Slate Dry Tooling

Winter has arrived!...well temporarily for the first half of the bank holiday weekend in North Wales. Cold northerly winds and showers made the slate quarry's feel pretty grim and wintry on Saturday. I went along with Ritch Simpson to check out the manufactured dry tooling route Ibex which is in the Monkey Bar area of Never Never land in the slate quarry's.

The route is graded M8, which is not particularly easy. The main difficulty was finding the drilled holes used for axe hooks and mono point crampon foot placement. Having not done any dry tooling before I found it desperate, don't think I have ever been so pumped! It was quite an experience. Bring on the winter! 

Dwarf Shortage

Today I tried to make the second ascent of Owen Barni's new route Dwarf Shortage. The route takes the wall to the right of Central Sadness in California and finishes up the E3 6a finger crack at the top of Central Sadness. While Central Sadness has two pitches, Barni's route is one mammoth 50m pitch.

Enjoying the technical moves on the lower part of Dwarf Shortage

The lower part of the route follows a line of 7 (spaced but mostly well placed bolts). The lower section features got some great thin and technical 6a moves. The upper section crux is just before moving left to join the bottom of the top finger crack of the top pitch of Central Sadness.

The crux is a fantastic rock over to a small crimp which broke off during my ascent resulting in a whipper, a cut to the hand and the move being make even harder.
The top crux rockover

Barni gave the route E3/E4. I (in my limited hard slate experience) felt the route merited E4, possibly now 6b with the broken hold on the crux. The crux is well protected with the bolt below being just below foot level.

Taking flight! The offending hold can be seen breaking off

The top E3 6a finger crack of Central Sadness was fantastic.

Top finger crack of Central Sadness

My ascent was definitely not an onsight, Barni was on photo taking and beta providing duty when I got scared! I found the second bolt pretty scary to clip, I had a QD pre placed. I also aided past the (now harder) crux using an abb rope. Liam who seconded the route managed to do the crux move on toprope.

Liam about to do the crux with the modified hold

Alpine Van Tour...Fontainebleau

Next stop on the alpine van tour was Fontainebleau. We decided to stop off in Fontainebleau partly to break up the drive home and partly because I have heard so much about it but never been.

I was blown away; Fontainebleau is such an amazing place: Pristine sandstone boulders everywhere with nice sandy landings. The forest is also a very beautiful and peaceful place, it would be a great place for a family holiday.

Forest wildlife 1

Forest wildlife 2

Forest wildlife 3

I didn’t have a bouldering pad or a guide book, so I was basically just running round climbing random problems. Probably nothing too hard, but it was great fun. I can see why the place is so popular.

Me on unknown problem 

Boulders everywhere! Trystan on unknown problem 

Me on unknown problem 

Alpine Van Tour...South of France

I have never been on what many people would consider to be a 'summer holiday' sun, sea, sand...ect. I have always been on some sort of climbing trip. The plan after the Ecrins was to head south to warmer climates for a bit of relaxation...and also some more climbing! I don't think I would enjoy laying on a beach all day anyway!

We drove down to the Calanques region near Marseille. The Calangues region is an un-developed area of limestone cliffs between Marseille and the tourist town of Cassis.

Straight to the Cassis beach after 5hrs of driving..well worth it! 

Stormy Weather Over Cassis

I was psyched to visit the super steep cave of Saint Michel in Les Goudes. It did not disappoint. The cave was an amazing place. While in the cave we were lucky enough to experience a sound wave phenomenon. The cave acted like a giant ear, collecting and amplifying the music of a band which was playing in town. The result was quite amazing.  

On the first day I onsighted a fantastic 7a+ called Batida Nossa. I then got on the super steep route of Le Denti 8a going over the steepest past of the cave. I got up it after sever rests. The moves and positions were amazing but unfortunately the route relied heavily on glue on holds and drilled pockets. I decided not to spend too much time on it. After a few failed redpoint attempts I stripped it and chilled out for the rest of the trip. 

Lowering off pumped and tiered after Le Denti

I had in the back of my mind that it would be cool to climb an 8a outside on this trip, having previously climbed that grade indoors. Although in retrospect trying to combine hard sport climbing with alpine climbing was always going to be difficult. I felt like I was lacking in stamina after a few weeks of doing more walking than than pulling on small holds.

