Sunday, January 30, 2011

Col du Plan Couloir solo.

I thought i'd better make use of the excellent boot track currently running up to Fil a Plomb. Arriving at the Midi mid-station on third or fourth lift i walked up to the west face of the plan with a few options in mind. I bumped in to a couple of friends mid-way through the walk and had a chat at the schrund before we went our separate ways. Random occurences like this are an excellent way to blunten nerves which are usually working the mind hard before setting off on a solo.
     In the end it was an easy decision what to go for, as most lines on the west face were pouring with spindrift. I traversed in to the gully of the Col du Plan Couloir from about 100 metres over the schrund. The climbing was on the whole fairly nonedescript. Mostly annoying deep sugary snow covering granite slabs. After a short mixed section past a chockstone at maybe scottish 4 i began tunneling through deep deep sugary snow to reach the hanging glacier which makes the top third of the route. After a quick shout across to the others on Fil a Plomb, who were being pummeled heavily by spindrift, i plodded up the last section which is mainly 60-70 degrees, with some disgustingly brittle black ice to finish.
       The weather deteriorated significantly in the 2 hours i was on the route. By the time i reached the col on the midi-plan traverse it was getting hard to stand up on anything exposed to the southwesterlies. I then crawled/walked up the remaining kilometre or so of the midi-plan and up to the midi, by which time my eyes and eye-lashes were firmly welded shut by wind and spindrift.
     The route's not that great really, an ok line but loose and scrappy climbing, doubt it gets done much. But a good morning nonetheless.
 Here's some shitty phone shots-

Some random topo I got off google images. The green line is the route. Obviously this shot is in summer though.

Olaf and Magnus setting out on Fil a Plomb.

Looking up my route at half hight, (rotate 90degrees anti-clock!)

Looking frosty, why does one nostril always freeze faster than the other?
Soon i'll have a proper camera again........

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snippets of Activity.

I spent last Saturday, Sunday and Monday based from the Torino hut in Italy. I was working on a photoshoot which included the Rochefort Arete and North Face of the Tour Ronde amongst other things. Cold fingers and toes were the theme of the weekend with temperatures in the mid -20's throughout.
       On tuesday i got on Nuit Blanche, the classic Chamonix 6 for the first time this year. It seems in pretty much the same shape as last year although the top isn't quite as hooked out yet.

Very poor quality phone shot of Nuit Blanche top pitch.

Yesterday Ben, Jon and myself went for a group romp up "Fil a Plomb" on the west face of the plan. Although this is one of the easy classic winter lines of the range, its not so frequently in condition as it was in previous decades. Therefore it was nice to finally do it. We soloed all but 80 metres of the 700 metre route. The crux at present is redicluously hooked out, and would be possible to climb without swinging tools.  The crux is very similar, but maybe a little steeper, to "The Curtain" on Ben Nevis. We topped out 2 and a half hours after starting then wandered up to the Midi.
Me on some ice.


Ben climbing the smear that makes the crux.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back in Cham. Aguille Verte solo and some etc.

Last Saturday saw me back in Chamonix. It's been warm and generally nasty here for a week or so, but on Friday things changed and a sustained 4 days or more of high pressure showed up. As I have no real work on the cards until next week I managed to snatch a bit of climbing.
       Firstly myself and Ally Swinton went for a burn on the Frendo-Ravanel, an easy 400 metre goulotte on the Grand Montet ridge of the Verte. It's a great route, very popular and easy going throughout. We broke a fair trail all the way to the top but were on the ridge admiring the Dru within two hours of leaving the schrund.
       The leisurely ski back to town wasn't quite as leisurely as usual as i had completely forgotten how to ski my fat skis in my climbing boots!
The fun little winter routes on the Grand Montet ridge.

Yesterday Jon Griffith and myself had something interesting planned up off the midi, but when we turned up for first lift we were informed in a typical Compagnie Du Mont Blanc way that there was a mechanical error, (i.e. someone had slept in) and they were running an hour late. So we salvaged the morning by shooting up to Grand Montet and doing "Happy House", one of the Bullock routes from 2009 in "Secteur Ecosse". This was one of the only ones we hadn't done and featured some really nice moves (but also some big loose stuff!). They gave it VII 7,which is probably fairish, but its always hard to tell when you'r mainly dry tooling rather than Scottish weirdness. Interestingly Jeff Mercier- ice world cup champion and general machine- has been very busy around the corner adding a lot of real hard looking stuff to the sector. This is cool as he seems to be continuing the excellent scottish ethic in which Pete and Nick followed when they first started working on the area, i.e. ground up and all trad. Judging by photo's and the standard at which Jeff and Korra Pesce and co. climb, i wouldn't be surprised if most of these new things were scot 9 and above.
Happy House VII 7

"Happy House"
Today i headed up on my own and soloed the Aguille Verte via the Couturier Couloir, a classic 1000 metre winter outing on the north east face. I did it from first lift and was on top 2 hours 40 mins after starting. Its in great nick right now, but for some reason i was tempted out on to the "Callotte" which forms the right hand arete for the last 200 metres, which turned out to be a stupid error as i took some time negotiating some nasty slots just beneath the summit. It was great to lounge on maybe Chamonix's best summit in solitude before i started the monotonous downclimb of the same route. I made three abalakov raps on the top icy section then downclimbed maybe 800 metres of couloir. I carried a 60 metre 7.7, a 60 metre 4mill tagline and a couple screws.
      An unforseen sting in the tail occured when after i'd finished the descent and was on the glacier, i clipped in to my Hagan 130 approach ski's, and made one turn after which one binding released and the ski rocketed down the glacier straight in to a deep crevasse. I then had to do the usually enjoyable 2000 metre ski descent to Argentiere on foot, not fun.......
The following photos were taken on my phone, which is a hand down from my mum so not some fancy thing that does HD or owt.

