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Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Ski Lessons

~ Tuesday 18th December 2012

 I did an excellent 2 day course with Alison Culshaw at OffPiste Performance at the weekend. The course was run as CPD for British Mountain Guides with the idea of giving guides some basic coaching skills for helping clients with their skiing. In fact I'll using all the tips in my own skiing too (except perhaps the skiing-with-your-eyes-closed exercise)! 

Lots more snow falling in the Val d'Hérens and across the Alps. We had a good ski this morning at la Forclaz, which was deserted except for the workers preparing the area for this weekend - it opens on Saturday. 

Anyone going to La Fouly for the uphill race on Saturday? I just noticed last year's winning time for the 600m ascent was 19 minutes 14 seconds!  

Skiing

~ Friday 14th December 2012

 Pics here from the Leukerbad 777 night race. All good fun if you like that sort of thing! Swiss Team in elegant white suits, Mrs Frostguiding in pink on the right.

And they're off!

There's been some good proper skiing too. Yesterday on the Pallanche de la Crettaz was perfect powder from the summit to les Hauderes. 

Snow!

~ Saturday 1st December 2012

...and lots of it. I measured around 70cm of fresh snow at the top of Arolla ski area yesterday. Slow going skinning up breaking trail - it was a welcome relief when the piste machine caught up. 

Interestingly there have been lots of slab avalanches on shady slopes, a good reminder that the early season snow is often pretty unstable. For a refresher on avalanche training the Ortovox Safety Academy booklet is as good a summary as I've seen. It's also available online.

 

 

Vertic-Halle Climbing Wall

~ Thursday 29th November 2012

 At last, a good climbing wall in the Valais. The Vertic-Halle in Saxon claims to be the first climbing gym in the Valais which isn't really true, but it's easily the best with a proper 15m lead wall, bouldering, café and little shop. At CHF23.- a session for adults it's not cheap but the routes are good and there's lots to go at. There's a refreshing lack of red tape too - just turn up, pay and climb. No paperwork or proving you can tie your own shoelaces. 

FaceWest Mail Order

~ Friday 23rd November 2012

 Big thanks to FaceWest for their excellent service. Quick replies to e-mails and very quick delivery - what more can you ask? They currently have a great range of gear, as well as excellent advice and some very up to date info on their website, including this very thorough avalanche page. and a good, no-nonsense ski guide page

 

Autumn News

~ Thursday 15th November 2012

A long wait at the garage while my car was fixed - although they did vacuum lots of child mess from the back seats which must have taken ages - gave me plenty of time to catch up on the local winter news. Lots to report! 

Firstly, thanks to La-Haut in Sion for excellent service - again. My dynafit TLT ski boots now have new rivets and buckles. Best of all, it was free! (You have to live in Switzerland for a while to appreciate how exciting it is to get something for nothing)

New Lifts! All over the place it seems. Big news is the new chairlifts in Nax, replacing the rickety old 1970s drag lifts. New lifts in Vercorin and Anzere too. If you really like drag lifts don't worry, there's still Arolla.

Climbing Wall - until now there's been no proper climbing wall in the Valais, despite a huge number of local climbers. The Vertic-Halle in Saxon is now open, promising the biggest wall in Western Switzerland. 

British Mountain Guides do it on film - lots of effort this summer has produced this excellent short video of the BMG at work. Lots of it filmed around Arolla. 

 

Finale Rock Climbing

~ Wednesday 14th November 2012

Driving away fro the Alps on Tuesday it was snowing heavily - luckily I'd put the snow tires on on Monday or I'd not have made it over the col de la Forclaz. Anyway, a few hours later we were driving along the Italian coast in the sun, although Italian roadworks and drivers were more dangerous than snow-covered alpine passes. We stayed El Quijote B and B in Cisano, which was cheap and very friendly, and in a nice little village with climbing shop, bakers, restaurants and a bar.  What else do you need? 

Aiguille du Midi

~ Thursday 1st November 2012

Here are a couple of pictures from Tuesday in Chamonix. The Aiguille du Midi lift closes this weekend, but we used it this week for a traverse of the Pointes Lachenal. Lots of fresh snow, chilly, but a beautiful day. There's some good climbing here, feeling quite "Scottish" for a couple of pitches of snowy mixed ground. A good introduction to trickier climbing and dealing with winter cold. 

 

 

 Sadly yesterday we were frustrated  by the weather - windier than forecast with lots of blowing snow. We battled round to the start of the Cosmiques Arete before finally admitting that to was too windy. In fact it was challenging enough getting back up the ridge to the lift station, and we arrived to hear the lift was about to close. Phew. 

Mountain Biking

~ Thursday 1st November 2012

 The forecast for the first snow of the winter came as a bit of a shock. Last year it was dry in the Alps right up to early December - you could walk in trainers at 3000m in November. Not this year though - 15cm fell in the garden last weekend and there's more forecast. 

I just managed to squeeze in a high bike ride last week. A great loop from Evolene, starting with 500m downhill then a long climb - very long climb - up the Val des Dix to the Mandelon alpage. Here the road ends and a track leads round into the Evolene ski area via some tricky singletrack, with excellent views of the Dent Blanche, Matterhorn, and the Pas de Lona - the last col of the Grand Raid. Then it's 800m down, almost all singletrack. 

