Le Pouce: Voie des Français

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Dan and Pete have been on a high climbing adventure, pete has written a lovely blog about their adventure.

Originally posted on Pete Houghton:

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P1080595The towering south face of the Pouce glows grey in the moonlight against the night sky,  the only thing I’ve seen for the last six hours as I drift in and out of consciousness. I can even see it when I close my eyes; its scars and cracks, the dark shadows of its roofs, have burned their image onto my retinas. Dan’s alarm sounds – we can stop pretending to be asleep, but the slightest movement puffs the warm air from our down jackets. We continue to lie perfectly still for a few more minutes, delaying the inevitable. Eventually, Dan, closest to the stove, puts the water on to boil for our first cup of tea, setting up the pizza box windbreak to quiet the hungry spluttering of the gas flame in the surprisingly-cold dawn breeze.

We quietly gulp down our steaming tea, contemplating our immediate future. With nearly four…

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Flying Squirrels!

Dan and Pete caught the lift to the top of Brévent the other day for a spot of gentle sport climbing. As they got into the lift two chaps also jumped in dressed in wing suits! Knowing exactly what they were about to do Dan and Pete sprinted from the lift to get a great spot to photograph them hurling themselves off the top of Brévent. The jump the squirrels did is renowned as being one of the most technical BASE jump exits in the world. It was first jumped a year or so ago! A truly impressive, crazy sight to watch!

A quick trip up the Petite Verte, 14/03/14

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Pete tells a nice story of new adventure 6 for Dan!

Originally posted on Pete Houghton:

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Dan has his eyes firmly set on one particular mountain, he wants to go up it with skis at some point in the spring.
“You know that’s a TD descent, right?” I ask.
“Oh…”

Quick! To the north face of the Petite Verte, to practice skiing some really steep stuff in absolutely horrible snow!

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The Petite Verte, easily accessed from the top of the Grand Montets cable car, is one of the two or three things here in Chamonix that people first have a go at when learning their mountaineering. I’d never been up it; when I was starting out, Dan showed me the ropes over on the Cosmiques Arete. So I was keen when he suggested that we go and have a look with skis, to both get a bit of practice carrying big bags on exciting terrain at the top, and to give Dan a taste for steep…

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Always Something New!

Wow what a long time since we posted anything! We have been busy bees this winter. Mostly working so we have tried for quality over quantity when we have had the chance to go outside!

Chamonix is such a big playground that the potential to find new things is limitless, be it climb new routes, ski new lines or run new trails. So far I have managed 5 new ski adventures; well its five if you count the ice climbing fail Jack and I went on!

Two of these new adventures were on the same day and my first proper ski of the season.  Pete and myself planed to ski a couloir under the main cliff of Brevent but the lift gods were against us and the top lift was closed. We decided to ski a lower gully where our planned line would have fed into, the snow was amazing but with the sun beating down and it was quickly turning heavy, odd for January when its supposed to be cold keeping the snow light and fluffy! Not happy with just that, we took a chance that the midi would open by now so we jumped on a bus and dashed across the valley. Arriving just in time to jump on the first lift of the day we were very happy that our decision paid off. We got off at the mid station and flew down untracked powder with some tree assisted rappelling in the middle of the descent back to town, this was made even more amazing as I was watching pete tear around on his water skis that he had mounted ski bindings on! Click here for more about Pete’s water skis.
New ski adventure three was supposed to be an ice climbing adventure with Jack. After an interesting ski approach that involved using outstretched poles to work out what was up and down we saw that our intended route, well,  just wasn’t there and the others around it were falling apart! We bravely turned around and skied away down the Argentiere glacier battling with crusty snow, avalanche debris and chamois who seemed to be able to ski better than us! So not intended but a fun new ski adventure nevertheless!

Then came the time for me to be brave, get my balls out of my purse and be out of my comfort zone and enjoy some steep skiing. The Rectaligne couloir is a 300 meter couloir with a short section for 45 degrees at the top, that’s starting to get pretty steep – well I think so anyway! The scratchy steep entrance led into a beautiful open couloir with lovely snow, ending in the lower gentle powdery slopes of the Pas de Chèvre above the Mer du Glacé. Pete, Aine and myself had a thoroughly enjoyable morning, especially as we were the first to ski the line that day! Thats two days so far being the first people down lines, this surely can’t be Chamonix I’m writing about!

