Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Alpine Summer Conditions - What? No Heatwave?

~ Wednesday 3rd November 2021

Summer 2021 was unusual for a few reasons(!), not least that whilst the rest of Europe saw record temperatures the Alps seemed to escape the usual heatwave. In recent years we've had at least one spell of unbearably hot weather each year - I remember driving down from Saas Fee once, watching the van thermometer rise from 22 to 38.5 degrees in Sion - but this year it seemed to stay reasonably cool all summer. Lucky, because the van air conditioning broke...

Anyway, here are a few pictures of an Alpine "summer". A good reminder to always take warm gloves! First off, the 10th August on the Zinal Rothorn North Ridge. Mid-summer, freezing cold and a lot of fairly Scottish sweeping to clear the way.

And later, still wearing everything as we descend.

Only a few days later (14th August) we were sweeping the snow off the West ridge of Lyskamm!

10 days later and we traversed Lyskamm in lovely warm weather to stay at the Margherita hut. Overnight it snowed and we found ourselves on top of the Zumsteinspitze with 10cm of fresh powder. After a very polite "no, no, after you!" session we found ourselves front of the line descending to the col, then everyone else turned back and we were the line!

It's amazing to have a route like this to yourself on a spectacular day, but not to be underestimated either. It's slower in snowy conditions, much harder to spot loose rock, and many of the bolts and belays that litter the popular Alpine routes are hidden by a few cm of new snow. Crampon scratches - a good sign that you're on route - are also quickly hidden, so route-finding can be harder.

It must have been quiet at Monte Rosa hut because there were only a handful of teams on the normal route, including one team who had helicoptered in to the saddle at 4000m! Anyway, no bottlenecks or queuing to descend, but the thin dusting had hidden some nasty bare ice patches on the steep slopes below the summit. Another problem with overnight snow.

And of course the walk up to the train hadn't got any shorter.

Bishorn East Ridge

~ Monday 1st November 2021

The Bishorn is well known as a technically easy 4000m peak and even referred to (still in 2021!) as the "4000 des Dames". Casual sexism repeated in the name of the nearby Diablon des Dames. Anyway, it's a great peak with a long and tiring hut walk-in from Zinal, a glacier that demands respect and stunning views from the summit. Nowadays the lifts in Zermatt and Saas Fee mean there are much easier 4000m peaks to climb - the Bishorn is proper alpinism with no lift-access short-cuts! It's a good ski-tour too.

We decided to climb the East ridge, hoping to find a more technical route to the summit. This starts from the lovely little Turtmann hut at the head of the peaceful Turtmanntal. There's a new carpark with a Pay-in-Dismay machine which only takes coins...or smartphone app payment but there's no 4g usual once you manage to actually leave the valley life gets much more straightforward.

The first challenge is getting to the ridge - the Bisjoch is a long 3 hours away, never steep but quite tedious in the dark! It's a relief when the sun comes up and you see the mountain. The classic North face route is now blocked by a line of seracs so the East ridge is really the best way up from here.

Once you're on the ridge the climbing gets more interesting in an "easy-but-loose" way. Don't pull on the holds! It's actually probably best when plastered with snow to hold things together.

Great positions and fantastic views down into the Mattertal.

The rocky bit goes quite quickly and soon turns into a snow ridge. The top seems not too far away...but as snow ridges often do, this one goes on for a while. No track, calf deep in places with a suspicious cornice and much steeper than it looks in the photos!

From there it's a short descent and a short climb up to the true summit. The Tracuit normal route crowds had already left so we had it to ourselves. An "easy" AD ridge? Certainly no technical difficulty but it's quite long (1600m ascent), loose and in firm condition the snow ridge would be serious, but overall a great way up the mountain.

Now of course we had to get down. The normal route in good conditions is quick and easy to descend. Just off the top we passed 2 women who'd climbed it from Turtmann hut, which as we were about to find out is a really long way. 4000 des Dames indeed!

You could of course stay at Tracuit or descend to Zinal from there which would be long but easy, followed by some head-scratching about how to get back to the car! We decided to go back via Turtmann hut, so first had to leave the Tracuit track and swim through some horrible soft snow on the lower glacier, thigh deep at times next to early-morning crampon tracks on the surface, then slog back up to pt2913 in search of the new via ferrata. This short-cuts the old route which made a circuitous loop up the Brunegg glacier and gets longer every year as the glacier retreats, but it's not for the faint-hearted! Early season the top is banked out with snow and not easy to find, and the route itself is impressively steep.

A few more ups and downs finally lead to Turtmann and a pleasantly short path down to the car!

Summer 2021 Catch-Up!

~ Friday 29th October 2021

I put lots of pictures went on Facebook and Instagram this summer but The Blog has been a bit neglected - it's time for a catch-up!

To start with, here are a few photos from 3 Lyskamm traverses this summer. I usually try to avoid repeating routes in the same season (there is so much to do that there's no need to do the same thing twice!) but this year Lyskamm was in great condition and it's such a beautiful route anyway.

Each traverse was quite different - really cold and windy on the first one, pleasantly warm on the third...lots of fresh snow on the second one but rock-hard on the other two. The first one (June) we finished quickly down a snowy Grenz glacier and walked out to the train the same day. Doing the same in August we found the glacier much trickier to descend with lots of zig-zags and some BIG crevasses - this was a few days before the Dom crevasse "moment", a subject for another blog?

