Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Last ski of 2010!

~ Friday 31st December 2010

Another excellent day ski touring today - we went up the Vallon des Ignes from La gouille, which was deserted except for a few chamois. Plan A had been to head up to the Col des Ignes but the snow was looking very windblown so we diverted to Point 2959 - Plan B is always better! This is a reliable north facing spot and didn't disappoint - excellent powder for the last ski of 2010!

On Point 2959

Great skiing below les Ignes

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Wednesday 29th December 2010

 Good ski conditions here this week, although there's still plenty of unstable snow and it's worth avoiding steep slopes. 

Monday's trip up the Pallanche de la Crettaz was great - a long haul up there but no-one around and the weather was improving...right up to the summit where a very grey cloud appeared and gave some interesting flat light for the descent. 1200m of fresh tracks though...

Summit of la Pallanche with cloud arriving fast!

Today, the long plod up the Pointe de Vouasson. Luckily someone had made a good track, but it's still along way. The top 150m was very windblown and crusty - not ideal after a 1600m climb - but after that the snow was excellent almost all the way back to the valley. Fantastic day. 

Climbers on the Cascade des Ignes

Well worth the climb!



Grimentz/Zinal Off Piste Skiing

~ Friday 24th December 2010

We found some very challenging snow yesterday in the Grimentz and Zinal ski areas! Lots of wind has left some tricky conditions. Perfect piste though, and very few people skiing. At the end of the day we seemed to be the only people in the Zinal area!

Very heavy snow falling today so a white Christmas and some good skiing to look forward too. 

Happy Christmas!

Petzl Nomic Problems

~ Tuesday 14th December 2010

 Despite loving the Petzl Nomic Ice Axes I had a go with last week, there seems to be a manufacturing problem with the new model. The problem is in the design of the new adjustable pommel and results in very fast wear - I heard about the issue here and a quick check found noticeable wear on mine after 3 days! The local shop doesn't know anything yet, but sadly I wouldn't want to buy a pair until the problem has been sorted...


Evolene Ice Climbing

~ Friday 10th December 2010

 After a couple of days of very warm weather winter is back. Lots of melt has had a big impact on ice climbing conditions: there's a huge crack across the top of La Giette icefall, and the La Tour icefalls all but disappeared. Luckily the Coop route In Evolene was in great condition today. Forecast cold for the next week so that should mean plenty of good ice climbing!

Pitch 1, heading up the pillar

On the pillar

Fantastic 40m pitch 2

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Monday 6th December 2010

 Here are a couple of pictures from around Arolla this morning. Plenty of ice now - Coop Icefall, Via Ferrata icefall, Tunnel Left-hand, Usine Électrique, La Gouille left and right. The Viesivi Icefall looked good the other day but there's lots of snow now...With cold forecast again later this week it looks good for the ice climbing season.

Usine Électrique

Usine Électrique

La Gouille

Petzl Nomic Axes

~ Monday 6th December 2010

 I've had a chance to climb with Petzl Nomic axes now...and I want some. Oh dear. First impressions were good, and in action they are fantastic. Petzl picks are brilliant, good penetration without getting stuck. Hand grip is comfortable and fits big hands and big gloves. The second position is easy to hold too and the grip tape helps. The geometry works well with no change in angle of pull between the 2 positions.

Not all good though...I find them too light without the pick weights - they bounce off hard ice - but that's easily sorted, they come with weights. The lanyard attachment isn't ideal - these are expensive axes and you don't expect to need to cut and drill bits. The serrated pommel is OK, but not as secure as a spike (it does fit old Nomics). The hammer and adze cost an extra £32 each! Ouch. Fair enough, these are technical climbing tools but there are plenty of situations where and adze and hammer would be nice on a technical tool. (The Quark comes with adze/hammer but costs less) 

I still want a pair...

New Petzl Nomic Ice Axes

~ Saturday 4th December 2010

Thanks to La-Haut in Sion for the loan of a pair of the new Petzl Nomic Ice Axes

First impressions are good. Mine turned up without the pick weights which makes them very light - 540g compared to nearly 700g for an old Quark - fine for mixed and mountaineering buy perhaps too light for ice. They seem more versatile than the old model - there's an optional adze and hammer, and a sort-of spike on the end of the shaft (perhaps this will fit the old Nomic if you can buy them as spares). There's a plastic plug in the shaft which looks like it's designed to drill out if you want to fit clipper leashes. The adjustable grip is plenty big enough even for big hands and gloves. There's even a hole for lanyard attachment, but weirdly this is partly hidden by the griprest on Medium  and Small settings, and only partly visible on Large. Easy enough to cut/drill away some of the rubber grip though. The big hole in the handle takes a carabiner, as does the hole in the head. The griptape on the second hand position is good, but most people will put more further up the shaft for daggering. 

Adjustable grip, awkard lanyard hole, plus mystery hole!

Ice Climbing in Evolene

~ Friday 3rd December 2010

 First ice climbing of the season today. It's been really cold for a week and lots of routes have formed very quickly, changing daily! We tried the icefall behind La Tour - one of the few routes here I haven't done yet. Pitch one went well to the bolt belay on the right, but the top pitch was a scary hollow tube with a lot of running we turned back. Cold forecast this weekend though, so maybe another visit on Monday.

