Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cosmiques Arete and Gabarrou-Albinoni...

After a few weeks of ski touring it feels like spring has arrived in Chamonix and the season is winding down. Well sort of..!

The weather has been a bit unsettled in the last week giving some interesting climbing conditions. On Tuesday, despite ever increasing winds from the north Alison and I managed to get a lift up to the Aiguille du Midi.

We had hoped that the Gabarrou-Albinoni would be sheltered from the wind.

Despite a tricky descent of the snow arete we eventually found reasonable shelter but decided to quit the route shortly below the top as the wind increased. Huge down draughts kept punishing us over the top of Mont Blanc du Tacul, and it wasn't making for a pleasant experience.

On Wednesday the wind delayed the opening of the Aiguille du Midi again, forcing Ulrika and I to change our plans for climbing to Thursday. But as usual a flexible approach paid dividends and we enjoyed a quiet and wind free ascent of the Cosmiques Arete.

As I write this it's -17 degrees at the top of the Midi and it's been sleeting in the valley once again. Maybe winter isn't quite over yet...?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Silvretta Tour...

Last week I travelled over to Innsbruck to join Adele, Pete, James, Mark, Rob and Richard for an Alpine Guides Ltd's Silvretta Tour.

Having been to this area now for the forth time it's fair to say that it remains one of my favourites. Often billed as an area for an introductory tour, it remains popular giving some good skiing combined with the opportunity to climb a handful of peaks if conditions allow.

We met up in Innsbruck with a brief welcome meeting before hitting the town for some traditional Tirol cuisine (read sausages). The next day it was off to Galtur and the start of the tour in Ischgul.

Using the lift system we able to warm the legs up with some warm and slushy skiing before arriving at the Heidelberg Hütte.

With warm conditions prevailing, some relatively early starts were required to get good spring snow on the descents, followed by some hut relaxing by mid afternoon. Starting promptly, we climbed to the Kronenjoch also making an ascent of the Breite Krone (3097m) along the way. This is an easily accessible peak but is in fact an excellent viewpoint, and is well worth booting to the top. An 800 metre descent followed to an almost deserted Jamtal Hütte.

The next day saw us traverse the Ochsenscharte Pass and descend to the Wiesbadener Hütte, but not before skiing up to the ski depot on the Dreiländerspitz and getting a steeper few pitches down to the hut.

This week was really a tour with two halves, the next day heralding a change in the weather. With poor visibility and fresh snow the traverse to the Silvretta Hütte wasn't guaranteed. Waiting for a improvement in the weather, we eventually left the hut navigating much of the way by GPS breaking the track through a fresh dusting of snow. Eventually, after some nausea inducing "white out" conditions we crossed over to the Silvretta Pass with the clouds breaking. Sometimes it just pays off and we were rewarded with 800m+ of descent to the hut in excellent powder, pushing out fresh tracks all the way (Mark pictured...)

After a stay at the Silvretta Hütte the next day took us over the Rote Furka, a steep ascent climbed on foot with skis on your back, before crossing the Litxnersattel over to the friendly and traditional Saarbrückner Hütte. Again the weather was unsettled with light snow showers for much of the day. Keen to make the most of the fresh snow once again we crossed the Seelücke knocking out some fresh tracks on the Seegletscher before descending all the way back to Wirl...

Thanks to Alpine Guides Ltd, Adele, Pete, James, Mark, Rob and Richard for an excellent week...

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Tour de Soleil...

I have spent the last week over in Switzerland on a slight variation to the classic Tour de Soleil.

This relatively quiet area along the Swiss/Italian frontier is an excellent location for ski touring, particularly for those who want the option to summit a handful of peaks.

Joining, Jo, Dave, Jane, Simon, Peter and Kerrie in Andermatt we had a shakedown day using the Gemstock lift. This excellent area opens up a huge amount of off piste skiing and touring opportunities, not to mention some good north facing slopes which often yield powder. We also took the time to get used to skinning as well as practicing transceiver and avalanche rescue procedures etc.

The following day we made use of the highly efficient Swiss public transport system taking a train through the Furka Tunnel to Binn (Binntal). Here we made the ascent to the small and welcoming Mittlenbërghütte. The next day we crossed the Hohsandjoch making an ascent of the 'Ofenhorn' at 3235m, taking the opportunity to ski some great powder on the Hohsandgletscher.

Unfortunately, the aggravation of a previous knee injury for one of the party resulted in a slight change in plan. But again making use of the excellent public transport we were able to make use of the good weather away from the Italian frontier on the 'Winterhorn' 2660m above Hospental.

To finish our week we had a two day trip using the friendly Rotondohütte, climbing the 'Leckihorn' at 3068m and enjoying a long descent back to Realp...

Thanks very much to Jo, Dave, Jane, Simon, Peter and Kerrie for some excellent company during the week...

Friday, April 04, 2014

Gran Paradiso Tour...

The last week of March was the start of the ski touring season for me, the first trip of which was to the Aosta Valley.

Along with Alpine Guide's Al Powell, we set off to complete the classic Gran Paradiso Tour in some unsettled weather.

Driving through into Italy we made our way up to the Refuge du Fond before making ascents of Punta Galisia 3364m and the nearby Punta Calabre. With fresh snow and an elevated avalanche risk we decided to leave the valley rather than making the difficult crossing to the Chivasso Hut. This did however allow us to enjoy an evening in Pont, before heading up to the Vittorio Emanuele II Hut.

