Friday, 26 December 2008

A taste of Beaufort.

The village of Beaufort, as well as being home to some of the best cheese in the Alps, has a small ski area beside it which I had been meaning to explore for a while. Home to the famed Pierra Menta, one of the classic ski-alpinism races, there had to be some good off-piste here...

With a savage foehn wind blowing the lifts up the Grand Mont side were mostly closed, so with a cheap randonneur pass in hand we took the lifts up from Planay to see what we could find. A howling wind at the top of the Combettes chair ruled out one of the possibilities, so we headed over to the Col de la Grande Combe and round to the Col de la Bathie, where I had spotted some reasonably sheltered snow.

From the col a selection of gullies gradually merge, giving a long run right back down to Planay:

As I had hoped there was still some soft stuff to be skied, if a little variable in places...
Ginny at the top of the gullies:

Looking down:

Ginny lower down, in the main gully, Mt Blanc in the background:

All in all an interesting 900m of descent, and I'll definitely be back to explore the rest of the possibilities here...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Courchevel update

With the Courchevel lift system now fully open, and last weeks BASI course all finished, I went out with Ginny today to suss out the off-piste conditions.

There is a good layer of soft snow still about on everything that doesn't get too much sun, though after last weekends winds the cover is very thin in places, and areas like the Creux Noirs bowl look like they will take a long time to become skiable. After a look off the sides in 1850, and a brief stop in Camp de Base to try & fix a loose boot rivet, we decided to head over into Les Avals.

The walk up was more of a pain than usual, but with only 2 sets of tracks heading in we were guarantees some freshies...

Ginny on the ridge, Roc Merlet behind:

The ridge is a great viewpoint, and with a set of binoculars you can check out Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Verte, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Pourri, skiers on the glacier over in La Plagne, and a whole selection of other peaks and descents...

Looking into a thin-looking les Avals, with the distinctive rock pinnacles at the top:

Despite a slightly crusty start the rest of the descent gave perfect powder on easy angled terrain, perfect for a bit of cruising.

A quick stop for a drink and a chat with the guardian at the Grand Plan Refuge and we continued down the valley with fresh tracks all the way...

A final word of warning though...the snow pack is very thin, with a lot of rocks in evidence or just under the surface. There are also a few areas of windslab lurking in various locations, so ski with care!!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Powder, powder, powder...

Another sunny day in the mountains...
With the avalanche risk still high I met up with Luigi and we went out for some 'mini-golf', spending the morning putting tracks in all the lower angle secret stashes.

Gigi was carrying a shoulder injury so decided to 'take it easy' with a couple of small drops:

A quick lunch in 1650 at 'La Boulotte' and it was back out for more freshies:

And finally the scenic route back to Bozel:

Friday, 12 December 2008

Courchevel snow

The sun came out finally this morning so i headed up to Courchevel to check out the snow...and it didn't look too bad!!

Heading into a snowy Rocher de L'Ombre bowl:

Lorenzo in Suisses bowl:

Gigi cruising in:

Its worth bearing in mind that due to all the early snow the avalanche risk is very high at the moment so serious care is needed. Plenty of small slabs have popped out here & there, not least this not so small slab in the popular offpiste skiers left of Suisses (if you look carefully you'll see dozens of tracks where people had skied over this slab before it ripped - this is 50 metres to one side of the place where a similar sized slab killed a skier last winter):

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

First day back...powder heaven!

Well what a way to start the season!! First day back on skis for the winter yesterday over on the Punta Helbronner lifts on the South Side of the Mt Blanc range. Some of the gang had been out Sunday and the reports of 2000m vertical of perfect powder were too good to pass up on. Three cable cars later and we were on the ridge making our way round to the top of the Toula Glacier:

As promised the powder was excellent, with loads of space for fresh tracks right back down to the Pavillion, with some tree dodging extending the run right back to La Palud for 2000m of leg-burning powder heaven!

Photo courtesy of Jon Griffith

With an all-star team comprising Kenton Cool, Matt Helliker, Jonny Baird, Tim & Katie Emmett, Nick Bullock, and photographer Jon Griffith the banter was ever present in between the turns, and with only a few other teams on the mountain the turn-around time on the lifts was really quick.

Matt, Kenton & Jonny B stop for a breather, with the Peuterey Ridge as backdrop:

One by one the team slowly dwindled, Nick waylaid by a virus, Tim off to jump out of a helicopter with his wingsuit, and Kenton, Matt and Jon just being lightweights, leaving Jonny and myself to make a last run from the top with noone else around to round off a great day's hoping there's plenty more like this to come!

Photo courtesy of Jon Griffith: check out his excellent photography here

Friday, 5 December 2008

La Daille icefall

Yesterday I went out for a play on the ice with Roy on a slightly thin La Daille icefall. Somehow I contrived to leave the small bag with my harness & various jangly bits in at home, but cobbled together a harness out of a sling and we went for it with 1 belay plate, 4 screws and a 5 quickdraws between us...

