North Gully, Ben Nevis – II

This winter has been a bit disappointing so far. Cold snaps and snow dumps have been followed by sustained high pressure and almost instant thawing of most mountain crags. So with a dump of snow during the week and the temperature to stay low over the weekend, Laura and I decided to head up to Fort William after work on Friday and try to get something done on the north face early Saturday morning.

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looking promising…

The initial steep climb away from the north face carpark always gets the heart rate accelerating. The views over an early morning Fort William and the menacing north face always make it worthwhile, if the weather is behaving of course.

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winter conditions beginning to form

We arrived at the CIC hut and decided to go for north gully. I had read that this had been climbed during the week and was in condition. So began the uphill slog in to the depths of Coire na Ciste. I generally find the coire quite an intimidating place and today was no different. The snow conditions were not as I’d expected and there was a deep layer of powder sitting on top of the old pack.

We traversed the base of number 4 gully and around to the start of north gully, growing ever more sceptical about the snow under our feet.

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North gully right of centre 

More comfortable at the foot of the route we built a questionable belay, given the rain fall the cracks were iced up making gear difficult to find.

The first pitch runs up the gully and narrows as it lengthens. The snow and ice were great quality and although I didn’t find any gear the axe placements were good enough to give confidence. The snow turned to ice at the narrowest part which gave an interesting couple of steps before exiting onto wider terrain. A spike provided a solid anchor.

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at the start of the route 

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approaching the narrowest section of the first pitch

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Laura coming up the first pitch

The second pitch is a real contrast to the first. A wide snow fan with various options. I was very uncomfortable with the snow pack on this pitch. A lot of wading was required and the cornices at the exit had been given plenty of time to form.

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windslab and cornices

I decided taking the left hand variant on the exit at grade III would be safer than battling with the cornice. Unfortunately I got half way up this and the snow became very thin and loose. I eventually conceded defeat, down climbed and took the standard exit. The cornice wasn’t particularly difficult but the snow leading up very loose and I was pleased to reach the plateaux.

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heading down the Redburn

Number 4 gully didn’t look very inviting so we decided to take the longer, safer trek down the Redburn and to the half way lochan.

All in an enjoyable route but not the correct choice in the current conditions.

Recess Route, Cobbler – Severe 

A stretch of Autum sunshine gave us the opportunity to climb on the cobbler in dry conditions. I’ve tried routes here in the past when it’s been raining or damp and it’s not at all pleasant. The mica shist rock is really slippy, like glass, when wet.

Recess route was an obvious choice for the choice for the conditions. A classic climb with amazing views down Loch Long and comfortable belay spots for taking in the sunshine.

The walk to the cobbler gives a good warm-up and after the initial haul through the forest it’s actually quite enjoyable.

Recess route takes an obvious line up the south face of the north peak and was easy to spot and follow from the approach.

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the various peaks and climbing options 

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the south face of the north peak

The first pitch climbs a left running diagonal crack which can be seen at the centre of the face in the above picture. This is good climbing and easily protected. The crack line turns vertical and a few awkward (for the grade) steps take you up to the first belay at the bottom of the first chimney.

The second pitch runs about 30 metres directly up a deep chimney (recess). This is great fun and require a lot of bridging. There’s not a huge amount of big positive handholds but plenty of options for getting the feet high. I made the mistake of climbing too deep in the chimney, a better method would be bridge all the way up. There’s an old peg and some slings insitu which I assume are from winter attempts.

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a bit too deep in the chimney making the overhang exit tricker than necessary

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the view from 2nd belay stance

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taking in some Vit D and checking the route

After the first chimney the route traverses right, I ran this as a short pitch but should have probably just ran P2 a bit longer. The next pitch (4 in this case) runs directly up a steep groove. This was the crux for me. The moves are not obvious but eventually the foot placements become obvious. Again, there’s not much in the way of hand holds but a bit of palming got me up and to the cave and start of the 5th pitch. This run directly up a wide corner with an awkward overhang. This did require a bit of strenuous pulling round, I had a few attempts before finding the best way over. The remainder of the route runs directly up the chimney and isn’t too difficult.

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on pitch 5

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plenty of comfortable turf seats on the way up

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on the descent

A great route and well worth the 2 stars. Hopefully we’ll get more dry days here in the future.

Dent Blanche South Ridge – AD

The almost perfect free standing pyramid of the Dent Blanche had interested me since we started climbing in the alps. With the long ridges set on the four points of the compass we decided the classic south ridge route was a must.

The route is a minimum of two days and with no lift assistance the walk up to the Dent Blanche hut (3507m) from the valley requires good fitness. Thankfully the varied terrain from the lush valley to the glacier moraine and then the snowfield gives plenty of interest and photo opportunities.

Before reaching the carpark at Ferpecle Laura called ahead to book the hut. Disaster, it was full! This had never happened to me before. The forecast for the next couple of days was perfect and we’d driven from Chamonix to do the route. We decided to hit the local shop stock up on avocado, tinned sardines and bivvy near the hut that night. All of of sudden my pack was a lot heavier than I’d been banking on. Nevertheless we started up the path towards the first landmark on the route, Alpe Bricola an old closed down hotel.

