Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Ski season 2020

~ Tuesday 10th December 2019

Considering it's still early December there's good snow cover in the Alps and lots more forecast for the end of the week. Still too early to break out the new skis - lots of rocks lurking just below the surface! - but plenty to start the season.

Of course Friday the 13th is looming, but however ominous it seems, the Arolla lifts will open on Saturday so there's something to look forward to! This is an unusual (and very welcome) early start for the Arolla ski area. Thanks!

Fitness Training!

~ Monday 7th October 2019

Whatever you want to achieve in the mountains - summer or winter, climbing or skiing...or running, walking, biking - you'll need a good level of fitness. Being fitter means you can achieve more, avoid injuries and -crucially - have more fun doing it.

Euan Whittaker is a British Mountain Guide and Personal Trainer. Based in Edinburgh he can design specific programmes to help you keep fit, and hopefully get fitter! As a Guide, Euan knows exactly what to work on for mountain goals, whether it's climbing the Matterhorn, skiing the Haute Route or climbing vertical ice. He can also work remotely with you, providing plans, videos and regular contact with you wherever you live. A typical remote plan includes an initial consulatation then:

1. A new program every four weeks. This is based on the client completing the workout 2-3 times each week and therefore preventing plateauing by doing a program too many times.
2. Videos to support the program.
3. Regular communication throughout the four weeks to adjust the reps, sets and weights to prevent plateauing.
4. Questions answered from the client within 24 hours.

You can find Euan here

Or look him up on Facebook for daily training news.

If you've got a ski trip planned this winter there's still plenty of time to train for it. If you're just back from an Alpine summer trip you can start training for next year now to while the memories are fresh!



The Mont Miné Glacier recession

~ Wednesday 2nd October 2019

On the same trip we visited the Mont Miné and Ferpecle glaciers - it was easier then because they almost joined up at a spot about 30 minutes walk from the car! To do the same today would be a much longer day...

Here are the 2 pictures side-by-side for easier comparison.

And these 2 - the gravel piles top right background of the first pic have grasses over in the second and the trees have grown a lot, but it's the same place.

These 2 photos are taken from similar places - cows graze where the glacier tongue was in 1985

Climate Change in the Alps

~ Monday 30th September 2019

People often ask if I've seen changes in the glaciers in the Alps over the years - the answer is a definite "Yes!" - but here are a few pictures that make it very clear. The old photos are from 1985: Suzuki released the GSXR750, Madonna got Into The Groove and my Dad was younger than I am now. We spent a family holiday in Arolla and saw glaciers for the first time. My children are only a little younger now than I was then so this is very much the change in 1 generation. I wonder what I'd think if I came here as a 14 year old today?

Compare these 2 of Mont Collon and the Bas Glacier d'Arolla. You can see the track leading up to the little bridge in both. You walk up here on the way to Bertol or Col Collon.

And here's a photo taken today from just above the bridge.

Pizzo Badile Cassin Route

~ Tuesday 3rd September 2019

The Cassin Route on the North-East face of the Pizzo Badile is one of the 6 routes on the Rébuffat list of Alpine classics. A bold line up the middle of an impressive granite wall visible from the valley, the quality of the climbing is matched by epic stories from early ascents. The first ascent saw 2 teams joining forces in a storm and battling atrocious conditions which claimed the lives of 2 of them. Herman Buhl made the first solo having cycled from Austria! The crux pitches are graded 6a, so it's worth remembering that Buhl was soloing British HVS in 1957 - no wonder he was so tired he fell off his bike on the return journey.

Today the approach dries out by mid summer so you can reach the route in trainers. Bolt belays have been added too...but early on the route makes a 5c+ traverse which would be very hard to reverse, and the harder climbing is high up on the route. It's the stand-out sandbag route in the "Plaisir" guidebook, and not to be underestimated!

Dent Blanche South Ridge

~ Saturday 24th August 2019

The South Ridge of the Dent Blanche is one of the finest "normal" routes to any 4000m summit with exposed and airy climbing on good rock and spectacular views! Finding only 1 other team on the route made it even better!

