Col des Cristaux

I teamed up with Ben Tibbetts and Chris Booth to go ski the north east face of Col des Cristaux in the Argentiere Basin just after the prolonged spell of foehn that brought heavy snow to the area. This line is the easiest on the north wall at 5.1 but its still around 600 m of 40-50 degrees with some no fall terrain mixed in up high but generally relaxed enough to make some big turns. Ben has invested in a fancy powered gimble so it was an interesting project to go and simul ski while filming! In the cable car we met Loic Thivierge and Guillaume Mars who were headed in the same direction so we teamed up them for a social day.

Check out Ben’s superb photos on his website and videos on his facebook site:

http://www.bentibbettsphotography.com/

Ben Tibbetts Facebook

 

 

Training to Become a British Mountain Guide

This summer has been hectic since I got back from Baffin so apologies for the lack of blog posts! The main focus of the summer has been training to become a British Mountain Guide with a 6 day assessment in North Wales coming up in mid September. Many of you who are not from the UK will be asking what has Wales got to do with mountaineering? Well North Wales has the highest density of fantastic trad rock climbs in the UK with many mountain crags being relatively roadside compared with the two hour plus approaches in Scotland. Snowdonia attracts over 6 million visiters a year and is divided into several ranges with the following including all the Welsh 3000 foot peaks; Moel Hebog, Mynydd Mawr, the Snowdon Massif, the Glyderau and the Carneddau. The elite SAS and Marine regiments of the British Army are trained here, with the extreme and erratic weather often playing a role in accidental deaths from exposure or heat exhaustion. Without question its the real deal and a place to find out how tough you really are. The rock is a geologists dreams varying from from cracked Rhyolitic tuff, the famous pocketed rhyolitic breccia at the Cromlech, a mixture of rhyolite and dolerite at Dinas Mot, dolerite at Tremadog, slate in the foothills, quartzite at Gogarth sometimes with shale or silstone, and limestone at Llandudno peninsular. This list is not exhaustive and  gabbro and other types of rock exist further afield. North Wales certainly holds a special place in my heart and I have loved my time here and look forward to sampling more of its fantastic routes.

For me its not just about passing a test, but more about actually learning the skills to be a guide and ensuring the safety of both clients and myself in the mountains. A mountain guide must be current in many disciplines and those of you who have done triathlon will understand how hard it is to maintain your level in 3 concurrent disciplines. For the summer rock test alone, Mountain Guides need to be maintaining a good level in personal rock climbing, guided rock, crag rescue techniques, short roping, navigation, teaching and coaching, survival and first aid.

Having qualified for the guides scheme from personal climbing experience without  a Mountaineering Instructor Award or Mountaineering Instructor Certificate has meant that a good part of my summer has been focused on gaining experience taking out mock clients and developing that personal touch with them that goes beyond simply getting the rope up routes. Their safety comes foremost but client comfort is right up there with good stance management, ropework, pace and attention to their needs making it overall a more enjoyable experience. A big thanks goes out to Caroline Wilson, Iggy Iggulen, Ryan  and Augustine McDermott, James Parkinson, Michelle Blaydon, Nikki Gilbey and Kelvin Joy, Isaac  Murphy, Cecilia Mariani, Kevin Hadyn, Tom Thorne (thanks for the photos) and Jonathan Burgess who helped me by joining me on the mountains as mock clients. Its given me a chance to improve my skills and sample some of the finest rock routes in North Wales if not all of UK. Along the way we have climbed some brilliant routes with the most memorable being Flying Buttress (VD) on Dinas Cromlech, Grooved Arete on Tryfan (HVD), Main Wall on Cyrn Las (HS), Dream of White Horses  at Gogarth (HVS), West Rib (HVS) on Dinas Mot (FA Kirkus in 1931!), Scratch Arete (HVS), The Grooves (E1) on Cyrn Las and many many more. Sure we have had some wet and wild days along the way but its been a laugh being on the hill with a lot of interesting characters this summer and outside is always better than inside! I also have to that my partner Michelle Blaydon for being so understanding with all the time spent away from home. Apart from January and February this year has been continuous living out of a bag and I’m looking forward to some time at home together in the autumn.

There are ten trainee guides in my year, possible the biggest intake ever,  showing that British Alpinism is flourishing and it sounds like the following year has as many candidates who are dreaming of making a career from guiding in the mountains and sharing some of those awesome experiences with future clients and friends.  We are all from different backgrounds and walks of life and are a variety of ages which makes it continually entertaining.

When the trainees have teamed up together we have done some marginally less desirable lines just to prove to ourselves we are mountaineers and can cope with sub optimal conditions (read greasy wet ming fests). Less sought after routes such as Jammed Boulder Gully, Soap Gut, the Gorse Bush Directissima to Pinnacle Rib, Bilberrry Buttress. These will leave your kit stained, dirt under your finger nails, gorse rash to the crotch or just plain soaked from the waterfalls. Some of the younger trainees have argued that these are not worth doing and they will decline to climb them during the test. We’ll see. Soem desceribe them as ‘character building adventures’ that put you on the edge of your comfort zone to ‘where the magic happens’ and ‘once in a lifetime opportunities to be experienced’.  Definitely type 3 fun in some cases!