Roy on the first pitch:

The icefall is beginning to form quite nicely but the ice was still thin in places, but very friendly to climb..
With a makeshift harness I decided that a leader fall was even less of an option than normal on ice, so had to let Roy take the lead for the second pitch as well - with 5om of double rope I think my 'harness' would have ended up round my ankles...
Roy on easy ground on pitch 2:

A quick abseil descent saw us heading back to Bourg for an athletes lunch at the mighty Golden Arches - food of champions (not!).
Back in Bozel it started absolutely dumping with snow in the evening as I was heading off for a climbing wall session, so the good start to the winter continues:

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Alpine Winter starts early

Have just returned to the Alps after 6 weeks in the UK, and what a pleasure to find snow at the roadside before even getting to Albertville. With 15cm on the ground outside the front door in Bozel it looks like a good start to the season, though a top up up high is definitely required to cover some of the stony ground...

Here's a picture looking across at Courchevel from Champagny, following a lung-bursting cross-country session this morning.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Scottish winter starts early!

Yesterday Erick and I ventured North to the Cairngorms to sample some of the early winter conditions. 3 inches of snow greeted us in the Cairngorm car park and we eagerly made our way up into Coire an t'Sneachda. After a brief interlude involving Ericks left foot and a lochain we ventured up Fluted Buttress Direct, a fairly mellow route at IV,5 for my first Scottish route for 3 years. While the south of Scotland was bathed in sunshine it was definitely winter up here.

Erick on the first hard pitch:

With increasing winds and some heavy snow flurries we topped out, headed back into the Coire for our bags, and wandered off through the deepening snow back to the car, Erick evening things out by finding a lochain with his right leg this time for a 2 footed squelch back down the hill...

Near the car park:

The slopes around the car park were busy with folks out sledging and snowman building, and with snow continuing to fall right down into Aviemore town centre it looks like the wintry conditions could last a bit longer...

Monday, 27 October 2008

2009 Off Piste courses

With a wintry chill now in the air and the first snows starting to fall in Scotland now is a good time to check out the Offpiste skiing website for details of our courses for this coming winter.

New for 2009 is our 'Steep Vanoise' week running from 21 - 28 Feb, based in Bourg St Maurice. This week is aimed at strong off-piste skiers and conditions permitting we will head for classic descents such as the North Face of Bellecote, and the North face of the Foglietta. Contact Simon here for more information.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Autumn is here!

Here it comes! With snow down to 1000m across the Alps over the weekend winter is definitely starting to approach. On Friday morning there was 5cm of snow on the road as we left Hintertux, with snow lying down to below 1000m. Saturday morning saw a good dusting down to 1000m here in the Vanoise, and this morning there was a good hard frost on the ground!
The view up the Mont Jovet from Bozel:

So get those skis serviced, and warm the legs up for the coming action... here's hoping its a good winter!

Last of the summer climbs

With the evenings drawing in and the prospect of a few weeks in the UK looming it was time for a last bit of sunshine rock, with the Calanques area near Marseille top of the list. The area has a huge variety of limestone climbing, from single pitch cragging to multi-pitch adventures on trad gear.

Entering the 'Lost World' of the Calanque D'En Vau:

The fine Pilier Sans Soucis. 4 pitches of great mid-grade climbing:

Ginny pulling round the corner on pitch 3. The rock is ALOT cleaner than it looks here (and more polished):

View from the top of the peninsula West towards La Candelle:

Great place for a swim:

The north side of the Calanque is home to some low-grade classics. Perfect in theory for an easy escape back on to the plateau for the start of the walk home, until you find out how polished they are, with 4b pitches proving harder than the 5c climbing on other routes... Looking across at a party on the classic 'Saphir'

Looking down onto the stunning beach of En Vau. These views are what make climbing in the Calanques so special:

Finally, Evan sent through a couple of nice photos from last months foray on the Frendo Spur, cheers Ev. The incredible snow ridge below the Rognon:

Yours truly on the final pitch of the left hand finish to the Frendo:

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Frendo Spur

With continuing good weather & conditions in the Alps I was up early on Wednesday and back over to Chamonix to meet up with Ev for a trip up the uber-classic Frendo Spur. Looking at the North Face of the Midi from just above the mid-station the Frendo is the obvious Spur left of the main summit, with the upper snow-ice vastly foreshortened:

With an overnight stop planned for the top of the rock we made a late morning start and climbed the 800m of rock to the bivvy ledges below the famous snow arete. Due to some route-finding technicalities (don't stay too far left!) we ended up spending alot more time on harder rock than the classic route, making this a long day but with lots of good sustained climbing at IV-ish. Ev on lead somewhere on the rock with afternoon cumulus adding some atmosphere:

Arrival at the bivvy ledge, a fantastic spot to spend the night, and a couple of good flat ledges with a great view:

The view from the 'bedroom window':

Late evening sun on the upper ridge:

Dinner time:

First light in the morning saw us leaving the bivvy ledge after a quick brew and heading up the impressive snow arete to the upper rock rognon. This section is massively foreshortened from below (450m vertical), and gives steady but very very airy climbing in a serious position, with the slopes dropping away steeply on either side down to the Plan D'Aiguille. Looking down from near the base of the Rognon, 200m later:

The snow/ice approaching the Rognon wasn't in perfect condition, making the climbing more laborious than it might have been, but what a setting! Ev on one of the pitches turning the Rognon on the left:

The Frendo saves the best til last, and the final pitch of the left hand finish gave a great section of steep, featured ice, with perfect 'first swing' axe placements, and then an easy pull to take a last belay on top of the Rognon:

From here 50 metres of boot-packing took us onto the Midi-Plan ridge for a welcome return to Horizontality, and then a final effort up the knife edge ridge to the Midi top station and a welcome cable car ride back to town. Shame about the crowds...!