberland again this week with a perfect forecast. We weren't disappointed - conditions are still good and the weather was exceptional, good overnight freeze and still, warm days. It's not too busy either - on Monday after an early start from the Monchsjoch hut we outflanked 2 other teams in the dark and were soon alone on the Jungfrau. There's still enough snow to follow the ski route (which used to be the normal way before the glacier retreated) avoiding the little rock step and climbing straight onto the snow ridge. 

Early morning on the Jungfrau

 

View down the Jungfrau normal route from the summit. Don't slip now. 

The "Top of Europe" (except for all the higher bits) Europe's highest curry house, shopping centre and train station. High point of every Japanese/Indian/etc coach tour of Europe unless you count the (much higher) Aiguille du Midi and Klein Matterhorn. 

 

Yesterday we climbed the normal route on the Monch in quite different conditions to 2 weeks ago. With a big hut at the foot of the ridge this is one of the most accessible 4000m peaks in the Alps, as well as one of the most elegant summit ridges, yet amazingly there were only 2 other teams on it.

Rock on the Monch south ridge

Belgians on the summit ridge. Get in touch if this is you and you'd like a copy!

Oberland update

~ Wednesday 17th July 2013

 Here are a few missing pictures from the Oberland trip 3 weeks ago where we found great conditions on the Monch and Jungfrau. I've just been back there and things are still good but drying out fast - there's some rock on the Monch normal route now, and the metal belay spikes on the steep snow below the summit ridge have reappeared (An obvious measure of how much snow has gone, the metre high posts were completely buried 2 weeks ago!)

Crack of dawn on the Jungfrau

Jungfrau summit ridge

Jungfrau summit ridge

Looking up the Monch normal route

Monch summit ridge

Monch summit

Bishorn

~ Friday 12th July 2013

 Fresh from Mont Blanc (?) we set off for the Bishorn on Wednesday. After taking a roundabout route thanks to not knowing that the Vercorin-Pinsec shortcut road was still closed, we set off on the long haul to the Tracuit hut. The Bishorn is still referred to with traditional un-correctness as the "4000m Des Dames". Right next door sits the Diablon and it's slightly smaller neighbour the Diablon des Dames, so maybe it's a local thing. Anyway, there's nothing small about the walk to the hut - a straight 1600m of unrelenting zigzags, happily with stunning views as a distraction but the increasing threat of a thunderstorm adding tension. We arrived dry, and 10 minutes before the rain. Phew. 

The Tracuit hut of old has (almost) gone, replaced by an ultra modern construction. The old hut was pretty basic and looking its' age - drafty, creaky and cold with huge dorms and outdoor "long drop" toilets 100m away, it didn't really meet the expectations of the 21st century alpinist. It was apparently cheaper to build a new hut than to renovate the old one, so now there's a shiny space age CHF5.1 million replacement. Let's hope there's something in the budget to clean up the mess outside the new hut - where inside it's all shiny clean stainless steel, pine and bold colours, outside it's old-fashioned building site/rubbish dump. The remains of the old hut are to be turned into a terrace but meanwhile the wind has spread construction debris across the hillside. The architect's publicity brochure explains how the 3 shiny metal sides of the exterior blend with the ice and snow of the mountains, whilst the west side of the building - all dark solar panels and tinted glass - reflect the rock face below the hut. Frankly it doesn't work at the moment - it looks like an office block in a rubbish dump, all set in a beautiful high mountain environment, and actually made me nostalgic for the simplicity of the old hut (except for the toilets)

Anyway, we weren't there for architectural criticism, we were there to climb the Bishorn. The morning dawned clear and cold with a good freeze - perfect conditions. Quick, firm going and great views make the Bishorn a pleasure. The final steep slope to the top has stunning views across the Mischabel group and the Weisshorn and the summit is spacious. Excellent. 

Dominic reminded us regularly that he is 68 (his boots and crampons even older) This was his first 4000m summit, but a working life chasing smugglers as a Border Guard and a retirement chasing cows around the hillsides of the Val d'Hérens meant he made it look easy. 

Happy on top

And then it was all down, down and more down...2400m in total. We found the car (parked in the forest in another futile attempt to make up time lost in the first shortcut) and went for a well-earned lunch at the excellent Relais de la Tzoucdana by the car park at the end of the valley. This place is well worth a visit - great food in a lovely setting as well as accommodation, camping, ducks, rabbits, goats, and donkey rides! 

