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Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Snow!

~ Saturday 27th December 2014

Yes, there's snow in the Alps now! It's snowed hard all day and with more to come tomorrow it looks like winter is here at last.

But unfortunately - as well as hiding lots of rocks just below the surface - the new snow fell with plenty of wind high up so it's going to bring some big avalanche risk!

Watch Frost Guiding on BBC TV

~ Friday 14th November 2014

At last, you can watch the BBC / Frost Guiding team in the Patrouille des Glaciers.

Here are the dates for the Blue Peter shows (17.25 on Thursday afternoons) which will cover the epic challenge for Lindsey Russell, Graham Bell and Graham Frost as the 2 Graham's turn Lindsey from a recreational skier with no touring experience into an endurance athlete in just 5 months!

There will also be a 30 minute special on New Years Day at 17.25 on CBBC.

Pigne d'Arolla North Face

~ Sunday 2nd November 2014

The North Face of the Pigne d'Arolla is a valley classic but rarely in condition, especially in summer. This year however it's been white all summer - the first time I've seen it stay snowy in 8 years living here - so conditions were probably going to be pretty good.

Upper part of the Pigne d'Arolla North Face

The path up from Arolla is still almost snow-free, but at glacier level there's plenty of snow and the first gully is well filled in.

Pigne d'Arolla North Face showing the first gully and rubble ridge leading to the main face

Next comes a long section of "mixed" scrambling that leads up to the face itself. (Mixed rubble and snow that is) This was easy until my crampon broke...

Oh dear.

Luckily, there were some spare straps hidden in the bottom of the rucksack, and after a nervous few moments standing on one leg I got the crampon lashed together. Phew.

Hopping up the upper face

The upper face is in good condition with good snow and some ice.

The ridge high on the face

You could climb direct on snow but I traversed onto the rocks in case the crampon repair didn't last.

Final few steps in the sun

No tracks and no-one in sight from the summit of Pigne d'Arolla

And the ski back down past the Vignettes hut was good too!

Skiing Alphubel and Allalinhorn

~ Friday 31st October 2014

Unlike in Zermatt, everything in Saas Fee was working smoothly and as advertised on the website, and we were soon riding quickly up lifts crammed with teams of junior racers. Heading off towards the Feejoch you leave the crowds behind and, despite being on some of the most popular 4000m peaks in the Alps, we saw no-one else all day.

Traversing the Feechopf

Traversing the Feechopf is easy enough (but airy and exposed!) and leads to the alphubeljoch at the foot of the South ridge of Alphubel. This is in excellent snowy condition, but I forgot to take any pictures.

Arriving at the summit of Alphubel

Starting the descent from Alphubel

The ski off the top involved both types of snow, some of it nice to ski, but is a quick and fun way back down.

Alphubeljoch. South ridge and the normal route visible

Traversing back across the Feechopf

A quick re-traverse of the Feechopf leads back to the Feejoch. From there it's only 30 minutes to the top of Allalinhorn, although the snow here was firm and quite delicate to skin up. Not a place to blow a kick turn...

Allalinhorn summit

Skiing off the Allalinhorn

Skiing Breithorn

~ Wednesday 29th October 2014

Plan A yesterday was to use the Klein Matterhorn lift to go and climb/ski Pollux and Castor. Although the website said it was open, it turned out the lift is broken and won't be running until late November at the earliest. Hmmm, on to Plan B then!

The Breithorn is well known for being a short ascent from Klein Matterhorn, and the easiest 4000m peak in the Alps. Starting from Trockenersteg adds another 900m vertical, and makes it all quite tiring!

Beautiiful views south into Italy

Ready to ski from the Breithorn summit

The mountain was unsurprisingly deserted, and the ski off the top was firm but good.

First day of the ski season - Touring on the Pigne d'Arolla

~ Wednesday 15th October 2014

There have been a few pictures on the internet recently of early-season ski trips. A snowy summer and unsettled autumn has left glaciers well covered and some promising conditions (skis on the September Pigne traverse would have been fun!), so we got up early and made the long haul up the Pigne d'Arolla this morning. Cabane des Vignettes

We walked all the way to the glacier but skinned from there, leaving training shoes behind in the rocks...

Skiing below the Col du Pigne

...and it was worth it!

The slope above the Col des Vignettes

And a welcome sight!

Dent Blanche 3rd Time Lucky

~ Sunday 28th September 2014

It's been a frustrating summer on the Dent Blanche with 2 earlier attempts ending in failure, the first due to huge amounts of snow, the second due to un-forecast howling gales. There may well be "no success like failure", but the Dent Blanche hut is a long walk for a lesson in humility!

Third time lucky, and with a perfect forecast...fingers crossed.

Dent Blanche NW face

A late-ish after-work start saw us in the car-park at 2.30pm. 15 minutes later we were back up there, this time with 2 pairs of boots, ready for a sweaty 1600m to the hut.

Trying to get to the hut before dark!

We spent a pleasant evening, eating interrupted by frequent dashes outside to photograph the amazing sunset.

Evolene, Val d'Hérens and the Rhone valley from the hut

With only 1 other team and a solo-ist, the route wasn't busy. Weather was perfect, and we were off into a sunrise as amazing as the previous day's sunset.

The South Ridge has been snowy all summer and the lower part is still plastered, covering the usual easy rocks in easy-but-serious firm snow. Not a place to slip. The rock however was dry, so we climbed the direct line over the Grand Gendarme. Great, steep climbing on perfect, red rock.

Starting up the Grand Gendarme

Steep rock on the Grand Gendarme

Near the top of the Grand Gendarme

Airy positions on the top of the Grand Gendarme

From the top of the Grand Gendarme a short downclimb rejoins the normal route at the top of the couloir. From there, it's fine, exposed climbing over more gendarmes...

...before a traverse on the shady west face avoids the final gendarme.

Traversing around the final gendarme

The tricky corner to re-gain the ridge, and the end of the difficulties

Only 150m more ascent...all of it on narrow and exposed snowy ridge.

Getting back down is a mix of downclimbing and abseils.

Abseil off the top gendarme

In a normal summer there are plenty of metal spikes for anchors in the couloir, but at the moment the crucial middle ones are well buried in snow, meaning some cunning was needed to descend the rock-hard snow!

Abseil down the couloir.

After a quick re-fuel at the hut, all that remained was a 1600m knee-bashing descent...