Twid seconding pitch one

About to brave the pitch 2 waterfall

There's lots of ice on the Coop icefall now and the Arolla tunnel route looks good. We drove up to La Forclaz for a check of the Cascade de Veisivi, which looks pretty good already.

Arolla Snow

~ Wednesday 24th November 2010

More skiing today. Lots of fresh snow on Monday has covered all the tracks so it was a long slog to the top of Arolla, calf-deep breaking trail above 2500m. Worth the effort though for 1000m of fresh tracks. More snow forecast...

First turns of the Winter

~ Friday 19th November 2010

 Today at Arolla! Untracked boot deep snow, blue skies, no-one else...OK it was a bit rocky lower down but worth the effort. 

Yak Trekking

~ Wednesday 17th November 2010

I've been meaning for a while to post a link to this great website Yak Shu Lo Ché . It's local dialect for "Yaks on the rock" - an apt name as the hamlet of la Giette is high on the hill overlooking Evolene and les Hauderes. Living year round in this beautiful location, with no road access all winter, Rosula and André have a herd of Himalayan Yaks and run treks across the Swiss Alps with the Yaks carrying your load which sounds a great way to travel. They also do Tai Chi workshops, painting, wood-carving, pottery, sell Yak-wool clothes, run a building business...

Finale Rock Climbing

~ Sunday 24th October 2010

 With winter just around the corner here, we headed south for some sunny rock climbing last week - a superb 3 day trip to Finale. We stayed in a very good value apartment at the excellent Residence Glicini

Here are a few pictures from the fantastic Grotta del Erda. 

Sunny rock climbing

~ Tuesday 28th September 2010

Just back from a week of sunny rock climbing. We started on the excellent Follomi at Sanetsch - 8 pitches up to 6b+ on the fantastic Sanetsch limestone. Then off down south to the Pilier Lomasti above Arnad in the Aosta valley, and 6 pitches of perfect granite (and I can truthfully claim to have on-sighted "The Rose and The Vampire", although it was the "Rossa et il Vampirla")

Next we drove down to Ceuse - the only sport crag where alpine fitness is useful! - for another 4 days of top quality cragging and a meeting with Greg Murrow, formerly my secondary school PE teacher and responsible for teaching me to climb.

Back home in the Alps and autumn is here - snow in the mountains above 2000m!

Season Ends!

~ Friday 17th September 2010

The last booked week of the summer season finished yesterday in a blizzard at the Hornli hut - un-forecast snow made the Matterhorn a complete non-starter, so our disappointed team trudged back to Zermatt for second breakfast. The clouds cleared to reveal a beautiful but snow-plastered Matterhorn. Better luck next year!

The week had started well with a sunny traverse of the Couronne de Bréona and an enjoyable and fast traverse of Mont Blanc de Cheilon - the only team on the route in cold snowy conditions.  



 This is the way the season ends, 

 This is the way the season ends, 

 This is the way the season ends, 

Not with a bang (luckily) but not with a Whymper route either...


An Apology!

~ Sunday 12th September 2010

 I'd like to apologise to all local guides and members of the Association Des Guides du Val d'Hérens as well as any blog readers who may have been upset by the comments I made in the blog entry on August 21st 2009. To suggest the bolts were placed by "a fat/lazy local guide" was offensive and silly. 

The Swiss Mountain Guides Association see safety and the prevention of accidents in the high mountains as their responsibility, and  following a series of accidents on this route they decided to place the new bolts. I have been threatened with legal action should I try to remove the bolts, so I'd like to make it very clear that this is not my intention. I am too fat and lazy to carry a spanner all the way up there anyway. 

I still don't understand or agree with the placing of bolts on existing mountain routes, especially when those bolts are within 20cm of good runner placements, but I realise this is just my own personal climbing "ethic" and others may see things differently. 


Mont Blanc

~ Saturday 11th September 2010

 A very chilly Mont Blanc summit yesterday - it's definitely autumn! We went from Tete Rousse hut, and just caught the last train down. Still good conditions though, with the Grand Couloir staying frozen for our descent. 

Due to the work to drain the Tete Rousse glacier lake, the train only goes as far as Mont Lachat meaning an extra bit of walking. You're not allowed to walk up the railway track because of work going on at the tunnels. The signposted "Les Rognes" path is spectacular but loose, and it's worth wearing a helmet...a lot of Ibex live on the steep ground above the path and they knock rocks down.

Matterhorn Hornli Ridge

~ Saturday 4th September 2010

 A fantastic end to a busy and tiring week - success yesterday on the Matterhorn Hornli Ridge. 

Conditions are pretty good, with much less snow than we found on the Dent Blanche - we reached the Solvay hut without crampons despite a few patches of snow, then put crampons on at the shoulder. The summit slopes are bare ice though, and quite tricky to descend. 

Unfortunately my camera was in the car boot, so no pictures...

Dent Blanche South ridge

~ Thursday 2nd September 2010

 The Dent Blanche South Ridge is usually quite a good choice when snowy - it clears quickly and the rock is quite climbable in crampons. 

As it turned out there wasn't much fresh snow from Tuesday's bad weather, but there was lots of rime making for time-consuming climbing and a lots of sweeping to clear the way.

Aspirant guide James Thacker reaches the top

Descending the couloir

Petite Dent de Veisivi

~ Thursday 2nd September 2010

 The Petite Dent de Viesivi dominates the village of les Hauderes. If it had a Chamonix style cable car access it would be one of the most popular day routes of its grade in the Alps - luckily/sadly it doesn't. Instead, 3 hours of unrelentingly steep path lead from Satarma to the start at the Col de Tsarmine. From here, turn left and follow the ridge - excellent red Gneiss and fantastic climbing over several gendarmes. 