Avalanche Training

~ Thursday 1st November 2012

 Yes, winter is here and it's time for avalanche training, and the first few wobbly ski turns of the winter - always an exciting time! I did 2 days in Saas Fee last week for the Peak Leaders BASI ski intructor courses. Excellent snow on the Saas pistes, perfect weather, and some very enthusiastic students who'd already done 4 weeks of skiing and courses - the start of a long season!

 

Mountain Biking

~ Wednesday 10th October 2012

The Val d'Hérens is already well known for it's 2 big annual mountain bike races - the Grand Raid and the Raid Évolenard, but there's lots more great biking here. Everything from forest tracks to technical single track, easy loops to huge climbs and descents. You can ride from high above Arolla all the way to Sion with very little tarmac, a 2000m descent (or a 2000m climb if you like that sort of thing) 

The other day I followed the route of the Grand Raid short course from Evolene over to Grimentz. This starts (obviously) uphill from the village, heading for the distant Pas de Lona. There's a great singletrack section through woods below Eison. Great riding but it's downhill, which means more up...A quick climb to Eison leads to some uphill singletrack through woods - surprisingly tricky climbing. Then it's back to forest track for a while. A long while! Emerging from the woods means fantastic views if you can spare the energy to look, then more tricky track leads to the final infamous carry to the col. Climax of the Grand Raid this is hard work, carrying a bike for around 300m vertical metres. The col has great views of the Swiss 4000m peaks - and a fast, twisty, singletrack descent. Then it's back to first gear for the final climb over the Basset de Lona. Not far, but very tiring especially if you started from Verbier. From the Basset it's downhill to Grimentz, "only" 1200m below the col. 

 

My Summer...

~ Tuesday 2nd October 2012

 With the season nearly over, here's a look back at the summer...

- Gran Paradiso. 

2x Chabod normal route 

1x Vittorio Emmanuelle route

- Mont Blanc.

1x as far as the Vallot hut. 

1x Gouter route, return from Tete Rousse and down to the train. 

1x Gonella Route and down 3 Monts

- Tete Blanche + Petite Fourche from Trient

- Aiguille du Tour from Trient

- Pigne d'Arolla traverse

2x from Vignettes

1x from Dix

- Mont Blanc de Cheilon

1x normal route from Dix

2x traverse, 1 from Dix, 1 via Pigne from Vignettes. 

- 2x Castor normal route

- 2x Pollux normal route

- Alphubel

1x via normal route

1x via South Ridge

- 2x Crochues Traverse (Chamonix)

- 2x Pointes Lachenal traverse

- Aiguille d'Argentiere, Milieu glacier

- 2x Matterhorn Hornli route

- Monch normal route

- Jungfrau normal route

- Dent Blanche South Ridge

- Breithorn

1x normal route from Ayas

1x traverse

- 2x Pointes de Mourti

- 3x Couronne de Bréona traverse

- La Luette

- Blanc de Moming traverse

- Zinal Rothorn North ridge

 

Good Food Guide

~ Tuesday 2nd October 2012

 

The coffee was nice though. 

Pigne Heli Drop

~ Sunday 30th September 2012

 I'm not a big fan of helicopters - "10,000 parts flying in close formation" and all that - but with one day of good weather and lots of fresh snow in the mountains it seemed the best way to get up high. Flying from Sion with HeliAlps was surprisingly casual - simply phone the day before to discuss plans, then turn up in the morning. The pilot arrived just behind us and in no time at all we were zooming up the Val d'Hérens. All too soon we were circling the Pigne summit. 

The recent storms have left lots of new snow, but the wind has blown most of it away leaving the Pigne summit quite icy. Elsewhere there are deep drifts and thinly covered crevasses but conditions are pretty good underfoot. With a crevasse-photographing mission we set off for a closer look...

Vignettes hut and Dent Blanche

Crevasses below the Vignettes hut.

Gran Paradiso

~ Thursday 27th September 2012

Back to Italy again for the Gran Paradiso, this time from the Chabod side. Weather all over the Alps has been terrible with snow, cloud and very strong winds making poor conditions high up, but there was just a slight chance of a window on Tuesday morning. In the end we didn't quite make the summit - as we reached the shoulder at 3800m we had a fine view of the next wave of bad weather approaching from the west, and decided to retreat before it arrived. 

The Gran Paradiso is famous for it's Ibex, and on the way down we came across a group of 8. They're surprisingly tame - although this pair were having a good fight - and you can get quite close!

Gran Paradiso

~ Saturday 22nd September 2012

 Climbing the Gran Paradiso with the Dutch Army yesterday. This was part of a fund raising trip by the army in support of families of soldiers killed and injured in Afghanistan.

Conditions were great - if a little chilly - on top with amazing views. For a group of people on their first mountaineering trip the organisation and fitness was impressive, with almost everyone making the summit. 

 

Mont Blanc

~ Tuesday 18th September 2012

 Last week's acclimatising days went well but the forecast for our planned summit days was hopeless - lots of snow on Wednesday and then very cold and windy. Luckily we were able to re-schedule - a few frantic phonecalls to rearrange work/holidays/flights/transfers/hotels...no pressure then!