My most recent ski adventure was an amazing journey over four glaciers in the high mountain. A ski tour over the Breche Puiseux deep in the the mountains. Starting on the Gros Rognon descent of the Vallee Blanche we skied to the Salle a Manger then skinned up the Glacier des Periades under the wonkerly magnificent Dent du Geant. Putting skis on our backs, we climbed a couloir at the top of the glacier to the breche in appalling heat, at the top the heat suddenly disappeared as a freezing wind was briskly blowing from the North East. Quickly setting up our ropes we rappelled with frozen hands down into the shade and cold. It was definitely worth lugging the 50 meter ropes up as we could whiz all the way to the bottom of the cliff and not have to worry about touching the old frayed in situ rope that was half frozen into the mountain. The hot aches kicked in with vengeance as our hands came back to life as we basked of a short while in a spit of sun cresting through the ridge we had just descended. We skied down under the famous north face of the Grands Jorasses, it felt like there was a giant standing over us carefully watching us ski down to its toes. The crevasses in the Mont Mallet glacier were ginormous so taking care we flew down in beautifully cold powder snow to the Leschaux Glacier, from here we finally met up with the normal Vallee Blanche route onto the Mer du Glacé.
Georgie hasn’t been hiding in a cave! Just working! However she stole a few moments, got lucky and skied some stunning snow! She has also finally come round to the fact skiing can be bloody amazing! She has been borrowing big skis and for the first time felt that magnificent feeling of floating in snow rather than sinking with her current little needle skis.
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We skinned up to the beautifully situated Chalet du Loriaz high above the Vallorcine valley. Once at the chalet we were starving so ordered some superb home made sausage, bean and lentil soup followed by fromage blanc and red berry magic for pudding, this made Georgie a happy bunny! We also said no to work one morning and with Pete and Aine headed through the tunnel for a day of Italian coffee, hot chocolate, a long lunch and a touch of fabulous skiing on the sunny side of the big white hill!
Thanks to Pete and Jack for the pictures of Dan and fun times!
Long may the new adventures continue!

Big skis in small spaces; Rectiligne 22/02/14

skinnylegsphoto:

A lovely day out with lovely people!

Originally posted on Pete Houghton:

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They are a blessing, they are a curse. A constant parade of what-ifs, of if-only-I-hads. The problem with having big fat powder skis is that when you are skiing on anything slightly more sensible and the snow suddenly comes up above the top of your boot, you can’t help but think “Man, I wish I had brought the big skis!”

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So yesterday we did just that – we’d usually take the normal planks down the Rectiligne, just because of the scratchy bits towards the end to get back onto the glacier. But Aine, having been back in Ireland for five weeks, was keen to get out on her brand new Pontoons as much as possible. We set the alarm, inhaled the coffee, met with Dan, and sat in the queue.

A group of five had peeled off left to the Couloir des Autrichiens, and half-a-dozen tracks went straight to the…

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Morocco – An interesting place!

Morocco is a crazy place, so many smells, so much noise and vibrant colours. The people we met were really friendly. We travelled around the country with our friends Pete and Àine in our hired car – Fanny the flying Ford Fusion Fiesta!

We slowly wound our way across the country watching the endless burnt orange countryside pass by.  We meandered along crappy roads not quite wide enough for 2 cars, round the pot holes (we only needed one wheel fixed!) dodging goats, donkeys, mopeds, mules, horses and carts and the odd dog!

We visited the mountains (visit Pete’s blog for a detailed, if graphic, account of our attempt at North Africa highest peak), walled market towns, the seaside and cities. We got really bad tummy upset, did some high altitude bouldering, saw goats on mules, brought new slippers, learned that riding a camel is like sitting on a boat, ate tagine and drank lots of sweet mint tea that was poured from a great height, which, we found was harder than it looked!

Couloir de le Breche

The weather has been very strange over the last few weeks, going from snow in the valley then up to 23º. The snow seems to be settled at about 2300 meters – the mid station height of the Aiguille du Midi.  Reportedly the snow up high has been very good sending the eager skiers up to the Midi for a few early powder turns! Unfortunately we haven’t had the time to get the skis out just yet.

