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From one of Europe’s major mountain ranges to another, Hannah & I have just returned back to the Pyrenees, after a short yet successful (and at times frustrating) trip to the Alps. It’s been no secret that the Alps have been experiencing one of the worst summers, weather-wise, for a number of years, and with reports leading up to our time there not looking overly promising, I was a bit sceptical as to how productive the trip would be, however, it turned out that a bit of luck was on our side. For the duration, I partnered up with Steve Holmes of Vertical Fever, and between us we had quite an ambitious ticklist, but as ever, being flexible proved to be the key.
East-West Traverse of the Aiguilles Dorees (III+,4c)
To kick things off, we ventured round to Champex, in Switzerland, and made the East-West Traverse of the lesser travelled Aiguilles Dorees in the Trient Basin. The route was largely on grantite of variable quality, and was a lot more involved than either of us anticipated. A number of summits can be climbed along the ridge, including one of the cruxes which Steve led, up the Aiguille Javelle, an off-width 4b Chimney, which proved to be quite the featureless horror show. For something so featureless, it’s amazing how much skin can be taken off the knees! The final decent off the Aiguille de la Vrappe required 7 abseils, far more than the guidebooks indicate, and we found ourselves jogging in order to catch the last lift back down to Champex. It proved to be a great route, and highly recommended (maybe excluding the 4b chimney!)
German Assassins, Tacul Triangle (II,4)
We then caught wind that German Gully (II,4) on the Tacul Triangle had been recently climbed, and having climbed the Chere Couloir before, thought it would make for an interesting day. Interesting it was! It turned out that either whoever had climbed German Gully a day or so before us had either:
a)knocked out most of the useful/crucial ice, or
b)had their wires crossed and not climbed the actual line at all.
In fact it was probably:
c)an unhelpful combination of the two, leading to Steve & I having to back-track a couple of times and seek alternative options, which at times climbed some very dry rock at about Scottish VI,7. Fortunately, most of the climbing was quite well protected. We were also followed by Steve’s friends, Duncan & Adam, who were on their first alpine climb of their trip. In fact it was Adam’s first foray into the high mountains of the Alps, and so quite the baptism of fire, which he seemed to revel in. We eventually finished the route by gaining the upper reaches of the Chere Couloir, which we were able to abseil. It turns out that our line was closer to the line of German Assassins than German Gully.
Arête du Belvedere (6a+) & Les Deux Doigts Dans le Nez (6a+), Verdon Gorge
With a rather poor forecast for the following few days, we (the four of us) bit the bullet and headed south, to the Verdon Gorge for some sun kissed rock. Who knows whether or not this was the best decision, but it allowed us to enjoy some brilliant rock climbing in quite an amazing setting. Not wanting to bite off more than we could chew (the climbing and exposure in the gorge has quite a fierce reputation), we opted for a mass ascent of Arête du belvedere (6a+) which in fact turned out to be enjoyable but quite tame, where the approach was perhaps more complicated and thought provoking than the route itself. Nevertheless, the route was a great introduction to the area. The following day, we embarked on the more committing and sustained Les deux doigts dans le nez. To reach the base of the route required 4 long abseils to part the way down the gorge wall, with the only real way out to climb back up. The climbing itself was nothing short of outstanding, with every pitch delivering climbing at the grade; however, we didn’t complete the route completely unscathed, as Steve’s blog sums up: http://verticalfever.co.uk/2014/08/13/big-plans-little-reward/
Midi-Plan Traverse (III,AD)
We returned to heavy rain and thunderstorms in Chamonix, but finally a break in the weather allowed Steve and I to ‘head up’ and see what was in condition. We opted for the Midi-Plan Traverse, a normally well-travelled classic ridge traverse, but found ourselves breaking trail right from the Aiguille du Midi, which proved quite time consuming and at times delicate. Having completed the majority of the traverse (just beyond the Rognon du Plan), and faced with a descent onto freshly snow covered south facing slopes, which were by then directly in the strong sun, we made the difficult decision to turn around, knowing that the slope would only become more dangerous later in the day.
Voie Frisson Roche (6a), Bevent Crags & NW Face (D-), Gran Paradiso
With the forecasts changing daily, and with the possibility of high winds threatening to impede lift operations at any moment over the next few days, we decided to play it safe, with a quick hit on the brilliant Voie Frisson Roche (6a), a well bolted and continually interesting 6 pitch route on the Brevent crags. Having caught the first lift up, we were first on the route, and back down in Chamonix by midday, giving us plenty of time to head south, through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, to Gran Paradiso, a peak neither of us had climbed before. A 4am start the following morning from the Chabod Hut saw us first at the foot of the mountain’s North West Face 2 hrs later, and with the angle of the slope at a constant 55o, and in very good condition, we moved together quickly reaching the summit at 7am. Both Steve and I agreed that whilst the route itself was rather monotonous, it still felt quite special to have it and the summit to ourselves before the hoards arrived. We descended the NW Flank.
Proffit-Perroux Gully (III,M5), Aiguille du Midi
For our final outing, and again, with decisions not being easy to make, we decided to venture onto the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, by abseiling off the main bridge. For some reason, both of us felt it far more committing than it probably really was, but 4 abseils later, we found ourselves at the base of the Proffit-Perroux Gully. Conditions on the route were reasonable (good ice where you needed it!), and 5 pitches of ice and mixed later, we found ourselves finishing up the Cosmiques Ridge in the sunshine, a nice way to end the route.