Its fundamental that a guide can climb efficiently, fast and safely and its been fun getting immersed back into the world of UK trad climbing. While being out in the hills is not really training for hard leads, I’ve tried to squeeze in one day personal climbing each week and supplemented it with either a night at the Cromlech boulders or a session at the Beacon centre to keep my own climbing level up to scratch. It’s been a long road back to rock fitness trying to shed the weight off the legs after skiing around 400 of the last 500 days but I’m happy where I am and have enjoyed some great routes like Rat Race (E3), The Big Groove (E3), The Mau Mau  (E4), Resurrection (E4). Conditions for one of the legendary Gogarth E5s have been evasive but that can wait until after the test and some fresher northerlies for optimal friction.

Short roping is the next most important skill for a guide as with a 2:1 client to guide ration its fundamental for safeguarding 2 clients on moderate terrain when travelling around the mountains. Basically the guide shortens the length of the rope by taking in coils and keeping some rope available in his spare hand to run out over steps. This skill relies on keeping the rope snug between the guide and the client so a slip is checked before it becomes a fall. The use of spikes and features can act as natural belays and as the terrain becomes more serious it is easy to revert to long roping or pitching. The 2 day expedition section of the test will give ample time to test our short roping but also allows us to show off our skills at climbing VS in big boots, micro navigating at night and bivying skills as we journey through the mountains. The final 2 days of the test are with a mock client and allow us to demonstrate a progressive guided rock day, and a teaching a coaching day, typically in context of climbing on a multipitch crag.

After 2 months on the ground in North Wales with only one day off, I’m starting to feel close to the standard I want to be at. Its been an interesting trip with ups and downs but thats all part of the learning experience. I’ve put in a lot of hard work, my work rate has been the same as a ski season where you are out every day, and its certainly been harder than a university degree! Time will tell if that work has paid off and I have another two weeks to fine tune things before the test.

 

 

 

 

Col de la Verte

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This was an attempt early April…possible a weak one at that, my head was full of Baffin preps and Lambert had just fallen 600 m down this slope a few days before and was lucky to live. He is still in hospital months later. I hope he makes as good as recovery as is possible.  I went  thinking it would be good skiing but the wind blew away our dreams of powder.  At mid height we encounter sections of neve which doesn’t really rank as fun skiing in my opinion, risking it all when the margin is that slight is something I will leave for the lemmings.

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Enrico at the turn around point, patches of neve glistening amongst the snow.

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The Final Day of my Chamonix Winter

I really wanted to ski badly…it was the last day of my Chamonix season and it felt like months since I had tired legs from big days out. I spent most of yesterday deciding what to do, would there be enough new snow for a rematch on col de la verte? But as the rain poured down last night, focus switched to the Midi North Face, a sure bet and no worries about getting sluffed climbing up something.

So I met Dave at 0730 , got first bin tickets…all looking good. Then that ding dong of the PA system…oh no, here we go, FFS, they never announce good news like we were all happy this morning and got to work to open the lift early because its a powder day and we are here to serve. Problem technique, next info at 10 am. Too late and too sunny to hit the Argie basin and besides Dave had DH kit. So we gave up our dreams of freeriding powder all day long and did the next best thing (well not really but options were low) and went to the bakery for a pain au chocolate. After wasting another couple of hours of my life, and just before I went home to get on with packing for Baffin, the Midi did open. CMB redeemed themselves!

And I am glad I waited. Col du Plan gave me the best powder I ever skied on the North Face – I think its fair to say we were all buzzing after sending the top pitch in 10 seconds – Tof, Christopher Baud, Arthur Ghillini, Dave Searle – thanks for an all time run. After that we we went to Rond – West Couloir combo, with that riding beautifully. But then we lost 10 minutes at the lift as one of the lifties wouldn’t let Searler on a bin that was far from full. What was that about? Our final run was Salopar was pretty good too and after red lining the last half hour and nearly breaking down the locked door at the Plan, we made the last lift down. Overall CMB is forgiven. A day to remember. When Cham is good, its real good. I was sad to be leaving but glad it was on a high!

A big thanks to my friends for fun times this winter and looking forward to more this summer. Time for guides training and the couloirs of Baffin!

 

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Lofoten

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The magical mystical Lofoten Isles in the Norwegian Arctic. Broody dark peaks in the swirling mists, ever changing light creating dramatic vistas, laser beams from the sun turing the fiords to gold. Here we rediscovered the natural rhythm of life at Lofoten Ski Lodge under the fantastic hospitality of Seth, his wife Maren and team of guides and chefs.  We watched the sun rise over the Norwegian Sea, ate big breakfasts at a relaxed pace while choosing our dream adventure, skied from summit to sea, returned to the lodge for afternoon tea and waffles, shared the stoke with all the other excited skiers, took saunas and jumped into the sea, drank as much beer as we could afford, ate catch of the day at dinner, spent the evening talking in front of the fire, marvelled at the aurora borealis, fell asleep, woke up and did it all again.

