Thursday, 6 August 2009

NNE ridge, Grande Gliere

Big day out yesterday on the NNE ridge of the 3392m Grande Gliere. Tucked away between the Grand Bec and the Grande Casse this peak is often referred to as the 'Matterhorn of the Vanoise' and the NNE ridge is a classic AD+ outing.
Along with Dom and his daughter Emilie we left Laisonnay at 5 a.m. for the 3.5 hour walk in to the bottom of the ridge:

The NNE ridge takes the left to right ridge line between sun & shade:

1000m and many kms later and its nearly time to put crampons on for the glacier up to the start of the climbing...:

On the first easy ledges traversing onto the ridge proper, 650m of climbing to go:

Dom following on the lower slabs:

And heading off into the unknown:

Dom & Emilie on the middle section of the ridge. The rock was mostly very solid, with a bit of route-finding to stay on the best stuff. It was only above the steepening visible top of photo that the quality started to deteriorate a bit...:

Gradually gaining height - nearly level with the Aiguille de L'Epena, Grande Casse & top of Couloir des Italiens visible on right:

Easy ground below the summit 'icefield' (or what's left of it):

Dom & Emilie on the summit:

Looking over at the back of the Grand Bec:

Looking down onto the bottom of the descent glacier:

Amazingly for such a 'remote' mountain there was a Belgian team on the same route, seen here setting off on the descent of the South Ridge, a classic mountaineering route in its own right:

On the descent: never too difficult, but concentration needed at all times downclimbing steep ground:

At the foot of the South Ridge, looking across onto the Vanoise Glacier, Gebroulaz glacier over on right:

On the Gliere glacier, shortly before Emilie disappeared up to her waist down a crevasse!:

At the bottom of the chains. All the technical climbing behind us now, just a 1000m of descent remaining to Pralognan. 13 hour day with 1800m of up & down and some great climbing!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A whale of a summer!

Time for a quick round up of the summer so far...

After a round of weddings in early June I retired to the North Sea for some money earning activities supervising people dangling off ropes as usual. An amazingly calm spell for 10 days was very unusual, but did give us a great sighting of this 30' Minke Whale, which came for a warm-up in the warmer water around the platform risers:

Back out in France it was time to tend the veg patch and get fit again for some mountain activities... A few evenings cragging at a local 'secret' venue got the arms working again, then a phonecall from Dom saw us head off to the South Face of the 3400m Aiguille du St Esprit in the heart of the Vanoise range. The Pilier D.Blanc is a 400m line of TD rock-climbing, and as a very sparsely bolted route (more on this later) gets very little traffic...

North Face of Bellecote looking somewhat 'dry':

Dom on the walk-in just after a close-up Lammergeier spotting, and just before the herd of Ibex. The route takes the pillar just right of Dom:

According to our sources 2 new pitches had been added to this route on the bottom buttress, with a handful of bolts, and the same team had added one or two bolts to complement the rest of the route. So of I set on the first pitches, with the odd shiny bolt well-spaced (10m) on the very compact rock... Having hit the ledge where the original route started all signs of life disappeared, and eventualy after much searching we launched straight up into the unknown. Several 40m runouts later, featuring some quite delicate climbing on unprotectable rock, and we finally picked up another bolt... Dom launches out into the blankness:

More weirdness followd, with bolts right next to a perfect 'gear-eating' crack followed by boltless blank slab climbing, and eventually we topped out on the pillar at the top of the hard climbing:

Of course the route hadn't finished with us yet, and the 150m of 'easy 2/3 grade climbing' on the hand'drawn topo turned out to be on the loosest choss known to man - much excitement and clenching of buttocks!

Eventually we emerged on to the summit ridge, and followed the knife edge of this to the summit for a welcome sit-down, before attacking the 45 degree scree descent to the Grand Col. On the descent, Aiguille Rouge (Les Arcs) behind:

After a day of rest I then met up with Stew and Sam up in Val D'Isere to cycle the Col de L'Iseran. I don't think we quite matched the pace of the Tour riders, but a good climb with great views over into the Maurienne from the summit of what is the 2nd highest road Col in the French Alps.

Stew & Sam on the Col:

Summer skiing anyone? The Le Fornet Glacier looking rather sorry for itself:

On the Col:

A quick descent & a grand café later, and Stew & Sam set off homewards. I was still feeling rather lively, and so to make the most of being over, decided on a quick blast round the Roc de Toviere via ferrata. This gets billed as the 'fiercest' in France, though in reality apart from one short section with little for the feet it is a path most of the way...!
"Who would cross the bridge of death must answer me these questions 3..." People on the 40m monkey bridge:

Determined to take as much off the guidebook time as possible I hammered round with only a few hold-ups for slower folks, and made it car to car in 2 hrs 10 compared to the guidebook time of 5 hours! Great views from the top over to the Dome de la Sache & Mont Pourri:

Finally on Saturday Ginny & I made for Annecy and the fantastic 'ZIgzag' route on the Mt Baron. This gives 8 pitches of climbing up to 5c on beautiful limestone overlooking the lake itself, and is generally followed by a cooling dip in the lake - heaven!

View from the picnic spot at the belay of pitch 5: