While we anxiously waited for snow to arrive I took the opportunity to snatch a day alpine climbing with my good friend Andy Houseman. Its great to cross train to avoid imbalances and injury and besides I still love Alpine climbing despite not having too much time away from skiing to do it. My friend Nico Magnin had been to Fil a Plomb so we took advantage of his trail breaking to have a fun day climbing this Chamonix classic. I was also testing those Lenz heat socks in my lighter Scarpa Phantom boots. Usually I suffer from really cold feet but the socks worked brilliantly and enabled me to leave my heavier Scarpa 6000s at home. Check them out at https://www.lenzproducts.com/. I chose the 1800 rcb battery for long days alpine climbing.
Last weekend I got a chance to go back to the Jorasses for the first time in 7 years. I teamed up with Ben Tibbetts and we were joined by Misha Gopaul and Jeff Banks for a social day out. I had managed a day acclimatising up the Midi skiing earlier in the week so it wasn’t a straight from the office hit which Andy Houseman and myself had done the last time on Colton Macintyre. After the warmest bivi ever in the mountains at montenevers, we walked in during the early hours, therefore avoiding a bun fight at the overcrowded Leschaux hut. It was a beautiful starry night and Ben caught a fantastic shot of the face under the stars with several teams well established on the Colton Macintyre, Croz and Polish routes. As we arrived for first light the face was relatively quiet and we quickly got to work climbing neve for several hundred metres. A few goulottes of ice and neve followed with fun climbing that was never hard up to the summit ridge where we were treated with gorgeous autumnal milky light over the Peuterey Ridge and the Aosta Valley.
For this trip I hooked up with my friend and fellow Scot, Evan Cameron, who was living in Dunedin at the time. We travelled all round the South Island climbing in the mountains, sailing the fiords, swimming in rivers, sleeping on beaches, surfing, bouldering, walking. He had dislocated his shoulder a week before I arrived and carried a vial of morphine everywhere and gave me strict instructions on how to put his shoulder back in should it pop again.
The most vivd memory is getting caught in a storm sailing in the Marlborough Sounds and the boat getting knocked flat every five minutes with the mast in the water. I don’t think the boat owners ever sailed in bad weather because there was nothing to secure the drawers and pans were soon flying as the hull rolled 90 degrees. In the middle of the night one of the sail’s securing ropes wore through and the roller jenny sail got ripped open and immediately shredded. The next day dawned beautiful and calm and another yacht sailed past looking at our battered and tattered boat. Terrifying.
Frisby at Flock Hill Christchurch Peninsula
The Rebuffat Thierry route was first climbed in winter by Rab Carrington and Alan Rouse who followed a series of ice runnels that drooled down from the Col des Pelerins. Fpr some reason or another I had never got onto this route. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending a day climbing at Gogarth with living legend Rab Carrington and knew I had to amend this obvious omission to my Chamonix winter climbing resume. Aged 60 odd Rab is inspiring to watch on the rock, still climbing big E5s and 8a with impressive flexibility, a testimony to the benefits of a stretching regime. After a year off climbing myself with being busy skiing, this was going to be a challenge to my residual climbing fitness and break me back into shape. I headed up with Sandy Simpson who was keen for a mid length day route and is fit from time well spent dry tooling at the Zoo.
The route itself was in good to lean conditions with a couple of breaks in the ice at the steeper cruxy locations due to traffic. It was great fun being back Alpine climbing and moving quickly in the mountains and not spending much time searching for protection (unlike Scotalnd) – even if slowed slightly in freeride touring boots!
On the way down we descended Pre de Rocher which contained a mixture of awful crust, disgusting wind buff and treacherous frost coated boulder fields. Hopping from sugar coated boulder to boulder was the order of the day (or night by now) and after 600 m I gave in on the skiing and decided to walk.
Rain and cold put paid to any idea of rock climbing last weekend so I was able to put the time to good use catching up with friends and doing some training to get back the strength lost during the time in the mountains this winter. So instead of pictures of sunkissed rock here are the photos of a very special trip I shared with Jonny Baird to the Eigerwand – the austere ambience of the face was much the same as the scene from my living room window as Britain provides yet another spectacularly poor summer!
Over a couple of days on the Eiger North Face we were able to savour the history and enjoy the superb climbing and situations. I had the usual pre-match anxiety heading out onto a big face that even today still demands a high degree of commitment and the difficulty in retreat that so many unfortunate teams had found out and paid the ultimate price. It is also unusual starting out because in the morning its a fifteen minute walk from the train station before you start climbing. Some wake up call! That said you quickly become familiar with surroundings once you start climbing and get on with the task in hand. For us all went smoothly with the exception of watching a weather forecast approach on day 2. We summitted in a snow storm in the dark that provided a fitting sting in the tale for this historic route. The wind and driving snow was freezing eyelids shut and we ended up sitting it out until the weather improved allowing us to descend. It wasn’t until I went back to ski the West Face that I saw the summit and the descent.
Me heading for the Difficult crack. Everything around is unusually steep and intimidating for a European North Face.
Baird below the Rot Fluh
Baird rock climbing above the Difficult Crack.
1st Ice Field.
A dryish Ice Hose
Baird coming over to the Flat Iron
An early stop to eat and sleep at Death Bivi where we are bathed in sunshine, well for at least 2 minutes as it came round the Geneva Pillar then set below the horizon!
The sunshine is a welcome break from the austerity and cold.
Baird leading off up the ramp in the morning.
Exiting the Waterfall Chimney.
Jonny on the Traverse of the Gods heading for the White Spider.
The quartz crack.
Bad weather threatens as Baird follows he final pitch on the exit cracks.
A second bivi to sit out the worst of the storm and we start down with a lot of fresh snow.
An unfamiliar sight on the Eiger – Baird map reading on the descent.
The weather finally clearing up.
A happy and tired Jonny!