Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Dent de Tsalion

~ Saturday 24th August 2013

 As a finale to a great week it's hard to beat the Dent de Tsalion west ridge - an Arolla classic. We had a pleasant morning rock climbing at the Chapel St Bartolémy crag near la Gouille - the Satarma crag is closed at the moment for rock stabilising work (and several routes will be a bit shorter when it reopens!) It's a short and pleasant 1.5 hour walk to the Tsa hut, where we enjoyed a HUGE meal on the terrace in the evening sun. 

From the hut the route is clearly visible, just an hour's walk on a bouldery track to the start. However, the West Ridge is developing a bit of a reputation - yes, it's short with only 600m height gain, low altitude, short approach, solid rock, etc, but there's really no easy ground on the route so 600m means a lot of climbing. At AD in the British guide I think it's a bit of a sandbag. The guidebook description isn't that helpfull anyway - "stay on the crest" would do. There are several "proper" grade 4 pitches low down, with a couple more high on the route (You can avoid some of the lower pitches by starting further right on broken and loose-ish ground) In response to a series of accidents and benightments the local guides added bolts to the hard bits a couple of years ago (keen blog readers may remember..."don't mention the bolts!") Lots of it is of course very protectable with a set of wires, slings and a couple of medium Friends. Lots of it is slabby and hard in big boots, so consider taking a pair of climbing shoes. 

Tsa shadows

Ah, the sun at last!

The final few metres

From the top of the Tsalion the Aiguille de la Tsa is temptingly close and you're going to walk past it on the way home anyway. A few pitches of nice climbing on good orange rock reaches this excellent summit, with fine views back down the Tsalion ridge as a reward - as well as the Matterhorn, Dent d'Hérens, Dent Blanche, Monta Rosa, Pigne, Cheilon, etc, etc...We left our 'sacks at the bottom, sadly with the camera attached, so no pictures. 

4x25m abseils reach the base, and a quick walk down the fairly crevassed glacier gains the Col de la Tsa. This is icy now, with a big bergschrund to catch fallers, so we made a big bollard and abseiled 25m down the ice. There were several recent Abalokov threads here - 2 of them pulled out by hand, so beware re-using old threads! All that remained was the long walk down the Bertol zig-zags. A great day. 


Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Friday 23rd August 2013

 Back in the Val d'Hérens this week and my first visit of the summer to the Cabane des Dix, where the new guardians are doing a great job in their first season - it can't be easy following on from Pierre and Béatrice, who ran the Dix for 12 years. Poor weather in the afternoon left some fresh snow and surprisingly cold temperatures (it's still August!) but we climbed the Cheilon normal route in great conditions. It was amazingly quiet, with only 2 other teams. The winter route is still fine for descent too, and is a quick way off the mountain. 

Next day, hoping for sunny, warm rock, we drove up to Bréona. After a quick chat with the farmer we saw no-one all day, great climbing - and it was warm!

Oberland 4000m Peaks

~ Saturday 17th August 2013

 Back in the Oberland again this week, my fourth visit of the summer. Again, we made the scenic approach up the Aletsch glacier, this time dry glacier all the way to the hut with a fair bit of zig-zagging around huge open holes. Quite a contrast to the earlier trip. Walking up the Aletsch is a great way to approach the Oberland but it's a long way. You're walking "upstream", and when you're halfway there it's easy to start thinking the glacier may be flowing downhill faster than the official 180m per year

Still, we made it. On Tuesday we set off into a dark and depressing rainy morning, the only people in the hut who took early breakfast. The darkest hour is just before the dawn...but then the sun came out and it all seemed like fun! Great conditions saw rapid progress up the Grunegghorn and fine panorama of a deserted Oberland. From the summit a quick downclimb leads to a col and the fine summit ridge of the Gross Grunhorn - great climbing and spectacular positions. 

 Great climbing on the Grunhorn summit ridge

Descending to the col before traversing the Grunegghorn

Wednesday morning saw some company at early breakfast. Soon however we were alone battling through the lower icefall to reach the aptly named Ewigschneefeld. (translate as "eternal" or "never-ending" snowfield depending on mood) We met another team turning back from the Fieschersettel ascent - not a promising sign - but pushed on up steep snow and found a good alternative exit up rocks on the right. Some enjoyable climbing on solid red rock, and we were on the Gross Fiescherhorn summit! The descent to the Finsteraarhorn hut is fast and direct but needs some careful crevasse avoidance lower down - all quite exciting ground!