Climbing the Matterhorn

~ Saturday 6th July 2019

Probably the most famous mountain in the world...Matterhorn, Cervin, Cervino, so good they named it three times! Yes, it can be busy and the hut is very expensive (although the WiFi is "free") but standing on top of the Matterhorn is a great feeling and a highlight of many Alpine climbers' summer.

It's an unusual climb in lots of ways - no glacier, a 3 minute "walk-in" from the hut, fixed ropes - and perhaps that's why it is often underestimated. In fact, the climb is 1200m of sustained hard work and concentration. There's no easy walking where you can switch off, and success needs good fitness, strong legs, accurate route-finding and some careful ropework. Then of course, there's the descent - the mountaineering truism "the top is only halfway there" is never truer than on the Matterhorn!

Mont Blanc

~ Wednesday 3rd July 2019

Second time lucky this year on Mont Blanc. The first attempt failed in wild and windy weather, seeing us retreating down the Gouter ridge in conditions best described as "Scottish". A week later saw a complete change of scene. Warm and windless, we had a relaxed half hour standing on the summit and James didn't even wear gloves!

It's always a challenge getting to the top of Mont Blanc and it needs weather, snow conditions, acclimatisation and fitness to come together at the right moment, but it's a good feeling when it works out!

Martin Moran

~ Monday 3rd June 2019

My parents bought me a book when I first started climbing. That book was "Scotland's Winter Mountains" by Martin Moran. I didn't meet him until years later when I was a nervous aspirant mountain guide at the Saturday evening guides' briefing in Evolene. That summer was a hectic introduction to life as a mountain guide, exhausting days on the hill, yet Martin always the first to suggest rock climbing at the local crag on Saturday. His infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors (he was horrified when we went to the climbing wall on a wet day!) I did my first work as a fully qualified guide for Martin - reporting our safe return from the Oberland after a "challenging" descent of the Fiescher glacier I received a brief reply..."Character building stuff!" Character indeed - he wasn't short of it.

"Missing" is a euphemism often used by climbers and sailors. Hoping against the odds until shorter, blunter words are unavoidable. We all hoped for good news last weekend. If anyone could bring his team back safe, surely Martin could?

One day, out of the blue, Martin quietly asked if I'd be interested in taking on his Alpine business - an amazing opportunity for me and my family to build a life here in Evolene. I was worried at first that Martin might be retiring from guiding, the toll of a long life in the mountains finally becoming too much. He clearly wanted more time at home where he was extending his home, and more time to spend with his family, but with the old twinkle in his eye he explained that "there are so many more mountains I want to climb".

Sadly that list will never be completed. A list of things climbed doesn't reflect a life. Bodies spotted from a helicopter. The brutal end to a life lived with passion for the mountains. Martin, you will always be missing from our lives.

We took on the business in the understanding that we'd keep the same "ethos" - we'd try to maintain the enthusiasm and energy that Martin - and his wife Joy - had built the company with. I can think of no finer legacy than that. To try to share Martin's passion for climbing and exploring, for sharing the best that the mountains can offer us.

So many times when things have been hard in the mountains I've wondered "what would Martin do?"

Of course, there are 8 people lying on that mountain in India. 8 families trying to come to terms with "missing". This is nothing to do with climbs, grades, times and records. 8 families suffering a human tragedy. They all deserve our sympathy and love.

Skier and Splitboarder Late Season Touring

~ Sunday 5th May 2019

Just 2 of us last week - 1 skier and 1 splitboarder. 2 quite different ways of travelling around the mountains, but both work! Add some amazing snow and perfect weather...

Battling up to the Vignettes hut on Sunday afternoon we at least had the snow, but zero visibility. Andy achieved London-Vignettes in about 20 hours and I'd just recovered from a calf strain injury so we weren't in top form for the Monday morning. After a nervous wait for the stormclouds to clear, we found ourselves alone on the Pigne in knee-deep snow. A tiring slog, but worth it.

pigne d'arolla ski touring

Refreshed by a night in the valley we tackled the long climb to Bertol in the spring heat. Next day everyone turned right for Zermatt leaving us alone to plough up and over the shoulder to reach the Dent de Tsalion. Good mountaineering ground - axes, crampons and a rope came out of the bag. Cabane de Bertol

Plan A was the Tsalion Couloir, a classic Arolla descent but clearly wrecked by the heat and full of avalanche debris. Happily the other side of ridge had stayed cold in the shade...the rarely-skied NE face.

