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Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

PLUM Ski Bindings

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

PLUM are the new big name in lightweight ski bindings and the clear leader in the race to better the already brilliant class leader Dynafit now their patent has expired. Where Dynafit have diversified and added  running and biking kit and clothing to their existing huge range, chez PLUM it's pretty much bindings only (oh, and some terrifying roller skis) The PLUM tag-line is "100% made in chez nous" and it's true. I visited the factory last week and saw the whole process - huge aluminium bars (OK, it's German aluminium) come in one end and finished bindings leave at the other. Inside, CNC machines run 24/7 making the component parts (80 pieces in a Guide binding!) Only a few bits, like springs, are bought in. It's all very high tech and I expected to see a robot assembly line putting it all together, but in the fact there are just 2 blokes in a small workshop who make every single binding (and brake, roller ski, and mounting jig) by hand! Sometimes a third guy comes in to lend a hand, but otherwise just 2 guys make 12000 bindings a year!

Anyway, I'm now the happy owner of the Race 165 binding. When will it snow? 

Poor "spot the fruit" joke. PLUM rhymes with "room", not "drum". Doh. 

Chandolin Vertical KM Race

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

Running uphill isn't everyone's idea of Saturday fun, but a surprising number of people seem to like it(!) A lot of them were in Chandolin yesterday for the Vertical KM race. This was the second year of the event, and sadly this year it was run in memory of David Salamin, the  runner, skier, climber who died with Ludovic Rey in a fall on the Weisshorn recently. In a fitting tribute the mens' 1KM race was won by friends of his who crossed the line together, joint winners. 

A certain Janine Frost was also running...

 

Aravis Rock

~ Sunday 29th September 2013

Just to the west of the Mont Blanc range lies the beautiful Aravis region with top quality walking, mountain biking and lots of perfect limestone climbing. We walked up to the Pointe Percée hut and climbed a short route on the Gramusset face on the first day. 

...before enjoying another amazing sunset. 

The next day we set off for the classic Arete du Doigt on the pointe Percée - 12 pitches up a fine ridge with stunning positions and a steep and exposed aid pitch to finish. Top quality. 

Pigne d'Arolla on Snowshoes

~ Sunday 22nd September 2013

 After the knee-deep ploughing on Tuesday we decided it might be wise to take snowshoes for the Pigne d'Arolla traverse. They're a nuisance to carry if you don't need them so it was a gamble, but it paid off - on the shady aspects the snow had hardly consolidated and we'd have been knee deep again. 

snowshoeing up the glacier des Pieces

We were the only ones in the winter room at the Vignettes, which is nowadays very cosy with a great log-burning stove. Evenings are long in winter rooms and there's not much to do, but then we were treated to a stunning sunset and some frantic photography. In the middle of this a lone chamois crossed the col de Chermontane, and a weasel peaked in through the hut window. Not a bad evening! Plenty of pics here as I couldn't choose the best ...

No Photoshoppery either...

The next day dawned in spectacular fashion...

and we set off up the Pigne. No-one else in sight, no tracks in the mountains, a perfect day. The summit was cold and windy though!

summit of Pigne d'Arolla

Descending the Dix side was untracked and snowshoes were again useful. We swapped them for crampons on the Mur de la Serpentine, the back to snowshoes for the rest. 

Crampons for the Mur de la Serpentine

It's important that your snowshoes match your rucksack. 

All was going very smoothly until...

Happily a shaken, not stirred, Jim was hauled out of the hole. Fresh snow + wind = thinly covered crevasses!

Moiry

~ Wednesday 18th September 2013

Winter has arrived early this year! Last week's snowy and cold weather has continued, with lots more snow. With fingers crossed we went to Moiry on Monday for the friendly welcome and usual huge meal, plus a kilt-wearing Canadian - you don't meet many of them!

On Tuesday the weather quickly improved but we were knee-deep on the glacier and abandoned plans for the Pointes de Mourti. The Pigne de la Lé providing more than enough trail breaking. 

Sun and snow

The other team swimming up the NW ridge

Full conditions in Coire nan Moiry

Nice patterns in the top lake. 

Mont Vélan

~ Saturday 14th September 2013

 This is the peak above the Grand St Bernard pass, "only" 3700 but stunning views, rarely climbed ridges and a great welcome at the Vélan hut more than make up for a few metres of height. With cold and fresh snow affecting conditions on the higher mountains it seemed like a good bet. We climbed the La Gouille ridge in great firm snow, the only people on the route...

The la Gouille Ridge is the skyline. At the col, turn right...

Summit view. Not Bad. 

Dent (very) Blanche

~ Saturday 14th September 2013

 Ah, la Dent Blanche, emblem of the Val d'Hérens and one of the best "normal" routes on any 4000m peak in the Alps. If the rumours are true it's mis-named after a mapdrawing error and should be called the Dent d'Hérens. After all, it's in the val d'Hérens, and isn't usually that white. This week however, the White Tooth seemed a pretty appropriate name...

With poor weather on Sunday we made along approach via Bertol, where we enjoyed an excellent night and a huge lasagne. The weather at 5am the following day was distinctly uninspiring so we went back to bed and started late for the Rossier hut. Luckily the clouds cleared and left us with a stunning trek in fresh snow over Tete (very) Blanche. 