Mont Blanc

~ Tuesday 9th July 2013

 Another succes on Mont Blanc in very different conditions to 2 weeks ago - warm and clear, and much less snow. The usual summer pattern of afternoon thunderstorms is developing and we made a rapid descent, just reaching the hut in the dry...

crazy Russians crossing the Grand couloir

Crazy Russians crossing the Couloir. Increasingly, Mont Blanc resembles Elbrus, but with more Russians. 

Oberland

~ Thursday 4th July 2013

 A few pictures here from a brilliant trip to the Oberland. Walking in from Fiesch (a long way!) there were no tracks and we were the only people at Konkordia hut. Good for us, not so good for the hut guardian.

Vastness of the Aletsch glacier

Konkordia Cats

 

Next day we set off on perfect hard frozen snow for the Grunegghorn. None of the usual rubble on the glacier, just perfect cramponning snow all the way. No tracks, no-one around, and an exciting corniced summit ridge. We finished off the day (and our legs) with a hot slog over the Grunegglucke to Finsteraarhorn hut. 

Grunegghorn summit

The Finsteraarhorn ascent usually starts up a path behind the hut - not at the moment! Crampons straight from the hut, and up more perfect frozen snow to the Hugisattel at 4000m. 1000m of careful cramponning after breakfast! The summit ridge is (not surprisingly) very snowy, good to climb but quite serious compared to usual conditions. With no-one else on the mountain and some clouds adding atmosphere we had a great day. 

Finsteraarhorn summit

Mont Blanc/Gran Paradiso

~ Saturday 29th June 2013

Pleasant rock climbing in the valley last week, but back to high alpine summits this week starting on the Gran Paradiso. Plenty of snow and a good freeze meant we put crampons on at the hut and kept them on all the way. Battling deteriorating weather we reached the summit, dealt with the usual Paradiso traffic jam (not too many people but 4 confused Dutch guys made up for lack of numbers) and raced back down before the storm arrived. 

Gran Paradiso summit

Another day in Paradiso. 

Acclimatised and ready for Mont Blanc, we made the long slog up to the Tete Rousse hut. The Bellevue lift is closed for the season after a fire at the restaurant damaged the cables, so we drove down to Le Fayet and caught the train. Capitalising on the out of action Bellevue lift, the tramway du Mont Blanc is running no extra trains, and they still aren't running right to Nid d'Aigle. Oh well. 

The forecast wasn't looking brilliant - cold, windy and bad in the afternoon isn't ideal for Mont Blanc. We set off early, making good speed up the Gouter ridge. Things were going well until Steve's crampon fell off and disappeared. After a fruitless 10 minutes in the dark looking for a black crampon, we continued up to the hut, Steve now hopping. It's hard to be cheerful at 5am, especially at the Gouter hut, and having only 1 crampon doesn't help. Going up or down is clearly going to be tricky! Luckily a helpful French guide lent us some crampons - merci Lionel - and slightly behind schedule we continued up. 

"Red sky in the morning..." Hmmm. It's a long way up the Dome du Gouter. At the Col with the summit still clear of clouds, we put on more clothes to deal with the rising wind. Then more uphill, past Vallot, weather still clear(ish), over the Bosses, still clear and suddenly it was looking like we might make it. 

We did! On top of Mont Blanc! Amazingly, there was no-one else in sight. Brilliant. 

Mont Blanc summit

With fast approaching weather, we spent several seconds admiring the view then turned and ran down! 

worrying view from the top!

Looking back from the Dome du Gouter. Nice. 

Descending the Gouter ridge near the end of a long day!

Evolene Rock Climbing

~ Thursday 20th June 2013

 Good adventures this week on the crags around Evolene. It's been really hot - 35 degrees in Sion - but Evolene Pont crag is shady in the morning. Pictures here from le Sommitale, 5 pitches of bolted but still slightly "old-school" adventure!

Then we had a day at the Secteur Sanieres, above the la Sage road. Shady all day and only 10 minutes from the car this should be a great summer crag. Unfortunately it doesn't get much traffic and the routes are still quite dirty. Our attempt on the stunning-looking Sang Bleu ended in a complete loss of sang froid and vows to return with a brush!

Summer News

~ Sunday 16th June 2013

 It's been a week of contrasts. Firstly a very snowy and cloudy ascent of the Cosmiques Arete in Chamonix. So much snow that most of the rock pitches are buried, and half of the people in the lift were skiing. 

Next, a warm sunny morning driving the bus for paragliders with the Evolene Parapente School 2 flights from high up at the Étoile on a perfect day .

Then the Roc Vieux in les Hauderes fell down. Well, not all of it but it was impressive enough...