If you start from Klein Matterhorn you can traverse Castor and stay at Quintino Sella on Day 1, then traverse Lyskamm, descend the Grenz glacier to Monte Rosa hut and walk out to the train on day 2 - a long way but it saves another night.

Oh - there are 2 Quintino Sella huts in the Alps...make sure you book the right one!

The third time we stayed at Margherita hut where it snowed 10cm overnight leaving us a very snowy and deserted Dufourspitze traverse the following day - everyone turned back from Zumsteinspitze. This is a fantastic high-level 3-day trip with 8x4000m peaks. The slog to the train didn't get any easier...

Eagles Ski Club High Summits Week

~ Sunday 18th April 2021

This week started out as the Winter Room trip but was delayed due to Covid. So, no winter rooms, and only 2 visiting Eagles, but some great skiing!

Battling some weather we made it to the Dix hut to be rewarded by a clear but very cold day on Mont Blanc de Cheilon. -20 in the morning apparently, and the route stays tucked in the shade for most of the way. The ski off made up for it though.

Next day we went up la Luette. Only a 600m climb above the hut, but untracked skiing right from the summit to the tongue of the Cheilon glacier.

Final summit of the week was the Pointe de Vouasson. Only 2 other guests in the hut made for a quiet evening! A good peak to finish the week, with great views back to the earlier summits. Lots of good skiing where we seemed to go through several seasons - freezing on the summit, sunny powder, some cloudy "skiing by feel", and finally spring snow turning eventually to grass before a 5 minute walk to the road. A good end to a good week, hopefully to be repeated next year with a bigger team!

Is Light Right? Ski Touring and Weight Saving

~ Sunday 7th February 2021

When you're going uphill on skis, weight makes a difference - every gram counts. Going downhill wide skis, stiff boots and safe-release bindings make life much easier, but weigh more. Somewhere, there's a perfect compromise between uphill/downhill performance!

An interesting start point is to think about summer gear. A summer Alpine boot and crampon weigh about 1.3kg, so that's the extra load on each foot when cramponning up snow.

A sensible lightweight skitouring set-up (boot, binding, ski and skin) weighs more than double!

(Scarpa Alien, Plum WEPA, Dynafit Cho Oyu 88mm ski + skin)

That's quite a light set-up and is harder work on the descent unless the snow is good. You'll get much more ski performance from a bigger ski and stiffer boot like the Dynafit Hoji, K2 Wayback 96 +skin, Plum Pika weighed here...but at almost 3xsummer boot weight!

The K2 Wayback is a great ski but still definitely in the touring range. A more "Freeride" ski like the Black Crows Navis 102mm (plus Dynafit Hoji, Plum Guide, skin) takes the total to a nice, round 4kg which really doesn't help if you want to "aller plus loin".

Big skis need bigger boots like the Salomon Shift 130...a "lightweight" stiff boot. Here, with the Black Crows Navis/Plum Guide/skin.

Add a Salomon shift binding for extra security and downhill performance...and the uphill will feel much further than it should. (Black Crows Navis/Salomon Shift Pro 130)

Or go the whole way with a stiff boot, Shift binding, and a 112 Blizzard Rustler. We've almost reached 5kg! (And that's a skin, not a green leg, in the boot!)

Now, if the old adage about "a pound on the foot is worth 5 on the back" is true, then swapping the Alien/Cho Oyu/WEPA set-up for the Shift Pro 130/Shift/Rustler set-up is like putting 10.6kg in your rucksack!

The Ski far.

~ Thursday 28th January 2021

It goes without saying that it's been a strange year. The Covid restrictions have made it very difficult for everyone of course, with British skiers also having to come to terms with Brexit! Switzerland has kept the lifts open, but restrictions have made travel all but impossible, and very delicate avalanche conditions await anyone who actually makes it to the mountains.

The early season was very dry in the central Valais and skiing off-piste meant dodging rocks...

Ice was good though - here's the keen team from the Grand Hotel Kurhaus learning to climb ice.

Avalanche conditions were bad because of the thin snowpack - here's a lucky escape on a sunny Saturday in Arolla. The classic trap of skiing fresh tracks next to the piste, then spreading out across the steepening slope until it got too steep. A small slab, but enough to carry the skier 150m downhill and bury his skis. The green line marks his ski-less walk out!

The avalanche problem was partly create by wind - if you can see drifting snow, you know to expect windslab.

Luckily we managed to find enough stable snow for the first day on the road to becoming a British Mountain Guide - at least for the 4 candidates who were already in France. 2 others were unable to travel.

There has been some good touring. Here at the Col de Bréona, with 1500m of descent on gentle angles to les Hauderes.

Massive avalanches on the Pointe de Vouasson, a local classic descent but best avoided for a few weeks i think!

And some more excellent skiing on the Pallanche de la Cretta - after a long slog up in fresh snow we enjoyed 1500m of fresh snow all the way to the valley bottom.

As I type this it's pouring rain at 1400m, Cat 4 avalanche risk and Cat 5 in the upper Valais, the lifts and even the road to Arolla are closed and it's forecast to continue for 48 hours! 2021 is turning into a very unusual season.

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