Autumn in Arolla

~ Friday 26th September 2014

Whilst it's rarely crowded in Arolla, the Autumn leaves the mountains truly deserted. Peaks that can feel busy in peak season take on a different character when the huts close - wild and adventurous. Hauling heavy 'sacks loaded with 3 days of food out of Arolla, we passed 2 people walking down the path - the last people we were to meet for 3 days!

Dawn from the Col de Chermotane

The Vignettes winter room is warm and cosy. Home for 2 nights - just the 6 of us and a few mice!

High on the Éveque SW ridge

Day 1: the excellent traverse of the Éveque. Short, but with surprisingly tricky rock climbing and some "airy" positions!

With the forecast promising a settled high pressure and no precipitation, we were surprised to find 10cm of fresh snow in the morning! We went back to bed while the weather cleared, and were rewarded with a fine, clear day. Plan A was to traverse the Pigne and Mont Blanc de Cheilon, but the snow and late start meant (as so often!) that Plan B was needed, and we enjoyed a wild and beautiful traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla instead.

Leaving Vignettes in fresh snow

Chilly on the Pigne summit!

Dent very Blanche

Descending towards the Dixence dam

Mur de la Serpentine

3 countries in a week

~ Saturday 13th September 2014

It's been a busy week. 3 countries, 3 huts, 3 peaks.

Switzerland, France and Italy were the countries (no surprise there)

We stayed in the Vélan hut for Mont Vélan. Only 6 of us there, and as the other 3 had gone up to celebrate the guardian's birthday we had the peak to ourselves. It's still in great condition - the normal route can suffer late season in dry summers. The scramble through the Col de la Gouille and the 1100m ascent make it a very good Mont Blanc preparation peak.

Descending from Mont Vélan

Next, we had a "rest day" up the Aiguille du Midi. A quick ascent of Pointe Lachenal and some quality acclimatising time drinking coffee at 3800m!

Off to Tete Rousse next, which as usual was an unforgettable "experience".

In the dark all couloirs are grey

Pleased to have survived a night at Tete Rousse

Turning back early due to the cold and high winds, we drove south for our third country. It's always a pleasure to visit the Chabod hut. The Gran Paradiso didn't disappoint either. Great conditions, fine views - and the usual summit frenzy confirming all the Italian/French queuing stereotypes. I guess Madonna is used to the crowds.

When you gaze into the crevasse...

Liskamm (Lyskamm) Traverse with Frost Guiding

~ Thursday 4th September 2014

The traverse of Liskamm is one of the great high-level ridges in the Alps. Long, serious and committing, the Moran 4000m Peaks guidebook says "all members of the party must be highly competent". Gulp. Luckily the wind dropped, skies were crystal clear, and conditions on the route were excellent, giving us a fine day all round.

Looking down the lower part of the west ridge


On the airy section between the two summits


Looking back to the west summit


Cornices on the main summit


Margherita Hut

It takes commitment to wear crocs on snow at 4500m, but the sunset was worth it.

Best food, best sunset, and most irritating room companions of 2014, at the Margherita hut.

Spaghetti First Course

~ Thursday 4th September 2014

I'm relieved to find that even the Italians call this route the "Spaghetti Tour". Setting off from Zermatt with our Matterhorn plans abandoned/postponed, we turned left for a very breezy Breithorn. Hard-to-stand-up breezy.

A bit breezy crossing the Breithorn plateau

Still quite blowy on the summit

After a nice night at Ayas, the "good" forecast turned out to mean "clear-but-blowing-a-gale", and chilly with it.

Grand Paradise at dawn

Cold and windy on Pollux

Then a quick snack and off up Castor...

4 climbers battling wind and spindrift on the Castor summit ridge

Fine views in all directions. Tomorrow's aim was looking particularly fine.

Second course coming soon...

Frost Guiding buys Moran Mountain's Alpine business

~ Monday 1st September 2014

We are delighted to announce that Frost Guiding has bought Moran Mountain’s Alpine Mountaineering business. We will now run Martin Moran’s popular Alpine Mountaineering courses from our base in Evolene, Switzerland from June to September.

Our program includes the old favourites:

And we have some new intermediate/advanced level courses:

We have also added a 3 day Mont Blanc extension to follow on from our other courses.

Judith Hawtree will continue to provide her warm hospitality and home baking at chalet “Chemin des Etoiles” where we offer shared and single occupancy accommodation.

The full 2015 Alpine Mountaineering and Trekking program is available on our web site now.

Forbes Arete, Aiguille du Chardonnet

~ Friday 29th August 2014

Superb day yesterday on the Forbes Arete, Aiguille du Chardonnet. First climbed in 1899(!) this is up there with the best AD ridges in the Alps, with difficulties on snow and rock, great views, a complex descent to make a traverse of the mountain, and 30 "Rébuffat" points as well! The Forbes in question was a Scottish scientist who, amongst other things, studied glaciers in the mid 19th century.He didn't make the first ascent, so presumably the route is named after the Aiguille Forbes which stands at the foot of the ridge.

Conditions were - unsurprisingly - snowy. This made for good going on the glacier, with the direct approach from the hut still passable.

The Bosse is in great easy condition too, snow all the way.

We reached the ridge in cloud fearing yet another "summer of 2014" experience, but luckily the skies cleared and the rest of the day was perfect, if a little cold and windy at times.

On the ridge things get trickier with some quite delicate snow sections, but lots of good crampon/rock/snow mixed climbing.

Awkward descent on snow-covered slab

Near the top

Final steps to the summit

Obligatory summit selfie

Droites/Verte wall of the Argentiere basin.

Vélan and Zermatt this week

~ Saturday 23rd August 2014

We started the week with Mont Vélan and, for once this summer, perfect conditions. The ususal warm welcome and great food at the Vélan hut followed by blue skies, well frozen snow and only 1 other team on the route made a great start to the week.

This picture is taken from roughly the same spot as this one earlier in the "summer"!

After a "rest day" of via ferrata at Nax and rock climbing in Arolla we drove round to Zermatt...

Pollux in perfect condition

First sun on the way up Castor

Chilly on Castor summit

Breithorn half traverse - still very snowy, with huge cornices. Tricky conditions! And so cold the camera refused to take any more pictures.