Brunegghorn and Bishorn

~ Saturday 28th August 2010

 After a good start to the week traversing the Pigne d'Arolla we drove round to the beautiful Turtman valley - just east of the Val d'Anniviers but much quieter and less developed.

View to the Bishorn

From the excellent Turtman hut we made the long trek to the Brunegghorn, which has a spectacular views the the surrounding 4000m peaks. 

Descent from Brunegghorn

The climb up to the Tracuit hut is on steep dry glacier - challenging cramponing to finish a long day!

Spot the team of 3

Friday morning started OK - we climbed the Bishorn but were caught in horrible weather on the descent - horizontal sleet and rain at 3800m! 

Bishorn summit

Snow in the Alps

~ Saturday 21st August 2010

The bad weather over last weekend has left a lot of snow in the Alps. We warmed up on the excellent via ferratas in Nax and Evolene, then headed south to the Grand Paradiso in search of better weather and proper coffee...

Nax via ferrata

After a night at the Vittorio Emmanuel hut we climbed Ciarforon - great snowy mixed climbing and a bit of "northern corries" feel!


loneliness of the long distance trailbreaker

 After a second night in the Chabod hut we set off for the Grand Paradiso and just reached the top before the bad weather arrived. Luckily there was a good track all the way - thanks! Another team found good conditions on the North West face, but took 3 hours to reach the start!

After lots of snowy mountaineering we chose something rocky to finish the week - the brilliant west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion. Even at "only" 3500m this was still plastered with snow, meaning some tricky climbing and a time consuming descent down the ramp back to the Tsa hut. 

Last year I had a rant about the new bolts on this route, placed by the local guides (not fat and old as I guessed at the time - sorry) There have been accidents on the exposed bits of grade IV climbing, and many people take a long time on this route, so it was decided to put bolts on the bold sections of this 110 year old climb. Here are 2 of them...both within 20cm of big holds and perfect runners. There is quite a lot of technical and delicate climbing on this route, so if you're not confident at grade IV in boots, perhaps take a pair of climbing shoes and a set of nuts just in case...

Arolla Rock

~ Saturday 14th August 2010

 Earlier in the week before the Triftjigrat we warmed up and acclimatised on some excellent Arolla rock routes. The traverse of the Couronne and Clocher de Bréona, and the Voie de la Cabane above the Tsa hut. Great climbing on both, and no-one else on the routes. For Bréona we drove up the track - 4x4 useful, and have a word with the farmer about parking! For the Tsa routes we walked up from the valley in the morning. It's only 1.5 hours to the hut, then 40 mins to the route, but the Tsa hut is a nice place to stay and it would be worth going up for a night and doing 2 routes. 

Nearing the top of the Clocher

High on the Voie de la Cabane

Breithorn Triftji Grat

~ Saturday 14th August 2010

With the recent cold(er) weather we thought we'd find good conditions on this big mixed face - and we did. A little icy low down, but above the Triftji plateau we found good nevé and excellent climbing. We stayed at the Gandegg hut, an evening enlivened by a very drunk guardian...


level with the Triftji sattel

Triftji plateau

Bergschrund on Triftji plateau


Italian High Level Route

~ Thursday 5th August 2010

 Here are some pictures from the Italian High level Route. It really is high level, 9 tops over 4000m, not dropping below 3400m in 5 days, and with the last night in the excellent Margerita hut at a head-aching 4554m...

We had some pretty mixed weather but overall conditions were good, and luckily the weather held out - just - for our descent of the Grenz glacier...

There are lots more photos here

The Breithorn summit ridge.

Climbers on the Breithorn ridge

Descending Castor to Quintino Sella hutDescending from Castor

Steep climb up to Passo del NasoSteep ground on Passo del Naso

Ridge on Ludwigshohe, Dent Blanche in the distanceParrotspitze

Looking back to Parrotspitz

Looking at Parrotspitze with climbers on the ridge

Descending the Grenz glacier in deteriorating weatherGrenz glacier

Negociating holes on the Grenz glacierGrenz glacier

The new Monte Rosa hut!The new Monte Rosa hut

Mont Blanc

~ Wednesday 28th July 2010

 A successful but tough ascent of Mont Blanc today. Conditions are good apart from the Grand Couloir, which is very dry. We used crampons to cross it going up in the dark, but came down easily without them. We saw the usual stonefall, but other teams reported lots, perhaps blown off by the wind or knocked off by others...a french guide told me about watching an eastern European guy (there were dozens) fall off the cable below Gouter - he bounced 15m, stopped then walked down. Lucky.

We left the Tete Rousse hut at 1.30am and woke up crossing a very dry Grand Couloir. All went well though, and by 4.00am we were at the Gouter hut. 

A very nice sunrise quickly turned to wild, windy and cloudy weather above the Vallot hut, which meant hard going on the upper ridge. We reached the top at 8 o'clock but only spent a few minutes there before starting the long way down...legs refuelled at the Gouter hut, then down to Tete Rousse, then the train, cable car and a sleepy drive home. 

