Scotland

Winter went by in a flash. I managed to climb some great routes and tick some obscure Munro’s almost every day.

The first few weeks of my time were spent climbing with Chris Andrews, James Clapham, Suzanna EL Massri, Gareth Hughes and Tim Oliver in the Northern Corries. Having spent the last few years away from the UK in the Alps, I was a little green around the gills about Scottish Winter climbing again and needed familiarising with the testing unconsolidated powder conditions.

The first few routes were Route Major IV 5, Burning and Looting V 7 and Western Route IV 6 with Tim Oliver. We ticked some great memorable climbs and navigated our way around in terrible conditions on the Cairngorm Plateau.

Chris Andrews and I had some very memorable hits out west when the weather allowed it.  Ben Eighe’s great West Buttress IV 4, Crypt Route on Bidean Nam Bian V 6, Crest Route on Stob Coire An Lochain V 6 (One of the most spectacular climbs I have ever done, stunning final pitch is really quite amazing).

Other highlights included a few days climbing The Genie V 7 again with James and Suzana, The Guillotine with David Thexton (one of the most enjoyable routes of the season on Carn Etchachan, my favorite of the Northern Corrie crags) and The Lamp V 6 with Suzana. David also eased the Messenger which gets V 6 and has a stiff reputation.

The last few days of winter weather offered a great day with Joe Salter and Sasha Doyle climbing The Third Man IV 6 and Central Crack Route IV 5 on Coire an Lochain. This was a really rewarding day as we all climbed a great pitch each.

A good friend and the most sure footed man in Cheltenham, James Matthews, joined me for a much wanted ice week on the Ben. Unfortunately conditions did not materialise. A stable high pressure weather system emerged over all of the UK and allowed a window for ice potential early morning on the Isle of Skye on the North face of Sgur Gillean. We would do Pinnacle ridge and then the North facing slopes of Sgur Gillean, which gave us excellent neve and ice. With the added beauty of the island around us, it was the best alpine winter day I could have ever imagined. Getting back to the Sligachan Hotel for a cup of tea in T shirts, Scottish spring had fully arrived and the chance of doing anymore winter climbing was going to be unrealistic.

Next day we did the Clach Glas – Blaven Traverse expecting a little bit of snow. Most of it was climbed in T- Shirts and a great chimney was climbed on the penultimate pitch before joining the normal walker’s route to the Summit.

We then did a lovely spring traverse of the An Teallach and then drove to Stoer after a magical drive from Ullapool to Lochinver. Whilst making a brew and our usual van tortellini, a man came out of the darkness with a tripod and camera asking us if we were fellow photographic enthusiasts. He then went on to explain that there was a massive chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis that evening.

We continued to make our brews when we noticed a light and a giant beam of green light boomed behind the lighthouse. We rushed to see Stephan snapping shots and we continued to chat about space, time and photography to the early hours of the morning whilst watching a magnificent light show.

The next day we climbed the Old Man of Stoer, twice, once via its normal route and then by the Diamond Face route in the sun.

Thanks to James Clapham and Craig Burry for organising the house and Jude for such a great comfy retreat!  Also a special mention for Lemony the cat who required endless cuddles and Tiptoes (Large black cat) for not being too needy!

My 2016 in pictures

Early Season Ice and Ski Touring

After a month out with injury I managed an epic March and April. Touring and climbing around the Mont Blanc Massif and the Ecrins. Adventures in the Ecrins were hard fought and scary. Possibly the most scared I have been on skis. A true steep ski mountaineers paradise. I struggled to engage with the terrain and the decision making. I learned more about skiing I have ever done before.

The ski touring season subsides. The Arrochar Alps provided.

Followed by a Speedo Ascent of Electric Blue after a magical day on Gogarth.

The granite happens.

Forbes Arete

Neil Bryant called me as I made my way down from the midi exhausted after 2 days of Granite

We both wanted to try the Forbes arete from Le Tour in a single push from the car. Although I was exhausted the weather seemed excellent and conditions would be perfect. At the 5am alarm clock I sprang out of bed revitalized and fully psyched, and soon enough we both were power walking past the Albert Premier at around 7.30am.

It was great to feel light and fit, I was nearly under 70kg and felt much better for it. I had  been in the mountains loads with Neil and know he has got a good head and just loves ascent! The last slope up the Forbes Arete was brutal.