Things looked good for Sunday Monday with reports of great conditions on the mountain. The new snow had filled in the Grand Couloir and mostly been blown away higher up. Sadly conditions in the Tete Rousse hut were not so good - the grumpy guy messed up our booking so we only had 1 night instead of 2, then he "forgot" to put us on the early dinner despite our 1.30am breakfast. Oh well, we were in the smelly winter dorm so weren't going to sleep much anyway. The bag rustlers and door slammers kept going until late, then the snorer took over only to be amusingly thumped by the guy next to me. Soon pre-dawn chorus of bag rustlers started up then it was time for the 2 pieces of dry bread they call breakfast.

And we were off! Things improved in every way as we left the hut behind, making quick progress up to the Gouter hut.

The painfully early start meant it was still dark leaving Gouter, dark all the way over the Dome du Gouter in fact. And Cold! Eventually a stunning sunrise lit the way over the Bosses and the final ridge, then, there was no more up! Summit!

It was now downhill all the (very long) way. A quick break in the Gouter hut revived the legs a bit. Despite living in a drafty shed at 3800m the Gouter staff seemed efficient, happy and polite. They even enforce the "no boots in the dining room" rule. These guys deserve a new hut! 

A quick scramble down the ridge and we were back at Tet (offensive) Rousse. Grumpy guy grudgingly sold us some water, then we tackled the remaining 1100m down to the train/lift/Chamonix - hard on the feet but better than another night in the hut! 

 

Trient

~ Wednesday 12th September 2012

 An excellent couple of days around the Trient plateau, with nights at the Orny and Trient huts. Perfect for crampon training and acclimatising, and pretty nuch deserted at this time of year - there were only 10 people in Orny, maybe 20 at Trient. 

Another sunrise...red sky in the morning....

It's late season and even after last week's snow the Alps are dry - there's a huge bergschrund on the Trient side of the Col Sup du Tour, and the Cham side is very dry. Aiguille du Tour normal route is OK, but dry and loose. 

 

but it's not that deep...

Zermatt 4000m peaks

~ Saturday 8th September 2012

 As the snow settles down conditions are quickly becoming very good in the high mountains. We travelled back round to Zermatt on Wednesday and walked round to the lovely Ayas hut. 

Clouds on the way to Ayas

On Thursday we were first away from the hut. A little overnight thunderstorm had left some (more!) fresh snow so we had the pleasure of trail breaking all the way up Castor - well worth it to have the summit to ourselves and stunning views. 

On the Castor summit ridge

Following team above the clouds

As we descend another team go up the summit ridge

That left plenty of time to climb Pollux in the afternoon. Excellent conditions, but by now it was quite busy with the usual silliness at the fixed ropes - a mini Matterhorn!

Yesterday we were away early for the long trek back round to the Breithorn. Beautiful views from the summit and good conditions made for a nice end to the week. 

Breithorn

Mont (very) Blanc de Cheilon

~ Tuesday 4th September 2012

 All change again this week. The weather at the end of last week has left a lot of snow high up - apparently 120cm at the Margherita hut - but even lower down things are plastered. We walked over a snowy Pas de Chevre to the Dix hut, then made a challenging ascent of the Mont Blanc de Cheilon. Totally dry last week , the difference was hard to believe. Snowy mixed climbing up the ridge, then knee deep ploughing up to a very snowy summit ridge. 

 

Back to normal...

~ Thursday 30th August 2012

The heatwave is over. Phew. Still, it was a surprise to find ourselves wearing everything on the way up Alphubel on Monday - it was cold!

We climbed the South Ridge finding icy conditions on the aptly named Eisnase. Great views and positions though, and an elegant way to the summit.

Signalkuppe, Nordend and Dufourspitze at dawn

The Eisnase

Summit cross

The summit cross has re-emerged. Compare this to July  

Yesterday on the Mont Blanc de Cheilon normal route was the same. Cold. Overnight clouds cleared to give good but windy weather. The route is dry, needing some careful cramponning on ice, and a huge hole has appeared on the slope below the summit ridge giving the worrying impression the the whole hanging glacier is accelerating downhill... We walked round it, a following team climbed into and through it. Worth remembering it's there - today's snow may well hide it! We descended via the glacier under Ruinette - still in great condition. 

The crevasse inspector checks out the new hole

 

Heatwave!

~ Tuesday 21st August 2012

 It's been hot. Very hot. Despite that the clear nights have been giving good freezes and excellent snow conditions. Our Pigne d'Arolla traverse this morning went well, great views and very quiet. 

Elsewhere the heat has been releasing some huge rockfalls; Yesterday next to the Tsalion, and today on the Mont Blanc de Cheilon.

Cheilon, Zinal Rothorn and more...

~ Saturday 18th August 2012

It's been another busy week with mostly excellent weather - just a few clouds on Thursday giving a slightly Cairngorm feel to the Blanc de Moming traverse.

We started on Sunday at  Bréona with a traverse over the Couronne and Clocher. With the perfect weather this was unusually busy - with 1 other team going the opposite direction! Over to the Dix hut on Monday for a Mont Blanc de Cheilon traverse on Tuesday. Again this was busy (it's peak season after all) and we met another team on the summit.