Dent de Veisivi

~ Saturday 16th August 2014

It's been a challenging week in the Alps, dodging weather and searching for good conditions (not the first time a blog has started with that sentence this summer!) A wet walk to Vignettes on Monday paid off though, with perfect conditions on the Éveque traverse on Tuesday, while other teams had a great day on the Pigne-Cheilon traverse (the new Pas de Chevres ladders are now open and a big improvement)

Airy climbing on the Éveque SW ridge

We drove round to Moiry on Wednesday for the Pointes de Mourti, which left Friday and a mixed forecast to end the week. Cragging down the valley or gamble on the weather for a last mountain route? We gambled and at first it looked like we'd lost - on the long climb to the Dent de Veisivi the clouds rolled in and it started to snow! Despite a few heavy flurries the rock stayed (just) dry enough to climb, and we appreciated the irony of climbing in fresh snow on August the 15th - mid-summer festival day in Evolene!

The Petite Dent de Veisivi looking moody in the cloud.


The sun came out!

Fine positions, good rock and great climbing make the Petite Dent de Veisivi one of the the Arolla valley classics, despite the brutal walk-in. Climbing starts at the col by the snow patch, top right of the picture.

The descent is a fine, if short, PD+ climb on steep, juggy rock.

A glance up the valley this morning showed overnight snow down to around 2600m...

Tsalion West Ridge

~ Tuesday 5th August 2014

The Tsalion west ridge is definitely one of the best rock routes in the valley, if not the Valais, with good rock, lots of good climbing and great positions. It is graded "AD" but beware! Local guides have recently added some bolts but it's worth taking a few friends and wires (and knowing how to use them!) The crux pitches involve committing and serious grade IV climbing, especially when wet.

Although it's a shame to not stay at the lovely Tsa hut, if you only have a day spare it's climbable from the valley with an early start - and a fit team - and so we found ourselves leaving Evolene at 5.30am. It's a stiff 2 hours to the foot of the route and we were dismayed to find it running water - un-forecast overnight rain and snow-covered ledges had left some very "damp" rock.

The first few pitches are tricky, especially when wet, but we soon managed to commit ourselves to a position where up seemed easier than down...

There are 2 bolts on this pitch (keen blog readers may remember...) but today 2 wasn't quite enough. This is a committing pitch

Aspirant guide Kenny Grant pulls onto the summit.


Perrons and Paradiso

~ Saturday 2nd August 2014

It's been another challenging week in the Alps, with more weather to make the Brits feel at home. Still there's always something good to do, with great climbing on lower peaks below the unseasonal snowline. The Perrons above Emosson is home to lots of big rock climbs and a great ridge traverse. With hours of airy climbing on good rock, some exciting abseils and a tricky crux it's a proper Alpine route despite the lack of glacier. Sadly, it was in cloud all day which deprived us of the stunning views as well as making the climbing a bit slippery and adding excitement to the abseils, the rope ends disappearing into the misty void!

We spent the next couple of days dodging showers and searching for dry rock in the valley.

Exciting traversing on Tichodrome, Dorénaz

The tricky crux of Tichodrome

With a glimmer of hope in the forecast we drove south to Gran Paradiso. At first things looked doubtful with even the St Bernard ducks hiding from the wind...

But it dried up for the hut walk-in, and the next morning dawned clear and cold. The approach to the North West face of the Paradiso is cruelly foreshortened - it's a good 2.5 hours from the hut to the bergschrund - but it was worth it. Perfect conditions on the face and perfect weather made up for the waiting and frustration of the previous few days.

Pulling onto the top, with Mont Blanc behind

Dent Blanche attempt

~ Friday 25th July 2014

The South Ridge of the Dent Blanche is well known for being a good option in snowy conditions...or so we thought! A long and wet walk to the hut dampened spirits a bit - where was the forecast sunny afternoon? Sitting in huts watching the snow fall is becoming a familiar feeling this summer. At midnight it was still snowing, but we woke at 3am to find stars and clear skies. Phew.

The climbing starts straight from the hut. Usually it's a dry-rock warm-up, but this morning it was knee deep from the terrace. The airy arete was quite delicate, leading to some more sustained wallowing up ever-deeper snow. The "easy" rock ridge that follows was snow all the way with almost no rock visible.

Strangely crampons were balling up despite deep, fresh, cold snow - a sure sign of something "not right" with the snowpack! Sure enough, arm-deep and hidden below fresh windblown snow we found a saturated wet layer over 30cm deep - decided enough was enough.

A rare summer snowpit! Wet layer obvious about 50-60cm down

Point de Mourti-Dent de Rosses

~ Wednesday 23rd July 2014

The traverse from the Point de Mourti to Dent de Rosses is an excellent and technical AD climb. Starting with a character-building slog through breaking crust (the second time breaking trail to the Point de Mourti this year) the ridge was climbed quickly, with a huge team of French climbers on our tail. (It wasn't a race but we won) Over-heating on the summit, ropework caused much confusion.

A quick abseil lands you on the linking ridge. There's an obvious gendarme which you can walk round on the the right or climb over, which is exposed, harder and needs an abseil off the other end, so we went over...

So that's what the little flaps are for!

Good rock and nice climbing up to the Dent de Rosses.


Jegihorn Rock Climbing

~ Saturday 19th July 2014

Hot, sunny rock climbing on the Jegihorn above Saas Grund yesterday, a very enjoyable finish to a varied week. It was a bit of a change of scene after a week of deserted mountains in the Val d'Hérens - lift access, and there were 3 other teams on the cliff! Still, we had "Panorama" to ourselves. Good rock, great views and 10 pitches of sustained and interesting climbing with a fine finish.

You get good views of the Via Ferrata from here too. If this is you and you'd like a copy, send me an e-mail!

Pigne-Cheilon traverse

~ Friday 18th July 2014

Fine conditions yesterday on the Pigne d'Arolla-Mont Blanc de Cheilon traverse. Starting from Vignettes instead of Dix means you get an extra summit for no extra ascent - a bargain. Early start is essential with the usual mid-summer temperatures turning the snow to mush by midday!

A fine dawn skyline silhouette


Sun, snow and cornices on the Cheilon


Just after the abseil and before starting the "horns"


Great mixed conditions on the final arete


Team on the ridge after passing the horns. This section is often dry by mid-summer.

The final ridge


Aiguille de la Tsa

~ Tuesday 15th July 2014

Walking to the Bertol hut in the rain yesterday was a familiar feeling, but it cleared a little and we climbed the little point above the hut in the afternoon.

Happily the forecast was right and the night was properly clear, dawn bringing well-frozen, crunchy snow - something of a novelty after last week.