We had both massively underestimated how gnarly it actually was! However it was good to be with someone who was comfortable moving fast over moderate exposed terrain. About half way he dropped his mountaineering axe. I was tied to someone who had no way of arresting. However he showed no signs of panic or weakness and if anything speeded up moving over slushy exposed snow arête with dizzying exposure was interesting but well protected and just added an extra challenge!

As the anxiety of the mountains subsided the usual phone calls from work requesting an early start quickened the pace. Arriving back at my flat before dark was great, and I even managed to have a beer in the garden before passing out.

Red Pillar of the Broullaird

After 4 days of work, Rhys Macallister was on the case for something “Grand Coursey”. We both set sights on the Red Pillar Of the Broullaird. An ultra classic rock climb onto the Broullaird ridge and up over Mont Blanc.

Liam Brophy took us through the tunnel before walking up to the Monzino. This kind of Alpine climbing appeals to me. Straight from work and too busy to think about the proposition. This section of the massif is perhaps my favorite area. The Monzino guards the wild glaciers and spires of rock, the ambiance is magic.

My legs were not working as well as they were working the previous week as Rhys raced into the distance. We met Jon Bracey in the hut and ate a ridiculous amount of Gnocchi.

After a good sleep we made our way to the Eccles bivouac. We decided to take it easy and play the game tactically with plenty of food and a whole day at the Eccles. The reason to rush was to get over the glacier before getting too hot. Rhys had his crampons on the wrong foot the whole way which made me laugh.

We climbed a few difficult seracs to get on route again, then made it to the Hut to be greeted by  a happy Jon Bracey munching on a massive pack of cool original Doritos. After an unbelievably beautiful day chilling to Led Zeppelin and other great music.We made lots of food and lots of jokes about the giant 2 kg nut sack and how to take a poo off the side of the hut down whilst holding onto the cable. This little tin can on the side of the Mont Blanc seemed to be Bracey’s home for the summer. Hearing about this inspires me to come back time and time again, climbing the many routes the area has to offer.

After an epic sleep and even more epic midnight pee, we made our way out of the can into the dark starry sky. The view over Italy and the moon illuminated glacier was incredible. The the orange glow of civilization created a barrier of light between the world we were in and the real world of the valley below. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Expectations about a climb can be too much to bear but i no longer found anxiety, just pure excitement. Climbing with Rhys felt safe and efficient and soon where zooming up the pillar as the sun hit us.

One belay I got a great view of Rhys’s arse taking a poo in front of me. About 2 pitches from the top a very iced crack stopped us for a while. Rhys took the lead and wrestled rather desperately up the overhanging iced chimney. Soon we were at the top of the climb and then moving together on the ridge. What we climbed was mostly loose but good fun climbing in amazing terrain.  We made the top of Pic Luigi Amedeo before looking across at Mont Blanc and realizing how far we had to go. The light jovial banter then changed to lets get a move on. By that time I was really feeling the weight on my back and the altitude. We took it in turns to carrying the other rope and scrambled, down climbed  and pitched some more.  Finally we made it onto the continuous snow ridge up to Mont Blanc Courmayeaur. Once over the last rock step we dry wretched our way up onto the summit of Mont Blanc before taking a selfie and making our way down to the Goutier with an unbelievable sunset  and the fountain visible on Lake Geneva.  One regret was not taking a picture  with my heavy camera at the bottom of my bag.

We were greeted in the Goutier with Tartiflette, lots of cake and good discount considering the normal price! We had a good night’s sleep before racing down to get my van down to Geneva airport. Liam picked us up from the Bellvue lift before racing me straight home to get ready for work.I then had to pick up my work van for another few transfer runs to Geneva airport talking to passengers about whether i was a skier or a snowboarder.I tried my best to act like I had woken fresh up to an ironed uniform and keep a professional demeanor.

