These days Alpine summers are somewhat different to what they used to be. I grew up reading about climbing on the big North Faces and summers so rainy and snowy that impatience got the better of many and they packed up and went home in disgust. Now its all about just how hot its going to be and how long the drought will last. Temps soar into the high 30s during the day with the sun so strong that shelter is required. At night the temperature barely drops and I find myself unable to sleep before midnight with the thick granite walls of our 200 year old house radiating heat. The idea of actually pedalling a bike uphill is my idea of a heat stroke inducing sweaty hell and its restricts me to lift assisted enduro through July and August. Then in September the temperatures drop below 30C and the magical world of Middle Earth opens its doors to riders willing to explore where the winding singletracks will lead. Valais, Savoie and Aosta all hold and incredible network of trails that linked one region to another switchbacking up and over Alpine cols for mile after mile. I spent so much of my life dedicated to racing bikes and the restrictive nature that entails of training hard, resting more than riding, not drinking…alpine biking offers a world of fun where I could probably avoid riding the same trail twice in this lifetime even though I’m riding almost every day. So as this season draws to a close with the first large snowfalls due at the weekend, here’s some of the good moments from another absolutely brilliant alpine biking season.
A big thanks to Oli Herren, Tim Nickles, Tim Longstaff, Graham Pinkerton, Minna Rihiimaki, Rosanna Hughes, Davide Capozzi and the donkeys for all the good times.
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.
Michelle has been wanting to go to Col de Cristaux for a while now so I’d been saving it up for a nice sunny spring day when things would soften up. We were joined by fellow Aberdonian climber-skiers Sandy Simpson and Andy Inglis a very social lap on this Chamonix Classic from the sunny right hand finish.
I was surprised to see a large team start up the face behind us when were we 3/4 of the way up. As things were softening up fast and I started to ski down towards them, they appeared quite distressed by the volume of sluff that the skiers on the (other) direct finish were sending down. Surely if you didn’t manage to get out of bed early enough to start with the others, you would question the wisdom of questing up a route knowing people will be skiing down and dislodging anything from 1 to 1000 Te of snow? Would you go onto a big ice route behind people without expecting to get a lot of ice in the face? A few years ago another team followed us up the ice route Omega on the Petit Jorasses. By the end both of them were bloodied and bruised from direct hits from falling ice. It certainly spoiled my day knowing that anything we dislodged was going to harm them to some degree.
Sandy booting it.
Spot the guy climbing.
This guy definitely felt the need to get a bit more rad than necessary for a 5.1.
Michelle all cosy in a down jacket. The boys were down to mankinis.
After fighting the queues to get up the lift we were all psyched to get going on a big Midi day and making the most of the fine weather. Drew Tabke has some time off after winning the men’s FWT title and joined Dave Searle and myself. On the way down the arrete I started to feel some discomfort in my back and by time we arrived at the Cosmiques hut my back was seizing up quickly. After a handful of ibuprofen tablets it was time to push on and good skiing took us to the col at the top of the Salopar. By now I was feeling the pain standing still so Dave took over leading and the rope work. The snow was good but with the usual sharks teeth in there to snag the unwary and the straight line exit created sufficient speed to ruffle the ski pants.
Back at the Plan I had Dave kneeling on my chest and rotating my legs to try and unlock my back but the day had ended prematurely for me and it was time to download while the guys did a few more laps. At the car it took me about ten minutes to get my ski boots off. At one point I thought I would have to call Michelle to come get me as I was unsure I could drive home!
Hopefully its just a few down days for me.
The normal Rond is shown by the red line with the Salopar, ‘heart of the Rond’ shown in orange.
So what do you do Drew? Well, I just won the Freeride World Tour.
I went for one run after work, solo, no pack, beeps or kit. Ipod and tunes. In the lift I met curent Freeride World Tour leader Drew Tabke, competitor Kevin O’Meara and Chamonix locals Dave Searle and Davide de Masi. A 10 turn warm up took us to the pillow field of justice. A 100 foot vertical drop over a ten pillow at roughly 60 degrees. Time to send.
Shame I just had a phone camera and not the 5d but the rest of the fast skiing made me glad not to have the weight with me. With all the big mountain skiing I do nowadays, always keeping in control, I’d forgotten how much fun it is to go fast.Drew Tabke on a fall line sending mission.