Standard solo shot. Breaking a trail in the upper part of the couloir.

Summit. January is cold, especially at 4200 metres.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scottish Fix.

I've just returned from my annual Scottish trip. For the last couple of years my Scottish climbing has only consisted of a day and a half around new year, as I'm rarely in the country for the rest of the winter. I do however cherish those rare Scottish moments I manage to snatch and this weekend was no exception.
          My parents were going to a party at the house of some family friends in Fort William for new years, so I hitched a ride with them up north and met my friend Greg Boswell at the "Green Welly" in Crianlarich on the evening of the 30th. We'd originally planned to head north that night, but with a high isotherm we decided to play it safe and head to the Ben. Greg had told me about a project of his just next to "The Secret", so we called that plan A. The Ben's most brilliant feature has to be its height. As much as people moan about conditions whenever they cross the border, i think its fair to say that there are very few days between mid November and late March when you can't get something done on the Ben providing you're motivated and flexible.
        When we arrived at the bottom of the project early in the morning of new year's eve the rock was all very slightly hoared up. There was no doubt that things were solidly frozen, with turf and chock stones welded tight by a consistent glaze of ice. However, when we looked up to the incredibly steep wall our line went through, it was still very marginal conditions. We noticed that the constant wind blowing down the gully was actually hoaring the wall while we watched. So we sat on our bags in the minging Scottish weather for an hour and a half as we watched the hoar grow and grow, so we could justify going up there and scraping it all off again.....Scottish climbing makes even less sense than most types of climbing!!
Pitch 1, its not quite as nasty as it looks.

Once the top pitch was white enough I set off on the first pitch; an ice smear on to a steep wall. The pitch was very nice and even had some moves on ice alone. It's maybe worth tech 7, and in the conditions we had was the logical way to go, but there are a great many variations that would all be good. Its even possible to traverse in at a very easy grade. 30 metres later i found myself beneath the horrifically steep cracked wall which would form the main pitch. There was no debate as to who's this was, it was Greg's project and Greg's territory, so off he went.
         The next few hours were a fantastic display of stamina and determination on Greg's part. The wall is ridiculously steep, with perhaps half of the pitch overhanging. The crack, although well protected on the whole is too wide low down to climb conventionally, which meant Greg was forced on to thin face hooks. The lead reached a real climax when Greg was forced to make an overhanging mantle on to a small ledge which has a steepening above that tries to push you off. As he started to mantle he shouted "This block's moving", i looked up and teetering on the ledge was a large block, I thought it was part of the cliff but evidently it wasn't, and I was straight underneath it. Unbelievably Greg managed to mantle and crouch on to the small ledge without touching the block. I then dismantled my belay and climbed 15 metres up and left out of the line of fire, carrying the coils around my neck, while Greg balanced on the insecure ledge without a belay! Once I was out of the way Greg kicked the block off, which landed right where i had been and exploded all the way down number 3 gully. After a quick chuckle that we were moving together on a possible grade 9 or 10 Greg swiftly despatched the overhanging top moves.
Starting the fight with the crux pitch.

While seconding i was shocked by the steepness of the route, and even more shocked by how the hell he managed the mantle without knocking off the block!!
       It was a super impressive lead. Greg gave the pitch the somewhat conservative grade of IX 9. Who knows? Its almost certainly the hardest onsight on the Ben to date. Its called "To Those Who Wait" Nice one Greg!
Myself topping out, after having a couple of fights with stuck wires!

Main pitch takes the barely visible crackline on the overhanging wall left of the arete. (not my photo)

After a drunken and very late new year's eve, we slept until late on the 1st before driving north to Torridon. Originally we had our eyes on one of Martin Moran's new things. But after some thought we downsized to the classic "Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears" VIII 8 on Beinn Eighe.
        It turned in to a rather funny day. Mainly due to Greg's watch being about 4 hours late (don't ask), and us not realising until we were on the route!! Also, we managed to bring the wrong map which meant we took an educated guess at which one Beinn Eighe was, got it wrong, and traversed some munros and a classic Scottish ridge to get to the mountain! Once we found the cliff we discussed the rap descent and both came to the conclusion that the guide was unhelpfully vague. We just rapped down the general direction of the route and luckily located it pretty easily. After the first pitch i looked round at Greg and said "is it getting dark?!" we thought it was about 11 in the morning, but it turned out it was 2.30pm and yes it was getting dark! - MUPPETS!!!
     With this in mind we sped up the rest of the route, topping out in the dark and heavy snow, before carefully feeling our way back down to the car. "Blood Sweat" was an incredible route, each pitch fairly sustained but never very hard. Amazing quality climbing, and great to finally climb in Torridon. It maybe felt 5 grades easier than the thing on the Ben though!!
  Unfortunately our photo's are pretty terrible, as my camera broke and Greg's got very wet......
   Check out Greg's thoughts here- .