Aiguilles des Entrèves – 18th August 2017
The Aiguilles des Entrèves are another collection of pinnacles that make up a great mountaineering adventure. They are part of the French-Italian border that stretches between the Hellbronner lift and Mont Blanc. A key part of this ridge is made up of immaculate granite, although the sheerness of the cliffs in this section does lend to more exposure too.
With the cloud coming and going, around onto the glacier and down the big drop into Italy, it was an atmospheric place to climb. The ridge had us clambering up and down along the length of it, with the down-climbing feeling a little unusual, its not easy looking beyond your feet to the space below…!
Introduction to alpine mountaineering – 17th August 2017
Bring together a little rock-climbing and scrambling experience, and alpine mountaineering starts to click into place. The traverse of the Aiguille du Crochue in the Aiguilles Rouges above Chamonix is a popular choice for folk getting started with the climbing, the rope work and the often the exposure experienced when alpine mountaineering.
Different styles of rope work are used depending on whether the terrain is to be pitched, or descended, or for the team to ‘move together’. The route took us through a whole variety of terrain, contrasting being in the sunshine and then the shade, sometimes on exposed fins of rock, other times on rock walls and blocky ground.
And to make the most of the experience, we decided to return back down the route, instead of doing the traverse. Mountaineering in descent is a usual and well-used skill in the Alps, and this was a good place to practice!
Sunrise on Mont Blanc – 7th August 2017
The wind and the cloud were determined to hang around the Gouter hut when Alex and I arrived there early from the Tete Rousse hut but fortunately we still had the third day day to try for the summit. For this day, or this morning with a 2am start the weather was perfect; clear skies, little wind and a cool temperature.
We made steady progress up past the Dome du Gouter and on past the Vallot hut. The ridge was still in darkness on one side yet was lit by a full moon on the the other. As the moon set and became a huge red ball in the west, the sun was slowly lighting up the sky in the east. The glow in the sky was fascinating to watch, alongside the steady changes in the snow ridge as we got closer to the summit.
At the summit itself we could see its shadow displayed in the haze beyond; we’d arrived just as the sun was rising above the far horizon.
Alex had done really well on the ascent, being slightly bogged down with the start of a cold. The summit was a fantastic place to take in the view all around, of all the mountains around the western Alps.
Mont Blanc – between a whiteout and a storm! – 30th July 2017
After a summer of warm temperatures it was good last week to see more snow arrive in the high mountains. For Mont Blanc this means that the west face of the Aiguille du Gouter, which is climbed as part of the Gouter Route of Mont Blanc, was much safer and less prone to rockfall.
Starting with a 1.30am breakfast from the lower Tete Rousse hut the morning was looking promising. Stars in the sky, looking down at all the lights in the Chamonix and Arve valleys. The Grand Couloir was quiet, and despite the snow we were able to ascend the scrambly ridge without crampons after crossing the couloir. However on reaching the glacier of the Dome du Gouter the conditions changed, with much cloud rolling in. It wasn’t too bad to begin with as there was a good track to follow, but on reaching the shoulder of the Dome it was time for the map and compass..!
For a time it was uncertain as to how our Mont Blanc summit bid was going to pan out as with white-out conditions and some wind it did not bode well for the summit ridge. However, just before reaching the Vallot hut the skies cleared and the summit became visible. The weather forecast of ‘clear skies in the morning’ looked like it was back on the cards.
The small col beyond the hut is a good place to assess the route ahead, if its going to be windy, you will appreciate the conditions here! However, though windy and atmospheric, the wind was not too strong, and the clouds rolled past were still replaced by views into Italy and back into Chamonix.
Despite all the great views, climbing the summit ridge at this point is still hard work. From the altitude of the Vallot hut at 4362m the rest of the climb is tough work and usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It feels like it will go on for ever!
Eventually we reached the top of Mont Blanc. There was nobody else there, and unfortunately not much of a view in the cloud, yet it was a fantastic effort for Mark.