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Morning glory from the lodge

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The aurora borealis

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Michelle skiing the classic south couloir of Geitgallien down to the teepee in the lush afternoon light

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The girls excited about the sun coming out

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Cedric booting up Geitgallien

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Minna and Michelle

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Michelle on Geitgallien

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Looking into Tollfjordvanet

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Panorama from Hivgratinden – Geitgallien col

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric

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Michelle

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Michelle and Minna heading into Juviktinden

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Our high point on Juviktinden due to poorly bonded snow

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The light show above the lodge

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From Juviktinden I spied this zone 2 valleys deeper so after borrowing some tech tools from Northern Guides Guido Sami Modenius we went to check out these 3 500 m lines which were probably unskied. They dropped a further 150 m below the photo on the fan to the lake.

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Climbing up to the ice step in the right hand line

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Michelle arriving over the steep ice step

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Boot packing the steep lower section of the couloir

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On the boot pack in deep pow

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Skiing after the upper narrows was perfect snow with the couloir providing visibility on this storm day

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Deep powder but no where to hide from the slough

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Faster skiing in the mid section where the left bank provided a safe zone from the slough

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Last turns approaching the ice steps

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I equalised a icy thread and a no.4 nut to abseil over the ice. With a little more snow it might be possible to hop onto the spine skiers left.

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Michelle on the abseil.

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Michelle bootpacking up to the next line

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Climbing into the central line.

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Michelle arriving over the small ice step

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Deteriorating weather and light as we wallow up deep pow

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At the col, the visibility was terrible and I was pleased to actually find the col

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After popping out of the cloud the visibility for skiing became good

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In the upper couloir

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On the dividing spur sheltering from Michelle’s slough

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Entering the lower couloir

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Michelle threading her way through the choke into the lower line

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Great skiing in the lower line

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Deep pow in the lower line. I put in an a abolokov to abseil the lower ice step but it would be an easy jump in good visibility

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On the abseil

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Sunshine on the beach

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Leaving the car to head into Breitinden / Stauren group

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The approach has us skinning across fields, marsh, lakes, streams and boulder fields

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Our line on Breitinden

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Not so steep allowing us to skin but atmospheric

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A little exposed here above the dividing spine, time to bootpack

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Michelle and the view to the north

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Topping out after cimbing a litle steep turf on the wind scoured col into the sun

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Soaking up the rays after days of storm

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Taking in the views – a perfect lunch spot

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Panorama from Breitinden

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Very narrow for 10 m

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Wider here

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No argument about the snow

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Michelle in the upper and lower couloirs

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Me in the lower line

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Michelle in the lower line. The wall above would be beautiful to climb on

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Exiting the couloir

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Our line on Breitinden is the lower col just riht of centre photo

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Owl strike!

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Funky clouds as the sun goes down on the Straumnes peninsula

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Someone arranged for the evening entertainment watching the light show

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Our cabin by the sea

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The beautiful bay at Kalle where the lodge is situated is surrounded by these lush peaks

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Seth Hobby runs Norther Guides specialising in Lofoten, Greenland, Svalbarg

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The view southwest across to the mountains on the mainland

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Lofoten Ski Lodge

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Michelle has a soft spot for white fluffy things and Seth’s dog was spoilt all week

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Morning coffee at the lodge

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Sunrise near Svolvaer

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Looking south from Laupstad

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The beaches at Morfjorden

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Morning light on the mountains near Svolvaer

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Looking over toward Litlmolla

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The next day the weather was poor so we went to the 900 m SW couloir of Geitgallien

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Nearing the top

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No more snow as I reach a little col on the ridge, 900 m of couloir below

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The cloud lifted and we were treated with creamy pow to the ocean

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Me skiing

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Our friendly Black Crows bar part time tender come guido – Mark

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Fish are the staple diet and nothing is wasted – even the lamps are made from Cod (fish)

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Cod heads drying on racks – they will be turned into stock cubes

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A dark wild day at the beach with freezing rain, we almost died of hyperthermia walking 50 m from the car

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Surfers getting swept on the rocks. Seeing this persuaded me these weren’t the right conditions for a novice like myself

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Head leant forward and braced against the wind, the surfers strive to get back to their vans

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Under attack

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The sandy beaches way out west are beautiful

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Michelle enjoying the sightseeing

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Colourful village of Utakliev situated under the classic mountain Himmeltinden

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The beach at Haukland

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Sea urchins for sale

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Sailing off on a fishing trip

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Volkl Explosives – one of the good early wide skis

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The picturesque village of Henningsvaer is worth a visit with the nearby Preston couloir

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Cod racks in Henningsvaer

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Typical wooden houses in Henningsvaer

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Michelle and the everchanging afternoon light on Geitgallien South Couloir

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