Alpine Biking

Fall in the Alps. The summer inferno has past giving way to more pleasant temps for bike riding. T shirts at 3300m. Everywhere you look there is a blaze of orange and red as the larches and grasses go off.

I should be in New Zealand skiing new lines but my L5 disc herniated onto the root of the sciatic nerve the day after I finished guiding this summer. No I wasn’t out shredding but simply  walking on a forest trail. Biking is a major feature of my rehab as I try to overcome the partial muscle paralysis of my calf and glute – its kept me sane and frustrations at bay. It turns out the Aosta Valley holds some of the best trails Ive ridden in 25 years and my Bronson is now riding sweet with saint brakes – many of these descents are in the 1600 m category so things get very hot!

IM0011

My unhappy spine!

22429419_1814505545244951_2111587243_o22496844_1814505448578294_1588401086_oIMG_20171015_160249_20CSIMG_20171015_212759_38222522452_1814505585244947_801957464_o22426162_1814505665244939_1490182348_o22550651_1814505748578264_1332332661_o22553503_1814505741911598_1336039711_o22553737_10155525571795269_1878338083_oIMG_20171015_211641_06822555948_10155525573055269_1046860855_o22561180_10155525571950269_1765252586_o22553454_1814505778578261_2022275527_o22497172_1814505788578260_1154234412_o22531985_10155525573485269_1102800899_o22561353_1814505958578243_682537324_oIMG_20171017_190406_07122555920_1814505901911582_1687614557_oIMG_20171019_12024322643226_1818199034875602_1599297061_oIMG_20171019_12140722664068_1818198948208944_774200110_o22662746_1818198974875608_1142783188_oIMG_20171019_141814IMG_20171019_142053IMG_20171019_143124_1IMG_20171019_175755_16222690359_1818198894875616_773054408_o22643198_1818198878208951_1574587661_o22664073_1818198824875623_1702749965_o (1)IMG_20171019_144959IMG_20171019_14581522664097_1818198744875631_1313718739_o22690117_1818198731542299_988122448_o22690603_1818198704875635_163855805_o22690608_1818198671542305_1727832631_o22550884_1813319188696920_435879880_o22546693_1813319152030257_951084554_o22547046_10155522981005269_188958984_oIMG_20171019_151205_1CS

My Top 5 Steep Ski Lines in Chamonix

Choosing my 5 best steep ski lines in Chamonix is a tough call. They aren’t the steepest, most exposed or gnarliest but are a combination of being very aesthetic in one way or another while offering some great skiing. The variety of terrain comes into play with the combination of faces, spines, aretes and the odd couloir greatly adding to the pleasure, interest and overall experience for a skier in the modern idiom where hop turns are reserved solely for ultra serious situations. Skiing is all about the velvet smooth sensations transmitted from the ski and snow quality is the most vital ingredient to deliver this. Going out and scratching down these runs like an alpinist may satisfy those dominated by goal driven tendencies but being patient for the right conditions will yield a much richer experience.

 

1. The Grand Gervasutti Couloir.

An all time classic and the great big funnel on Mont Blanc du Tacul that draws your eye every time you ski in the Valley Blanche. It’s just so aesthetic, with 800 metres of vert, and a pretty steep entry before it eases to about 50° until the bergschrund. No rocks, abseils, its all about the skiing. Overhung by seracs whose threatening nature varies year on year, you will feel their presence as soon as you get in this line and ski it out as fast as possible. 

grand-gervasutti

gervasutti-23-2

gervasutti-couloir-ross hewitt

2. Mont Mallet Diagonal

While this line in itself is not the most aesthetic, the surroundings about it and the long approach via the Breche Puiseux make it a special journey through the mountains. The situations in the line are incredible looking across to the Dent de Geant with all the hanging seracs under the Rochefort Arete and the full panorama from Tacul to the Chamonix Aiguilles. The skiing is very good with the couloir soon widening into a face offering the opportunity to open it up. Don’t be surprised if you are tight to catch the last train down from Montenevers, we made it by half an hour but certainly felt it in the legs and needed a couple of pints at MBC afterwards.