Pigne d'Arolla

~ Monday 26th July 2010

A very enjoyable traverse of the Pigne from the Vignettes hut yesterday. We walked up the new Vignettes path. Th enew bit is a short section just below the glacier. It's well sign posted on the way up, and climbs steeply up to the glacier with some cables and metal steps. On the way down it's a bit harder to spot at the moment...

Poor tactics meant we broke trail all the way up the Pigne through 15cm of fresh windblown snow, but got great views on a very cold clear, morning and were first to the top, then the only team who descended to the Dix hut.

The descent to the Dix hut is very crevassed now, much more open than 2 weeks ago. A few good jumps are needed, but the highlight was this monster hole on the Mur de la Serpentine!

Petite Aiguille Verte

~ Thursday 22nd July 2010

 With big thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon we decided to finish the week with  a trip up the Petite Aiguille Verte. This is still in good condition, and we had a great short day climbing up the left ridge and down the right, with varied mixed climbing and superb views. 

 There are more pictures here

Climbing the left hand ridge

On the exposed ridge to the summit


~ Wednesday 21st July 2010

 We climbed the normal route on the Lagginhorn today which has changed hugely in the last month - in late June it was crampons all the way, today we were on damp rock to 3700m, when it froze and became excitingly slippery rock...crampons on for the last bit, with steep hard snow for the top slope. We descended straight down the ridge instead of going across the glacier, which turned out to be a fine descent route although I think it would be a patience testing way up, with lots of loose rock. 

Sweating up the lower rocksWeissmeis through the clouds

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Monday 19th July 2010

 Excellent conditions today on Mont Blanc de Cheilon with dry rock and - at last - a proper freeze overnight. The route was busy, but we were first away from the hut and made good time, pursued by at least 20 other climbers (15 of them from Joint Services military holiday...) We came down the winter route under la Ruinette, which is still in good condition. 

Compare the pictures to these from June 26th for an idea of the change in conditions in the last month

the summit ridge

the army reach the top

We love helicopters

~ Saturday 17th July 2010

...except when they land 10 metres away. Having a quick rest at the Col du Pigne yesterday with the Kingston Grammar School group, we were amazed to have a helicopter land no more than 10 metres away from us - it would have been hard to land closer! There is a licensed landing spot here, but this pilot chose to drop 2 passengers right next to us just as we were about to move on, blowing hats, helmets and gloves away. He then made a second trip to drop 4 more people, who walked the last 50m (in trainers and jeans) for a 5 minute birthday party on the summit. Having landed right on the track, the pilot chose to take off for the return trip with another team less than 50m away. 

The future of heli drops and heli-skiing is under debate at the moment in Switzerland, and it's not surprising when pilots show so little consideration for others on the mountain. Bravo Heli-Alps

School Holidays

~ Saturday 17th July 2010

 Holidays in Arolla last week for a group of 6th formers from Kingston Grammar school 

With 4 guides, 15 students and 3 teachers spent a week learning alpine skills and climbing La Luette and the Pigne d'Arolla, with all 22 of us on the summit yesterday morning - an excellent week. 

sunrise over the Pas de Chevre

negociating crevasses on la Luette

it's not a race but we were first...

Arolla climbing

~ Friday 2nd July 2010

 The summer is well and truly here with very hot weather and a huge change in conditions over the last week - early starts are essential now to beat the heat, and the amount of snow melt in a few days is amazing.

Leaving the Vignettes hut at 4.30am yesterday it was 4 degrees, but luckily there was a track to the Eveque and we made good time despite soft snow. Great summit, and we were the only team on the mountain. 

Today we left early again fpr the Pigne d'Arolla traverse and were the only team on the summit at 6.30am, with great views and good conditions for a very enjoyable detour over the south summit and the long descent to Arolla via the Pas de Chevres. 

Near the top of the Eveque, Dent Blanche, Bouqetins, Matterhorn, Dent d'Hérens behind

Eveque summit

Looking south from the Pigne d'Arolla to the south summit

The summer has arrived!

~ Saturday 26th June 2010 last. After the awful start to the season the good weather has finally arrived, as booked by this weeks clients...

The week started ominously with yet more snow and a snow-shoe approach to the Dix hut, but we were rewarded with perfect weather and stunning views on the Monday as we broke trail above a cloud inversion on La Luette. An adventurous day followed on Tuesday, breaking trail up a very snowy Mont Blanc de Cheilon with some impressive cornices on the summit. 

A change of scene on the excellent (and still snowy) Couronne de Bréona, then Evolene via ferrata, and finally some fantastic conditions on the 4000m Lagginhorn made for a great end to the week.

Lets hope the good weather continues!

More pictures here

top of la Luette with Aiguilles Rouges behind

Superb views to the Dent Blanche and Matterhorn

Mont Blanc de Cheilon in late June!


Descending Cheilon summit ridge



Evolene via ferrata

Dawn on the Mischabel range from the Lagginhorn

Alpine Summer!

~ Saturday 19th June 2010

 It's been a rough start to the summer Alpine season, with a week of awful weather leaving lots of deep soft snow above 2800m. The old snow is deeply thawed and unstable on steep ground, ridges still very corniced, and rock plastered with fresh snow. 

It's not all bad though. Making the most of clear spells we've had some good glacier days, including some exciting abseiling down a moulin on the Ferpecle glacier (failed to take any pictures) and some good climbing on the Pointe du Pas de Chevre. Yesterday we tried to climb Mont Blanc de Cheilon but with lots of fresh snow diverted up the ridge from the col de Cheilon to La Luette, finding more snow than there was most of the winter!