Today it was the Raid Evolenard mountain bike race. Perfect weather, if a little hot, and lots of competitors. Amazing to think that only a week ago the course was still snowy above l'Étoile. Summer is here!

Cheating?

 

First week of summer

~ Sunday 9th June 2013

 It's been a strange start to the season. Officially summer, but the Furka, Susten and several other passes remain closed by deep snow. Ski conditions are still good, with snow down to 2000m on north facing descents. Luckily the Gotthard Pass was open, the weather turned out to be perfect, and we found excellent conditions all week, although snow shoes were essential!

We were based at the slightly surreal Swiss military facility in Andermatt, training a group from the UAE Armed forces in preparation for their mountaineering plans (or maybe a planned invasion of Switzerland? Or future-proofing against a radical reversal of climate change?) The Adventure Training in the UAE military is run by keen mountaineers who have put a huge effort into organising an ambitious programme for the future, and inspiring a team of people more used to dealing with 50 degrees temperatures in the desert. 

Some of the guys had never seen snow before, but there was plenty at the Gotthard pass!

Plenty of snow at the Gotthard pass

Glacier ropework training

Snow shoeing is fun!

Building snow anchors

Building snow anchors

Jumaring practice

Apparently "juma" means Friday in Arabic and is also a popular man's name. This caused some confusion. 

At the end of the week we put all the training into practice and snow shoed up the Sustenhorn with an overnight at the Tierbergli hut. The guardian here deserves a mention - great food and a warm welcome. It's early days in the "hut meal of the season" competition but the bar has already been set high!

Funding cuts mean the Swiss army uses cardboard tanks

Funding cuts have affected the Swiss army. 

Mountain etiquette - stepping out of the track to let others pass.

The glacier approach to the Tierbergli hut, with a very snowy Wendenstock in the background. 

Single-file snow-shoeing up the glacier. Perfect for route finding  pointing out all the typical mountain features and hasards and discussing route choice in complex terrain. 

The beautiful and welcoming Tierbergli hut

Evening sun outside the beautiful and welcoming Tierbergli hut, our base for the ascent of the Sustenhorn

Sunset over the Apfelstrudelhorn

Reaching the summit of the Sustenhorn

A skier sets off for 1500m of spring snow. Bet he wishes he had snow shoes...

Cruising some big turns down perfect wide slopes of spring snow...

Summer!

~ Wednesday 29th May 2013

 ...or not. It was summer yesterday, but this morning things all look a bit different. Yes, that's the snowplough. 

Mountain Biking Evolene

~ Tuesday 28th May 2013

 It stopped raining or snowing the other day - just long enough to go out on the bike. The Raid Evolenard is coming up soon and the route is (just about) clear of snow. 

 

A swivel-eyed loon in Evolene

Midi (in)Action

~ Thursday 16th May 2013

 Another trip up the Aiguille du Midi...Plan A was to climb the Cosmiques Arete but, with a strong and acclimatised team, I decided to start up the Arete a Laurence below the Cosmiques hut. Plastered in snow, this is a nice warm-up and gave us a great and quiet climb up to a coffee stop in the hut. 

Thinking I'd been clever by leaving time for the inevitable Cosmiques abseil bottleneck to clear I was a little surprised to find the team we'd followed out of the lift 2 hours earlier still trying to rig their ropes...surprise turned to disbelief after watching for an hour...and finally to a resigned U-turn and retreat for us. Good luck to the rest of you...did you make the last lift? 

Vallée Blanche Touring

~ Friday 10th May 2013

 Pictures here from a couple of trips to the Midi in Chamonix. Other ski areas are all closed or closing now, but the Midi still has great skiing. The bottom of the Vallée Blanche is getting wetter and rockier by the day but we still skied right to the stairs up to the little lift on Thursday. Up high it's peak season for steep skiers - teams on the Midi North face, Tour Ronde north face, normal and Gervasutti couloir plus lots of other stuff. There seems to be a lively British steep scene in Chamonix

http://ben-briggs.com/

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We've had 2 good trips, once touring over to Hellbronner and down the right bank Vallée "Noire" with fresh tracks all the way, then Thursday up the Tour Ronde normal route before skiing great snow down the Vallée Noire again. 

Pure Haute Route

~ Friday 3rd May 2013

 Last week was the "Pure" Haute Route with the Eagle ski club. The plan was to ski the classic Chamonix to Zermatt journey without using roads, which means traversing the Grand Lui and St Bernard passes on the way to Valsorey. The bad weather from the end of the previous week wasn't a promising start - there was 50cm fresh snow in La Fouly on Saturday morning. Happily the warm spring temperatures stabilise snow quickly, and Chamonix being Chamonix there's usually some brave types out trailbreaking the minute the clouds lift. Sure enough, by Monday there was a good track on the Col du Chardonnet and ski crampons were essential. 