Tired legs were coaxed into the long walk-in to the Grand Mountet hut on Wednesday, fingers crossed for the weather. An early start under a starry sky quickly turned to cloud then rain on the Blanc de Moming, ruining the amazing view from the summit.

Arete du Blanc from Rothorn

A clear night and a good freeze left great conditions on Friday for the Zinal Rothorn north ridge. The sometimes terrifying Arete du Blanc is in easy snowy condition and the rest of the rock ridge is dry - perfect. The best guide for this is Martin Moran's excellent 4000m Peaks of the Alps. It's so accurate that the climbers on the back cover are still there!

See Moran 4000m peaks back cover!

Pigne d'Arolla

~ Friday 10th August 2012

Perfect weather today for a traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla. This is all in fairly dry condition now -  the climb from the Dix side starts on dry glacier then needs some big steps over open crevasses, but the Serpentine has a good track. 

Well dressed dog at the col de Riedmatten

Mur de la Serpentine

 

Descending the Vignettes side is good snow at first but then has the usual late season dry section. The Glacier de Pieces below the hut is very dry, needing some careful cramponing and a fair bit of zig-zagging around crevasses. 

Monch, Jungfrau, Dent Blanche

~ Saturday 4th August 2012

It's been a busy week! A trip over to the Oberland to climb the Eiger was frustrated by cold and strong winds but we still managed to climb the Monch,  and then the Jungfrau on Swiss National Day (It's worth remembering that the Swiss Half Price travel card works on the Jungfrau railway)

Back in the Valais we made the long haul up to the Dent Blanche hut, hoping the weather would be kind to us for the last peak of a busy 2 weeks. Happily cloud, rain and impressive thunder cleared away overnight to give a cold but clear day for the Dent Blanche summit. 

Matterhorn

~ Saturday 28th July 2012

 Double success on the Matterhorn this week. After some good acclimatising on the Mont Blanc de Cheilon Traverse we headed up to the Hornli hut. The Swiss alpine club recently sold the hut to the town of Zermatt and it's due to be renovated next year (This could be interesting for the summers of 2013/14 - there will be limited beds available next year and apparently the whole building will be closed in 2014) A refit is, however, long overdue. It's currently a clear winner in the "worst alpine toilets" competition and a miserable experience after some pleasant nights this summer in the Argentiere hut, Ayas, Tasch, Dix,Vignettes, Chabod and Gonella. And it's expensive. 

Anyway, the Hornli ridge is in great condition (fairly dry as far as the shoulder and a good snowy track on the summit slope) and we made a quick and smooth ascent on Thursday, apart from the usual traffic on the fixed ropes. A second damp night in the cheerless Hornli hut made it hard to psyche up for the repeat ascent on Friday but in fact it went better than Thursday - no traffic jams and a very clear run up and down. 

 

 

Busy summer!

~ Saturday 28th July 2012

 It's been a busy few weeks with - at last - some good and fairly stable weather. More Gran Paradiso action last week, followed by another Crochues traverse:

This week we started with a traverse of the Couronne de Bréona. This great rock ridge is a short approach from Moiry. From la Forcla it's a tough 3 hour walk described as "magical" by a certain guidebook author but it's worth it for the exposed and continuous climbing. 

The next day we coaxed tired legs into walking up to the Vignettes hut, ready for a Pigne-Cheilon traverse on Tuesday. We started in some worrying cloud, seeing nothing on the Pigne summit. Happily as we started the climb to the Cheilon ridge the weather improved, staying chilly but clear for the rest of the day. 

Aiguille d'Argentiere

~ Saturday 14th July 2012

 After warming up on Monday and Tuesday with the excellent traverses of the Aiguilles Crochues and the Pointe Lachenal we walked up to the newly refurbished Argentiere hut on Wednesday. The hut is excellent, great food and very comfortable. 

 

Our plan was the classic ascent of the Aiguille d'Argentiere via the tricky normal route. This is straightforward glacier until the final steep snowslope - around 300m vertical metres of steep cramponing needing concentration and care, especially to get back down! All went well, good conditions and spectacular views.

Droites summit  above the clouds

The steep final slope

Summit!

Zermatt 4000m peaks

~ Sunday 8th July 2012

 It's been yet another week of unsettled weather - thundery, windy and lots of fresh snow. With a lots of plan changing and a bit of luck we managed to climb 4 4000m peaks - Castor, Pollux, a Breithorn half traverse. Finally on Alphubel yesterday we were rewarded with fine views and a deserted summit. The huge summit cross is barely visible, buried in snow with just the top poking out. 

 

A very snowy Matterhorn

Mont Blanc Success

~ Monday 2nd July 2012

 A long blog for a very long route - last week's success on the Italian route on Mont Blanc. This is the least frequented of the classic routes, promising a wild trip through the remote south side of Mont Blanc, far from the crowds on the Chamonix side. There's a price to pay though - it's over 3000m of ascent, with no help from lifts or trains, and the hut approach is almost a climb in itself. 

The walk starts easily up the beautiful Val Veny road, but soon leads onto the chaotic rubble of the lower Miage glacier. 

This leads - eventually - to a "stiff scramble" and a welcome arrival at the hut. Rifugio Gonella was recently rebuilt and it's stunning, occupying a fine perch overlooking the south side of Mont Blanc.