We made quick progress round to the Tsa with fine views and no-one else about, the 5 other teams in the hut all having set off for Zermatt on the long last day of the Haute Route.

The Tsa normal route is south facing and was completely dry, warm rock and a pleasure to climb.

Tsa shadow over Arolla

BMG guide Euan Whittaker reaches the top.

Descending on good snow from the Col de la Tsa

Weather in the Alps!

~ Friday 11th July 2014

There's been plenty of it! Last week was changeable and cold but there were a couple of good days. This week has seen the worst spell of summer weather I can remember. Sunday was OK for our approach to the Vignettes hut, but Monday dawned stormy and wet. We left the hut "for a look" and were rewarded with a few hours of clear skies, just enough to get up the Pigne and back - the first alpine summit for a keen group from Bloxham School.

Tuesday was really awful and a visit to the climbing wall was easy to justify.

Wednesday was a little better and gave us a great day of via ferrata action while it snowed in the mountains. A warm-up on the Nax route in the morning, then a strenuous afternoon on the excellent Via Farinetta at Saillon. This is one of the harder and more scenic routes around, with huge atmosphere in the narrow gorge behind Saillon.

Airy bridge at Nax

Very airy bridge at Saillon (Name the mountain guide?)

Low down on the Saillon route

Tunnel on a via ferrata?

Starting the steep final section

Back into the hills on Thursday with a wet and snowy approach to the Moiry hut. Our attempt on the Pointe de Mourti today found 40-50cm of fresh snow and very poor visibility. Not ideal! Finding the foot of the ridge was enough of a challenge, and with conditions looking poor even by Scottish winter standards we beat a hasty retreat.

Alphubel South Ridge

~ Thursday 3rd July 2014

It's been a challenging week with very changeable weather. We started with a real "cairngorm" battle on Mont Vélan.

More bad weather made for a damp - but happily short - walk to the Tasch hut and a nervous wait to see if the clouds would clear. They did, and left a perfect day. The other 6 people in the hut all went to the Rimpfischorn leaving us alone on an eerily deserted Alphubel.

Ghostly Matterhorn in the distance.

Arriving at the Alphubeljoch

Our track on the South Ridge

Top of the steep bit.

And the summit! The huge wooden summit cross is completely buried.

Mont Blanc 2

~ Sunday 22nd June 2014

A second success on Mont Blanc this week. With terrible weather and conditions at the start of the week on Gran Paradiso, things got off to a poor start - failing to make the summit was frustrating and disappointing, but still good preparation for the big goal.

Happily there was a perfect forecast for the end of the week! Glorious weather and good snow conditions saw us making good progress up to Gouter.

the last steps to the summit

Summit!

Heading down

Down the Dome de Gouter, Aiguille de Bionassay way below

The usual Gouter afternoon excitement. Tete Rousse and cold beer in sight, many slow-moving Russians with huge rucksacks blocking the way...

Evolene Parapente and Mountain Bike

~ Monday 16th June 2014

It's not just mountaineering in the Val d'Hérens - it's a great area for paragliding too. I've been driving the transport for the Evolene Parapente the last couple of days. Beautiful views from the morning take-off site at the Étoile Alpage.

Then today riding mountain bikes with old friends from Wales. Great singletrack descents, some hot and sweaty climbs, and more great scenery.

Mont Blanc

~ Sunday 15th June 2014

The summer season got off to a great start this week with success on Gran Paradiso, then Mont Blanc on Thursday. Beautiful weather and good snow conditions and a quiet, early season mountains made for a very enjoyable ascents of both peaks.

The scramble to the summit of Gran Paradiso

Paradiso summit. A tough start to the week but good preparation for Mont Blanc

Early morning on the Gouter ridge

Dome du Gouter, 2 hours to the summit!

High above the Chamonix valley.

Summit selfie

Kurt wins the summit banner competition!

Grand Couloir is in good condition but drying out fast in the warm weather.

Arc'teryx and the BMG

~ Saturday 7th June 2014

Great news about the renewal of the partnership between the BMG and Arc'teryx. I can honestly say that the Arc'teryx kit I've used over the last few years has been the best kit I've ever used. Simple design, quality materials and manufacture, and it lasts. I've climbed and skied in Arc'teryx kit now for several years without a single fault - no stitching failure, no zips breaking, no bits falling off. Sizing seems uniform across the range too - which is good if buying mail order. I'm a large in everything I've tried (but I bought my Atom LT in XL as an over-layer)

Favourite things have been:

Atom LT Hoody. Summer outer layer, winter mid layer, casual town wear. Does everything. Packs small. I bought mine XL as an over layer.

Atom SV Hoody Excellent, simple design warm jacket. Same as the LT but warmer.

Covert Hoody Lovely, warm, fleece jacket, worn loads for 3 years and still looking brand new.

Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody Lightweight, perfect summer Alpine or ski touring soft shell. I did the PDG in these!

Gamma AR Pant Alpine summer, ice climbing and ski touring (fits over a ski boot) I did the PDG in these!

Fury AR Pants Ski touring and skiing, with thermals if it's cold or without if it's warm. 2 winters (160 days?) and still going strong.

Gamma MX Jacket The BMG "uniform" jacket. Bulletproof, great chest pockets and big hood.

Rock Climbing in Wales (part 2)

~ Tuesday 3rd June 2014

And as the rain started in Pembroke we drove back north. Not known for dry weather, North Wales for once turned out to be the driest bit of Britain.

Dinas Mot, Llanberis Pass. Superdirect. Super good.

Climber on Cemetary Gates. There was only one other team on the cliff...wait a minute, it's the guys from Mother Carey's!

It wasn't all climbing. Warm, brown beer. Ahhh!

Where the footholds run out on Left Wall. 25 years since I first climbed this!

Sun, sea and rock. North-West Passage, Castell Helen.

Main Cliff. Al sets off into a world of steepness on the imaginatively named "Big Groove"

Rock Climbing in Wales (part 1)

~ Tuesday 3rd June 2014

Just back from a week rock climbing in Wales. In fact we started with a day at the Roaches, not in Wales at all but it's very close to Manchester airport and is home to some character-building HVS climbing for a "gentle" re-introduction to British trad. Battered and bleeding we drove south in the rain to Pembroke that evening...

Rock Idol, Mother Carey's Kitchen

...and the sun came out! At Mother Carey's the holds were big, the pitches long and steep, and then the tide came in.

Evening at St Govan's. "The Arrow" is the classic Pemboke E1, a bit polished now but still amazing climbing. Surprisingly for half-term week there was only 1 other team on the crag.