The forecast is better for next week... 

 Abseil to Col de Reidmatten

Pointe du Pas de Chevre

Mid June in the Alps!

Mont Blanc de Cheilon in a rare sunny spell

La Luette



~ Friday 11th June 2010

 Just back from a quick trip to Ceuse near Gap. Great weather and fantastic rock climbing! I hadn't been to Ceuse for a long time - 15 years - and had forgotten how impressive it is. Perfect rock and so much of it. It's famous mainly as a crag for hard climbing but there's actually brilliant climbing from 6a upwards. We stayed at the excellent Camping les Guérins beneath the crag. 

Rock Climbing in Scotland

~ Monday 24th May 2010

 Despite the less than ideal weather we had a great rock climbing trip to Scotland. Travelling around in a camper-van meant we could dodge the worst weather and we managed to climb every day for a week - Creag Dubh, Diabaig in Torridon, Cioch Nose near Applecross, Kilt Rock and Neist Point on Skye, Glen Nevis and Glen Coe. These are among some of the most popular cliffs in Scotland but amazingly we met only 1 other team all week. Great climbing, stunning scenery - planning the next trip already!

Lots of pictures here

Starting Edge of Beyond, E2, Kilt RockWall Street, E2, Neist PointShipwreck, DiabaigNear ApplecrossView down Edge of Beyond, Kilt RockPitch 1, Crocodile, E3, Aonoch DubhStarting Yo Yo, E1, Aonoch Dubh


More Ski Pictures

~ Sunday 9th May 2010

 Some excellent pictures here from the end of season tour around the Mont Vélan and Grand Combin with the Eagle Ski Club.

Thanks to photographer Rupert Hoare for allowing me to use them. 

Me on the Tournelon Blanc

 Me on Mont VélanSerac fall on Grand Combin



Moon from Valsorey hut

Holiday Ideas

~ Wednesday 5th May 2010

Here are a couple of good links for holiday ideas:

- one of the guys on the Arolla ski touring week rents this great holiday house at Glenmalure in the Wicklow mountains about an hour from Dublin. Looks like a great place for a relaxing holiday in the hills. 

- Greg and Linda Murrow have retired from teaching to run "walkortalk" an interesting combination of French lessons and mountain walking in the Écrins alps. I've known them both for as long time - Linda taught French and Greg taught PE at my secondary school and also introduced me to rock climbing. The website also has a good blog with up to date conditions reports for the area. 


Velan Combin tour

~ Sunday 2nd May 2010

 The last week of my ski season and a great way to finish with an adventurous ski tour around the Grand Combin area. Starting from the Mont Velan hut - nice hut but tiny beds! - we climbed Mont Velan via the Col de la Gouille. This gave us a great 1400m descent on good snow with some steep skiing.

Skiing Mont Velan

A long hot climb in the afternoon led up to the Valsorey hut, and on day 3 we crossed the steep Col du Meitin to the Panossiere hut. We abandoned our plans to climb the Grand Combin on the way. The normal route is bare ice and the Corridor route looked very threatened by seracs - this turned out to be a good choice, as from the hut terrace we watched a huge serac fall obliterate 500m of the track on the Corridor!

Steep ground on the Col du Meitin

Next day we split into 2 teams, 1 team climbed and skied the excellent Tournelon Blanc in the morning, then skied a nice descent from pt 3402 under the Combin de Corbassiere in the afternoon, while the others climbed and skied the Combin de Corbassiere. 

Skinning up the  Corbassiere glacier in the early morning

 Near the top of the Tournelon Blanc, Grand Combin behind

View to the Combins from Tournelon Blanc

Excellent descent on Tournelon Blanc

Skiing Tournelon BlancThanks to Rupert Hoare for this picture of me skiing on the Tournelon Blanc.

On the last day with bad weather forecast we escaped to the valley coping with classic end of season conditions - ice, slush, crust, grass, and eventually a well-earned beer in Fionnay! There are more pictures here

Haute Route

~ Sunday 25th April 2010

 Excellent weather and conditions for last week's Haute Route tour. We went the Valsorey route - a stiff introduction to ski touring for 2 of the team! It all went well though and we found good conditions on all the tricky bits, especially the Plateau du Couloir. Friday saw us skiing into Zermatt for a well-earned beer or 2...

Booting above the Valsorey hut

At the Plateau du Couloir

Skinning the endless Otemma glacier

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Friday 16th April 2010

 A great week ski touring around Arolla. After a warm-up day we went over to the Dix hut, with a quick trip to the Col de Cheilon in the afternoon. Next day we skinned up Mont Blanc de Cheilon - very cold in the morning but we were rewarded with perfect weather, great views and good snow for the descent. 

On Thursday we went to the beautiful and quiet Aiguilles Rouges hut - a welcome change after the busy Dix hut, but a challenging trip through the Col des Ignes with some steep skinning. 

Today, we skied Pointe de Vouasson. Amazing conditions with some good powder skiing high up followed by great spring snow and some comedy tree skiing linking patches of snow and grass through the woods lower down. 1700m of quality skiing ending at a bar!

Skinning on Mont Blanc de CHeilon

MBC summit!