Here we had a delayed start due to heavy snow over night and into the morning. Keeping the faith, we were finally rewarded with a small break in the weather which allowed us to ascend to the shoulder at approximately 3800m. Unfortunately, we weren't to summit this time BUT we were compensated with an epic powder descent back to the hut.

Difficult though it is, its important to remember that one days unsettled weather is the next powder day. For our final day we made the high level traverse over to the Col del Grand Etret, skiing some of the best powder this season (pictured)...

Thanks to Al Powell, Gary, Miles, Peter, Yen, Simon, Simon and David for a great week in the mountains.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Chamonix Alpinism...

It's been another varied week here in Chamonix, with good stable weather conditions.

Early in the week I got the opportunity to catch up with Graham Stein, making a descent of the Vallee Blanche. Conditions are good at the moment with hard packed snow, and a well filled in glacier. The descent down to Chamonix probably isn't the best at the moment, and we opted to descend on the train.

Following that I joined Jason who was out for a 'quick hit' climbing trip to Chamonix. Taking a fairly brutal acclimtisation trip up to the Aiguille d'Midi we climbed the 'Pellissier Gully' on Pointe Lachenal III 4, M5. Conditions were fairly dry giving some good intricate mixed climbing (pictured).

The following day we decided to take in the Cosmiques Arete, making good time up the ridge again in very good conditions. Good transformed snow exists on the route making some of the mixed sections a little shorter than at the height of the summer, although the steep crux wall remains tricky as usual.

Finally, with temperatures around 20 degrees in the valley we decided to swap ice tools for rock boots and had a good day at dragging in the valley. An ideal opportunity to shake the cobwebs off when it comes to moving on the rock.

As I write this now the weather has changed dramatically with fresh snow falling in Chamonix, winter certainly isn't over yet!...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

BASI Mountain Safety, Verbier...

This week I have been over in Switzerland working in Verbier, along with British Mountain Guide Alasdair Cain (aka Cube).

Working for the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI), we were delivering the 6 day Level 3 Mountain Safety Course. On successful completion of this course Instructors can lead groups off piste but within the confines of the resort boundary or patrolled area.

We spent the six days skiing off-piste in some pretty warm spring like conditions, while looking at a variety of course related topics. The main areas being: avalanche awareness, leading groups off piste, transceiver searches (pictured), skinning and snowshoeing, navigation and personal off piste skiing/fitness etc.

Despite the warm conditions we did find some good transformed powder high on north facing aspects along with some good spring snow when timed correctly. It's fair to say that there was also a fair bit of breakable crust, and chopped up crud to test ourselves with as well...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ice Climbing in Rjukan Part III, and Conditions Update...

I have been climbing with Dave and Jaimella for my final week in Rjukan, Norway. Unfortunately, temperatures have soared but good climbing remains...

We spent the first two days at the popular ice "cragging" venue of Krokan. This area sports loads of single pitch icefalls varying between 10 and 30 metres, allowing plenty of climbing to be achieved in a day. It is also one of the highest venues which has been vital in the last few days.

Here we ticked routes from WI3-WI5, before visiting for a second day for some dry tooling and mixed climbing from M4-M7, in the famous 'Fission Bowl'.

The temperature dropped a little on Tuesday and we decided to visit the Upper Gorge to climb 'Bakveien' WI4 and 'Sabotørfossen' WI5 once again. Both failed to dissapoint with good ice (but wet) for the most part.

Next up was a visit to Sector Ozzimosis, which although limited allowed Dave to lead some routes at around WI3 before finishing on the classic 'Ozzimosis' WI4. We also spent some time practicing placing screws from a good position and building 'abolokov' anchors to use in the future.

Resting the arms today, in preparation for our final climbing day in Norway tomorrow. Just so happens to coincide with the anniversary of 'Operation Gunnerside' raid on Vemork 71 years ago.

For those visiting Rjukan in the next week or so, here is a conditions update:

Krokan: High so has survived the thaw reasonably well. Care needed at the base of the routes as the track is being washed out by the river. Kjøkkentrappa, Topp, Gaustaspøkelse, Bullen all ok but wet. Smaller pillars have cracks or have collapsed. Jomfrua and Fyrstikka both have holes in them as the ice starts to degrade.

Upper Gorge: Bakveien, Sabotørfossen both ok, bit thin at the top of the former. Nye Vemorkfoss isn't recommended, rotten ice, lots of water flowing and large holes affecting stability. Juvsøyla, was still there last time that I looked but melting at the base could be an issue as well as wet sluffs from the slopes above the gorge. Lipton, I haven't seen for a while and suspect that it may good if it has survived these temperatures, but it does need to get colder first. Trappfoss, was insulated by snow prior to the thaw and as such the ice is in poor condition. Definitely not recommended at the moment. Rjukanfossen was in poor (thin) condition.

Vemork: Not recommended at all at the moment. Ice is poor and degraded.

Lower Gorge and Rjukan Centre: Haven't been there for a few days. For Alle Menn was cracked and detached from the rock and as such could be prone to collapse. Tjønnstadbergfossen looked thin.

Ozzimosis: Limited but the route Ozzimosis remains in good condition. Savada ok despite the holes!