The hut is very comfy, the food excellent, but unfortunately breakfast was at an unsociable 10 minutes past midnight! Ouch. 

Climbing starts straight from the door with a steep traverse to a steep glacier, which leads to a steep snow-slope onto the Bionnassay-Gouter ridge...which is steep. And very airy. "Great" views of the lights way down in the valley. We reached the Dome du Gouter around dawn, where it's a surprise to meet other teams - only 10 people (including 6 of us) had set off from Gonella. We missed the Gouter hut crowds however and the Bosses ridge was fairly quiet. 

Summit!

 

 All that remained was the long descent of the Cosmiques route - and the interminable slog back up to the Midi lift!

Gran Paradiso

~ Saturday 23rd June 2012

 Back down to the Gran Paradiso at the end of the week, forecast snow and high winds scuppering another Mont Blanc attempt. We stayed at the Chabod hut, and enjoyed excellent conditions on the normal route. 

Early morning on the glacier

Choughs like cheese

Mont Blanc Acclimatising

~ Wednesday 20th June 2012

 This excellent trip through the moutains from Champex to Le Tour is a good way to acclimatise for Mont Blanc. First night at the lovely Orny hut with some afternoon rock climbing behind the hut. Second night at the Trient hut with some valuable crampon practice on the way there. There are lots of options for day 3 - we climbed the Tete Blanche and Petite Fourche before descending to le Tour. 

 

Gran Paradiso

~ Friday 15th June 2012

 This was our acclimatising plan for an attempt on Mont Blanc. Dubious weather on the walk up to the Vittorio Emanuele hut turned into heavy snow and rain overnight, but luckily it cleared and we reached the summit with blue skies. All set for Mont Blanc...

Foxy Italian

Early morning wind

Summit ridge

Icy Madonna

Valle del Orco

~ Wednesday 30th May 2012

 Just back from a quick trip to the Valle del Orco in Italy. Orco is the place for trad climbing in the Alps - the local ethic has avoided bolting as much as possible and many routes are climbed completely on trad gear, even for belays. That said, there's plenty of bolted climbing too, from blank slabs to "proper" sport climbing. Add in a nice little campsite at the foot of the biggest cliff, good walking and biking plus fantastic local restaurants and it's a great place. We ate at the restaurant in the square in Noasca and at the Albergo le Fonti, both serving really good food and great value. 

6 pitches above the campsite

Trick photo making the exit from the Nicchia del Tortura look slabby...

Ibex psyching up for the Fissura del Desperatione

Diedre del Mysteria

Pigne d'Arolla

~ Thursday 10th May 2012

 Excellent spring snow on the Pigne d'Arolla this morning, and you can still ski almost to the car park. There's more snow forecast so it looks like the skiing will last a bit longer yet...

Ski till the snow runs out!

Chamonix Skiing

~ Thursday 10th May 2012

 Another 2 days excellent skiing in Chamonix. After the weekend snowfall we headed off up the Argentiere glacier on Monday for some more fresh tracks. Then on Tuesday with bad weather forecast for the afternoon we made a quick descent down a deserted Grand Envers from the Midi lift. Powder at the top then good spring snow - fantastic end of season skiing! This time we climbed the ladders to the station and walked/skied from there instead of battling the glacier exit again. 

 

Chéré Couloir

~ Saturday 5th May 2012

 Lots of snow and strong winds recently have left poor conditions for climbing, but the Chéré couloir is fairly reliable. A quick ski over from the lift saw us ploughing up the snow the the start. Above, the ice was excellent, giving enjoyable climbing despite the spindrift. 

After abseiling, we decided to ski the Vallée Blanche. This  was strangely deserted - untracked down the Rognon variant - and we only saw 3 other people. Good snow to the Montenvers lift, but as the train is closed we carried on down the glacier, soon running out of snow and battling through moraine rubble to reach the buvette, then through fallen trees from the weekend storm all the way to Chamonix and a well-earned coffee. 

 

 

Gran Paradiso Ski

~ Saturday 5th May 2012

 More bad weather on Wednesday saw us abandoning Chamonix for sunny Italy and the Gran Paradiso. After an afternoon worrying about weather in the Chabod hut, Thursday morning dawned clear and still. Phew. Leaving the hut first meant lots of trailbreaking but it was worth it - perfect weather, and a spectacular descent! Untracked powder for 1000m, 2 crusty turns, then great spring snow. 

Cosmiques arete

~ Saturday 5th May 2012

 With lots of fresh snow and a dubious forecast the Cosmiques Arete gave some challenging climbing on Tuesday. The Montenvers train is closed so no-one is skiing the Vallée Blanche and the place is deserted - we were the only people on the route, and saw 5 other skiers. 

Patrouille des Glaciers

~ Monday 23rd April 2012

 Preparation for the Patrouille des Glaciers is going well apparently, despite the weather. Arolla has become a military base, with 5 helicopters parked at the improvised landing site in Satarma today. This has to be the prime slot for your military service - Arolla or Afghanistan? Amusingly only days after the commune installed parking meters in Arolla, the army have closed off all the parking! We had a great ski in windy conditions up to the Vignettes hut, then 1000m of great untracked snow back down after lunch. 