mont-mallet-west-face-topo-1

22136901_758433944358535_5907316724986001978_o

mont malletmont mallet diagonal

598A0026

3. Col des Courtes

This fine route is steep enough to get the best of us tweaking but its often in condition when the rest of the Argentiere Basin is looking dry and the face can vary enormously from billboard flat to spine central. At 600 m in height its not too much of a slog up though the approach is about as long as it gets in the basin.

col-des-courtes-ski-descent-topo-ross-hewittross hewitt col des courtes

P1020196

4. The Frendo Spur.

If you hang around Chamonix for long enough your curiosity will draw you onto the test pieces on the North Face of Aiguille du Midi. While the Frendo is rarely in condition, the skiing it offers on big open snow fields with no rocks is where its at, pure free ride skiing without the worries of hitting a shark or being confined to small turns due to the terrain. Col du Plan offers a taste of this in its upper part but the old school skiing in the exit couloirs is often disappointing and slough hardened from the afternoon slides off the West Face of the Aiguille du Plan. After the abseils on the Frendo there is a big 500-600 m pitch of steep open skiing to the shrund which is a lot of fun.

frenndo ross hewitt bird

Frendo spur ski route

Ross-3

Frendo spur ski descent-147Frendo spur ski descent-91Frendo spur ski descent-90

5.  The West Face of Mont Blanc

The ‘rarely glimpsed Himalayan’ face of Mont Blanc comes gives 2000 m of vert to the glacier. Unless you have access to a heli, you will gauge conditions from afar and that makes dropping in onsight pretty committing. After all you have climbed Mont Blanc that morning and climbing out and back to the summit won’t be very appealing to the legs! Again these routes can go without abseil so there is no mountaineering faff once you start skiing. The first 1200 mis fairly sustained at around 50 degrees so no push over.

mont-blanc-west-face-ross-hewitt-topo

dsc05466-2

dsc05539-2

dsc05561-2

 

Charles Eternue – Red Pillar of Blaitiere

A fine trip to the Red Pillar of the Blaitiere with the every psyched Andy Perkins to climb Charles Eternue. This route was named after the French Foreign Minister (Charles Hernu) who ordered the sinking of Greenpeace’s flagship vessel ‘Rainbow Warrior’ in 1985 while she was in port in Aukland New Zealand en route to demonstrate against the French nuclear tests in the Atol. One person was killed in the sinking and two French agents were arrested and found guilty of manslaughter in what the New Zealand authorities referred to as state sponsored terrorism. Interestingly my father used to work on this vessel when she conducted research. The climbing is varied with cracks, offwidths, corners, slabs, laybacks and a steep finale. Quality

20641435_10155789108313984_411985920_o20662501_10155789108563984_1247956221_o20662565_10155789108938984_1286018032_o.jpg20663220_10155789108648984_424101929_o20643736_1508677395857758_594837304_n20631453_1508719699186861_31442104_n

Summer Alpine Guiding

The focus of this summer has been my first season as an aspirant and gaining as much alpine guiding experience as possible. With a low tide last winter and an exceptionally long hot summer, the glacier conditions have been suboptimal providing some additional hazards for travel, but in general there has been a good, varied and continuous supply of work. This has kept me busy travelling far and wide across the Alps to the Matterhorn, Breithorn, Castor, Pollux, Lyskamm nose, Mt Blanc, Peigne, Dent de Geant, Rochefort, Entreves, Marbree, Cosmiques, Vallee Blanche, Stockhorn, Barre des Ecrins, Rifflehorn, Jegihorn and a few others. During this time I’ve got to work with some fantastic guides and also meet a bunch on incredible, motivated clients who were after some big adventures in the mountains. A big thanks to everyone I met along the way and also to those who sent me some of the photos which I’ve shared below, in no particular order. There were a lot of great days out but if I had to pick a favourite it would be the 5 Towers Ridge on the Stockhorn, while the low point was getting soaked to the pants coming back over the glacier from Cervinia to Zermatt during a Foehn storm – a bit too reminiscent of North Wales for my liking ;).