South Pillar of the Barre Des Ecrins

After a week of work I was psyched for another alpine adventure. Chamonix was looking less than positive however Ecrins weather looked like a winner. After a long day of work me and Tim Oliver bombed our way down to Ailefroide for a quick hit on the south pillar of the Barre des ecrins. Stopping for a pizza and a brownie, we had a few hours kip then walked in catching up to a party at the Bergshrund. The route finding was easier than expected despite a bombarding from parties above. We knew the only way was to move faster and get past them all out of the firing line. We managed to pass everyone and topped out of the Barre before racing back down just before it got dark. The climbing was mainly scrambling with a few hard scary pitches to overtake some parties higher up.  Its amazing what you can get away with climbing in boots but this really was the limit. The following day was spent chilling in Briancon eating ice cream and pizza.

Petit Clocher Du Portalet Read More

Traverse of the Dorees

With the expedition nearing I teamed up with Chris Andrews. Despite him living,talking and joking with us throughout the winter and summer we still had not climbed together. We needed to remedy this situation right away.

We both needed something long and more cardiovascular based was preferable, however all Alpine Climbing is, so we were not really in any shortage of good training routes.

Having not climbed together before we decided that climbing something big would be a bad idea so we opted what seemed to be a certain decent day out considering the weather conditions.

The Traverse of the Dorees is relatively low down in the Massif and would provide an excellent way to get to know one another moving together and setting ourselves up for bigger objectives in the future. It would be also a good base to acclimatize for a few higher objectives just before we both go away..

We headed up through the woods in shorts and t-shirt, through the idyllic alpine setting that is Champex Lac. I had an excellent ski day over the winter and many beautiful days on the Tour of Mont Blanc so it is always great to be back here. I had already made plans to be back in the bakery to eat their great blueberry vanilla flan by the lake in the sun after doing the route.

The clouds rolled in and the wind picked up as we emerged over the moraine and the temperature dropped considerably. The summer conditions rolled straight into winter.

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Chris Andrews entering the bitter winds on the Trient Glacier

When we got to the Trient Hut the snow was falling thick and fast. It is always a fantastic feeling entering a hut with a log burner and plenty of friendly voices inside. We also had a room to ourselves and we had nice clean duvet bedding. Luxury! We sat down for the meal in the evening with 3 Dutch climbers who had been doing some glacial trekking around the fantastic basins and cols the area has to offer. One had been an expedition doctor on Everest so Chris picked her brains for a bit of “high altitude beta”.

Looking out towards the Dorees the buttresses emerged and reemerged in the Cloud. Maybe we should have chosen something icey in the massif? The traverse looked very snowy. We will just get on with it in the morning and set the alarms for 4.50 am before Breakfast.

I had a great sleep, the weather was still and clear and stars slowly disappeared in the morning light as we traversed the glacier. The first few sections were iced over and covered in snow, but with plenty of bomber gear we were able to move together and up to the ridge to be greeted by the warming glow of the sun.

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Rewarding views early in the morning

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First few pitches, were covered in snow and ice

Route finding on the Dorees is challenging but the climbing is easy. Conditions out of the sun became very icey and a few easy rock steps were time consuming. The first third of the climb was quick, Chris despatched the 6a iced crack in big boots was a good effort.

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Nice effort Chris

Climbing dramatically slowed down soon as we arrived at the Col Copt. The slope was completely loaded with very unconsolidated snow on top of granite, so both of us could have easily turned around at this point.

We decided that the route around the col would be completely safe if we stayed around the rock, which we could load with gear. The snow slabbed off everytime we stepped on to it but the security of the rock made our passage safe. To our disbelief the French team we passed on the way up came up the Couloir and luckily for them it did not avalanche!

The climb on to the Tete Biselx was massively loose and both of us were relieved to pass this, as we both climbed 100 metres trying not to pull and testing every hand and foot placement. Within about 5 minutes Chris took the piss how many times I shouted “watch it here its a bit loose”

I guess the Tete Biselx marks about a 1/3 of the distance but about 1/2 of the route. As long as you are careful with the choice of your route the rest of the climbing is quick. There were a few abseils we down climbed, which arguably would have been safer and as fast if we just set up an abseil.

The 4c chimney was a memorable thrutch and just as you think you are finished there is a small abseil and a short pitch before making your way around the Aiguille de La Verappe. The abseils are easy to find and with a 60 metre rope can be done in about 10 abseils back to the glacier.

We got back to the hut to pick up our stuff and headed down back to Champex. 4 hours in the headtorch tunnel of light made me go slightly crazy. Chris’s headtorch was completely terrible so he made his way down in the umbrella of my light, tripping over his own shadow in the process and for about 2 hours we were convinced we were on the wrong path to La Fouly instead of Champex.