Imperial Haute Route

~ Friday 20th April 2012

The Imperial Haute Route is the classic Val d'Anniviers tour. Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side. Day 1, after a long wait for the lifts in St luc to open, saw us battling poor visibility and delicate avalanche conditions to reach the Turtmann hut. Day 2 was worse, and we spent the day snowed at in the hut. Rewarded by clear skies on day 3 we set off for Tracuit, a perfect day with stunning views at last.

Climbing the Gassi couloir

 

The descent from Tacuit was a clear winner in the worst snow of the winter competition - 1300 vertical metres of breaking crust in poor visibility. Hmmm. Abandoning plans to head up to Grand Mountet we were happy to find great skiing yesterday in the Zinal and Grimentz areas, a nice end to the week. 

 

Chamonix Climbing

~ Tuesday 10th April 2012

 A change of activity this week...The weather wasn't helpful on Sunday, meaning all we managed was a ride up the Grands Montets lift for a coffee - the café at the top was full of people waiting in vain for  the forecast improvement. 

Monday was better though. After the usual "service with a scowl" from the Midi staff, we were soon up the lift and snowshoeing over for a great traverse of the Pointe Lachenal. 

Tuesday and the Midi staff were still grumpy - can the end of season not come soon enough for them?  - but we climbed the Cosmiques Arete in more wild and windy weather. 

Chuffed at the top

Haute Route

~ Saturday 7th April 2012

 Success against the odds last week on the Chamonix Zermatt Haute Route. After a great warm up day we set off from Argentiere with fingers crossed for the weather...the forecast wasn't good!

All went well though, the bad weather not arriving until we were safely in the Dix hut. Next morning we woke to 25cm of fresh snow and a mass retreat over the Pas de Chevre. Optimistically we slogged up to the Vignettes hut in the afternoon. Again the forecast was mixed but happily Friday dawned clear and we skied powder to Zermatt under blue skies - a great end to the week!

Sound advice from the Dix hut

The retreat from the Dix

Vallée Blanche

~ Sunday 1st April 2012

 Excellent day today on the Vallée Blanche. It's peak season but we were at the lift early and soon skiing rock hard snow...We toured up to the Helbronner café for a well earned coffee then skied the right bank of the glacier - excellent and atmospheric skiing. 

Spring in Nax

~ Saturday 31st March 2012

 On Thursday we made the classic Tour of Mont Collon from Arolla via the Col des Vignettes and Col de l'Éveque. This is a beautiful and long day trip through stunning scenery, but as soon as we left the Haute Route bumps the snow on the descent was...awful. Oh dear. 

Looking for a relaxing finish to the week we went back to Nax yesterday. A quick tour into the Val de Reche and up to Mont Gautier found excellent spring snow - so good we did another lap!

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Wednesday 28th March 2012

 Despite the hot weather there's still plenty of great skiing to be done. Nax yesterday had a choice of good spring snow in the sunny slopes or untracked powder in the shade. Today in Arolla there was more of the same on the Col des Ignes. Great skiing and no-one else around.

 

Swiss Air Force in action

Sadly parking meters have appeared in Arolla ski carpark, so it looks like soon you'll be paying to park in a muddy puddle with no toilet facilities, then paying for creaky old lifts...or you could go to Nax where the parking is free and the lifts work. And there's a toilet. 

 

Tarentaise Ski Touring Part 2!

~ Monday 26th March 2012

 There's a great little video here from last week in the Tarentaise:

The rest of my pictures are here.

 

Tarentaise Ski Touring

~ Friday 23rd March 2012

Just back from a fantastic week in the Tarentaise ski area. We stayed at the excellent Auberge Sur la Montagne in St Foy, and skied in St Foy, Les Arcs and Val d'Isere. Whilst the lift access skiing here is world class and enough for a lifetime, the day touring possibilities are endless - we did some of the classics like the Foglietta, Col de Monseti, Grand Col in les Arcs, Col des Monts in Val d'Isere.  

Grand Col in the background

Powder below the Grand Col, les Arcs

At the Col de Monseti

Near Monseti summit

The beautiful hamlet of le Crot

La Luette

~ Friday 16th March 2012

 We made an early start on the first lift from Arolla today, and 1200m of uphill later we reached the summit of La Luette - an excellent ski tour. The ski from the top wasn't great but the rest of the glacier was perfect powder and fresh tracks. 

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Thursday 15th March 2012

 Fantastic weather this week and some really good touring conditions with powder in the shade and spring snow in the sun and only a little bit of crust in between...

Pictures here from the Tour of Mont Collon yesterday. Arolla - col des Vignettes - Col de l'Eveque - glacier d'Arolla - Arolla. 

Col de Chermontane

Col de L'Eveque

Haut Glacier d'Arolla

Beneath Mont Collon

Grimentz Off Piste Skiing

~ Saturday 10th March 2012

Lots of pictures here from the last week in Grimentz. We were staying at the excellent Moiry Hotel  and skiing some great snow, nice touring and some steep bits...

Avalanche at the Moiry dam

Fresh tracks below the Basset de Levron

Breezy at the Brinta

Powder below the Brinta

Walking over the Roc d'Orxival

Freeride...

Steep gully skiing in Orxival

Yet More Arolla Ski Touring!