Roll on next year!

received_10213591166123110received_10155694732438984received_10155694726293984IMG_1520-2IMG_20170614_113654-2IMG_20170614_113735-2IMG_20170616_110942-2IMG_20170616_111258-2IMG_20170616_133837-2IMG_20170616_135325-2IMG_20170619_154355-2IMG_20170620_073733-2IMG_20170620_112439-2IMG_20170622_061409-2IMG_20170622_061413-2IMG_20170622_080724-2IMG_20170622_112348-2IMG_20170624_140757-2IMG_20170624_141640-2IMG_20170624_175255_299-2IMG_20170706_205731-2IMG_20170708_084923-2IMG_20170708_140244-2IMG_20170710_145356-2IMG_20170710_145453-2IMG_20170710_172427-2IMG_20170711_075009-2IMG_20170711_082805-2IMG_20170711_090758-2IMG_20170711_090806-2IMG_20170711_094705IMG_20170711_094711-2IMG_20170711_112240-2IMG_20170711_112326-2P1080977P1080976P1080974P1080972P1080967P1080966P1080961P1080960P1080956P1080955P1080954P1080953P1080951P1080946P1080945P1080944P1080943P1080939P1080936P1080931P1080929P1080927P1080921P1080916P1080913P1080911IMG_20170915_100221IMG_20170915_093843IMG_20170914_193631_1IMG_20170914_192901IMG_20170914_105050IMG_20170913_124409IMG_20170908_193406IMG_20170908_193400IMG_20170907_132028IMG_20170907_131456IMG_20170907_122622IMG_20170907_122012IMG_20170907_120821IMG_20170907_104300IMG_20170831_230829IMG_20170830_062446IMG_20170830_062441IMG_20170830_062356IMG_20170830_062010IMG_20170829_201551IMG_20170829_095541IMG_20170829_094630IMG_20170829_094619IMG_20170829_093909IMG_20170829_092649IMG_20170829_092621IMG_20170829_092606IMG_20170829_062839IMG_20170829_062506IMG_20170829_062502IMG_20170828_202112_1IMG_20170828_124903IMG_20170827_140152IMG_20170827_133245IMG_20170827_103850IMG_20170820_124711IMG_20170819_135234IMG_20170819_133633IMG_20170819_121927IMG_20170819_121854IMG_20170819_121338IMG_20170819_114733IMG_20170818_110813_12CSIMG_20170818_101546IMG_20170818_065038IMG_20170818_064918IMG_20170818_063134IMG_20170817_120339IMG_20170817_120053IMG_20170817_120030#1IMG_20170817_115714IMG_20170817_082822#1IMG_20170817_082532IMG_20170817_082432_1IMG_20170817_082402IMG_20170817_080411IMG_20170816_143055IMG_20170816_142733IMG_20170809_085111IMG_20170809_064050_1IMG_20170809_064029IMG_20170807_084905IMG_20170806_183321IMG_20170805_143730IMG_20170727_073352IMG_20170727_073349IMG_20170727_073346IMG_20170727_060142IMG_20170726_173006IMG_20170726_154725IMG_20170724_171200IMG_20170723_121020IMG_20170723_121009IMG_9414IMG_9409IMG_9408IMG_9401IMG_9400IMG_9395IMG_9394IMG_9391IMG_9390IMG_9385IMG_9381IMG_9380IMG_9372IMG_9371IMG_9361IMG_9353IMG_9343IMG_9340IMG_9334IMG_9330

Full Enduro

This will definitely go down as one of those seemingly endless long hot summers. One heat wave followed the next with the occasional rain shower just prevent things getting too dusty and maintain optimal grip.

After a year off the bike in 2016 with a heavy crash affecting my back, I was really keen to get back out there, albeit with some nerves about having another heavy stack. The main focus of my summer was working as an aspirant guide and staying alive while short roping clients up and down 4000 m peaks and I couldn’t afford to get inured biking. With some amazing rides on my doorstep and the lifts providing easy access, the temptation was too great and on my days off I was able to get free of the rope umbilical and  go biking.

It was actually such a busy summer that I rarely had time to sit and contemplate and it was while I looked back over the few photos taken that some amazing memories were triggered.  I also got to ride Finale for the first time with local Luca Martini and Filippo Gualtieri showing us some incredible trails and even enlisting the services of the Italian enduro champ just to show how slow we’d become in old age. The possibilities seem endless there and by the end of a day when brain fatigue looms, its time to hit the beach to relax, swim and have an apero. Whats not to like?