As we got back to the car in the early hours in the morning we both agreed we worked well as a partnership. Route finding decisions were always good, and if one person had a crazy plan about getting around something a voice of reason always delivered from one of us.

The route in dry conditions would have been pleasant, however for becoming slick at moving together the route was perfect training. The snow made things very time-consuming but we would like to think it was because of the conditions and not because we were completely incompetent.

Personally I was pleased that we cracked on with a route we could have easily bailed on because of doubting the conditions. The traverse is one of those routes which is long but not very committing and it is easy to say “OK I have had enough lets abseil”

Chris will be climbing Makulu next month, more details on his trip can be found here.

 

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Start of August

It feels like autumn at the moment when there is a weather window in the mountains. The rain keeps coming and the optimistic weather forecasts have always taken a sour turn. But despite this foul weather I have been climbing everyday in August so far and just proves how amazing Chamonix and the surrounding area is.

The last 2 weeks I have managed to have some great days out with some really optimistic people who simply just love being out in the mountains.  I would have liked to have done more classic Alpine routes, however conditions have just pointed me to the granite!

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Contamine Route with James Matthews, a climb of absolutely classic status. Lots of people always climb there for a very good reason.

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Gavin Pike on The Unbelievable twin crack pitch on Lawrence of Arabia. A consistently awesome climb on the Red Pillar. Piola slab here and there!

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Ally Hurst lower down on the Grivole Direct on the Grand Perron

Ally Hurst Francis Blunt Mount Oreb

A quick hit to Mount Oreb with Ally Hurst and Francis Blunt.

James Matthews Fin Du Babylon

James Matthews on the soft but exciting 6c traverse on Fin Du Babylon. Great climbing!

 

Gavin Pike walking down the arete

Cold Autumn like day coming down the Arete. Provided a pleasant surprise in the morning, conditions later deteriorated so scrapped our La Corsair ambitions for the day and got on the wonderful Harold and Maude. Looking forward for a day on the Adolph Ray soon.

Gavin Pike on the Harold and Maude Crux

Gavin Pike on the 6b crack throwing shapes, plugging cams whilst small Snow Flakes floated around us creating a wonderful surreal atmosphere.

 

Route Descriptions to follow!

Squatters Du Lune

Yesterday myself and fellow expedition member James Matthews went to check out the climbing on the Grand Perron. The weather in the Chamonix valley seemed to be positive so we set off in high (heel clipping) spirits up to the Emosson Dam. After the previous few days of dry tooling fun and a whiteout on the Vallee Blanche, all I needed was pristine rock, sun and a cool breeze……

Dave Searle

Dave Searle pumped silly on a M8 at the Zoo

Joel Evans looking at the excellent conditions from the Midi

Joel Evans looking at the excellent conditions from the Midi

Col Du Montets was shrouded in mist. Early morning mist we thought….

The reliable combo chugged away unfolding cloudy picture frames of the Massif as we ascended up the steep road through Finhaut. A fog tunnel cleared to our left revealing a glimpse of the Aiguille Du Chardonnet, clouds rolling back again before we had chance to stop and take a picture.

“It will definitely clear” said James. Its going to be a beautiful day I thought.

“Maybe we will get a beautiful decision assuring cloud inversion” reaffirmed James.

Both of us were happy with our decision. The climbing was supposed to excellent from numerous sources. Uplift via my van and a relatively short walk in. What exactly do we have to loose? Another climbing day and poor route choice? Another day of coffee drinking in huts perhaps? We always had another day at Gietroz just in case, not a bad alternative!

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Mist covering the Emosson Dam, thinking of the wonderful climbing in Gietroz and Brevents ease of route finding.

We both made our way along the traverse path to Chalet Loriaz, keeping a careful eye on the track with cairns and Larches to the right.

James Matthews

James knows his plants, showing me what a Larch is, with a few anecdotes to accompany the days potential for meadow skipping, berry picking and plant identifying . I am pretty glad we found the climb!