Swiss side of the Col du Chardonnet.

After a whole day in the sun we dropped down into a surprisingly thick Swiss cloud, and spent an amusing few minutes trying to find the lovely Envers des Dorées hut - later it cleared to give us a grandstand view of the next day's stage. 

There's a hut there somewhere - and a sneaky cloud approaching.

The Grand Lui col.

The Col de la Grand Lui is wrongly marked on French maps and looks unlikely from a distance, even with a track leading to it! Reached by steep booting, it leads to a great perch above a 1900m descent, a fine spot for second breakfast. 

Skinning to the col

The final steep ascent

Col de la Grand Lui

If the descent is long enough there's bound to be some good snow somewhere...and so it turned out. First turns in pretty awful crust, then we reached some great spring snow, cruising big turns (and bracing for the inevitable sticky slush lower down!)

Great spring snow

 The Auberge des Glaciers in la Fouly deserves a special mention. Quality accommodation, great food and a sunny terrace. 

Next day, an early start for the long climb to St Bernard. This is deceptively easy on paper - low altitude, no glacier - but in fact it's a long and complex climb through tricky avalanche terrain. Happily we had well frozen snow and made quick progress. 

High up on the way to St Bernard

An irritating cloud had been following us all morning, catching up just before the col and spoiling the descent into Italy. Lunch at the monastery and a quick ski back into Switzerland saw us relaxing in the sun at Plan du Jeu. This is a great little hut in a lovely setting just out of site of the industrial mess of the St Bernard tunnel entrance and the sad remains of the "Super" St Bernard ski lifts! 

The next stage starts with a brutal climb straight from the hut - 800m of steep hard snow and a mix of skinning and cramponning. Over 2 small cols, then a great spring snow descent before the final climb to the Vélan hut, where we passed the afternoon on the terrace eating rosti and watching others slog to Valsorey in the sun. 

Crossing Col du Prox

Perfect spring snow

Cabane du Vélan

Sadly, after 4 days of blue skies (apart from our annoying little cloud) the weather turned at Vélan. All forecasts agreed, several days of bad weather were on the way. Being optimists, we pushed on to the Col de la Gouille in the morning, finding by far the best crust of the week on the descent! Then it was back to the valley and back to Argentiere (thanks to Alplinks for the taxi) Always disappointing to turn back, but we'd completed 5 days of great touring in some fantastic terrain - good skiing, good company and good touring!

Haute Route

~ Tuesday 30th April 2013

 Long time, no blog. Must be Haute Route season! 

The first try started well with fresh tracks in the Vallée Blanche as a warm-up day. The rest of the week was a story of early starts to beat the heat, some great spring snow skiing, and afternoons relaxing and watching avalanches in the sun. Sadly, after a week of heat and blue sky the weather turned on Friday, leaving us skiing out to Arolla and taxiing back to Chamonix in heavy rain - a pity to not make Zermatt but still a great week and with plenty of adventure.

Early morning on the way up to the Col du Passon

Clear winners in the big ski competition

Rosablanche

Avalanche debris beside Dixence dam

Pigne summit

Jeff shredding

Spring is Sprung

~ Saturday 13th April 2013

 yes, spring is here with very warm temperatures. It's been warm the last couple of days but forecast even warmer this weekend. Still, there's some good snow around if you're up early (or high) enough. 

Another day in paradise

Start of another day in the office...deserted Arolla ski slopes, with a nice overnight snowfall on a firm base. By midday it had all turned to mush but the morning was good!

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Wednesday 10th April 2013

 It's spring but for the first 3 days of the week you wouldn't have known from the weather. We skied at Evolene on Sunday - last day of the season and still skiing right to the car park. Monday was a cloudy bleak day at Thyon, but at least it was snowing. Tuesday we managed a quick and untracked descent from Arolla to Satarma before the clouds rolled in, then an entertaining afternoon of great snow and poor light - challenging conditions but fun in the clear spells.

Every good descent has a river crossing

"Every good descent has a river crossing"

Today the sun came out! Phew. Breaking trail up to the Cassorte was hard going against the clock as the temperature rose, but we were rewarded by a great ski down the vallon des Ignes. 1400m untracked in April. 