I’m really glad I did as much riding as possible this summer. Growing up in Scotland I could only dream of living in a ski resort and being able to clock up 10000 m days on the bike. Reading the bike mags just made me jealous of our American friends in Moab, Durango and the like which seemed to be the ultimate alpine playgrounds back then. I write this with some nerve issue giving me a lot of pain down my leg and Im not sure yet how that is going to pan out – but it hasnt stopped me dreaming of more bike adventures!

 

IMG_20170729_172953_158#1

20149043_10212149842453147_145518596_o21886765_10155923201168984_1960359919_o21886594_10155923203743984_1636225578_oIMG_20170904_182352_33221931022_10155923203143984_380688431_o20524272_10155316882540269_310547649_o21908699_10155923907438984_329389592_o21895214_10155923905023984_1208060096_o20180472_10212149842973160_436593044_o20148819_10212149843333169_1515245521_o20148728_10212149841333119_1375251004_o20137989_10212149840453097_1878073033_o20137894_10212149841613126_1225465963_o21908606_10155923904658984_343958851_o20133779_10212149842373145_1725939619_o20133376_10212149843373170_1873683746_o21931527_10155923908718984_220167159_o21909021_10155923904243984_221467173_o21908980_10155923203243984_837366793_o21908893_10155923203538984_609370550_o21908743_10155923904083984_1666356692_o21908653_10155923907958984_853995017_o20495700_10155316881450269_982111261_o21908627_10155923908233984_623516450_oIMG_20170905_235729_89321908576_10155923199433984_1481048293_o21908439_10155923199873984_468370497_o21908269_10155923203513984_564157024_o21875951_10155923903928984_54849437_o20495599_10155316882120269_1081453510_o21908061_10155923904713984_2000170203_o21908003_10155923198078984_508159988_o21895257_10155923903573984_605175826_o21895209_10155923198058984_1187109341_o21895161_10155923906198984_962453343_o21895133_10155923904108984_1094391453_oIMG_20170906_104002_06521895101_10155923907803984_2082913973_o21895073_10155923201448984_1724512061_o21895062_10155923908163984_414689057_o21894969_10155923203793984_901334390_o21894884_10155923198873984_850814758_o21894865_10155923903588984_2044841678_o21886959_10155923908383984_740768150_o21886952_10155923907308984_254056211_o21886888_10155923903988984_372778992_o21908240_10155923199773984_1062793847_o21886819_10155923904033984_1529475030_o21886747_10155923906513984_810731363_o21886735_10155923907628984_834374934_o20495878_10155316882025269_1453429603_o21886708_10155923199558984_1285479205_o21886701_10155923904003984_1369245292_o21886640_10155923904978984_1237336896_o21886557_10155923904613984_231409295_o21886520_10155923908978984_1066479250_o21875756_10155923201528984_113984272_o21875598_10155923200553984_474899827_o21875581_10155923199598984_1330652243_o21931251_10155923198373984_693281405_o20495665_10155316881870269_1423514617_o

Bada Boom 7b – Grands Perrons

As the first snows of autumn start to coat our mountains in a scant white negligee causing us to fantasise about winter adventures, I finally have some time to write about some of the things that kept me busy this summer. Working as an aspirant mountain guide has kept me busy and taken me to many new areas of the Alps as well as revisiting some that I haven’t been to for 20 years. This didn’t leave me any time to train for rock and I often wanted to be free of ropes on my day off and ride my bike but I did make a conscious effort to do at least one quality rock route every 2 weeks to keep a base level of fitness.

The Grand Perron offers swathes of impeccable Gietroz quality gneiss with unparalled views over the Mont Blanc Range. With a breeze blowing onto the sunkissed crag taking the edge off the sun, we were set for primo friction conditions. My partner in crime for the day was Andy Perkins who never fails to impress me with his no nonsense, positive and forceful approach. Mix in some brilliant banter and it ranks as one of the most memorable days of the summer.

 

21103924_1527169520675212_1925586206_o

Me eyeing up the moves on the first hard pitch.

21104239_1527169794008518_879985664_oPretty pumpy start fresh off the deck.