View up to MBC

Mear the top of Pointe de Vouasson

Perfect spring snow

Comedy tree skiing

Snow and Rock

~ Tuesday 6th April 2010

 Blue skies this morning in Arolla and perfect powder in the Ignes couloir - fresh tracks and no-one else around. After one run it was warming up fast so we skied down to la Gouille then drove to Bramois for the first rock climbing of the summer - proof that skiers thighs don't help on steep rock!

Zinal Verbier Tour

~ Sunday 4th April 2010

 The perfect weather of day 1 didn't last - day 2 saw us heading over to the Dix hut in worsening conditions, and our attempt on la Luette turned back with strong winds and some awful snow. A good night and excellent food in the hut though. 


                The forecast for Sunday improved in the evening and we decided to go for the Verbier finish - a long day. That meant leaving the early hut in heavy snow and poor visibility - the snow down the Pas du Chat was excellent but poor visibility made the skiing tricky and made it all feel very adventurous!

On the long climb "along the side of the Lac des Dix" we met 2 other teams going the other way - the only people we saw all day. Climbing up to the Col des Roux the weather at last improved - briefly - and the other side was perfect snow and a great ski...into yet more cloud. 


Deciding to abandon the Verbier finish we headed down to Pralong in yet another thick cloud. Adventurous skiing in some wild terrain. Lower down we lost the clouds, found some good skiing, then immediately lost a ski...Oh well, soon we were drinking a welcome beer in Pralong after an exciting climax to a great 3 day trip.


Zinal-Evolene Ski Touring

~ Friday 2nd April 2010

 Amazing snow today on the first day of the Zinal Verbier trip. We were the first team down from Sorebois to the Moiry dam in perfect snow. Then, up the Grimentz lifts and over to the Becs des Bossons hut. Now we had a long descent ahead of us and a bus to catch...luckily the snow was still skiable in the afternoon sun. Unfortunately we ran out of snow above Eison and had to walk a bit, missed the bus (again) but got lifts and all ended well with beer in the sun in Arolla.

First tracks to Moiry

First tracks from the Pas de Lona


L'A Vieille

Spring skiing

~ Wednesday 24th March 2010

 Suddenly it seems to be spring. Warm weather and rain to 2700m over the weekend has had a drastic effect on the snow and triggered massive full depth avalanches. The awful unskiable slush from Monday has now frozen after 2 clear nights and created some fantastic spring snow. Pics from today in Nax, deserted hills and good skiing. This is the same slope as the 9th march blog - quite a change in 2 weeks!

Photo Finnish

~ Friday 19th March 2010

 ...3 great days with the Finnish team Heikki, Pasi and Tatu (more pictures here) We started with another good ski from Pt 2959 as in the last blog - good powder and no-one around, although a lot more skinning this time as the Arolla lift was broken again. In the afternoon we made a very hot trip over the Pas de Chevre to the Dix hut, made more exciting by the army blasting the slopes around us in preparation for the Patrouille des Glaciers. 

On top of pt 2959


                       Yesterday we set off for the long climb up Mont Blanc de Cheilon. Firm snow meant a quick ascent, and a very fast descent. By 11.30 we were back at the Col de Cheilon and someone suggested going up la Luette...hard work but more excellent skiing.

Near the winter top of MBC

Dramatic scenery on MBC


                            Today we set off up the Pigne d'Arolla, stopping at the flat spot below the Mur de la Serpentine. From here we turned left and skied the impressive Tsijiore Nové glacier back to Arolla - fantastic skiing in impressive terrain beneath the Pigne north face. Big open slopes lead to some careful skiing between crevasses and the long, steep final descent.

Looking up at la Serpentine and tiny figures


Tiny skiers in big terrainsteep ground


the final steep bit

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Tuesday 16th March 2010

 Another great day ski touring fro the Arolla lifts. A single ticket to the top costs CHF15, and from there it's a short descent and a steep but short climb to point 2959, just east of La Roussette. Here the clouds cleared and we skied great untracked snow down the north side before getting skins on and heading up to the Col des Ignes. The only other people we saw all day turned out to be British - and using some fine "English" words as they skied past us! From the col it's 1400m down to the café at la Gouille, powder all the way. Almost.

Pt 2959

Below the Col des Ignes

Descent, col background right

More fresh tracks...

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Friday 12th March 2010

 A great day trip up La Luette today. This is a nice short trip from the Dix hut, or a nice long trip from Arolla. Surprisingly there were no tracks - recent wind has covered everything. Quite good skiing though despite the odd bits of crust, and some really good powder below the Pas de Chevres.

Saw a team making very slow work of the Pigne d'Arolla. It's quite bare on the Dix side with some open crevasses (pic below) and after 7 hours they still weren't at the top....

Luette from Pas de Chevre

Ski Touring Nax

~ Tuesday 9th March 2010

Ski touring today in Nax. This is a great little ski area with good lift access skiing, some good tree skiing, and some very good day tours. We headed down into the Val de Reche, then up through la Brechette and along the ridge to point 2732, before skiing lots of fresh powder back to the lift area. 


Nendaz Off Piste

~ Friday 5th March 2010

 An excellent day in the 4 Valleys system today. We started from Siviez and skied over to the Grepon Blanc tow, finding some great untracked powder on the way. Then we made 2 runs down to the Dixence valley from the Grepon Blanc - great snow and plenty of fresh tracks - and no missed buses!