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taking a well earned rest at Alpe Bricola. Pack now containing a tent and sleeping bag..

From Alp Bricola the path is well defined and obvious as it traverses under the Manzettes glacier. Leaving all vegetation behind now and onto a more lunar landscape.

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the now well receded Manzettes glacier

The route to the hut now takes a steeper turn across big slabs. At this point the combination of sun, altitude and heavy pack was slowing me down. Another hour and we were over the slabs and moraine and onto an ice ramp before the snowfield. The variety of the walk took a lot of the pain away. We were joined on the snowfield by a team of paragliders, competing in a race across the alps. I would be jealous of their speedy descent in the coming days.

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paragliders preparing for a takeoff 

The snowfield runs straight to the foot of the hut. Upon arrival I began looking for a bivvy spot only to be informed that there were plenty of free beds. The paraglider had booked most of the place out but weren’t staying. Result!

In an effort to save money we took a bed but decided to eat our makeshift avocado and sardine dinner instead of a hut meal.

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view from our dinner spot

From the viewing platform the south ridge looked dry and with only 6 or 7 other teams in the hut and a perfect weather forecast our chances were looking good. We decided to go for a 3:30am start.

Typically it was 4am before we got going, scrambling up the boulder field directly behind the hut and onto the icy saddle of the Wandflueucke (3703m). With the sun just beginning to rise we got fantastic views of the Matterhorn and the Dent d’herens.

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Finally on the south ridge we made our way towards the grande gendarme, turning this on the left. It can be climbed direct but we had neither the time or the fitness for this option. Turning takes you into a wide gully with three belay stakes. The climbing here is around III and presented to difficulties, there was very little snow or ice which helped speed things up. The gully takes you to a notch below the second gendarme which we turned awkwardly on the right, in hindsight I would have climbed it direct. By turning the tower we ended up on some very chossy rock which under better snow conditions may have been more consolidated. This was the worst part of the route for me, we lost a good bit of height and ended up having to climb up some loose blocks back to the ridge.

Safely back on the crest we reached the final tower and turned this via a longer traverse to the left before taking a belay and climbing a c10m wall pitch. Although not difficult in the dry conditions this was the crux pitch for me. We were also held up by a party abseiling down the route with tangled ropes.

At the top of the wall the snow and ice returned. We followed the ridge as it narrowed and steepened. The snow was well scoured close to the summit and care had to be taken to ensure there was no slides. Eventually the ridge flattens and the summit cross comes into view. The benefit of being the slowest party was having the top to ourselves.

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The clouds were building so we decided not to hang around on the summit too long. I often find I need full concentration on a descent and wanted to get off the snow/ice on the ridge in a safe time.

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Laura on the descent, hope that axe isn’t resting on a cornice… 

The return to the hut was a physical slog and very time consuming. We abseiled the 10m wall, the second gendarme and used the three posts in the wide gully. All of this was fine on a 60m single rope.

Luckily the weather remained pretty benign and we could afford to take our time. Not worried about rock fall or widening crevasses. We arrived at the hut just after 4pm so a 12hr day all in. Neither of us could face the walk out so we decided to relax and have another night in the hut with a few beers.

The walk out the next day was on painful legs but glancing up at the peak for a reminder made it worthwhile.

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a welcome drink on the return to the valley

Aiguilles Marbrees, PD

With the Tour Ronde and Dent d’Geant both out of condition Laura and I didn’t want to waste our an early morning rise at the Torino Refuge by heading straight back to Chamonix

We decided the Aiguilles Marbrees would be a nice relaxing half day objective, allowing us to rest/sunbathe at the midi station later in the day.

It was worth hanging off for the sun to begin rising before getting going. The approach is short and didn’t pass under any potential rock fall.

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Dent d’Geant at first light. Love how the glacier is snapping off.

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the Marbrees, taken on the way back

Due to rockfall on the east ridge which had apparently stripped the abseil bolts we approached from the Col du Geant and turned into the Col de Rochfort. This gave an amazing panorama across the Geant glacier, the approach is only about 1 hour from the Torino. img_0327

The ridge leading the summit consists of big blocks which can be easily climbed in dry conditions. We did end up turning a few of them but this led to very chossy ground, it would be better to stick to the crest all the way to the summit.

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summit before breakfast

Again due to the dry conditions we reversed the route rather than making the more popular traverse. A ver y enjoyable way to spend some early morning hours. All the while sneaking in some acclimatisation.

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coming off the ridge

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snow desert 

Aiguille d’Entreves Traverse, AD- 5b

The traverse of the Aiguille d’Entreves is often referred to as Italy’s Cosmique ridge equivalent. Sitting on the French Italian border it offers an excellent half day route from the Torino refuge.

We left Chamonix on the first lift and before long we were passing over the glacier on the Helbronner cable car.

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shot from the cable car

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on route

The approach is straightforward and only about 1 hour from the Torino refuge. The glacier is crevassed in places but they are easy to avoid or step across. One of the few benefits of the later season conditions. We witnessed some serious rockfall on the Tour Ronde, the bergschrund  was big and a few teams were struggling. Disappointing as I was planning this for the following day. Suppose you would rather see it in daylight than in the dark the next morning though.