Amy near the top of multipitch in Les Goudes

One of the highlights of the trip for me was discovering deep water soloing. One day we hired a sea kayak and paddled around the Calanques. The possibilities for deep water soloing are endless, I was blow away by the amount of rock which was around. We paddled round to a small cove called En Vau which was very beautiful. I did some deep water solo climbing while Amy bobbed around in her rubber ring and Trystan kayaked about. Deep water soloing is great fun, no ropes, no partner no faffing just pure climbing.

En Vau Deep Water Soloing

Trystan backflipping in En Vau

Climb hard..... canoe home

Les Calanques

Alpine Van Tour...Ecrins

Next stop on the alpine van tour was the small village of Ailefroide near Briancon high in the Ecrins. The drive from Chamonix to the Ecrins took about 5hrs and was awesome. We drove over Col du Galibier 2642m! It is probably safe to say that that is the highest altitude the van will probably ever get to!

After a short detour to check out La Grave we arrived in Ailefroide just as it was getting dark. We found a great little bivi spot above the village. The next day we checked the weather forecast while eating a pain au chocolat. The forecast was for at least three days of unbroken alpine sunshine. After two weeks of genrally being rained on in Chamonix I got pretty excited. We decided on an objective of Dome De Neige Des Ecrins 4015m, a subsidiary peek of Barre Des Ecrins, the highest mountain in the Ecrins. 

Great bivi spot in Ailefroide

That afternoon after an epic gear faff session we walked up to Refuge du Glacier Blanc, carrying with us food for three days. I had discovered in Chamonix that refuges are actually very cheap (£3-4 a night) if you take your own food. At 4am the next morning we set off to climb Pic du Glacier d'Arsine 3527m to acclimatise. 

Panorama view from summit of Pic du Glacier d'Arsine

Team on summit of Pic du Glacier d'Arsine

After a short time on the summit we descended to the higher hut, Refuge Des Ecrins where it was nap time. Later on a game of chess, reading an old Economist (the only non-French reading material in the hut) and a large amount of Pesto Pasta was enjoyed. 

Amy and I outside Refuge Des Ecrins - Dome Neige Des Ecrins is the snow dome high on the right

Amy and Trystan engaged in competitive post pasta chess in Refuge Des Ecrins  

The next morning we woke up at 2:30am and were walking across the glacier towards Dome De Neige Des Ecrins soon after 3am. I have never been a fan of getting up early but somehow early alpine starts add to the excitement. Early starts are needed to ensure the snow is still frozen, minimizing the risk of snow bridge/serac collapse and hopefully giving good névé which crampons securely bite into. Early starts have the added bonus of being up high at sunrise which is often breathtaking. 

The ascent was largely straight forward. Crossing a serac with an aluminium ladder (presumably left by guides) added some excitement. 

Myself contemplating an early morning serac crossing 

On this occasion the sunrise did not disappoint. 

Trystan and Amy high on Dome Neige Des Ecrins 

Sunrise high on Dome Neige Des Ecrins 

The rest of our time in the Ecrins was spent rock climbing. We spent a couple of days sport climbing at  Tournoux up at Col de la Pousterie high on the hillside S.E of Vallouise. A very beautiful place. 

Amy climbing in Tournoux

Me on the run out finishing moves of Cactus 8a - sadly not without several rests 

Stunning view from van cooker 

Can bivi spots get any better? 

On the last day we climbed a long multipitch route in Ailefroide. 

 Amy on penultimate pitch of Remonte-pente direct in Ailefroide Valley

Alpine Van Tour....Chamonix

My time in Chamonix is coming to an end. I’ve just dropped David off to get his airport transfer. Later on this afternoon I’m meeting Amy and Trystan at the train station and driving to Briançon Ailefroide area in the Ecrins tomorrow.

 For the past couple of weeks David and I have been living in the van in ‘Cham’. We drove down over two days through Belgium and Luxemburg to avoid motorway toll charges. Van life has been awesome, epically better than camping. We have been staying in random parking spots in Cham to avoid camp-site fees. The French seem much more tolerant of such antics than in the UK. We have been parking next to many motor-homes doing exactly the same thing. 
Van Life

Home for two weeks 

The weather as usual has been pretty poor. I don’t think we had more than two consecutive days of sunny weather. I think we managed to make the most of the weather; the walk to check the ‘meteo’ became a daily (sometimes twice daily) routine.