~ Saturday 3rd March 2012

 Despite the hot conditions there's still some great skiing around. Yesterday we toured up the romantically named Point 2959 before skiing untracked powder into the Vallon des Ignes. Encouraged by the snow conditions we climbed back to the point before making the long descent all the way to la Gouille. 

 

 

More Arolla Ski Touring!

~ Thursday 1st March 2012

 Unseasonal hot weather - not just warm, it's definitely hot - has meant some early starts and finishes but still some good skiing. At Evolene on Tuesday we toured up the Pic Artsinol before skiing the steep gully from the summit on great snow. Wednesday in Nax got off to a dodgy start with shocking crust below the Brechette, but then some good powder lower down and some great skiing in the lift area. Today we toured up to the Vignettes hut, had lunch on the helipad then skied some really good snow and fresh tracks back down the glacier. 

lunch on the helipad

 

Arolla Ski Touring

~ Tuesday 28th February 2012

 The warm weather has left some "challenging" snow. Definitely character building...

There's still some good skiing around though, like yesterday's descent from the Cassorte. Short climb, great views, some steep turns and it ends in a bar!

Ice Climbing

~ Saturday 25th February 2012

Ice climbing is a tough sport, but some people manage to make it look easy...that was the case this morning. With only 4 hours for an ice climbing intro we were a bit pushed for time, but the Hotel de la Tza venue is ideal - progress was quick, and after an hour we were moving on to the vertical bits...

Evolene Ice Climbing

~ Friday 24th February 2012

 Excellent climbing conditions at the Coop icefall in Evolene yesterday. It was a bit wet in places (there's been a huge rise in temperature in the last 48 hours) but great to climb. This route is a surprisingly long walk up from Evolene, but gives 2 big pitches with lots of possible variations.

Cosmiques arete

~ Wednesday 22nd February 2012

 A change of scene today. With a pre-dawn start from Evolene to beat the Chamonix crowds we made it onto an early Aiguille du Midi lift and had a great day on an all but deserted Cosmiques Arete, in perfect conditions. A brilliant route!

We saw one other team - a Chamonix guide and client who clearly had a train/plane to catch, or maybe he'd left the bath taps running, anyway they were in a great hurry. 

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Wednesday 22nd February 2012

 After a tiring Monday in Mauvoisin we decided to have a more relaxing day on Tuesday. A chilly but very enjoyable training session at the excellent ice boulder by the Hotel de la Tsa filled the morning, followed by a very nice lunch in the hotel. 

Refuelled with cheese and rosti and full of renewed enthusiasm we set off up the left hand variation of the Arolla tunnel route in teh afternoon. This is much steeper than the central line and provides 3 big pitches, and a just-before-dark finish, all the time being watched by a very brave chamois. 

 

 

Ice Climbing - Mauvoisin

~ Monday 20th February 2012

 Brilliant day today on the Cascade de Bonatchiesse in the Mauvoisin valley. Yesterday's snow made for a tiring wallow to the base of the route, but the ice was excellent, giving 4 big pitches with some tricky climbing getting out of the cave on pitch 2! We saw no-one else all day.

Tuono NW Couloir

~ Saturday 18th February 2012

 This is the very obvious couloir, visible from St Luc. Access from the top - just below the Tuono subsidiary summit - is quite tricky, but you can make the long steep skin directly up the couloir. Breaking trail and finding some suspicious windslab we didn't go all the way to the top, but the skiing was very good.

On the way up, all couloirs are long! Only 73 kick turns to go...

On the way down they're all too short!

Zinal Grimentz Off Piste

~ Saturday 18th February 2012

 Fresh snow on Wednesday, then Thursday brought windless blue skies. Surprisingly Zinal was very quiet and we had several high speed runs in pretty good snow before heading off down the great descent to the Moiry dam. A bit rocky at the top, but then lots of fresh tracks. Instead of walking over the top we cut down right under the dam, then off to Grimentz for lunch. In the afternoon a quick blast through more fresh powder from Orzival to St Jean made a great day. 

Father and son...

Son

Father

From the Orzival lift we saw this snowboarder having the ride of his life. Avoid freshly wind-loaded slopes in the afternoon sun! In an impressive display of solidarity 2 of his mates followed his track. 

 

Le Métailler, Ski Touring

~ Tuesday 14th February 2012

 In winter the Dixence valley is cold and remote, with the road open only as far as Pralong. High above is the excellent ski peak of le Métailler, a classic day tour involving a "bit of everything". It's a long, tiring 1600m climb on steep ground, needing stable snow, to reach the col before the summit ridge. After slogging all the way up there it was a surprise to find a team of helmet cam guys leaping off the large cornice!

Reaching the summit needs an easy but exposed scramble. Rather than retracing steps we made a steep descent northwards to the Glacier de Métail. The glacier is tiny now, something of a last chance to see...but it leads to a brilliant descent, continuously steep and interesting all the way back to Pralong. 

Le Tour Off Piste

~ Tuesday 14th February 2012

 Excellent day at Le Tour yesterday. We met in Vallorcine and spent the day exploring the les Jeurs off piste before finishing with the long descent to Trient. 