Finding the path we made our way over a few boulder fields (my favourite).Gradually through the mist “woops” and “wows” in French echoed around us. A unique breed of climbing area exists here and even on misty days climbers “woop” and “wow” their way up the cliffs in a relatively quiet part of the Chamonix area.(Walkers tread carefully in the valley below passing off these sounds as exotic alpine creatures)

Despite the indigenous wooping’s  the Point Vouilloz and the Grand Perron faces might as well have been Shining Clough on a grey moorland day. After following the cairns up onto a grassy ridge we descended a short gully. The “woop” sirens lured us into clumsy comical slips and falls and my eyes slowly started to turn red with first world climbing frustration.

We tried shouting up at the french voices.

Nothing. They must be too high on the cliff.

We carried on a bit further, The topo says start at the yellow tat. Still nothing. Just rocks getting a good stroke by swirling mist.

Wait… we heard another 2 voices way over to the left.I know them voices

“Sandy is that you?” I shouted, blindly,my face grimaced with anticipation…

” Hey Sam Hows it going?” replied the Cloud. Great I thought, he’ll know where we are….

“Squatters” Brilliant, that stopped us having another wasted day.

“We’ll follow you up” I shouted back into the cloud.

Route Description

The route is a beautiful 3 star route on solid Rock, we completed the route in a few hours not particularly rushing either, took 1 hour to abseil back down the route, which was fine but Sandy and Ally abseiled a quicker line. Traversing the ridge west for around 60-80 metres (better for abseiling). The climb can be done with a manageable start, we departed the car at 9am but if you want to have a picnic at the top on the traverse maybe an earlier start might be necessary. We had our picnic lunch a bit later that day…

Cannot wait to come back here for Bada Bing plus many of the fantastic lines on the Point Vouilloz and the Grand Perron. A very enjoyable day and hopefully one of many with Mr Matthews before we depart for Bishkek!

James Matthews

Although most people would climb here on a clear day. If you are visiting this crag on a cloudy day for the first time the gully from the ridge kind of looks like this. This will take you to the Point Vouilloz

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Pitch 2, nice soft for 6a climbing, however a tad run out so take care.

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Pitch 4, from here to the top the climbing is excellent.

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Pitch 6

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Pitch 7, One of the most exquisite 6b pitches I have climbed.

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Wait have I been here before? Just before our Picnic lunch and abseil. Great Day

First Blog, First Expedition

In 5 weeks I fly to Bishkek for my first expedition so it is a perfect incentive and opportunity to get a blog running.

I will be meeting the team in the capital  before making arrangements to travel to the Nalivkin Glacier. It is a very exciting prospect to be visiting this part of the world on an expedition, so I have to say a big thank you to Emily (Roo) Ward for organizing this trip.

In preparation for the trip I have intended to clock up the mileage in the mountains but days off have not coincided with good weather days. Nevertheless I am really enjoying training hard in the valley and hope that my training pays off in the long run. Living in Chamonix is fantastic as you can train anytime and be as creative as possible around work shifts.  This year has not gone my way for climbing objectives but I would be a fool to moan about my current lifestyle. Objectives will always be there, and if they fall down there are plenty of others.

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Jonny and Alex on the Dome de Miage, before skiing down the Armancette glacier. During the spring I got some excellent touring done, which gave me an excellent base fitness.

 

A rare day of sun, with Dave and Emily on a very busy day on the Cosmiques Arete

 

Joe at Bionnassay, avoiding the rain climbing  beautiful Limestone completely dry!

During the expedition, I expect to be hauling gear on my back from the drop off point to basecamp, So training with loads in my rucksack as been paramount, especially as we are pretty much unsupported.

Recently I have been training 2 hours a day. Higher intensity exercise if I am feeling fresh and lower intensity hiking if I am feeling tired. For lower intensity I try to walk up hill slowly steadying my breathing through my nose then get the lift down. For higher intensity I run up hill for about 400 metres of ascent only breathing through my nose, then run at a higher intensity on flats and take care I do not hurt my knees running downhill.Around 2-4 times a week I train at the fantastic military facility EMHM which has a great wall and a gym to really specifically focus on certain muscles. Particularly core and leg muscles. Once a week I will carry rocks in my bag to the Plan, or the Lognon then get the lift back down.

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The beastmaker, this is just behind my apartment. So it is a fast way of getting tired very easily, in between shifts

I hope the weather improves for plenty of quality mileage in the mountains over the course of the next month!