Roping down a rocky Cassorte

Grimentz and Zinal Off Piste

~ Friday 5th April 2013

 Another week in the Val d'Anniviers...more blue skies and powder skiing (Well, except for yesterday, but 4 days out of 5 isn't bad) Snow cover is still exceptional. We skied down to St Jean twice, only having to walk the last 100m, but beware - there's now some crust in them thar hills. All a bit of a shock after a winter of powder. 

Powder skiing in a sun hat

Never a bad day in the Vallon de Rechy

Another "average" day in the Vallon de Rechy!

Big turns in Orzival

Touring on the Aar du Tsan

 

New sport in the Moiry tunnel

 

Gran Paradiso Ski Touring

~ Saturday 30th March 2013

 Driven away from Switzerland by the terrible forecast we headed for the Gran Paradiso, where the sun (almost) always shines. This time, sadly, it didn't but the food was great, the wine cheap and the Chabod hut welcome was as friendly as ever. Our attempt on the Gran Paradiso itself started well but soon the clouds rolled in and the approach from Chabod is unusually crevassed - not a good combination. Retreat wasn't too bad though, with 1000m of fresh tracks in deep snow. So good that after a quick skin back up to the hut for espresso, we did it again. 

resting on the way up...

Resting on the way up. 

resting on the way down!

Resting on the way down!

 

Movement make good telemark skis!

Real men drink...

Real men drink Ponce. 

 

Zermatt Ski Touring

~ Wednesday 27th March 2013

 After a foggy early morning drive and negociation of the Zermatt parking, trains and lift system it was a relief to actually get skis on and start skinning yesterday. The clouds rolled in as we went up the Breithorn but it made for an atmospheric ascent and well earned fresh tracks on the way down. 

We stayed at the excellent Rifugio Teodul  - great food and a warm welcome!

This morning we skinned back to Breithorn pass before heading round to the Schwarztor glacier for a great ski in fresh snow. 

Arcteryx

~ Saturday 23rd March 2013

A quick report on a winter's wear of Arcteryx clothing - Fury trousers, Gamma MX jacket and Gamma MX Hoody, Atom Light Hoody for chilly days being the most used things. Arcteryx have supported the BMG for a while now but there's no bias here - this is the toughest and best made clothing I've used.

The Fury trousers have skied about 70 days now, on and off piste, lift access and touring, and there's hardly a mark on them. Good pockets, neat fit, and ankle reinforcing patches that actually work - no ski cuts at all in the fabric. Warm enough with thermals for cold days, good side vents for warm days, and they shed snow well enough to not need overtrousers.

The Gamma jackets came neatly embroidered with BMG and IFMGA badges so they're not for the shy guide, but they are proving to be indestructable. Good hood fit, easy access chest pockets and long sleeves with neat fitting cuffs and no silly velcro fasteners. Weatherproof enough to rarely need a shell jacket in winter too. 

The Atom LT is the most versatile light duvet I've tried and has had a lot of use summer and winter. It's not the warmest (get a full weight Atom) but that means it gets worn lots when a heavier jacket might be too hot, and works as a mid layer on cold days. Packs small too. 

Overall I really can't think of a bad thing to say about any of this kit. Ok, it's not cheap but it fits, works and lasts better than other makes, and I'll be buying more. I fit a large in everything, but bought the Atom LT in XL which fits well as an overjacket. 

 

 

St Foy Tarentaise Off Piste

~ Saturday 23rd March 2013

 Change of scene this week, swapping the peaceful little backwaters of Evolene for the world famous ski mecca of the Tarentaise. The fun started on the drive down which I timed perfectly to hit piste-emptying rush hour in Argentiere, Chamonix and Mégeve. There was a bit of clear road before joining the traffic jam up from Albertville as half of Paris and Belgium tried to reach Tignes. Oh well. Luckily we were staying in St Foy which despite huge recent development is still fairly peaceful. 

The next day brought bad weather but good skiing in the woods. Monday brought even more snow and more good skiing in the woods, and a chance to get a good picture of Andy in his tree-skiing camouflage before he hit the piste (literally) and left us 1 man down for the rest of the week. I hope you mend quickly!

Self catering apartment

Next day, more snow...then the sun came out, yippeee! Next day we made a quick descent from Col Granier in perfect deep powder before the clouds rolled in. More snow! 

Below Col Granier

Next day...sun! After 4 days in St Foy we went for the big resort experience in les Arcs. Some brave French men jumped into the steep slope below the Grand Col then turned right, leaving us some brilliant untracked skiing all the way down in great scenery. Awesome. Lunch on a sunny terrace before another long run down a deserted Combe des Lanchettes made for a great day's skiing. 