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traversing from right to left

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gearing up

Despite  being the “Italian Cosmique” the route was quiet with the few teams well spaced out. It wasn’t going to be a rushed stressful climb. The rock is good quality and we moved together for until the first awkward down climb. This leads to a col and two very impressive rock spires. img_0270

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getting exposed 

The ridge narrows at this point and has you moving across an awkward tower before reaching the crux wall. The wall can be seen in the above picture, the climber in the orange trousers standing at the foot of it. There is one move of 5b which is difficult on an AD- route however it is well protected and can be aided if necessary. The two climbers at the wall in this picture, a guide and her client, actually backed off at this point. The client wasn’t able to make the move so they decided the reverse the ridge. Not the easiest place to pass people!

I didn’t find the wall too tricky, my long reach and a big rockover helped to get up in a few moves. After this it’s an easy scramble to the summit. An exposed traverse and an abseil down a polished chimney and all the difficulties are behind you.

A scramble down the wider north east ridge leads to an abseil back to the glacier and a nice enjoyable route in the bag.

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abseil back to the glacier

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Geant from the Torino Refuge

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home for the night 

Being so late in a warm season our plans to do a route on the Tour Ronde the following day were now not possible. A sadly fatal accident on the Geant a few weeks earlier put me off that as well. The approach slopes were visibly dry and I didn’t want to do battle with the loose rock. The Torino Refuge was a comfortable place to sit with a beer and think of an alternative.

Petits Charmoz Traverse – AD 4b

On our first day in Chamonix this August Laura and I were looking for an alpine route with a bit of rock climbing, height gain, great views and the ability to return to the valley. After a lot of deliberation we settled on the traverse of the Petits Charmoz.

From what I could tell the route is less popular than it used to be but still offers a challenge and promised fantastic views across to the Dru and the Mer de Glace.

We queued for the first telepherique and before I finished my coffee we were at the Plan de l’Aiguille station. The approach to the route takes a few twists and turns and is a bit more time consuming that it looks. Firstly crossing the Glacier de Blaitiere before reaching the head wall of the Nantillons glacier.

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The Chamonix Aiguilles from the station.

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Approaching the Nantillons glacier. The Verte overshadowing the route from behind.

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The traverse runs from right to left.

I’d read that the Nantillons can be quite active late in the season. Despite an overnight freeze there was a lot of vocal rockfall. We decided not to follow the tracks straight across higher up. Opting to descend and cross at the snout and walking up the moraine below the end point of the route. This proved to be a wise decisions as quite a few boulders were spat down during the crossing.

A short climb led us to the Couloir de l’Etala and an easy scramble to the foot of the Etala chimneys.

The climbing in the chimneys was tricky for the grade, the rock is quite polished and it’s a really tight squeeze with a big rucksack. Great fun though.

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First pitch

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Trying to find the best way through a tight squeeze.

The chimneys lead to the Col de l’Etala and a fantastic view across the Mer De Glace.

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A fantastically exposed traverse and some easier ground then lead to the summit which only has room for two at a push. This was some of the most exposed easier ground I’ve been on and it was great. You can look between your legs and the next stop is the glacier.

Unfortunately I was too busy concentrating on foot placements to get the camera out.

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Laura approaching the summit. It was at that point I realised the chance of us getting the last lift down was unlikely.

The guidebook was quite vague about the best abseil route to take but it was clear we had a few options. Three 30m rappels later and we were on easier ground. There are no bolts on this route and some of the abseil tat is very weathered looking.

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The scariest part of the day for me was the via ferrata back to the glacier. This is accessed by down climbing the Couloir de Buche on a good path. You then meet a series of ladders that lead back to the foot of the glacier. These are mega exposed and very difficult to protect.

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Laura dealing with the fixed ladders.

Throughout the descent we were watching two climbers coming down the Nantillons dodging some serious rockfall. Thankfully they made it off safely but being anywhere in that area late in the season appears to be a gamble these days.

The consequence of going slow on the first day was missing the last lift to the valley. The plus side was a great sunset and a bit of fitness on the long walk back to Chamonix.

All in a great alpine route with plenty of variation for the grade.

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First Blog Post

As the title suggests this is the first post in what will hopefully be a fairly regular log of my weekend and holiday excursions in the outdoors.

My main interests are climbing, mountaineering and trail running. I find the mental and physical demands of these activities very rewarding and a nice contrast to being in an office environment during the week.

Living just outside of Glasgow we are fortunate to have some of Scotland’s best scenery and mountains only a few hours drive away. My interest in the outdoors began as with many Scots through Munro bagging. Since then I’ve tried to increase my endurance fitness, technical skills and difficulty of routes. Still a long way to go and plenty of routes in the logbook wishlist.

As well as getting out in Scotland we have also been lucky to make several trips to the alps so some posts might be a bit old.

This blog is really a reminder of what I’ve been up to (should have started years ago) but if you have any questions about routes etc please feel free to get in touch.

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