Zinal Off Piste

~ Monday 1st March 2010

 Excellent snow in Zinal today. After some great skiing off and on piste we went down the Chamois couloir and over to Grimentz where it all seemed very windblown - quickly back on the bus for another good run down the Chamois, and more fresh tracks. 

Chamois couloir

Ski Season Update

~ Saturday 27th February 2010

10 days of excellent off piste, ski touring and snowboard touring - so busy that I failed to take many pictures or update the blog...

It all started in Chamonix with 1 keen snowboarder. Unfortunately it was half term week and I was fearing huge queues - luckily (!) the weather was pretty awful, so no queues and some great snow when we could see it, with cover right to the road...Le Tour was deserted and excellent on the Vallorcine side, finishing with a descent to Trient in great snow. We missed the last bus - thanks Patrick for coming to rescue us! Grands Montets the next day had great snow but terrible weather, so we spent the day in the trees with an exciting run down the Tabé couloir. Day 3 brought more cloud but fantastic conditions below Plan de l'Aiguille. Fresh tracks and no-one else around. 2 runs on the Pré du Rocher and a final run with blue skies (at last) down the Combe des Glaciers - deep fresh powder with the inevitable "ski de combat" in the forest to finish.

This week I've been back in Arolla for the Advanced Ski Touring course for the Eagle ski club. Lots of instruction but still time for some very good touring. Pallanche de la Cretta, an exciting trip through la Cassorte and down the Vallon des Ignes, and an excellent but long day going from Arolla to the Pointe de Vouasson and down to Evolene, a great trip.

Fresh tracks from Tete du Tronc

Heading up to the Aiguilles Rouges hut

Looking back to Arolla

and with our route from Arolla in red

descent from Pointe de Vouasson, view from Pallanche de la Cretta

Col de Meribé

~ Friday 12th February 2010

 We set off today to reach this col, above the Evolene ski area. Great snow and no-one around, blue skies...

blue skies and powder


ABS Rucksack

~ Tuesday 9th February 2010

I've been using my ABS rucksack for a few weeks now so here are a few more thoughts.

First, I've got a base unit with the 18l Ultralight  zip-on plus the 30l zip-on. The 18l is a lot lighter, and a good size for day trips without a rope. Anything else and it's really too small. It's (obviously) less bulky too, which makes it a bit easier to wrestle on chair lifts. The airbag system means the sack is much bigger than a normal rucksack of the same load capacity, and the 30l is actually quite bulky on chairlifts. I think this is an advantage of the Snowpulse design - the airbags are in the shoulder straps so the body of the sack is smaller. 

The 30l is big enough for rope carrying days and probably multi-day trips, but I've not done any yet. 

Both zip-ons are well made - the 30l especially so, with really tough fabric which explains the weight. They both work fine, but I think they could be better designed. Both have slightly odd pockets. The 18l side pockets are really only big enough for map and wallet and if you stuff the main compartment it's hard to get anything in then at all. The 30l top and front pockets suffer the same problem. 

Carrying skis on the 30l is easy. Quick, solid attachments. The 18l is OK but I tend to remove all the extras straps to save weight and then forget to take them when it matters!

Overall - despite the gripes - the sack works really well and is comfy even on long days. Initial nerves have gone, even tree skiing, but I still remove the trigger on chairs and in lifts. This is easily done even wearing gloves and there is a neat pocket on the waistbelt to store it. The thought of an accidental release on a lift...

1500m up the Pointe de Vouasson


   WEIGHT. Yes, it's heavy. At 3kg for the 30l sack it's hard to forget the extra 2kg over a normal sack on long climbs. The 18l is 500g lighter. Really though, I suspect much of the problem is in the  mind...does 1.5kg really make a difference? How much does it slow you down during a normal day? Could you fail on a long skin because of it? Can't see the racing types going for it though. 

The other big issue is risk compensation...or taking bigger risks because you're wearing an ABS sack. Hard to tell of course, but I'm sure we're all guilty of this. Would you ski the slope without an ABS sack? Without a transceiver? On your own? In an ideal world of course you only ski stuff you'd happily ski alone - the same argument applies to transceivers too - but it's an interesting question and worth bearing in mind. 

One thing is obvious this season - there are a lot more airbag rucksacks around, both ABS and Snowpulse. 


Arolla Ski Touring

~ Monday 8th February 2010

 Perfect weather today so we set off for the long haul to the Pointe de Vouasson. This is also a great 2 day ski tour with a night at the Aiguilles Rouges hut, but it's do-able in a day from La Gouille. 

Unfortunately that means an unrelenting 1700m climb...there was already a track but it must have been made by a team wearing lycra and was ridiculously steep. I alternated breaking new track with slogging up the old one, trying to decide which was harder. Anyway, all worth it in the end with some great snow for the descent. 

Nearly there...

Plenty of fresh snow



~ Wednesday 3rd February 2010

 There were 3 more avalanche deaths in Switzerland this weekend, bringing to 12 the total for this season. The SLF site publish details of all fatal avalanche accidents in Switzerland - grim but interesting reading. 

Out of the 12, 7 were in the terrible Diemtigtal accident with the freak second avalanche. What stands out to me is that of the other 5 victims, 3 were not wearing transceivers. Getting buried without a transceiver means your chances are virtually zero. 1 of these was this weekend in Grimentz. I was skiing all weekend in this area so I have a good idea of conditions - 20+cm of fresh snow, very cold and strong W/NW wind.  The avalanche was on a steep East-facing slope in the Combe d'Abondance, a clearly wind-loaded aspect (corniced, and scoured on the W side which you can see from the lift and have to cross to reach the slope) The victim was found alive after 90minutes but died later, so it's fair to say that had he and his mates had transceivers, shovels, probes and some training he would have survived. 