With more stable conditions at last we skinned quickly up the Foglietta on Friday looking to ski the North face. Great conditions, more fresh tracks...

 

Skinning up Foglietta

Grimentz and Zinal Off Piste

~ Friday 15th March 2013

 As usual the week in Grimentz and Zinal didn't disappoint. Despite a miserable forecast the weather turned out ok, although several days needed plan B...or C and even D. Anyway, great skiing with members of the Eagle Ski Club. Lots of powder, spring snow, occasional crust, bumps, ice, ruts, trees, fence posts, metal spikes, and some river crossings. All in all a good week!

Roc d'Orzival

Arriving at the Brinta

The Dam(n) Gully

The Dam(n) Gully

Powder on the Lona

Exiting the Torrent de Lona

In the Torrent de Lona!

Orzival

Vallon de Rechy

Summer!

~ Wednesday 6th March 2013

 It's been a week of change with the long spell of settled cold being replaced by warm, wet and windy weather. Even more of a surprise was the Swiss move to cap excecutive pay. Whatever next?

Meanwhile in the real world it's still mid ski season with the main touring period just starting up, but it's time to start thinking ahead. The summer season is booking up fast with a lot of bookings coming in in the last week. We still have some free weeks in June and 1 week in July available, plus a week in September.

It's worth thinking "outside the box" too - if you're keen on snowy mixed routes or late season ski touring on the higher peaks then May is a great time of year. If you like quiet mountains and colder temperatures late September and into October can be really good. 

 

 

Intro Ski Touring

~ Saturday 2nd March 2013

 This intro day was run with the excellent Sport Evasion shop in Evolene. Perfect weather, good snow with just a little bit of crust thrown in for realism...We toured up the Pic Artsinol, then skied all the way down through Arbey. 

Une journée "initiation au ski de rando" organisée en colloration avec le magasin de Sport Évasion a Évolene. Ciel bleu et neige de reve avec juste quelques virages un peu croutés pour rajouter un peut de réalisme en nous rapellant que tout n'est pas poudre... Montés au sommet du Pic Artsinol, nous sommes redescendus par la combe avant de rejoindre le hameau d'Arbey. 

Pointe de Vouasson Ski Tour

~ Thursday 28th February 2013

 The Pointe de Vouasson is the big glacier face which dominates the view from the Evolene ski area. It's best approached from further up the valley, starting at la Gouille, from where it's a mere 1700m uphill to the top. Luckily there was a good track today - the sunny side is popular and has been well skied.

Whilst  a few people have skied the Evolene side down the glacier, there's still plenty of fresh snow up there. We skied down skier's left, where there's a great gully line (obvious from the lift area) which meant excellent skiing in fresh snow all the way.

Then some battling down the stream bed - the best days always involve a stream crossing and some "tight" tree skiing! - and out to Arbey before skinning home up the cross country track. 

Dents de Bertol ski tour

~ Tuesday 26th February 2013

 No work today, so we went skiing again. Perfect weather, so we went back to Bertol after turning back in cloud yesterday. The track had blown in so we got the pleasure of re-making it. From the Col de Bertol there wasn't a track in sight. Where is everyone? Plodding round to the Dent de Bertol was hard work but worth it - I'd been fearing crust on the sunny slopes down to the Arolla glacier but it was powder all the way!

Skinning down (!) from Bertol

Up there! On the way to the Dent de Bertol

Scrambling up the pile of rubble which makes the summit

Traverse of the Bouquetins anyone?

Traverse of the Bouquetins anyone? 

First turns down from the top

 

Bertol Ski tour

~ Monday 25th February 2013

No work today, so we went skiing. No tracks either, which made it hard work getting to Bertol. People have been out touring in the good weather but a bit of overnight wind has drifted over the skinning tracks. The plan had been to ski down the Mont Miné glacier but as we reached the col de Bertol it was looking a bit cloudy down the other side. We turned back and skied down the Torrent de Bertol instead, not bad for plan B. 

It got a bit messy low down!

 

 

Nax and Grimentz ski touring

~ Sunday 24th February 2013

A few more pictures here from last week's ski touring in Nax and Grimentz. A blustery start to the classic Grimentz tour on Tuesday turned into a great day. We left the Lona lift in wind and low cloud but soon were skiing powder before skinning up to the Basset de Lona and skiing yet more powder down to the Moiry dam. A great day. 