Recently named one of the best 5 HVS in Britain by UKClimbing, "Riders on the Storm" thinks it's E3.

Pembroke duck-egg

Lucky Strike. Low tide, calm sea, sunny and deserted. Does it get any better?

Huntsman's Leap. One of the most atmospheric places to climb in the UK. Al wondering how to get back out.

Spring

~ Sunday 18th May 2014

That great time of year as the weather tries to decide if it's summer or still winter. We've had hot sun and snow in the garden on alternate days.

Good memories of the Patrouille des Glaciers in this picture of the team looking surprisingly happy after 4000m uphill and a sleepless night.

Good to go climbing and use arms again - it's been a while, and toes and fingers that have spent the last 6 months in comfy boots and warm gloves have taken a bit of a battering.

This is Tichodrome wall, above Dorénaz.

Great climbing on good rock for 5 pitches, with just the birdsong, screeching buzzards and the incessant drone of the A9 traffic...

Here on a newly cleaned and bolted crag above the customs post in Chatelard. Great climbing, lovely setting.

Patrouille des Glaciers

~ Tuesday 6th May 2014

It's been a brilliant winter with lots of new places, fresh tracks, fantastic skiing and last Sunday's success in the Patrouille des Glaciers ski race was the perfect end to the season! All winter I've been preparing with the team, starting way back in December. A fitness test at Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Sion confirmed there was a lot of work to do, but surely 6 months would be enough?

Well, 6 months passed quickly and on Saturday we found ourselves in Zermatt waiting, nervously, wondering if the weather would clear and the race would start. With only 2 hours to go before start time we were told the race would run, but it was still raining in town...finally with an hour to go the rain stopped, patches of blue sky appeared, and soon we were running through the town - on the way to Verbier!

I lose the smile for camera competition

Starting at 9pm meant the first bit was in fast-fading daylight. Soon torches were on as we climbed through Zmutt and on to Stafel. There we hit snow for the first time and swapped trainers for ski boots. Stafel is better known as the end of the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route - it's where you make the short walk up to the bar-restaurant before skiing down the piste to celebrate in Zermatt - so for me it was a strange feeling to be going the other way! Having skied down here recently I knew all too well it was a long way to Tete Blanche. There are time limits in the race and you have a maximum of 3 hours to reach the Schonbiel checkpoint, so the pressure was on. Go fast enough to make it whilst saving enough strength for the remaining 12/13/14 hours!

We reached Schonbiel with time to spare, but in deteriorating weather. On with the rope for the crevassed section, warm clothes , a quick bite to eat, and we were off again.

It's a long way up the Stockji glacier!

Quick break at Stockji checkpoint. About 1600m climbed now. Weather improving but smiles fading!

Reaching Tete Blanche is a big psychological target, 2000m climbed and we'd been up here from Arolla in training and knew the descent - but skiing the other side at 3am, fast, roped up and in the dark with lots of other teams was pretty exciting! A quick skin to Bertol and we put the rope away before tackling the big descent to Arolla. Some great powder (really!) but lots of big bumps and plenty of rocks made for a nerve-wracking descent. Just a few weeks earlier we'd walked a 500m section below Plan de Bertol on the summer path, but it was now thinly covered sketchy skiing all the way, lit by headtorches and sparks from skis!

At Tete Blanche, about to ski to Bertol

We made it to Arolla - phew! Half way there, and a warm welcome from our superb support team with hot soup, and more food for the rest of the race. It took a big effort to get going again, knowing the Arolla piste is steep and slippery, but with refuelled legs we made good time to Riedmatten in the dawn light. The col is a known bottleneck, but we were dismayed to find a massive queue. Stuck in the line, freezing, our time schedule suddenly looked at risk as the margin we'd worked hard to build up quickly ebbed away.

The queue up the Arolla side

...and down the Dix side

After a careful think it looked like we were still on track despite the wasted hour. The ski down to the Dixence lake was fast but a bit tricky low down - crash here and you can easily lose a ski down the steep ground to the lake, as a couple of folk had found out! Skinning along the lakeside is flat, but long. Very long. You can see the Rosablanche high above and it looks miles away (it is!) Failing to make the time cut-off here would be desperate, with 3000m of ascent already behind you, but we had time to spare at the checkpoint, even a margin for slowing down if needed, and success was starting to look likely!

The climb back up to Rosablanche is tough on legs that have been skiing for 12hours. Steep skinning track leads to the foot of the infamous couloir. You can hear the crowd at the top from here - cheering, Swiss cowbells and some wonderfully tuneless horns! Helicopters fly overhead (filming us!) The atmosphere is huge! It's a steep climb, carrying skis, but you know success is close now.

Reaching the top was an emotional moment. 6 months of doubts, fears, challenges, and pure hard work to get here! It's worth it. Big hugs from the wonderful support team - thanks guys, you'd been up all night too but were still smiling! Hard to force ourselves to keep going, skis on for the fast blast down to the foot of the final climb to Col de la Chaux. Slog up steeply, then carry skis for the last bit and suddenly it's all downhill to Verbier! We've done it!

Huge thanks to the team, who were great company and made the whole thing fun.

Huge thanks also to everyone who helped out and to all the great supporters on the route!

Final Patrouille des Glaciers preparation

~ Wednesday 30th April 2014

Just back from 2 nights up at the excellent Aiguilles Rouges hut, our last bit of training and acclimatising before the Patrouille des Glaciers. A last minute boot re-fit sorted some problems - thanks to Chevrier Sports in les Hauderes, who now have a boot stretching machine. Tactical faffing meant we had a track to follow to the hut, and were rewarded with a stunning day yesterday in deep fresh snow on the Pointe de Vouasson

With big skis and not roped up the skiing would have been great

Tuesday night we were the last visitors of the season at the hut, had a great meal, an entertaining night skiing session (roped, at night, in calf deep crust - nice) then a challenging ski down this morning. All set, we just need a weather window for the race...

Tete Blanche and Ferpecle Glacier

~ Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Back up to the Bertol hut and Tete Blanche again this morning, a great local ski tour made more complex than usual as you first have to find your way through the military base that's appeared in the Arolla car park in preparation for next week's Patrouille des Glaciers. Anyway, we sneaked through and soon were skinning...then walking up the dry footpath to Plan de Bertol.

Dry path with posts in place for the PDG safety nets.

Checkpoint tent at Plan de Bertol.