 

21103989_10155847694943984_1835306729_o

Andy making dynamic moves on another 6C pitch.

21123185_10155847694713984_2077445831_o

Andy arriving at the belay.

21123087_10155847696998984_461510735_o

The pitch. Andy makes the hard start on the 7a+ crack. Felt like E6 6b to me seconding. We took a spectra line for the raps and hauling our sac reckoning that was the most efficient system.

21103988_10155847696578984_1244092062_o

Andy mid pitch. Stunning

21123164_10155847696078984_899946286_o

On and on like a lot of the Perrons pitches – full value.

21123242_10155847693418984_1330481277_o

The crux 7b pitch. I found this hard to read and technically hard on feet. When you havent been climbing a lot it was tough sequencing the moves. Andy took one flier and I hung out twice after reading the rock wrong.

21146690_1527170477341783_1642259943_o

Balancy technical climbing on the 7b pitch. Me figuring out the last few moves. After that all that remained was a few ‘easy’ pitches to the summit ridge.

Sale Athee – The Dirty Amythist and Exped HL M Mat Test

IMG_20170718_153153 copy

The line of Sale Athee on the Charpoura side of the Aiguille du Moine

 

If you are looking for the lightest airmat for bivis and the fast and light approach, read on as this will be of interest to you.

IMG_20170717_210546

Time for a mountaineers snack of cheese and sausage at the bivi

IMG_20170717_203228_1

Will soaking up the rays at our bivi spot in the Charpoura

IMG_20170717_203558

Bouldering in the evening light

 

When I received the Exped Airmat HL M through the post I was impressed by the small pack size which similar to the size of Thermorest’s popular NeoAir. However when I opened the stuff sac I realised about 1/3 of the volume was due to the ingenious pump that is supplied to keep moisture out of the mat, although Exped claim the mat is impervious to hydrolysis. Leaving the pump at home will save a few precious grams and more importantly reduce your pack size.

IMG_20170811_161428

Small pack length of around 7 inches

IMG_20170811_161332

The inflation pump that fits into the stuff sac with the mat

 

This is a very comfortable mat with a shoulder width of 52 cm, length of 183 cm and thickness of 7 cm. The mat boasts next-to-skin comfort and anti-slip GripSkin honeycomb-pattern coating. I put the mat to the test in the Charpoura basin for an open bivi this summer on route to climb the mega Sale Athee 7a+ on the Aiguille du Moine – a contender for the best rock routes I have done in the Alps. Despite our bivi location being on rock I had a great nights sleep with no cold spots from the ground or dead arms from pressure points when lying on my side. The mats is full length so you avoid cold feet problems with ¾ length mats.

The low packsize to comfort ration means I’ve also taken to chucking the mat in overnight bags when I am away guiding in other places of the Alps and if I get the chance to ride the mountain bike tour of Mt Blanc this autumn it will be coming with me for a remote bivi.

Full metric specification can be found below along with a short video from Exped taking you through all the design features.

IMG_20170718_085502

Will putting into Yosemite style back foot/knee cams on the pod section

IMG_20170718_093615

Will heading off on a gorgeous 6C pitch

IMG_20170718_090828

Will further up the pitch with stunning views to the Dru and Sans Nom

IMG_20170718_101033

The crux 7A+ fist sized crack

IMG_20170718_123640

Will coming up another amazing 6C+ pitch

IMG_20170718_123756

Will nearly the belay

IMG_20170718_135857

Myself and Will on the summit

 

SPECIFICATION

 

Temperature: 

4 °C

R-Value: 

1.90

Thickness: 

7 cm

Length: 

183 cm

Shoulder Width: 

52 cm

Foot Width: 

35 cm

Weight Mat: 

310 g

Weight Pump: 

45 g

Weight Packsack: 

10 g

Packed height: 

18 cm

Packed diameter: 

7 cm

Pack volume: 

0.8 l

Product contents: 

Mat

Mini Pump

Packsack

Repair kit

instruction sheet

Repair manual

Warranty: 

2 years

 

VIDEO

http://www.exped.com/switzerland/en/product-category/mats/airmat-hl-m – prettyPhoto[node-nid-13015-field_video]/0/