Touring on the way to Bassett de Lona

Great snow above the Moiry dam

From Nax on Thursday we dropped down into the Vallon de Reche before making the long but gentle climb to the Pas de Lovegno. From there it's a steep skin/boot to the top of the Becca de Lovegno, then a long and varied ski down to Suen, where we'd left a spare car! Powder most of the way but low down we at last got to ski some proper crust!

impressive views of la Maya

Near Pas de Lovegno

Top of Becca de Lovegno

 

 

Nax off piste skiing

~ Friday 22nd February 2013

Nax has invested lots in new lifts for this winter, making it an even better place to ski. Great pistes, free car parking, comfy chair lifts...if that's not enough there's great lift-access off piste with a few huge, adventurous descents. We did the 1600m from Mont Noble into the vallon de Reche and down to Isérables - top quality, and deserted. 

Arolla Heli Skiing

~ Tuesday 19th February 2013

 Arolla heli skiing... 3 days of great snow and fantastic skiing in Arolla was always going to be hard to beat, so the pressure was on for the heli day! We weren't disappointed though. The flight time is surpisingly short - a mere 5 minutes! - and then it's time to climb out and gasp the thin air at 3700m. With only 1 other team around and Friday's fresh snow, we were spoilt for choice. A quick slog to the top saw us skiing off the summit for 1800m of untracked descent. First the wide open slopes below the summit, then lunch at the Col de Chermontane before diving steeply down the Vuibé glacier. 

Thanks to Heli Alps for their great service. 

Arolla Untracked

~ Tuesday 19th February 2013

 It's been amazing in Arolla recently - cold temperatures, beautiful clear weather and great snow. All the Swiss ski areas seem to be reporting record numbers of skiers - good news for the hotels and lifts - but it's still really quiet off piste. 

Ski Mountaineering World Championship

~ Wednesday 13th February 2013

 It's the big event of the ski mountaineering race season this week in Puy St Vincent, France. Teams from all over the world - including the British Men and Women's teams - competing in 5 races through the week. Looks like French domination so far but lots of close racing: pics, results and videos here:

http://blog.rab.uk.com/category/athletes/leanne_callaghan/

http://www.ski-ecrins.com/

Mrs Frostguiding skating furiously!

Col de Bréona Ski Touring

~ Friday 8th February 2013

 We started the day skiing at la Forclaz. This is a great area and deserves to be much more popular - good pistes and lots of good off piste through trees, and all for CHF25.-. We arrived around 9.15 and they switched the lifts on for us! It's also a great starting point for day tours, and in the afternoon we headed up to the Col de Bréona. Blue skies at the col, deep, soft snow all the way down...excellent!

Evolene off piste

~ Thursday 7th February 2013

 This week we have mostly been skiing powder. Nice. Big smiles all round except for the (ex)chamois. 

Blue sky+ powder=big smiles

More smiles

Very big smiles

Still smiling

Not smiling.

Grimentz and Zinal

~ Wednesday 30th January 2013

 Once the undiscovered secret of the Swiss Valais, Grimentz and Zinal are now firmly on the ski map. Make no mistake, the secret is out...After spending the last 3 days there dealing with the inevitable huge queues, lack of parking and old, slow lifts I'm wondering why it's so popular. To make matters worse the weather was awful and the snow terrible. They still don't piste properly either, leaving lots of deep soft snow everywhere which is really hard to ski. Grimentz? Don't bother. Go to Verbier instead. Here are some pictures to give an idea of how bad it was (*)

Happy skier in Zinal

Happy skier in Zinal?

5 minute skin from the lifts...

A 5 minute skin leads...

...leads to this!

...to this!

and this...

and this!

and this!

And this!

And this!

Straight off the lifts!

But this is straight from the lifts. 

(*) not to be taken too seriously. 

Serre de Vuibé Couloir

~ Friday 25th January 2013

 I've looked at this couloir for years, many times from below and once from the top before having second thoughts...Today at last, conditions, free time and a friend to ski with all coincided. It's an amazing line, around 900m vertical metres of gully with the start at a "good" 45 degrees, and a bit of a surprise when we found an unskiable rock step 100m down needing a short abseil! 

Thanks to Hannah for the skiing, company and the photos. 

Skinning up the glacier de Pieces

Steep start

In the gully

Rosablanche

~ Thursday 24th January 2013

Nuits Blanches on Tuesday,  Rosablanche on Wednesday! Verbier was pleasantly deserted, and we were the only team heading over the Col de la Chaux. We saw a couple of others after that but pretty much had the Rosablanche to ourselves - there were 7 tracks on the glacier from early-morning heliskiers!

It's a long ski down from the top, and with a series of lifts to catch to make it back over from Siviez to Verbier we had to get a move on, but we made it with a good 15 minutes to spare. Phew. 