Dent Rose

Dent Blanche

The next day saw just 4 of us set off for the Dent Blanche south ridge. It was cold and windy, and the other 2 soon turned back leaving us alone on the mountain. Climbing conditions were good, if a bit chilly...

 

Cold Couloir

Recent snow has left the couloir in good conditions, climbing on snow all the way. 

Not too cold on the sunny side. 

Very cold in the shade

This is near the end of the difficulties. Just a long pitch up a corner remains. It seems to me there's a new bolt belay and an new bolt above it in the final corner. Why? Why not just turn the whole thing into a clip-up? When will they fix a via ferrata cable the whole way? 

 

cold on top too. 

Still cold on the way down. 

The wide crack above the couloir. Still cold. 

La Dent Froide. 

 

Matterhorn

~ Saturday 7th September 2013

A few weeks ago we were passing time trying to name famous Belgians. Is Eddy Merckx Belgian? Does Tintin count? Anyway, Thursday provided aclear winner - Ernst Solvay, of course! Who? Solvay was definitely Belgian, a sickly child who suffered from pleurisy (because he didnae wear his wellies?) He spent his childhood in the hospital or infirmary and wasn't allowed to go to university. Still, he invented the conveniently named Solvay process and became very rich, so it turned out all right in the end. In later life he took up mountaineering, became concerned with the lack of shelter high in the mountains and funded the construction of the little shed which today bears his name, which leads us neatly to the Matterhorn last week. Phew. 

The fixed rope on Pollux, perfect Matterhorn practice

We started the week with an ascent of Pollux and a nice night at the Ayas hut, then returned to Zermatt over the half Breithorn traverse in excellent weather. 

Suitably warmed-up and ready for a go we walked in to the Hornli hut on Wednesday. The hut is being rebuilt, and will be completely closed next summer, so climbing the Matterhorn next year will need some  cunning planning.

An early start and some tricky climbing in the dark is the typical start to Matterhorn days. The climb begins just 5 mins from the hut, which means about 25 minutes after waking up. 

Dawn. Phew. 

Upper Moseley slab

The Upper Moseley slab is probably the technical crux, and leads to the Solvay hut at 4000m. The second highest toilet in the Alps. 

Solvay hut

You're now at 4000m, over half the height gain but about halfway in time to the summit - you slow down above here due to altitude. It's a good time to take stock - with the descent typically taking longer than the ascent, your time to Solvay will be less than a quarter of total up-and-down time, so more than 3 hours to Solvay means you're in for at least a 13+ hour round trip. We took the prudent choice and turned back. The Matterhorn will still be there next year (even if the hut isn't!)

Back at the hut, construction and wacky heli-craning was going on flat out, right next to the busy hut terrace.

 

Sanetsch Rock Climbing

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

 Hooray! A day off that at last coincided with good weather and a keen climbing partner. Sanetsch has yet to disappoint - perfect rock, fine setting, great climbing and amazing views back to the high mountains across the valley. 

Talker gets stuck into pitch 2. 

Steep on pitch 3!

Steeper on pitch 4!

Looking back down  pitch 4

 

Besso, Grand Mountet

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

 We dodged showers and managed some good rock climbing on Tuesday - 6 pitches of Terry at Miéville, finshing just as it started raining, then some good single pitches at Dorénaz (It never rains at Dorénaz)

On Wednesday the forecast at last gave some hope, and we made the long ascent to the lovely Grand Mountet hut. This hut sits in one of the most impressive spots in the Alps, with stunning views of the Zinal 4000m peaks, and a fine herd of friendly Ibex. As the cloud cleared it was obvious that there was a lot of snow high up, so we changed plans for the lower Besso, which promised excellent technical ground on good rock. We weren't disappointed! After a bit of a slog up rough ground on the approach, the route quickly gains a fine position on the ridge with great climbing on solid red rock. The route is pretty obvious ( for once the AC guidebook is useful!) and is liberally marked with red paint dots! 

Early morning low on the Besso SW ridge

Tiny climbers on Besso

From the Besso summit you can retrace steps, but we continued on the the fine ridge to the Blanc de Moming. Seen from Besso it looks like an hour's scrambling but in fact it's a long and complex ridge with several pinnacles to deal with, a fair bit of "a cheval" shuffling, and huge exposure!

The airy edge of the first pinnacle

Looking back to Besso and climbers on the "a cheval" descent"

The snow ridge to Blanc de Moming

After a "proper" day on Thursday we opted for a shorter morning route on Friday - the excellent Mammouth traverse. This starts 10 minute from the hut and would hopefully leave time and legs for the long afternoon walk-out. 

Dent de Rosses, Moiry

~ Sunday 1st September 2013

With a mixed forecast for the  start of the week we went up to the Moiry hut hoping to find good climbing on the lower peaks. The Moiry glacier is still one of the best places around for a crampon technique session, and there's some excellent rock climbing on the crags behind the hut. 

Monday dawned clear - better than forecast - with a dusting of fresh snow providing some slippery climbing on the Pointes de Mourti-Dent de Rosses traverse. 

Abseil off the Pointe de Mourti

 

The Point de Mourti now has a bolted ab point on the summit

Long rope on wet glaciers!

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