As usual we didn’t manage many of the routes we had in mind. For the past two of three years David and I have been psyched to do the Frendo Spur, there was not really single day on this trip where good weather and good conditions for the route coincided.
We did manage to climb plenty of other good routes, mainly rock routes. Here is a quick summery of the trip highlights:

La fin de Babylon (220m ED- ,6c)– Brévent S Face – Aig Rouges  
Our initial plan was to warm up with a rock route on Aig du L’M but poor weather and cold temperatures made us opt for a route in the Aig Rouges. We bought the new Piola guide book for the Aig rouges which is excellent. The route its self was awesome, climbed in mist and very cold temperatures (I’ve worn less clothing winter climbing in Scotland!). The route is 220m long and 8 pitches all fully bolted but slightly spaced. The highlight was getting out of the tent in the morning to see an awesome cloud inversion in the Chamonix valley and also a 6c traverse under a massive roof on pitch 4.  

Chamonix Valley

Breakfast avec Tesco Malt-Loaf 

6c Roof Traverse

Congo Star (300m TD+  , 6a+) – SE Face Aig Pierre Alain – Envers des Aiguilles
After an enjoyable day of bad weather which was spent meeting up with friends, drinking great micro brewery ale and some average quality cragging. We once again planned to climbing a route on on Aig du L’M but out plans were again messed up by bad weather and low freezing level. This time we bought the new Piola guidebook to Envers des Aiguilles (the granite crack climbing mecca behind the Requin and Envers huts). David had previously owned the guide then lost it..sad times. Therefore we were both familiar with the routes and psyched to get up there. We stayed at the Requin hut which was awesome; very friendly guardian called Delphine and the hut's own cat, all helicoptered in!

We climbed a route called Congo Star which was 300m and 10 pitches long, all of pristine Chamonix Granit...fantastic. The route was semi bolted although a small rack of cams and nuts are required, contrary to what the guide book says! The route took us about 6hrs including the 9 abseils for decent. On one of the abbs I found an Omega Pacific cam which was quite a find.

Outside Requin hut

Fantastic crack climbing on Congo Star

Summit Angel 

David Pretending he's not loosing...again!

Note to Delphine in Finest French 

Chèré Couloir (D 350m) – Mont Blanc du Tacul
To satisfy David’s need for snow and ice we decided to camp at Col du Midi and climb Chèré Couloir

The route was 5 pitches long with 75 degree ice, about Scottish IV with the addition of bolted belays. It was defiantly the steepest ice I’ve ever led, but it wasn’t too hard. As usual on a winter route the hardest part for me is staying warm and not crying/throwing up due to hot aches! Overall I did enjoy the experience.  The physical crux of the day was slogging back up the Midi arête with oversized packs then running around the lift station trying to find a toilet! 

Glacial Camping Atmosphere

Mont Blanc du Tacul

Early Morning/Night Approach sans Head Torch 

Thin ice on Pitch 3

David on Belay Traverse 

David Leading Pitch 4 

Me Leading Pitch 2..I think 

Le Piége (TD+ 200m 6b+) – S Face Tour Verte – Nantillons Envers des Aiguilles
After an enjoyable day sport climbing on a sheltered crag called Cascade Doran above Sallanches (down the valley from Cham) David was all set to go home before he checked his transfer details and realised he had an extra day! With the weather looking good we wanted to make the most of it. We drove back to Cham and walked up to the Envers hut. My friend Bez also came along. We climbed a 5 pitch route called Le Piége (which translates to ‘the trap’). The climbing was fantastic, proper granite crack climbing, I even taped up my hands for the particularly brutal hand jamming crack on first pitch, it would probably be given E2/E3 in uk money. The route had bolted belays and the odd bolt on a slab, but a full set of cams and nuts plus about 14 QD’s is defiantly needed.

Sport Climbing above Sallanches

Morning view from the van..bivi in hills above Sallanches

Bez....Ready for Alpinism! 

Fat Marmotte on Approch

Me getting stuck into the first brutal pitch at 7am

Bez and David Seconding 3rd Pitch 

David leading 4th pitch from a very cramped hanging belay

Bez Seconding Last Pitch

Bez on the Summit

Team Summit

The Envers hut was great, even better it only cost us €5.75 each! We took our own food and got 75% discount since we are BMC/CAF members and all under 25. of to St Gervais to pick up Amy and Trystan! Bring on tres bien grimpe in the Ecrins