Pete and I wanted to try and get an alpine route done before the bad November weather sets in. We decided to go to the Albert Premier Refuge nestled on the bank of the Glacier du Tour which sits high above the small hamlet of Le Tour. As it is October the lifts are shut until winter; this meant walking up from Le Tour to the refuge, a height gain of 1300m, with heavy climbing bags – I am now appreciating the idea of the fast and light fad that seems to be the rage in the mountains at the moment. We had no clear objective but thought we would see how the conditions were when we got to the hut before making a decision.

During the summer months the glaciers shed their winter coat of snow revealing an icy, scarred surface full of crevasses. The first snow has started to fill these back in and make weak bridges which span the holes, with a bit of daytime sun these weak bridges become soft and even more dangerous.

We arrived at the hut around 6pm, an hour before it got dark, we dumped our bags outside and wandered up behind the hut to survey the glacier. Conditions looked good, so encouraged we returned to the hut to make some dinner and consult the climbing guide.

The big mountain refuges (or huts) have guardians during the high seasons, the guardians greet climbers, cook meals and look after the buildings, when they are not there the refuges are closed but a small winter room is left open with a handful of beds and blankets – the basics you need to survive. The Albert Premier refuge is undergoing a facelift. A whole new floor is being added so when we popped our heads into the winter room we were met by a friendly Italian chef busily cooking away for the men working on the hut, who, it turned out were also using the winter room to sleep! With the hut full and the stove roaring away for the chef to cook the hut was lovely and warm – a rarity for a winter room! The Italian chef showed us which bunks were free when we arrived, he showed us upstairs and pointed to the first room saying Italian, the second was French and the last he just shrugged and said he didn’t know, the French room had two spare bunks so we picked that one.

Pete conjured up dinner,  an amazing concoction of seaweed, noodles and brown spicy liquid. The workmen gave us a couple of funny looks when Pete pulled out 2 pairs of chopsticks! As we ate we discussed routes and conditions and decided to climb one of the routes on the North West face of Aiguille du Tour, we would make the final decision of which route when we had the a closer view of the face in the morning. There is not a huge amount to do in mountain huts so once we had eaten so we retired to the ‘french room’ of the hut. After a couple of games of pass the pigs we went to sleep with the alarm set for 5am.

Pete woke me when the alarm sounded, we headed down the stairs and outside so as not to disturb the workers. We made a brew and inhaled some breakfast on the hut terrace . Once fuelled we headed away from the hut and towards the glacier. It was a warm night and the snow had only hardened a little but seemed safe enough – the forecast was for the freezing level to rise to around 3500 meters during the day so we knew speed and efficiency was key to a safe day climbing.

There was another pair of climbers who had left the hut about an hour before us, when we got to the glacier and roped up we saw their headtorches high on the glacier ahead of us. We followed their tracks over the glacier until we came across them siting on their rucksacks looking a bit perturbed – they were a little unsure about the crevasses and seemed to be waiting for us to discuss if it was safe to carry on. They wanted to team up and travel as a four but they wanted to do a route which involved more glacier travel, we wanted to get off the glacier as quickly as possible so we left them continued on up and left as they carried straight on.

After about 45 minutes of warm upward progress, spotting and navigating our way around the tell-tale depressions in the snow which mask the deep terrifying holes that lurk below we arrived at the bottom of our intend face. On the way up we had decided to climb the Couloir de le Breche which climbs 200 meters up to a col between the North and South summits of Aiguille du tour.  Being pretty much north facing the routes on this side of the mountain stay in the shade making them safer to climb in on warmer days – this does mean climbing in the bitter cold.

Having a last few glugs of water and filling our pockets with chewy bars we left our rucksacks. Tentatively we crossed the Bergshurund, the massive crevasse which guards the rock faces from unwanted visitors, to the start of the route. This was a peg belay at the bottom of a short but steep ice pitch. After sorting the ropes I headed up the ice onto some mixed ground, which was not easily protected, eventually I found a belay and Pete climbed up to join me. The second pitch was a similar blend of ice and mixed climbing. Pete took the third pitch heading up a terrifying rock slab covered in a veneer of thin ice and snow onto a deep snow slope traverse with some more mixed climbing to reach a belay. We had climbed about 3/4 of the route and it was 12.30 – we were not making fast enough progress.  With cold hands and worried about the glacier that had been being baked in sun for the last hour we decided to cut our losses and head back down to the bags.