 Dent de Tsalion

1 more day before the weather broke...time to coax tired legs back up to Vignettes for the Couloir des Vignettes, or "Toilet Couloir".

Chamonix Zermatt Success

~ Saturday 6th April 2019

At last! It took 3 goes but in the end the Haute Route is complete. Frustrated by weather on previous attempts, we did a warm-up in the Vallée Blanche, then just had enough of a window to complete the missing 2 days. Then it snowed, and it we had a bottomless, stormy powder day - loads of snow but no visibility - and a fantastic sunny powder day to finish the week.

Slightly Steeper Ski Week

~ Saturday 30th March 2019

Some pictures from the Eagle Ski Club "Slightly Steeper" week. This is an advanced week aimed at skiers who can ski solidly on 40 degrees after climbing 1000m (or more !), which means we can get to some of the less-travelled skiing in the Val d'Hérens. It's rarely that busy here anyway, but this week we hardy crossed a track! Thanks to Chalet les Criquets for looking after everyone.

Off-Piste in Grimentz and Zinal

~ Saturday 16th March 2019

The second week I've done this year for the Eagle Ski Club using the tried-and-trusted format of mixed guiding and instruction, the idea being to help committed ski tourers improve their skiing whilst introducing others to off-piste and ski-touring for the first time. 2 Mountain Guides, 2 expert ski instructors and 24 experienced skiers - it's a busy week with groups doing alternate days of ski lessons and off-piste or ski touring. This year had some challenging weather and equally challenging snow, providing lots of "learning" opportunities!

We were based at the excellent Hotel de Moiry. Good food and a warm welcome as usual.

Winter Room Haute Route

~ Saturday 2nd March 2019

The Eagle Ski Club Winter Room Haute Route usually involves plenty of shivering and trail-breaking. (Here's last years blog) This year was different - with very warm weather it felt more like April than February. The missing Grands Montets lift adds some uphill to day 1, so we stayed at the Dorées bivvy instead of Trient. This left us with some catching up to do so we skipped the Prafleuri and made the long stage to the Dix in 1 day. The Pigne d'Arolla was icy and windblown, but the Col de l'Éveque put things into perspective with huge sastrugi and lots of bare glacier ice! Sadly the weather didn't hold for the final day so we ended up in Arolla after a great week of touring in surprisingly quiet mountains. The "world's most famous ski tour" is still deserted out of season.

Early Ski Season Pictures

~ Sunday 10th February 2019

Here are a few pictures from the "early" season. 2019 has been brilliant so far - lots of keen skiers, nice weather and some great snow. It's a good sign when all the photos are of powder, but it's genuinely been like that - endless powder skiing. Thanks to everyone who's been involved this winter. It's been fun skiing with you all. There's more snow forecast today and tomorrow...

Réchy valley, Grimentz

Grimentz Skiing

Grimentz off-piste, Orzival

Nax off piste

Mont Rouge, Arolla

Vuibé glacier, Vignettes

Grimentz Off-piste Week

~ Sunday 13th January 2019

Grimentz last week - as usual, it was excellent. Based at the lovely Chalet Roux, the plan was to explore the off-piste and touring in the area. The holiday crowds went home on the Sunday leaving the place strangely quiet. There was a much-needed 20cm of fresh snow too, followed by blue skies and perfect touring weather (if a bit chilly!). Grimentz and the Val d'Anniviers are very much "on the map" for most skiers nowadays, and continued investment in the lift system will surely increase the number of skiers visiting, but it's still deserted in comparison to the big ski resorts. On Thursday and Friday we saw more chamois than skiers - that's 10 chamois and zero skiers!

Happy New Year!

~ Tuesday 1st January 2019

Happy New Year everyone! And please, please, please can we have more snow? The ski season got off to a great start with fantastic conditions in December once the usual early-winter avalanche risk settled down a bit.

Things have stayed good up high over the holidays and it's been a great start for many ski resorts with lots of skiers enjoying the perfect weather. It's been warm and clear for 2 weeks now.

Touring conditions are amazingly good for this time of year, but you'll need to look hard for good lift-access off-piste unless you like skiing bumps! It's still out there though...

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