Sunday, 10 May 2015

Work, Train, eat and sleep - a photo catch up of the exciting bits in between

Time flies and it been a long time since I've put anything on here. It’s basically been work, train, eat and sleep, so there hasn't been anything too exciting to write about up until recently. I've just got back from a great trip out to Chamonix and I’ll put something on here about that shortly.

Up till then it hasn't all been about work and squats with bag of cement in a rucksack on my back (improvising for the lack of weights!). I've had a couple of good weekends up in Scotland and a quick trip to the Alps back in February. So here’s a bit of a photo catch up from some of the highlights.

Jack Geldard's re-introduction to Scottish winter climbing happened in January.  He started thinking it was all a bit continental - blue skies, perfect water ice on Ben Nevis, just missing the Italian coffee

...and then remembering it isn't always blue skies in Scotland.  Jack, Dave and Ally walking into Coire an Lochan
Less of the perfect water ice.  Jack remembering how to climb snow covered rock on the Auricle, Coire an Lochan
....and discovering it's a long and slow process!
In February I managed to sneak a few days out in the Alps.  The weather was rubbish in the mountains but conditions on the awesome Breitwangfluh in Kandersteg were pretty good, especially on the classic ice line of Crack Baby WI6, 340m.  I haven't climbed any proper, pure steep water ice for a long, long time.  I find ice climbing such a head game and it takes me a while to get my head and confidence back into it.  I'm fine on ice in the mountains, cruddy rotten neve with little no gear, whatever but water ice just scares the sh*t out of me!  Non the less Nick Bullock was beyond psyched to tick Crack Baby after years or waiting to be in the right place at the right time and persuaded me to join.  He even promised me an easy day before to get my head back into it.  The easy warm up day didn't really happen as temps were too high when we got there so it was straight onto it...
Nick starting up the first pitch, which turned into a long 100m pitch to get to the start of the steep climbing up ice pillars above.

Nick on the first crux pitch, great climbing and I was quite happy to let Nick get on with the hard bits.
Nick topping out the final pitch.  We didn't do the final short WI4 pitch at the back of the snow bowl above this.  It was time to run away with the amount of snow falling and the snow bowl looked to be providing a nice, natural avalanche trap.  I'd already had a minor meltdown as a large spindrift/avalanche had poured over a neighboring line.

Happy chaps on top of Crack Baby.  Definitely had my ice head back on by the top of it!

Spot the line!  Back at the base after 4.5 hours up and down - Nick doesn't hang about when he's climbing ice.

There was a lot of snow about when we got back to Chamonix.  So to balance out the previous days ice climbing I took Bullock skiing for the day ;-)  Nick heading up to the Glacier du Mort, I think he even enjoyed it, in fact he was even heard to 'whoop' on multiple occasions, must have been good!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Christmas in Chamonix

I Can't believe it's a month since Christmas already but once again spending it out in Chamonix was, as ever, a lot of fun.  With a mix of climbing, the usual festivities but a lot less skiing than normal due to a distinct lack of snow this year, although a few weeks on now and it sounds like it has eventually arrived now.

Although I didn't actually climb anything I hadn't done before I got some great days out with some quality climbing.  First up was Scotch on the Rocks with Jon.  Not been able to ski down to the valley and a late first cable car meant we only had time to climb the first few pitches to the top of the crux before getting the lungs working and skinning back up to the Midi to get the last lift down.

Photo - Jon Griffith

Next up was a bit of cardio training with Jon again, this time a quick simul-solo up and over the Swiss Route on the Courtes with skis on the back to kick the legs and lungs into gear.  Conditions on the north faces in the Argentiere basin were looking great and we up it in just over 2 hours, forgoing the summit and making straight for the Col de la Tour des Courtes in the rapidly worsening weather.  Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the conditions on the decent and we eventually made it back to Chamonix 5 hours later with some pretty battered looking skis.

Photo - Jon Griffith

After that it was back to the East Face of the Tacul again, this time with Ross for some more quality climbing on Pinocchio, just to the left of Scotch.  It really is a fun route stacked full of quality climbing.  Conditions were just about perfect, just enough ice to make it make it good fun and really entertaining climbing, not too hard but not too straightforward.  That’s the great thing about these sort of routes, you can do them numerous times in different conditions and have a different experience on them every time.  I’d say Pinocchio is probably one of the better, easy access day route in the valley.

Photo - Ross Hewitt

Photo - Ross Hewitt

I couldn't resist getting the skis out on the final day, so Ross, Betony and myself headed into the Argentiere basin for a little look around.  We ended up skiing a little couloir behind the Argentiere hut, which although it had been skied quite a bit and the snow wasn't amazing, gave a really good fun day out.  A great way finish off a fun trip before returning to the office - out in the mountains with good friends, that’s what it’s all about!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Polish/Michto route on the Grandes Jorasses

After seeing picture after picture over the last two months of this year’s amazing conditions on the Grandes Jorasses I eventually got chance to sample it for myself.  Jack Geldard and Dave Searle were heading up to climb La belle Hélène on the right hand side of the north face of the Grandes Jorasse and had kindly allowed me to tag along with them.  It was all a bit rushed but pretty nice to have just caught the end of the weather window and to be stood at the top of the north face 26 hours after arriving in Chamonix.

After a very early start from a cramped Leschaux hut we arrived below the route find two parties already starting up it.  It was frigging cold - warm temperatures and long daylight hours on the Grandes Jorasses are definitely over.  We decided the best course of action was to get the stove out, get some warm cups of tea down us and let the other teams get established on the route.

Jack leading the way up the initial ice slopes.  You can just see the team above us.
Dave heading up the Polish Route
The first of the steeper pitches on Michto (Photo - Dave Searle)
Fun mixed climbing on second pitch of Michto (Photo - Dave Searle)

Andy heading up onto thin, fun ice on the second pitch Michto (Photo - Jack Geldard)

Dave seconding the second pitch on Michto
Conditions on the face were as good as the hype, perfect névé and ice all the way.  Instead of climbing behind the two other teams on La belle Hélène we headed left to climb the Polish/Michto combination which like a lot of the ice routes on the Jorasses this season has seen a lot of ascents.  The ice is definitely starting to thin out on some of the steeper pitches which gave brilliant and absorbing climbing.  The final pitch of Michto that leads you back to join the Polish route was just awesome.   An awkward balancy little mixed step lead out onto a small hanging ice ramp with hundreds of meters of air below you, simply stunning and what these thin ice routes are all about.

Andy climbing a short mixed step to get onto the hanging ice ramp (Photo - Dave Searle)

Dave pulling on the exposed ice ramp on the final pitch of Michto
Dave on the final pitch of Michto
Loving it! (Photo - Dave Searle)
There were signs of previous ascent everywhere going off in all directions and in the end we just followed the most direct line up finishing up the last couple of pitches of La belle Hélène.  A proper combination of routes by the time we got to the top!

Jack climbing up to the final pitch on La belle Hélène
Andy on the final pitch of La belle Hélène (Photo - Dave Searle)

Jack climbing the final few meters to the top of the face

Dave on the summit ridge with Pointe  Hélène and Marguerite behind (Photo - Jack Geldard)
It was great to be out swinging tools on a big alpine face again and a really fun day climbing as a three.  Given it’s now snowing hard down in Chamonix, the quick turn around and rush to make the train was well worth it to grab a route before the weather came in.  Thanks to Jack and Dave for letting me come along and Josie for getting all my kit out and ready so I could make the train!

Evening sun over Mont Blanc

Jack and Dave at the start of the abseils
Dave leading the abseils down from the summit ridge - we traversed the ridge to join the decent from below Pointe Croz.  We found out after there is a direct decent from where La belle Hélène tops out which we were told isn't as bad as it first looks.
Dave heading down from the Boccalate hut the next day