We were still only halfway through the day though. With a storm forecast for 3pm that afternoon we were keen to keep moving back down the mountain, and back to our original hut. We arrived 1.15pm to a bit of rain, the storm itself arrived in full force on questions at 3pm and we were very glad to not be caught outside in it.
Summit success on the Dufourspitze – 14th July 2017
The Dufourspitze is the highest peak of Monte Rosa, and is quite a long way from anywhere! A train up from Zermatt certainly does help.
After a 2am breakfast we’d made good progress, and its always great to see the first sun catching the surrounding mountains.
After several hours up the glacier we finally reach some rocky and icy obstacles along 2 peaks before reaching the final summit crest.
Not far now to the top…
John did awesomely well, he was last on this mountain 54 years ago when he was 16. He didn’t quite reach the summit back then and was keen to give it another go..!
The last snow/ice slope before reaching the glacier again, Lyskamm in the background… and so is Mont Blanc!
Pollux after the storm – 11th July 2017
Following a day almost entirely in the cloud, though with a few rays of sunshine whilst climbing the Breithorn, we descended into Italy to the Ayas Hut. The storm that evening gave concerns for the next day but at 4am in the morning the moon and stars were out, the snow had frozen up and our day on Pollux looked much more promising.
Starting up the rocky arete, the early morning light falling on Castor and Lyskamm.
The tricky bit on the route… cramponning skills important here!
The fine snow arete up to the summit.
Acqua Concerte, rock-climbing on the Aiguilles du Van – 5th July 2017
The twin peaks of the Aiguilles du Van catch your eye as they loom above the Emosson dam on the French-Swiss border. They are also the beginning of the Perrons ridge traverse which I’d scrambled along on the day before. A narrow trail winds its way steeply up to the foot of the climb which takes a line close to the right-hand profile of this peak.
With each pitch climbed new views are seen of the mountains around. This area is called the Chablais and is shared by France and Switzerland. The limestone peaks lend themselves to an unusual mountain landscape, which compliments the higher, more glaciated peaks to the south. Yet it is always the view looking straight down that I think is the most amazing to comprehend…!
Scrambling on the Grand Perron – 4th July 2017
The ridge of the Perrons lies high above the Vallorcine valley and the French-Swiss border also follows its crest. As a traverse it is a fine outing, not least because it has all the adventure of a fine alpine ridge without having to bring axe and crampons. The scrambling can look quite unlikely at times but apart from the odd short pitch, the main summit, the Grand Perron can be reached without too much difficulty.
Beyond this summit, the ridge continues with more technical interest, with some fine rock-climbing in airy locations to attain the next 2 peaks and abseils to reach each of the next 2 cols.
Winter returns to the Aiguille du Midi – 1st July 2017
This was the weekend of the Arc’teryx Academy event in Chamonix that brought together people from all over the world to learn more about mountains in a variety of clinics run by guides and mountain athletes. After so much sunshine and heat in recent days, the new snowfall high up was very welcome, and on the first day out from the Aiguille du Midi we were immediately transported in this wintery world.
Rock-climbing at the Brevent, above Chamonix – 26th June 2017
As part of a week of climbing multi-pitch rock climbs around the Chamonix valley with John and Ans we spent a good day on the route la Solome. This line linked a number of walls and pinnacles on great rock; gneiss. Lots of exciting situations to climb in..!
Earlier in the week we’d also visited the Cheserys cliffs above Argentière, good for getting started with multi-pitch climbing, with abseil descents and a number of ibex wandering about munching the grass and climbing the routes too.
A well-timed heatwave for climbing in Borrowdale – 26th May 2017
The mountain crags of the Lake District were in great condition in the middle of May with the continuous dry conditions. We headed to the north Lakes and to Borrowdale to a great campsite base at Chapel House Farm, central to 4 days worth of rock-climbing locations. For once it was possible to not worry about the weather forecast and we could climb where we like, although, by the last day it was, actually too hot!