 

Nuits Blanches

~ Tuesday 22nd January 2013

According to a local expert Nuits Blanches is always "in", so we went for a look. He's not wrong, it's there, but very different from last time. The reservoir purge has left a big brown streak down the top pitch, and it hasn't been climbed much so there are very few hooks and steps. And 2 definite roofs on the top pitch! All quite challenging. 

View across to the Shiva/Grand Bleu wall. 

Abbing in, hoping you can climb out again!

Abbing in, hoping we can climb out again!

Long view down the top pitch, guaranteed atmosphere!

Grappling with the roof at the top, trying not to add to the brown streaks...

 

Val di Rhems

~ Tuesday 22nd January 2013

 This is the valley parallel to Valsavarenche, and is similarly steep-sided and shady in winter - perfect for ice. Hidden away at the end of the valley are the 2 classics Entrelor and Sogno Realisticco. 

Cogne Ice Climbing

~ Friday 18th January 2013

 Just back from 2 days ice climbing in Cogne. Plenty to do there but with lots of places in the Alps being a bit short of ice, it's quite busy in Cogne. We climbed a very wet and cold Patri left-hand. -15 in the carpark but still pouring water on the steep pitch. Then today a dry and not quite so cold Sentinel Ice. Oops, no it was actually Stella Artice. Sentinel Ice isn't there at all! (Both have "ice" in the name and start with "s"...)

BMG Cascade Training day

~ Tuesday 15th January 2013

 Pictures here from the BMG Cascade Training day held in Arolla on Sunday. Perfect weather and good ice meant we made an enjoyable ascent of the tunnel left-hand route, ideal ground for looking at the various issues of guiding on multi-pitch ice.

Protecting the belay with an early screw

Ice and blue skies - alpine cascades!

After lunch we went to the "ice boulder" at the Hotel de la Tsa. This was something of a change of atmosphere with a full-on paint-ball battle going on on the other side of the boulder - an unusual objective hazard! Still, top-roping and "bouldering" here is great for technique training and trying technical ice, as long as you keep your head down when topping out. 

Pic Artsinol Ski Touring

~ Friday 11th January 2013

 This is a great short tour off the lifts in Evolene. Sadly the views were hidden in the clouds but we still had a good ski down - 1600m vertical to Evolene. 

Mike skinning up.

More ice...

~ Thursday 10th January 2013

 ...and if you're prepared to walk a bit the Cascade des Ignes is excellent. We snow-shoed up and climbed the ice, then decided to continue up the snow above the ice pitches instead of abseiling. After a bit of a slog round the top of the cliff, wishing we'd carried the snowshoes up the route, we got some quality bum-sliding back down the classic ski route. 

 Dachstein mitts and Nomics? 

 

Ice Climbing

~ Thursday 10th January 2013

 It's been very warm over Christmas and a lot of the ice has fallen down, but there's still stuff to climb...

Alpiniski Marecottes

~ Thursday 10th January 2013

 We had a great day out in les Marecottes checking out the course for the upcoming Alpiniski world cup ski race. For anyone who thinks ski racing is all about sprinting up hill, this course has some proper downhill too! After the long boot up the la Golette gully...

the course climb steeply halfway up the Point des Perrons...

before a great ski down to the dam.

Skins back on for the climb back to la Golette, with a quick boot past the arsenic mine (!) Skiing down la Golette is steep and the descent carries on with technical skiing under the lift line before a final boot and steep descent to the finish. Great as a day tour, pretty tough as a race. 

 

Christmas Skiing Summary

~ Wednesday 2nd January 2013

 Santa brought lots of snow for Christmas, but also lots of wind, cloud, avalanches and warm temperatures. Challenging conditions!

Excellent powder at Arolla

Untracked to the valley!

Look closely and you can see the snowboarder crawling from the avalanche debris. Cat 3 day, steep lee slope, jumping off the cornice...

To complicate things further it's been quite busy with record ticket sales at Verbier and more people in Nax than I've ever seen there before - the new lifts have made a big difference with chairs replacing the old drags. The refurbished Bendola lift at Grimentz (still no seats though!) broke down first thing in the morning causing a frantic drive around the Val d'Anniviers in search of a working lift with no queue - St Luc came up trumps with excellent skiing. 

13 year-old cruising big turns in the Orzival bowl!

Today the sun came out for our tour to the Col des Ignes. With great snowcover right to Evolene someone suggested skinning from the house...which is a long way. Worth it though. Great views and the best snow of the winter (so far) 

 

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