Nice ski off the top of the Tete Blanche, heading for the Dent Blanche hut

...then turning left and down beneath the Mota Rota

There was a clear winner in the "who can do the most turns" contest


Tricky exit down the stream bed

Then some combat walking down the Ferpecle road, which has suffered badly this winter!

Sex de Marinda Couloir

~ Tuesday 22nd April 2014

Maybe my last day of the season in Grimentz, but what a great way to finish. Really stable snow conditions with a bonus 10cm of fresh powder from yesterday's bad weather left the Sex de Marinda couloir in perfect condition to today.

Every good descent has some combat skiing!

Grimentz and Zinal Off piste

~ Sunday 20th April 2014

It's hard to get excited about skiing when it rains on the morning drive round to Grimentz, but we went out for a look and were rewarded with a great day yesterday. Almost better for being so unexpected, the skiing was good with 5-10cm of fresh snow on a firm base. Fresh tracks for miles down Orzival, the Chamois bowl and a final run off the top of the Roc d'Orzival, still totally untracked.

Today it was back to normal with cloudless blue skies, so we set off touring towards the Sassenaire. Nice spring snow below the Cabane des Becs de Bossons, then a hot climb to the little col above the Basset de Levron. From there perfect spring snow all the way down to the dam, with just enough snow cover to sneak along the track and ski all the way to Grimentz car park. The ski season isn't over yet!

Arolla to Verbier

~ Friday 18th April 2014

This is the "short" Patrouille des Glaciers course, with 2000m of ascent in 26km straight-line distance. Amazingly, with so little snow around, the course is actually in great condition and looking good for the race in 2 weeks time.

The piste from Arolla is steep and a bit like skinning up a sheet of glass in the early morning. Ski crampons helped. At the Col de Riedmatten it's a different story - the slope up to the col is almost dry and easy walking on the summer footpath.

Getting down the Dixence side will be equipped with ropes for the race, but at the moment it's steep cramponning on hard snow. Apparently it's already decided that the race transition will be right down on the glacier this year - there's barely enough snow to ski the lower slopes through the boulders.

Skiing down the Pas du Chat was fast on hard snow yesterday, with quite a few Haute Route teams skinning in the other direction. Snow was so hard low down that some were cramponning up from the lake.

From Pas du Chat to la Barmaz is flat, but surprisingly long...

Climbing up past la Barmaz.

The Rosablanche couloir has plenty of snow in it so we skinned the whole way.

Then there's a fast easy ski down the Rosablanche, a tiring skate to the col, more skiing (on nice spring snow at last) and a final quick climb to the Col de la Chaux before skiing slushy pistes to Verbier. The Verbier pistes are pretty thin but still complete all the way to Médran.

That's nearly 6 bottles of wine!

Haute Route Variations

~ Sunday 13th April 2014

It was nice to have last year's Pure Haute Route team re-united this year for round 2. We'd abandoned in bad weather last year at the Cabane du Vélan, so this year we re-started from there. It's a lovely, quiet hut with friendly guardians and great food.

On day 2 we did a fairly tough "warm-up" ski on Mont Vélan. It's a long ascent, with a technical bit through the Col de la Gouille and a steep skiing section on the descent.

The chains on the Col de la Gouille

Day 3 was an early start for the long climb to Valsorey and the Plateau du Couloir. It's nice to start from the comfort of the Vélan hut instead of Valsorey, but it means rattly ski down in the dark before a long climb in the early hours. The weather slowly deteriorated as we climbed...and it was cloudy and snowing at the top. Nice. Happily after a nervy start down the Chanrion side the sun broke through and meant we could enjoy some proper powder skiing. Superb.

Skins on in the dark below Vélan

The long haul up to the Plateau du Couloir, hoping the weather improves

Day 4 and another early start for the climb up the Serpentine glacier. This is a long and scenic ascent up the wild side of the Pigne d'Arolla, but by the time we reached the col one of our team was suffering badly from a "mystery illness" and we beat a hasty retreat to Arolla. Sorry to the Cabane des Vignettes for cancelling last minute! Still got some great skiing down the Dix side of the Pigne. Fresh tracks!

Great skiing on the Pigne d'Arolla

Day 5 and now minus 1 person, we made the long climb back to the Bertol hut having been very lucky to get a last minute booking. It's a great place to stay, with entertainment provided by the Scandinavian team drinking competition. The girls won, but regretted it later that night.

In the dark, all ladders are long

Day 6 dawned sunny but cold. We skinned to Tete Blanche, which was cold, skied down and then up the Tete de Valpelline, warming up slightly...This is a fine viewpoint, only 45 minutes up from the Col and well worth visiting. Fresh powder turns down to the col and good cold snow all the way down the Stockji glacier before it turned to amazing sandy spring lower down. Despite the heat the piste to Zermatt is complete, and we skied all the way. A fine end to a great week.

Sun peaks over the edge of Tete Blanche

Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens

team on the top of Tete de Valpelline

the view back to Mont Vélan from tete de Valpelline

Arolla News

~ Friday 4th April 2014

There's a great little news/blog here for Arolla updates. Sometimes it feels very nuch like the end of the road in Arolla, but it's pretty lively at the moment with ski touring season in full swing and the imminent Patrouille des Glaciers race.

This morning at the Bertol hut it was a bit different to the last time I was there on the Winter room Haute Route.

Above, freezing and windy as we leave the hut back in February.

Below, busy, and comfortable in T-shirts at the col today.

The guardienne is looking for helpers for the Monday morning re-stock - give her a ring if you can be there at 9.30am to unload helicopters!

Futher down the valley the invasion - ooops, I mean the PDG preparation - has begun.

Just 1 brand new digger and a generator for now, but Satarma is about to become a military base again.

Swiss Military tactics summarised in 1 neat sign?

Further down the road again - is this a "zone dangéreuse"? - this rock landed in the night. It's Friday so the council have put a fence around it until...

Éveque/Pigne d'Arolla traverse

~ Tuesday 1st April 2014

Setting off in the early morning from Arolla aiming for the Éveque - I've been up to Col des Vignettes a few times recently and the snow isn't getting any softer - ski crampons are handy! A quick rattle down to the col de Chermontane and it's skins on again for the climb to the Éveque. The last steep bit is really windblown with patches of bare ice - you'd have to be very keen to want to ski down it, so we left our skis and cramponed up to the summit.

Top of the Éveque. No water bottle!


Best to keep the rope tight when belaying...