At each rappel we had to build an anchor and after three rope lengths we were back at the first peg belay. We ended up having to re-seat the peg as it had become wobbly and worrying. Pete rappelled towards the bags, as he crossed the bergshurund his feet punched through the softened snow into the gaping abyss – the sun had not even been on it yet! Once he was safely over the bergshurund I followed down and the same happened to me. Looking into these holes fills me with a hollow, sick feeling, I get the same feeling when I’m swimming in the sea and its so deep and blue I can’t see the bottom. Theres a sensation that something big and scary is watching and waiting for me.

After gulping the last of the now super cold water (brain freeze!)  we retraced our steps onto the glacier back towards the refuge. The going was incredibly tedious as with every step we sank to our knees or waists in the soft snow. We were impressed by the route we had taken in the dark through the maze of crevasses on our way up. Thankfully we made it safely back to refuge, had a quick brew and reflected on the day. Refuelled we started the long trudge back to the valley. Georgie ran up and met us at the lift station in Le Tour with a flask of fortifying tea to fuel us for the last 30 minutes of walking back to the car park.

After pizza, beer, discussion of our next adventure and a génépi I was asleep by 9pm!

 

Photos of Dan and Noodles thanks to Pete - http://altitudinalnoodles.wordpress.com

The End of Summer

The TAR race seemed to mark the end of summer and beginning of autumn. The evenings are longer, the leaves are starting to turn, the snow is creeping its way down the mountain and winter bookings are starting to trickle in! We thought we would pull on our wooly typing gloves (the heating in out apartment block hasn’t come on yet!) and have a look back at the month before the TAR.

Georgie had the wire taken out of her hand which has healed quickly, without even leaving a scar but five weeks of non use has left it pretty weak. We have been climbing lots of high up easy stuff making the most of the lifts before they closed. Dan drove to the UK, via Fontainebleau the home of bouldering to meet up with his friend Neil for 5 days. Georgie went straight back the UK to hang out with friends and family. We travelled to up St Ives in Cambridgeshire, where we stared and stared and started at the endless horizon, so flat compared to the mountains here. We visited Dorest, saw the sea, ate sausages, roast dinners and drank real beer.
After being back in cham for less than 48 hours Georgie had already run 40km! Dan was out exploring new places to boulder. Him and Pete scrambled up to the Col du Passon (a place we have skied over) the views up the Argentiere Glacier are amazing, all the big, famous faces looming over the glacier, making you feel very small but very privileged to be in amongst giants. Now we look forward to  2 months off season, fingers crossed the weather holds!!

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Trail des Aiguilles Rouges – 52km 4131 positive height gain! 29th September 2013

A month after the TDS Georgie was running again! Only 52km this time! Although shorter it was still pretty brutal with tough, stiff climbs, very little flat and endless, ankle-twisting descents!

Dan and Mary were awesome support, cheering Georgie off from Chamonix at 4.30 AM. Dedicated or what!? They were able to pick her out from the swam of head torches as she ran down the high street. Georgie met the dawn on top of the Aiguillette des Houches at the end of the first big climb after about 3 and half hours of running.  At 36.5km she ran through Argentiere very tired, hurting and looking a bit worse for ware so Dan and Mary filled her up with banana and ran with her for a few km until she was talking sense and had some colour back. They left Georgie in Le Tour before her last gruelling climb to rush back to Argentiere, jump in the car and head round the the finish in Vallorcine.  Georgie stormed the up and flew down to Vallorcine, catching Mary and Dan a bit unawares. A successful sprint finish this time without tripping up over the line! Georgie finished 11th in her category out of 31, 235th overall out of 485 finishers and 643 starters. No finishers gillet but tartiflette, pudding and a glass of red!

An hour or two after the race Mary and Georgie where already discussing the next race. Dan sighed and realised he had become ultra-marathon-widower!