Invisible skier on top of Tete de Balme

Exit from the Vallon des Eaux Noires

Tuono, St Luc

~ Friday 10th February 2012

Touring today up the Tuono - the imposing peak which dominates the St Luc ski area. After a team vote we decided on a purist approach, setting off on skis up a very chilly Prillet piste. Higher up it was still cold and windy, and plans for the North West couloir were looking doubtful. At the summit a lull in the wind prompted an attempt on the couloir. The entry is easy at the moment, skiable and no need for a rope. Unfortunately this meant I was 100m down before admitting the obvious - terrible conditions, with unskiable crust. Time to turn round and slog back up, before skiing the south face. 

Vallée Blanche

~ Monday 6th February 2012

 A quick trip over to Chamonix yesterday on the coldest day of the year so far. A shocking -24 in Evolene! Arriving in Chamonix it was still -19 but windy as well. Not ideal. Luckily, having decided to go up the Midi lift "for a look" it turned out to be warmer at the top. After a chilly descent of the ridge we were soon peeling off extra layers and skiing in the sun down the Envers variant, with excellent conditions all the way to Chamonix. 

Thanks to Sue for this one.

Crans Montana Touring

~ Friday 3rd February 2012

 Just back from a 2 day ski touring trip staying overnight in the Wildstrubel hut winter room. Things started ominously with the highest Crans Montana lift being shut. Luckily we met the ski patrol boss, and after some begging we were soon riding up the closed cable car with him - thanks!

Leaving the Glacier de la Plaine Morte

Leaving the lift area there were no tracks, and we had the whole place to ourselves. A quick lunch at the hut then an ascent of the Tierberggrat in the afternoon provided a good intro to touring for my 2 clients - both Ironman athletes and keen for adventure. 

Skiing off the Tierberggrat

 Sunset from the hut

In the morning, inspired by the ski patrol boss' recommendation (sorry I've forgotten your name) we set off on a tour to the Barrage de Tseuzier. A long climb to the Rohrbachstein led to a long descent - from wild windy summit to the beautiful mayens of Mondraleche. Intricate route finding through cloudy forest led to the dam - now "only" the tunnels separated us from the road head at les Rousses... 

Skiing to Mondraleche

 Obstacles!

Entering the tunnel

Tunneling out of the tunnel!

Leaving the tunnel!

Blue Skies In Grimentz

~ Friday 27th January 2012

 At last the blue skies returned to Grimentz - perfect weather and perfect snow, making us wonder where everyone else was...

Catching the first lift there were only 2 others touring. We went over the Col de Louché for fresh tracks all the way down the Val de Reche. We skinned back up to la Brinta, avoiding the big cornice on the left and skiing more fresh tracks. With time to spare we climbed back up the other summit before skiing more fresh tracks and continuing all the way to St Jean. Perfect day!

Grimentz and Zinal

~ Monday 23rd January 2012

Huge snowfall has left some great conditions in Grimentz. The snow cover is fantastic now, way better than it has been for years. High up it is quite windblown but we were skiing good snow through the woods right down to St Jean.  

Vuibé Glacier

~ Tuesday 17th January 2012

 Ski touring today up the Glacier des Pieces to the Vignettes hut. At the Col des Vignettes we bumped into friend and local guide Josette, and teamed up for a very sociable ski down the Vuibé glacier. This passes through some amazing scenery with some quite steep bits, and was completely untracked - a great descent. 

Ice Climbing

~ Tuesday 17th January 2012

 This winter everyone's talking about the brilliant skiing, but the huge amount of snow hasn't produced great ice climbing conditions. There's still plenty to do though, as we found over the last few days. 

The Hotel de la Tsa deserve a mention for their efforts in creating a great little venue. A boulder and a hosepipe have turned into the ideal spot for training and an introduction to ice climbing, with a café 50m away. It does get busy though - be prepared to go elsewhere. 

Looking for more of a mountain experience we ski toured to the Cascade des Ignes yesterday, finding perfect ice and some nice snow, well worth the 2 hour approach. Compare this to the pictures from the same route in November

Pointe de Vouasson

~ Thursday 12th January 2012

 The Pointe de Vouasson is a classic "up and back " tour, either from the excellent Aiguilles Rouges hut (incidentally now a private hut and about to be renovated) or - as today - slogging all the way up there from la Gouille, a somewhat tiring 1700m. With stable snow the descent to Evolene makes a great trip - more down than up, with the down all north facing and on glacier for the top part. The descent starts on wide open glacier before a section of tricky route finding leads to more open slopes, all of it untracked powder. Arriving at the amusingly named Merdesson stream we skinned up into the Evolene ski area before skiing down through the Vouasson "mayens" and down past the lovely lac d'Arbey.

Col de Breona

~ Monday 9th January 2012

 Excellent ski touring today. The holidays are over and the valley seems deserted, but the blue skies are back at last and forecast to last all week. With the current fantastic snow cover we were able to skin from the front door to the Col de Bréona then up the little peak next to the col. From there it was almost 1600m of fresh tracks back to the house, great snow all the way. 

 

Happy New Year!

~ Thursday 5th January 2012

 Lots of very happy skiers in the Alps at the moment, enjoying the best conditions for years. There's around double the average snow depth in Switzerland now, and it's snowing hard again today. The forecast says snow tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday and Monday...

They haven't yet installed the parking meters in Evolene so make the most of it...

Here are a few pictures from the Pallanche de la Cretta last week. Photos and copyright, Andy Teasdale

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