The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Monday, 31 January 2011

Over in Cogne

I'm climbing in and around Cogne this week.

Conditions here are very good at the moment with the ice in good shape & overnight temperatures of around minus 5.

After driving over we headed up and climbed Lauson, which was in the best shape I'd seen it in for some time. Ingnegneria also looked in great shape getting a couple of ascents during the short time we were there.

A climber on Lauson & Ingnegneria (the steep pillar) on the left

A climber nearing the top of the first pitch of Lauson

A climber seconding the first pitch of Ingnegneria

A few cm of snow yesterday & overnight, which petered out mid morning - cold again minus 5.

We headed up Valnontey and climbed Patri de droite which was great fun. It's a beautiful route and a real classic of the valley. You get a real feeling of being in the mountains, the rock scenery is amazing as are the views.

The line of Patri de droite with Patri de gauche just visible - both routes share the same first 3 pitches then split & take independent lines at the top

1st pitch of Patri

Looking out the ice cave at the top of the 1st pitch of Patri - The icefall you can see on the other side of the valley is Di Fronte al Tradimento with the Colonnato Central touching down which is rare.

The third main pitch on Patri with the top pitches just visible
A view of the top pitches of Patri - Patri de gauche & the steeper Patri de droite

A climber on Patri de gauche

Looking up at Patri de droite

Across the valley we had good views of Di Fronte al Tradimento with the rarely formed Colonnato Centrale touching down on the left & Erfaulet on the right

Off to Valeille tomorrow.

Safe climbing

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Memories of Alaska

Well, it's fast approaching the Alaskan climbing season & Talkeetna will just about be stirring from it's hibernation, after the long cold winter months.

Talkeetna is about three hours NW of Anchorage at the foot of the Denali National Park. On a clear day Denali & the other giants in the range mark the backdrop to the village.

An overgrown airstrip sidles the main street which is home to a few forgotten & delaperdated small aircraft which lie rotting (or for sale!) behind trees. Disused railway carrages & old trailer caravans make great homes for many of the locals eaking out a living here. Wild looking dogs roam the dusty, potholed & untarmaced roads. Prefabrictaed wooden huts selling local gifts, books, coffee and eatery's selling mixed grills of Elk and Bisen line the one main streets all coming alive as the snow reseeds. 

Then the constant drone of light aircraft indicate good weather in the mountains & climbers rush to the airstrip, weigh all their food & kit then wait in anticipation.  

The Fairview's the classic locals hangout with plenty of beer on tap & a table tennis table to while away the long nights. Top tip - never challenge a local or bet on winning a game of table tennis unless you're feeling VERY lucky or play at national level - I lost badly!

Paul Roderick & his superb team at Talkeetna Air Taxi, do a fantastic job flying climbers into all areas in the Alaskan Range. Paul a great character & probably the most experienced pilot flying out of Talkeetna, clocking up more hours than anyone to even the remotest glaciers & regions in the Alaskan range . A super friendly guy, always smiling and ever relaxed and calm even when the Twin Otters being thrown around by winds coming off the high mountains! Paul will always do everything he can to get climbers in and out even in the most marginal of conditions.

Sure the trip starts in the UK, but the real excitment starts when you're weighing in your kit & loading up the Twin Otter, taking off on the small Talkeetna airstrip and then heading into the mountains.

The scenary is just stunning with peaks that don't fail to inspire everytime you to look around or take another photo - you can't take enough photo's!  

The peaks and faces look small on the flight in and it's only when you land and look around you do you realise the scale of things.
Then as the Twin Otter takes off in a low drone and fades to a speck on the horizon there's silence.
lt's only then everything becomes real - the place you've researched, the glacier, the peaks around you, the sheer size/scale and remotness of it all.
Then it hits you - that it is only you and you alone for the next few weeks, self relient & every decision you make whatever you do is your choice and with whatever consiquences that may follow. As Dean put it 'It's Indian country out here!'

The Kitchatna's is such an impressive place and probably the most inspiring mountain region I've ever had the privelage to climb in

Steep and serious climbing really worked us hard on some of the pitches with subconsious thoughts nagging at us as to how remote we actually where.

It's such as amazing feeling, being up high in a remote region of mountains, tackling a new route or attempting to climb an unclimbed peak it's what adventure & friendships are all about.

Steep, narrow gullies of snow and ice split huge granite walls, snaking their way to unclimbed summits and ridges.

The views to more possibilities were both endless & inspiring at the same time.

The granite was some of the best I've climbed on, clean, sharp and above all unclimbed!

Great Views


Self relience

And some great food! fresh meat kept frozen in the huge freezer called the Tatina Glacier

Great adventures and great climbing

The drone gets loader and then we spot the Twin Otter a speck against the huge cliffs of Mt Jeffers. It looks so fragile as it sways ans then falls out of the sky and lands on our make shift runway in the new snow.

Paul jumps out smiling and taking pictures as it's a stunning day. Now were three.

We load up and 45mins later we're unloading on the hot tarmac which is the Talkeetna airstrip.

The Kitchatna's already felt a million miles away & our new surrounding and people a little alien. But a stack of pancakes with blue berry sauce, coffee followed but bacon ad eggs soon put that right and we sat in the sun watching the new world go by smiling.

