Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Small Movie

Here's a small movie, made by swedish film maker Bjarne Sahlen. I'm climbing a pitch of steep choss in "Secteur Ecosse" above Argentiere. The route's about scottish VII and is probably the worst out of the sector's routes, but just happened to be the easiest to film in a morning.
       I'm then showing my new carbon fibre 150cm approach ski's, and doing one of my favourite pastimes-talking shit.

William Sim climbs "Happy House" Dry tooling from Bjarne Sahlen on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dru Couloir

Myself and Jon Griffith had a great day climbing the Dru Couloir on Friday.
         We slept up in the Grand Montet toilets. Intoxicated by urine fumes and not bringing a mat to sleep on meant for an especially sleepless night, and it was good to get going at 4.30 am. After deciding it would be easier to walk than ski round to the couloir, we stashed our approach skis at GM before down climbing the couloir on to the Nant Blanc glacier and traversing round and up to the couloir's start. There was a decent track which made things fast.

Lower part of the route.

The first 200 metres up the broad couloir was on excellent plastic neve and went fast. We then made two long pitches and a little moving together up the broken slabby ground which lead us to the foot of the "Nomine Crack". This is the well known steep aid pitch which blasts up the wall to the left of the couloir proper.  I had some sort of mystery stomach-bug type illness all day and kept thinking i was going to be sick, which made things interesting at times. This reached a climax at the bottom of the Nominee so before i started up i informed Jon that i may have to stop to be sick somewhere on the pitch! However, i managed to make it up the thing without emptying my stomach all over him. The pitch isn't too bad really, as long as you don't try and properly aid it, you really want to free climb as much as you can and just rest on all the pegs and place the odd bomber wire for peace of mind. Italian Korra free'd this pitch, at M7+ (sport mixed grade, not to be confused with mountain M grades) Good effort to Ueli onsight freeing this in the dark!!
Pitches up to the Nomine-dry!

Nomine crack.


Pitch above Nomine.

Add caption

The pitch after this was probably the crux, but no pics unfortunately....

Above here another great pitch leads diagonally rightwards up a wall then across a pegged crack. This again is much quicker to free/french free than aid. After this a long spicy pitch up a wide crack(cam no.4 very useful!) is the culmination of the technical climbing, and in my opinion the crux of the route. Even with a big cam the wide top crack feels bold, and i made a couple aid moves up a crack to the left in order to get a high runner before traversing in to the wide crack
In the upper couloir.

Upper couloir.

In the upper couloir.

 Once in the ice of the upper 300 metres of the ice couloir, ground is covered much quicker. Unfortunately, at the moment the ice isn't neve apart from 50 metres at the beginning, instead it's grey, shattering, toe-bruising stuff which made simul climbing quite dangerous with regards to falling ice. Therefore we decided to pitch it. We reached the breche just over 12 hours after starting the route.
       The descent is very quick, down the direct route. Providing you don't get a stuck rope, which would be potentially disastrous on the uber-steep pitches of the direct. We then walked round and up to GM, put on our skis and whizzed down to the car in Argentierre.
        With regards to conditions, i certainly wouldn't say the routes in "good" condition right now. After seeing photos of the route at other times (particularly this October), i think the pitches up to the base of the Nominee are extremely dry, being dry-tooling rather than mixed and ice climbing. And as stated already, the upper couloir is mainly grey ice right now, rather than single-placement neve. However, the routes in perfectly do-able condition, and definitely worth getting on. As far as lines go its one of the most striking in the Mont Blanc range and it didn't disappoint.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"West Face Direct", Aguille Du Plan.

The west face direct (AKA Grand West Couloir) is a route that i've had my eye on for a little while. First climbed over 4 days by Gabarrou in 1975, it pretty much lay dormant for thirty years until the talented french alpinist Didier Jourdain climbed it in 2007, freeing all but a move or two and in a day. Then in 2009 Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman also climbed it in a day, in extremely icy (good) conditions. They also climbed it free, with a different and more logical start, and thought ED2 M6 WI5.
       It's a great line, which splits straight through the west face of the plan in a very deep gash. We were originally thinking about big big things to do in this long weather window. However, due to logistics and less than 100% health (annoying flue-type thing that keeps lingering) we decided now would be a good time for the West Face Direct.
The line.