 We came through there! Reaching the upper Fiescherfirn


Grunhorn and Fiescherhorns at dawns

Dawn over the Grunhorns and Fiescherhorns

Day 4 and the team was sadly down to 2, number 3s' knees having succumbed to Oberlanditis. Perfect conditions, fast progress, stunning views and a spectacular finale up the Finsteraarhorn summit ridge - a great day.

Superb positions on the summit ridge

View to Lauteraar and the Grimsel pass

Descending, with the swiss 4000s on the horizon

All that remained was the long walk home - a scenic trip back over the Grunhornlucke to Konkordia and down the Aletsch glacier (this time with the flow)

As well as being the longest alpine glacier, the Aletsch is home to the last population of the very rare Alpine Mole, and they've been active in the recent warm weather. 


~ Sunday 11th August 2013

 Mark Twight said "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun"...but it certainly helps!

After 3 pitches on Friday we decided it definitely wasn't fun, and went home. 

Today it was very different, a perfect day on the Couronne de Bréona. 


Rock Climbing!

~ Wednesday 7th August 2013

 After recent adventures on some variable mountain "rock" it was a pleasure yesterday to climb at the unflatteringly named Pisse Vache. 10 pitches of perfect rock in a lovely setting. 

Lay-backing the flake on pitch 2 of Bravo Lap

High above Martigny on pitch 9

Alphubel Rotgrat

~ Monday 5th August 2013

 Perfect conditions today on the Alphubel Rotgrat - warm-ish but a clear night still froze the snow, and the rock was dry. 

Early morning on the Rotgrat

Climbing the "easier than it looks" corner

There's a quick and easy descent down the normal route but we chose to go down the South Ridge Eisnase. This looked to be still in good snowy condition - but sadly the snow was only 2 inches thick, which made for a tricky frontpoint down-climb. 

Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla Traverse

~ Saturday 3rd August 2013

It's back to normal summer conditions in the Alps - hot and sweaty and a big change from the snowy mixed we found on Tuesday! With a stable forecast and a team who've done all the usual classics, we headed up to the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla traverse for guaranteed adventure. This is one of the (in)famous Arolla traverses - it's in the 100 best routes coffee table books but no-one I know seems to have done it, and a reputation for length, mystery and looseness adds to the intrigue. It's Gabbro though, so should be like the Cuillin? Only one way to find out...and so we found ourselves at the lovely Aiguilles Rouges hut.  Newly privatised and now run by a local association, this is a great place to spend the night. Great food, friendly welcome - all good except that we'd chosen Swiss national day which meant fireworks...then the 2 year old started crying...the snorer snored...the baby cried...and a tired team woke for 4am breakfast. 

Happily it's an easy approach to the route, with a great sunrise. Camera shake has recreated bleary 5am vision. 

At the col, turn left. Continue...the rock is poor but quickly improves and the North summit soon appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where you climb up to the Central summit. The rock is poor but quickly improves and the Central summit appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where...there are only 15 more gendarmes.

The rock is poor...

This is climbing what the AC guide optimistically call "slabs on the left of the couloir" on the way to the central summit. Nice. 

If using the Alpine Club guidebook you can throw it down the East face from here. If using the Swiss guide then chuck it either way - I'm sure it mixes up East and West at various points. We definitely saw the "hole" in the ridge between gendarmes 2 and 3, called a "tunnel" in the AC guide, and we avoided the terrifying Crete de Coq flake by a lower traverse, but little else in the description made sense as we followed our noses steadily South. This is a long ridge and there's lots of good, sustained climbing - mostly good rock too apart from some rubble around Gendarmes 2-4. Positions are amazing, with huge drops down the vertical East face. 

There are 2 bolt belays - looking slightly (no, very) out of place up here on long wild ridge. 1 for descending the North summit, 1 just above the "couloir" on the way up the central (guide says traverse out left, I climbed straight up to find the bolts) Both belays, of course, are next to good natural anchors. Just below the central summit is a single bolt. Really. Otherwise there is no fixed gear, so you'll be carrying a rack anyway.

Looking up the gendarmes - 1 other team just visible

the other team ahead of us - just beyond number 5. 

Number 6(?) Central summit in the background

Climbing to number 6(?) with the central summit behind. Great climbing on good rock. 

Descending number 10

Descent from south summit. The snow patch is col Slingsby

Nearing the end now, or so we thought. In a classic bit of guidebook writing the next hour is dismissed in 1 sentence! The south end of the ridge is rotten rock so the route instead winds down the West face (on rotten rock) Patience and careful route choice needed. 


15 gendarrmes. Count 'em.

So now we know. The Aiguilles Rouges traverse - brilliant adventure, definitely not Chamonix granite or Skye gabbro.

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