Grimentz Off Piste Skiing

~ Tuesday 2nd February 2010

 Three great days off piste skiing in Grimentz over the weekend. Saturday started with pretty bad weather but quickly improved, and Sunday/Monday was excellent with blue skies and a lot of untracked snow. Very cold though! Sunday the coldest day skiing I can remember for a long time!

We skied some good snow in the lift area - Grimentz and Zinal have some incredible lift-access off piste - plus some longer runs from the Roc d'Orzival and a trip over to the Zinal lifts for the run down to the Moiry dam. Orzival is amazing, more so for being deserted - fresh tracks top to bottom with no-one around, 2 days in a row - well worth the effort of breaking the trail back out of the valley bottom.

I cleverly forgot to take a camera... 

Zinal Off Piste

~ Thursday 28th January 2010

Fantastic skiing in Zinal this week with a team of strong skiers. Plenty of great snow and deserted slopes.  

Thanks again to Eric and Penny at SkiZinal for superb accommodation.

Skiing under the Moiry dam

Untracked powder in Zinal

and more untracked powder!

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Saturday 23rd January 2010

 Another great day ski touring in Arolla. Sun, untracked powder and no-one around - again! We got a single ticket on the lifts - in January Arolla ski lifts are half price so 1000m costs CHF7.50. Then we made the steep climb to la Cassorte. There was already a track, but it didn't go right to the top, leaving us a character building 100m of swimming with skis on our rucksacks to reach the col. All well worth it, great views and lots of fresh snow to ski.


At la Cassorte

first turns in the gully 

Evolene Ski Touring

~ Thursday 21st January 2010

 Best snow of the season (so far) today on the Pic Artsinol above the Evolene ski area, and you can see our tracks from the town! This is a great day tour, starting with a single ticket on the lift - at CHF13 for 1200m it's a bargain! 

Then it's about 1 1/2 hours to the top, although today involved a bit of trail breaking...Amazingly there were no tracks in the shady NE slope, which was a brilliant descent. More good powder through the lift area, then for some reason we chose the black bumps all the way back to the car. 

Near the top, Evolene in the valley below


Nice snow

Zinal Grimentz Off Piste

~ Monday 18th January 2010

 Just had 3 days over in the Zinal Grimentz ski area - this is a huge area with great lift access and some superb off piste skiing. Best of all, despite acres of untracked snow there were very few people skiing. So, fresh tracks in Zinal and the excellent "freeride" area, then a run down to the Moiry dam. Overnight there was a good 20cm of fresh snow, so more of the same on day 2.

Today we were over in Grimentz skiing more fresh tracks. So good I forgot to stop and take any ski pictures...

Many thanks to Eric and Penny who run Ski Zinal - we stayed at their excellent chalet in Mottec. 

Earning turns in Grimentz

looking down to the Moiry dam

Off Piste Skiing - Nax

~ Monday 11th January 2010

 Nax is yet another great "secret" spot for off piste skiing and day touring - shhhh! Don't tell anyone!

After a slow start we were still only the third car in the car park, and skied a lot of untracked snow, both off the lifts and on a little tour through the Col de Cou in to the Val de Rechy and back through la Brechette. 

Not exactly skied out!

Skinning above la Brechette

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Sunday 10th January 2010

 There's some very good snow around Arolla now, but still a fair bit of unstable stuff too. There are weak layers quite deep in the snowpack, and lots of windblown snow. Lots of good info on the SLF site.

We turned back on the Pointe du Tsate despite half a dozen tracks after a big "whoomph", and regularly breaking through the hidden crust. Usually this is a good little tour, starting with a great ride on the Tsaté drag - 500m for CHF8. 

Today though we found great snow on the Pallanche de la Cretta. This is a classic up-and-down day tour above the Arolla road - 1100m up, thankfully on a very good track, then a choice of lines down with plenty of untracked snow. Worth remembering that after big snowfall this hillside gets blasted from a helicopter as it's above the Arolla road....beware if you hear the chopper coming! There's a phone number on the warning sign at the bottom to find out if blasting is planned. 

View from the top, Zinal Rothorn, Grand Cornier, Dent Blanche, Matterhorn

Acres of untracked, spot the 2 skiers


Arolla Skiing

~ Monday 4th January 2010

 Excellent skiing yesterday in Arolla. The recent snow has at last covered the rocks and although the weather wasn't ideal the off piste was very good. 

I failed to take any pictures but here is a video of Arolla skiing on the excellent TVMountain website

Ice Climbing

~ Saturday 2nd January 2010

 Excellent ice climbing conditions here at the moment. There's been a fair bit of fresh snow but just enough climbers out to sweep the ice clean. Teams around on the tunnel routes, la Gouille, Usine Électrique, and this afternoon on the Coop icefall. Amazing ice build up since the last time I climbed here (before Christmas) but it looks like no-one else has climbed here since then. Pitch one is now a fat wide piller. Very cold today though, with some brittle ice and some impressive noises from the top pitch!

Starting pitch 1

the steep bit, much foreshortened in this picture

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