Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Euro trip part 2

The amount of snow up high all looked a bit too much like hard work to be honest and the idea of climbing sunny, snow free rock was way more appealing, well we were on holiday after all! Coming off the Lagginhorn in the afternoon we picked up the bivi gear we’d stashed when we got off the lift that morning and headed back down the lift to Saas Grund and drove over to Andermatt with a borrowed guide book to the Salbitschijen.
Six years ago Andy Turner and I had gone up to try the long West Ridge. Unfortunately the weather got the better of us that time but I think the quality of the climbing we did do must have erased the memories of the approach. Either that or the old approach to the bivouac hut has got a lot worse over the last few years and scrambling up a very loose gully with lots of rock fall debris in it we were wishing I’d remembered about it. For future reference, although probably 1.5 hours longer I’d definitely approach the bivouac hut via the Salbit hut and the new bridge (which is pretty cool in its own right).

Approaching the Bivouac hut with the South Ridge in profile (photo - Cat Freeman)

GCK, one of the classics on the 2nd tower of the West ridge wasn’t the pure crack climb we had anticipated, instead following a number of bolted slabs between the cracks, but gave 10 pitches of really good quality 3 star climbing none the less. The next day we walked over the new suspension bridge and around to the 600m South ridge which gave pitch after pitch of endless fun climbing on solid sunny granite ending at the very pointy summit of the Salbitschijen.
Final pitch of GKC

On the South Ridge
Looking back down the South Ridge

With Cat busy working in Saas Grund for the next couple of days I hitched over to Chamonix to get one last day of climbing in with Max and Zoe before a few days of catching up with friends in the valley and driving back to the UK. Looking at the number of cars at the lift station and not quite managing to get up in time for the first cable car we headed over to the Red Pillar on the Blatiere hoping the sun drenched warm rock on the South face of the Aiguille du Midi would have drawn most of the crowds.
The shady, and pretty chilly, west facing rock of the Blatiere was virtually deserted so we racked up below L'Eau Rance d'Arabie. The initial slab felt desperate with numb hands and feet, virtually impossible to feel if the rubber of my boots was sticking to the granite smears. Gradually it warmed up and the climbing got better and better the higher we got. Pitch after pitch of perfect cracks. Max led the final off width pitch in light drizzle with rumbles of thunder echoing off all the walls around us. A rapid abseil decent back down the route deposited us back on the ground just before the full afternoon summer storm started.
Zoe on L'Eau Rance d'Arabie

Max on the penulitmate pitch of L'Eau Rance d'Arabie

Monday, 12 July 2010

Euro trip part 1

I’ve just got back from a few weeks of van life travelling around part of the Alps with Cat. With neither of us having explored the Ecrins before we thought that would be as good a place as any to start so after a slow and leisurely drive down through France we arrived in Briancon. With the forecast not looking too great we headed up to quiet village of Ailefroide to get a few days of slab climbing in between the showers.

Heading round to the other side of the Ecrins we found solid mountain granite on the Aiguille du Dibona. The Soreiller hut is a 2.5 hour walk up from the valley and situated directly below the South face of the Aiguille du Dibona. As well as only being, quite literally, a stone’s throw from the start of the climbing it is run by the two most welcoming and friendliest hut guardians I’ve ever met. Choosing the classic of the face we started up the Madier route following the main central weakness. Two thirds of the way up the route we arrived at the ‘Fissure Madier’, since the loss of a chock stone the guide books have given this pitch a fearsome reputation of unprotected 6b off width climbing. Although it was the crux of the route it didn’t (thankfully!) live up to its reputation, with ample gear and a couple of painful foot jams all that was needed to overcome the short off width section before more good holds came into reach. Cat was soon running up the easier ground and standing on the top before the quick decent down the normal route and back around to the hut and a wet walk back down to the valley as the heavens opened.

(photo - Cat Freeman)

(photo - Cat Freeman)

Unfortunately the heavens didn’t want to close after we got down so with the weather crapping out for the foreseeable future across the whole of the Alps it seemed like there were two options. Hang around in the rain or head to the Provence (via Orpierre) for some relaxed climbing in the sun and obligatory afternoons of wine tasting? Not a hard choice really....

Eventually we persuaded ourselves to leave the laid back atmosphere of the Provence and give the mountains a second chance. Arriving in Saas Grund only to find people hadn’t been exaggerating about how much snow there still was up high. Stepping off the Hohsaas lift with various plans we soon ended up at plan C and salvaged the day with a nice walk up the normal route on the Lagginhorn above a stunning cloud inversion in the valley below.