So that’s it for the moment, Han & I are back in the Spanish Pyrenees, in the (guaranteed?) sunshine until the end of September, working for Hike Pyrenees, whilst planning our next adventure…
I’ve recently been up north, working for Moran Mountain on a 5 day Skye Mountaineer Course. Despite a week of mixed (wet) weather, here’s how we faired:
Sunday: Completed the brilliant Clach Glas / Bla-bheinn Traverse in very wet conditions.
Monday: Got to within metres of the summit of Am Bastier before the winds picked up and prompted us to retreat into the shelter of Coire a Bhastier.
Tuesday: Made the first ascent of the day of the Inn Pinn before the crowds arrived, in slightly sub-optimal conditions (wet & windy), before continuing over a busy Sgurr na Banachdich and a completely deserted Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh, by which point the weather had eased considerably. We descended at An Dorus, into clear skies and sunshine.
Wednesday: With the weather on Skye looking rather damp again, we opted to stay on the mainland, and headed to Raven Crag, which lies just south of Loch Gairloch. Although the skies looked threatening a times, it remained dry all day, and we enjoyed the rough, dry rock of Lucy (VDiff), Charlestone (Severe) and Hydro Hek (HS).
Thursday: For the final day of the course, we decided to give Skye a miss, and opted for the Classic Rock Climb, the Cioch Nose on Sgurr A’ Charorachain. Despite the rock being wet, the sandstone still provided plenty of friction (rock shoes recommended!), and we climbed the nose in 5 pitches, before continuing along the 500m+ A’ Chioch Ridge, which includes pitches of up to Severe if tackled directly, and makes for an outstanding mountaineering journey (in the wet or dry!).
For the second half of April, Han and myself joined our friends Harry, Steven & Chris for more ski touring, this time in the Silvretta Alps in Austria. Less than average snowfall this season had led to the early closure of the Heidelberg Hut, so from Galtur, we made the 10km walk (in essentially the footwear that we had brought as hut-wear, so in Han’s case, Crocs!) to the family owned Jamtal Hut. Fortunately, there was more than enough snow above 2100m, and from the Jamtal Hut, we made ascents of the Gemssptiz 3107m and the Sud Augstenberg 3224m before making our way through the Ochsenscharte, to make an ascent of the Dreilanderspitz 3197m before enjoying the descent to the Wiesbadener Hut.
The following day brought with it some murky conditions, but not wanting to miss out, we skinned up the short distance to the Tirolerscharte, from where we made a quick ascent of the Ochsenkopf 3057m. The ski back to the Wiesbadener Hut proved to be much better than expected. With slightly better weather the following morning, we made a dash for the Silvrettahorn, and were treated to some great views over the Silvrettagletscher whilst climbing the south ridge.
Our final couple of days saw us retracing our tracks, back up the Ochsental Gletscher, from where we continued on to one the highest peaks in area, the Piz Puin at 3312m. We then continued into Switzerland and descended into very dense cloud on the Silvrettagletscher and onto the Silvretta Hut, in which we were the final guests of the season. The final day took us up (on foot) and over the Rote Furka, from where we were able to ski most of the way to Bielerhohe, ending a brilliant 8 day tour, which despite being the end of the ski season, still provided us with enjoyable descents, good climbing and quiet mountains.
Han and I have just returned from a fantastic 9 day hut-to-hut (with additional side trips) ski tour in the Jotunheimen National Park in Norway. We went out as a three (and returned as a three!), with Han’s auntie, Mary, who has 40 years of ski touring experience, making up our trio.
We started our tour off under blue skies from the impressive DNT hut at Gjendesheim (accessible by bus from Oslo), and made our way over 26km of undulating terrain to Glitterheim, tucked beneath Norway’s second highest peak, Glittertinden (2465m). Day two saw us making a steady ascent of Glittertinden, I then continued by myself over the subsidiary tops of Glitterrundhoe (2089m) and Ryggjehoe (2142m), before enjoying a reasonable descent back to the hut at 1374m. Meanwhile, Han and Mary decended Glittertinden’s SW flank.
The weather then closed in for day three, with low cloud, low visibility and a fresh wind, but we were still able to make good progress through the valleys to the private hut at Spiterstulen. The following morning, I decided to venture up into the clouds, to make a solo ascent of Norway’s highest peak, Galdhøpiggen (2469m), whilst Han and Mary went out to explore the nearby glacier of Bukkeholsbrean. Having reached the summit in at time near zero vis, I decided to extend the day by making a traverse of the mountain’s 4 surrounding glaciers, which with enough breaks in the cloud, proved to be fantastic day during which I didn’t see another soul. I finished the day off by making a descent down the Tverrabrean glacier, making it back to the hut just in time for dinner.
Day 5 saw us moving on to Leirvassbu Hut, from where we explored the Sandelvbrean glacier, in again, low vis. From Leirvassbu, we moved onto the unmanned, but still very well stocked and maintained Olavsbu Hut, before our final couple of days of skiing onto Fondsbu and then through some brilliant cross country terrain onto Tyinkrysset. Overall, throughout the 9 days of skiing, we covered about 160km, took in Norway’s highest two peaks and ate like kings! Perfect. There is huge potential for ski touring in all its guises, from gentle Nordic terrain to much steeper ski mountaineering, and with the Norwegians’ hugely enthusiastic attitude to the great outdoors, what are you waiting for (apart from next winter!)?
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