Then someone suggested going up the Pigne. It could have been an April Fool, but...sometime later we reached the top. More rattly skiing down the Dix side and a final hot slog up the Pas de Chevre finished the day off nicely.

Top of the Pigne. Hooray, water bottle is back! Where are my gloves?


Calf deep powder all the way

Tsalion

~ Monday 31st March 2014

Up the Tsalion couloir this morning. This is a classic Arolla steep descent and has been skied a few times recently, but after 2 hours booting up the thing in nasty crust neither of us felt like skiing back down, or waiting for it to soften! We went Down via the Col de la Tsa instead, which in winter is a fast ski back to Arolla from the Tsa and a far cry from the long hot slog of the summer descent.

Typical "selfie" frown. Arcteryx Gamma SL in action, brilliant, lightweight softshell.


The steep bit below the Plans de Bertol - looks like it will be skis off here for the PDG

Another Perfect Day in Arolla

~ Saturday 29th March 2014

The best day of the week in fact...having forgotten the camera, blue skies and powder were guaranteed! We had a chiily ride up the Arolla drag lifts - no queues or waiting here! - and a slightly lumpy ski down in to the Pra Gra valley before skinning up (and warming up) the 20 minute climb to Pt 2959. Then it was back to normal, big turns in cold, untracked powder down the north side into the Vallon des Ignes. All too soon the skins were on again for the long, hot and sweaty climb to the Pointe de Vouasson. Did I mention the heat? Hot, damned hot. Like skinning in a jungle. Happily someone with a good sense of direction had made a nice track (Is it my imagination or are all tracks slightly steeper in PDG years? And whoever made the track to the Pigne must have been blindfolded or drunk. Or both) Anyway, it was hot...but we got there in the end to find only a handful of tracks in the glacier descent to Evolene, so it was fresh tracks all the way down. Skiing direct down the stream bed can sometimes be a battle - it's called "la Merdesson" after all - but the snow stayed skiable all the way down through Arbey with only a couple of patches of grass, and soon afterwards we made the final turn onto the road 3 metres from the café in Lanna. Perfect end to a great week with the Eagle Ski Club.

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Thursday 27th March 2014

Another good day in Arolla, lots of fresh tracks in the morning then some "slightly steeper" tracks in the afternoon.

Climbing up the Cassorte gully before...


...belayed sideslip down the other side. Not a good place to fall!

The ski down from the Cassorte is one of the best around Arolla. Steep to start, then wide open slopes down to Lac Bleu, from where a bit of energetic leaping around in the woods leads to a café.

A careful sideslip into the Satarma couloir...

...was worth it.

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Wednesday 26th March 2014

More fresh tracks today on 2 of the Arolla classic descents. Great skiing but slightly unromantic route names - first down the north side of "point 2959", then back up the lifts for an afternoon descent of "the slope behind the third cross on the left", or whatever it's really called.

The third cross on the left.

Evolene ski Touring

~ Monday 24th March 2014

Up the Pallanche de la Crettaz today. Hot sun and yesterday's fresh snow made for sweaty skinning, but skiing the shady north side more than made up for the effort. Fresh tracks in great snow all the way down through la Niva, and just a few chamois for company. And you can see our tracks from Evolene! Perfect day touring!

Pigne d'Arolla

~ Wednesday 19th March 2014

A rare day off work, but no rest with the PDG date fast approaching. After an excellent 3 days training in Arolla with the PDG team members this week it was another early start with my neighbour for the Pigne d'Arolla this morning.

Chilly on top of the Pigne

Dent Blanche and the Matterhorn from the summit

Fine view to the Bertol hut, scene of yesterday's efforts. 

It's been a long time since it snowed so conditions are "firm" to say the least, making  for a fast rattle off the summit and an exciting descent of the Vuibé glacier.

Next-door neighbour descending the Vuibé glacier like he had a train to catch!

Grimentz and Zinal (again!)

~ Saturday 15th March 2014

 Back in Grimentz and Zinal again this week, but it was a different world to last week. With perfect conditions last week the surprise was not how good the skiing was, but how few people were out skiing. When there's calf deep untracked snow everywhere it's not hard to find great skiing - it might have been the "week of the season". This week, with no new snow, strong winds at the weekend and a huge rise in temperatures, finding decent skiing was more challenging...As it turned out there was plenty of character-building crust, but also plenty of hidden powder and some perfect spring if you timed it right. Not a bad week at all!

Near the top of the Diablon before perfect sunny spring skiing

Skinning the ridge of the Diablon before skiing the sunny south side to the Moiry dam. 

Perfect spring snow off the "wrong" side of the Brinta on the way to Vercorin

The heat caused some big avalanches too - big wet slides on sunny slopes in the afternoon and some huge full depth slides on north slopes. These 2 pics are of opposite sides of the same hill!

Huge full depth, north facing...the bowl to the right of the skin track up the Brinta from Réchy. 

Huge full depth, south facing. Looking into Orxival from the Roc d'Orxival. Spot the ski tracks out of the classic Orxival left-hand...

 

Ski News

~ Friday 7th March 2014

It's been a busy few weeks. India, Grimentz, Pdg, Haute Route, Grimentz again...Lots of news on the Facebook page but here are a few pictures from this week in Grimentz and Zinal. Could it have been the week of the year (so far)? Maybe...Blue skies and powder and - even by Grimentz and Zinal standards - there was no-one off piste.

50m from the piste, but fresh tracks...

Ready to go in the Val de Réchy

PDG Training

~ Saturday 22nd February 2014

After 2 weeks of fat skis and powder in Gulmarg - pics on Facebook and more coming - it was back on the little skis today at Evolene in beautiful weather and great snow.

Only about 10 weeks to go now - surely the PDG organisers will confirm start times soon?

Ooh, Aah, Arolla

~ Tuesday 28th January 2014

 After a few days in the Grimentz-Zinal (Zinal-Grimentz) mega-resort, it was a shock to ski down through the trees this morning to find the Arolla lifts not running...but they saw us coming and switched them on as we arrived. 

It wasn't too busy on the lift

Yesterday everything in Grimentz was windblown above 2200m - not a good sign in Arolla, where the skiing starts at 2000m, but weirdly here there was no sign of wind. 

Turn 1

Turn 2

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, it's only powder skiing but I like, like it, yes I do!

Count the skiers

 

Grimentz and Zinal Off Piste

~ Saturday 25th January 2014

 Just another average day in Grimentz and Zinal. You know, miles of untracked powder, no queues, perfect weather. 