I knew that someone had climbed it this season, as about 10 days ago i saw some faint remnants of a track a little way over the schrund. Chamonix being Chamonix i had a feeling i'd know whoever it was but never found out in time to get beta. We decided to climb it from first lift. The ascents we knew of had all included a bivi at the bottom or at the hut beneath the mid-station. We just accepted we'd be climbing the last third and then reversing the Midi-Plan traverse in the dark. As we got on the Midi at 8 a.m. we bumped in to a friend, Max, a strong alpinist from Quebec. It turned out it was him and his girlfriend Zoe who had climbed it. He proceded with some beta, and that they had taken a long time to do the route then traverse to the midi, after biving the night before. They had climbed the route in good time, but made a route finding error while traversing the Midi-Plan in the dark, (although one of the easiest summer classics, the midi plan can be a nightmare to reverse in the dark under winter conditions, and we benefitted from Max's track there) but it still gave us food for thought, as we wouldn't be starting the route till gone 10 a.m.!!
          The cone leading up and over the schrund was fairly deep in places but the schrund didn't present any difficulties. We took a slightly wrong route through the initial 20 metre rock section but it didn't add too much time. The next 700 metres consisted of steep pitches of thin ice and a little dry-tooling, separated by snowfields and small amphitheatres. The rock architecture on either side is stunning and the climbing impeccable. Lots of sections around scottish 6 and some of 7. Also we even had some sun at belays, a rare bonus for a winter route! It was so good, i thought at every pitch, "wow that's the best bit yet", but it just kept coming and coming. A truely amazing route. The crux climbing is in the last 200 metres, where the gully system turns in to a steep rocky wall and then continues in a gully again afterwards. After a couple of tricky drytooling pitches a cave is gained. The pitch leading out of this cave was as good as climbing gets on big routes- an ice smear, then a transfer on to a separate smear then up and out, beautiful pitch just as the sun was setting. We then climbed two excellent long pitches in the dark, at about Scot 6 then 5. This led to the summit snowfield then up to the Aguille Du Plan.
        The traverse of the Midi Plan in the dark was quite time consuming under winter conditions, but luckily after one wrong turn we could pick up the remains of Max's tracks (Cheers Max!) and were in the Midi toilets 14 and a half hours after starting the route.
       It truely is an amazing route; line, climbing and position. It deserves hard classic status.

First meaty pitch.

Tricky hollow bulge.
Nice place.
Good climbing!!

Getting harder.
Getting tricky!

Awesome mixed climbing.
More fun stuff

Beautiful pitch!
Having fun!
A technical pitch in the dark, again, amazing climbing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pas de success.

Myself and Jon got first lift up the Midi today. We were headed to a rather obscure but brilliant looking line that we were quite excited about. Unfortunately, less than 100 metres from the start, the toe-piece on my approach ski's binding popped off.
       Afer thinking i finally had the optimum light approach ski set up for my boots, i'm back to having a none functioning pair, (well actually two none functioning pairs.....). I'll hopefully have this pair sorted and ready for some lung burning training again pretty soon though.
       Of a more immediate annoyance, it meant we couldn't do the route, as i couldn't ski down to town that night. So instead we about-turned and made the monotonous boot-pack back to the Midi.

Oh shit...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Midi North Face. Tournier Spur Solo.

To continue the Plan/Midi North Face trilogy of late, yesterday i climbed the Tournier spur. The Tournier is  the Frendo Spur's lesser known sibling. It's pretty similar in style/difficulty as far as i can work out, i.e. a 1000 metre ice and rock summer route of moderate difficulty. Obviously its not summer at the moment, but i thought that the first day of February would make for an interesting ascent with lots of trench digging on the ice-slopes and some awkward mixed/drytooling where the VS rock climbing is in summer. It turned out exactly like that!
        Once again i managed to miss first lift so arrived at the mid-station at about 9.30. I started up the route at 10.30, teetering across the untracked bergschund unroped was as always, pretty unenjoyable, but once across i could get my climbing head on properly. I decided to try and climb the goulotte/offwidth rubblefest created by the meeting of the col du plan serac with the spur's rock, rather than climbing the spur normal route. It was a bit of a gamble as i didn't know whether it would go, but i was forced to as the schrund was more passable at this point. In the end it was mostly nice neve, bulging at 90 degrees. I climbed this for about 100 metres, with the odd spooky section where i could put my foot straight through in to a crack seemingly to the centre of the earth. After a tricky bulge of brittle, black serac ice i gained the huge couloir which splits the spur in two. This consisted of deep powder well bonded for a good foot or two. A steep skiers dream. I dug a trench through this for the next 300 metres up to the col, and in theory the start of the rock crux.
The dormant Col Du Plan serac, and the goulotte i climbed on its right flank. (phone shot).
I spent about 30 minutes or more here. Routefinding was a problem; i could see where the summer route went, but i couldn't find a suitable wintery variation on either side that i could take. After much thought i made a 25 metre rap down the west (midi) side of the col. From here i could just make out a way through some ledge systems which looked dry-toolable, after which i could join the crest again. It started with a steep 10 metres of loose flakes and carried on in much the same way for about 50 metres. This felt quite scary. Some irreversible ledge shuffling later brought me to a steep thin crack, good for axes but steep and extremely exposed over the serac-ridden couloir 100 metres beneath. I had a couple stern words with myself then committed up it. It was probably worth 6 in the scottish sense, and once in the right headspace felt great to cruise. This thankfully landed me on some easy ground which i tunneled up to the next notch on the crest, regaining the summer pitches.         
               Here i had a quick drink and a "block" or two. The pitch straight after this notch was possibly the "5c steep crack with pegs". I climbed it by balancing up a mushroom on the slab to the left, before squeezing myself in to a chimney. I had to take my bag off and haul it from my belay loop on a 120 sling so i could get in the offwidth properly. At the top of this i latched a good chockstone and pulled through. Some awkward powdery gendarmes were then traversed and then i was deposited on to the upper glacier/snowslope. 30 minutes later i was on top. And 20 after that i was in the Midi rocketing down to valley level.
      It took 5hours 20. It certainly was an interesting thing to do in winter.

In the powdery offwidth, hauling bag behind.

Top 200 metres.