What another great trip, cheers Dean


Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Icefalls around Arolla

Looking east to the Dent Blanche range on the way up to Arolla

Last week driving east along the Rhone Valley you could have been forgiven if you'd have thought that it was early summer. The snow had disappeared and the sun beamed down warming Sion to 12 degrees by lunchtime, it was unseasonally warm and had been for over a week now. Friends had been out cragging down in the valley and talked of warm rock and t-shirts. Here I was, winding my way south from Sion up into the Val D'Herren with thoughts of frozen waterfalls and some great icefall climbing.

The views were amazing and one of my favourite 4000m peaks stood like a giant above Les Hauderes. The Dent Blanche is just such an inspiring peak, we could have just stood there for hours starring, wondering, imagining & making plans for future adventures.

The Dent Blanche

But we where here for the icefalls and the day was already warming up. We chose Arolla for the obvious reason, it's high in altitude with all the climbs around 1900m/2000m.

We warmed up with the lefthand of the two Tunnel routes which form just above the road, which looked in great condition when we were driving in.

Tunnel Lefthand

The ice was in great condition. The flow was wide enough that if there had been three teams turn up at the same time, you could of all climbed it at the same time on three independent lines! It was fantastic climbing and we climbed it in three long pitches.

La Gouille

We stayed at Pension Lac Bleu which was opposite a great little ice climbing area called The Gouille. La Gouille's perfect for a day working technique and practicing leading which folk were doing when we arrived.

Just to the right of La Gouille is a long winding 400/450m gully that winds it's way up the mountainside under the Dent de Veisivi which looked fantastic. so we set out early the next morning to explore.

It was an opportunity for Adrian to practice his leading and for us both to wonder what was around the next corner.

The narrow gully was filled with snow separated by steep ice steps around blind corners, it was great fun.

The gully continued behind the back of a huge steep rock buttress where we saw two Eagles just floating on the warm thermals 80m away, it was an incredible place.

Adrian Leaving the gully and climbing the last two pitches

After getting down we headed up to Arolla itself for a coffee and enjoyed the most spectacular view across to the Aiguille de la Tsa

The Dent de Tsalion and the beautiful Aiguille de la Tsa

The next day we headed up the valley to Cascade Usine Electric which was probably the fattest I've ever seen it!

Cascade Usine Electric

We climbed the route in three pitches while working on our climbing technique, looking at ice anchors, building belays, teaching leading..........

Me teaching leading

We had a great day where I feel Adrian really turned a corner with his personal climbing.

The following day we headed back down the valley a short way and climbed the Righthand Tunnel icefall.

Tunnel Righthand

The route was again in great shape with fantastic climbing on the steep first pitch which lead into an easier second pitch with another steeper pitch to finish.

Me leading the first pitch on Tunnel Righthand

The climbing was more technical today as the temperatures fell sharply overnight making the ice very hard and brittle. You had to really work any pockets or small features not to fracture the ice and you needed a lot more care in your footwork, as the crampons were only just finding purchase on the very surface of the ice and could easily skit off.

A team starting up the first pitch of Tunnel Righthand while we were abseiling down.

Adrian sorting kit at the base of the route.

Further down the valley in Evolene the classic Cascade Coop just above the village was hanging in there despite the warmer temperatures and the fact it gets a significant amount of sun in the day.

Cascade Coop

Will seconding the top pitch of Cascade Coop

We had a great week with some fantastic conditions although we were high, back down in the valley driving home it was 12 degrees again. Lower areas such as Kandersteg have had a real hammering as have any routes at lower altitudes below 1400m/1500m or routes that get a lot of sun.

Having said that It has started to go cold again and the forecast is for it to get colder. A slow freeze will be great, creating more ice & bringing routes quickly back into condition again - fingers crossed.
Be careful though - I spoke to a friend in Cogne today and he said that it's also been very warm over there as well, but last night it was minus 19! - these quick overnight massive swings in temperature can make steeper routes super fragile - be careful.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

BMG Cascade Training Day

I was climbing over in Arolla yesterday where the ice was in fantastic shape with all the routes well formed and fat.

Having said that there's a massive thaw on at the moment with temperatures down in the Rhone Valley bottom around Martigney at 14 degress!

We chose Arolla due to it's high elevation and it was still around freezing when we arrived around 9.30am which was great. The temperature did rise to around 5 degrees which was ok if not a little wet but far better than other venues at a lower elevation.

Bruce leading the first pitch on one of the tunnel climbs

It was a great day coaching/instructing some of the new BMG (British Association of Mountain Guides) applicants in icefall climbing.

It was great to be around these keen, highly motivated guys who are very accomplished climbers in their own right, but are just starting out on the BMG training scheme to become IFMGA Guides.

Bruce high up on the first pitch looking at client care & safety

We managed to cover most things surrounding guiding the icefalls in the day and if not, I gave them food for thought on area's to research and idea's/techniques to go away and practice.

It's such a massive subject surrounding the ice eg temperature effects, guiding techniques, client care, dangers....... and even if I'd of had them for three days it still wouldn't have been enough time. But having said that, these guys are like sponges and it's a great foundation for them with plenty of time ahead to build their experience. 

Matt enjoying the steeper left line & teaching technique

Bruce also enjoying the steeper left line teaching technique

The thaw has continued today, but it's due to go cold again monday and through next week. The low routes have all been effected by the unseasonally warm weather but the routes at the higher venues have been getting fatter.

So there's still plenty of ice around, more so than in previous years with a number of routes touching down and forming fatter.

Roll on next week!