Despite confusing rumours the new Grimentz-Zinal (or is it Zinal-Grimentz?) lift opened this morning. Worryingly the lift drivers had been drinking heavily prior to the first run...

It was worth the risk though. CHF25 000 000 well spent. 

After a perfect run down to the dam there was very little enthusiasm for "Couloir Saxlund". 

 

Morning in Zinal, back in Grimentz for the afternoon. 

Can't get no satisfaction? Straight off a lift on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we didn't touch a track for miles. Sssshhhh! Don't tell anyone, it's the secret ski resort!

 After a second run of untracked powder we all agreed that Peter Hardy doesn't know his rocker from his sidecut, and that it might just be worth skiing off piste this winter after all. 

Evolene

~ Friday 24th January 2014

 Second car in the Evolene car park for the morning skinning today, with 5-10cm of cold fresh snow - extra points scored for skinning on powder days of course. Higher up it was pretty windy - the top of Evolene lifts is around 2600m and the amount of drifting snow was impressive.

The piste patrol had already blasted and ski-released lots of small-medium windslabs but you could see snow drifting everywhere. The old deep weak layer still exists on steep north-facing slopes, but yesterday and today's northerly wind is creating a big windslab risk on the other aspects, so today's bulletin mentions avalanche risk on all aspects again. Great.

I've just been asked for opinions on the Dynafit TLT5 and 6. My trusty TLT5s are now on their last legs - I'll be sad to bin them but bits are falling off faster than I can repair them! It's not really the boots' fault as they've been my main boot for 3 seasons and skied 200+ days, lots of lift access and day touring, ice climbing, etc. The tally is now up to 6(!) forefoot buckles replaced, both ankle pivots replaced, and both spoilers broken. Here's the latest:

Looks like the pin broke ages ago - the broken end is rusty. 

These have been great boots and you can find them fairly cheaply now so they're still a good buy. I've replaced them with the new TLT6, which seems to be an even better ski boot. It doesn't have the forefoot flex (which I quite liked for skinning) so feels much more solid downhill. The buckles are much better too - they stay closed while skinning and skiing for a start - although it remains to be seen how long they'll last. The shell has a bit more volume than the 5 but you'd be hard pressed to tell in a blind test. I got a shell size smaller (28.5 instead of 29) then had to get them stretched lots. The 6 comes with 2 tongues - stiff and very stiff. Even with the softer tongue they feel fine skiing a big ski (K2 Sidestash) Without a tongue they're great on small skis and it's still one of the best uphill boots around.  

Ice is Nice

~ Wednesday 15th January 2014

 A change of scene for the last 4 days, swapping skis for axes. Day 1 was an introduction to ice for Avi and a warm-up for seasoned veteran J...The Tsa boulder first, then an exciting attempt on a fast-melting tunnel left-hand ended in retreat. Finding beach-towels all over the Usine Électrique we finished the day with some "character-building" rock and dry tooling...

First time on ice - looks promising!

An early start on day 2 got us to the bottom of the Tunnel Right-Hand (just) before the crowds. There's not much ice in the Valais at the moment, so weekends are inevitable busy. Great climbing and a well-earned lunch at the Pension Lac Bleu before making the long drive south to Cogne in search of more ice. 

Climb when ready!

The usual places in Cogne were full but the Petit Hotel was a fine second choice - a short walk into town, friendly, great service, sauna, huge breakfast - highly recommended.

On Monday we found great conditions on Tutto Relativo, and a good link-up with Eau des Cristaux.  

Type 1 fun

Some of the team preferred Stella but we settled instead for Tuborg. Here's Avi enjoying his fourth day of ice climbing.

Definitely Type 2 fun. Note the "This Way Up" arrows. 

Aggghhh! The Telegraph!

~ Friday 10th January 2014

Mountain guides all over the Alps will no doubt be pleased to hear Peter Hardy has decided not to ski off piste this winter. Hopefully he will now take up brass rubbing or some other "safe" pastime instead. In good journalistic tradition I can't reveal sources, but I have first-hand accounts of how Peter Hardly has used his career to scrounge free holidays in return for a few paragraphs of clichéd rubbish. Skiing for him is more Free-lunch than  Free-Ride...

- To claim guides are playing Russian Roulette is ridiculous. Guides' training, experience and work is all about making good decisions based on fact and sound judgement, not guesswork. 

- Backing up poor arguments with  false claims about victims of recent accidents is unforgivable - the young Swiss guide killed this week would never have described himself as "one of Switzerland's top guides" - he was just a highly trained professional, passionate about the mountains and sorely missed by his family, friends and colleagues. The fact that the accident happened during an avalanche safety course is no more than a cruel irony. 

- The avalanche category was 3 - not "3 or 4"

- Is he trying to imply Xavier de la Rue is losing his nerve? Is he trying to compare himself to Dominic Perret? 

- There's been a large thaw at high altitudes all week, rain, and a freeze is forecast next week...

 

 

Grimentz and Zinal Off Piste

~ Friday 10th January 2014

 It's been another great week's skiing in the Val d'Anniviers. 20cm of fresh snow on Saturday made for tricky driving on the way there, but that was a price worth paying for good ski conditions all week!

Avalanche conditions are still very delicate so careful route choice is crucial, as is strict 1 at a time skiing on any slightly steeper slopes...Big, shady steep slopes are best avoided for a while yet - it will take a long time for the snowpack to consolidate. 

Category 0 terrain

This is the new lift in Grimentz. Nearly finshed, just a few little corners to tidy up. 

Avalanche risk!

~ Wednesday 1st January 2014

 With desperately sad news of 7 deaths in Switzerland since Christmas, it's worth re-iterating the current high avalanche risk. It's a frequently under-estimated "only" Category 3, but I've been seeing lots of avalanche activity, feeling lots of "whoomphs" and seeing plenty of surface cracking, even yesterday in theVallon de Rechy in Grimentz (a popular, easy access tour) Generally, I've had the feeling that the risk is very high, and this article suggests the only reason the SLF can't say Cat 4 is the lack of large spontaneous avalanches, otherwise we currently have Cat 4 instability .

http://www.air-glaciers.ch/sion/index.php/fr/news/391

That article and the SLF website (in English) say the risk won't decrease for a long time, and SLF say it will increase again tomorrow.

http://www.slf.ch/lawinenbulletin/schneedecke_wetter/index_EN

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