The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Saule 6+ Breitwanflue, Kandersteg

We climbed Saule last week a steep pillar on the Breitwanflue, high above Kandersteg in Switzerland.
On the way down, I took some photo's of a couple of climbers on Flying Circus a steep, overhanging mixed route that starts in the back of the huge cave Saule forms over. 
Anyway Ramon Marin got in touch after seeing my photo of him on Flying Circus on this blog & after exchanging images he's emailed these great photo's of me on the route - many thanks Ramon

Me high on Saule 6+ Breitwanflue, Kandersteg, Switzerland

Saule 6+ Breitwanflue, Kandersteg, Switzerland

Saule 6+ Breitwanflue, Kandersteg, Switzerland

Good climbing


Friday, 25 February 2011

Over to Cogne

With the warmer weather in Kandersteg, we headed over to Cogne for the last few days of last week.

Snow fell as we drove over the Grand Saint Bernard, which felt strange after it having been so dry & sunny for so long.
It was still snowing as we parked up in Lillaz at the entrance to the valley of Valeille, a few kilometres up the road from Cogne. We headed a short way into Valeille & took the steep but short track into E Tutto Relativo.
We passed a number of teams on their way down & seemed to have timed it just right as we had plenty of time and the place to ourselves.

Colin leading the 1st pitch of E Tutto Relativo

Colin heading up the 2nd pitch of E Tutto Relativo

The following day we made an early start & headed up into the back of Valnontey to have a look at Repentance Super.

The cloud was down and it was still snowing gently as we left the car. We headed up the valley, making fresh tracks in the new snow as we went. There wasn't a sole around and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

Our only view of Repentance Super towering steeply above us

The route looked in great shape, although on closer inspection it was actually very wet & running with water. It had been warm & cloudy the previous day, cloudy again overnight and the ice hadn't re frozen. Routes like this one & Rubezahl over in Kandersteg do take a huge drainage and will often be wet without a good freeze. But on the warmer side of just wet is when you do need to be very careful, as the ice becomes very blue & the sheer weight of the ice saturated by a higher water content can bring these super steep free standing routes down. 

Anyway I headed up and got absolutely drenched working my way up newly formed icicles & fragile chandeliers which had formed over a foot thick, on top of the old ice, making it difficult to get good axe placements & solid screws.
I worked further right & managed to get a belay on the right edge of the flow out of the water and away from all the newly formed fringes of overhanging ice.

Colin seconding the 1st pitch of Repentance Super

Looking back across at Colin, the ice looked very blue & completely saturated with water. The whole icefall looked very heavy right through to it's core.
Colin joined me drenched & wondered if we should bail from this point. Looking up, the ice looked overhanging it was that steep with fringes formed over the top of ice bulges re frozen with more fringes formed over the top of them.

Anyway I thought I could see a drier line up the righthand edge which would go, so I headed off.

Me heading up the 2nd pitch of Repentance Super

The climbing on this route is just fantastic, totally absorbing, steep, strenuous and very athletic in the climbing. As well with that we found the ice very fragile, super hollow making it difficult to get good axe placements and solid screws in, due to the fact the ice we were climbing on was newly formed over the older more solid ice.
Steep sections of bulges and fragile fringes kept pushing us out making the climbing steeper & overhanging in places.

I started up the third pitch on an overhanging bottomless fringes of ice 10m in height before it filled out and joined the main flow. I quietly stepped up onto the thin icicle points free hanging 90m off the deck on hollow axe placements where you could see the axe picks through the other side of the ice. But I was heading for safer ground and half way up the curtain managed to get a solid screw.

I wasn't sure whether the route would go or not, until I pulled over the top - awesome.

Colin pulling over the top of Repentance Super

What a great day, we got back totally knackered by enjoying the glow of having climbed one of the great classics of the area. It's amazing how the ice can change as I've climbed the route before but it's never felt that demanding before & I'm sure another day it'll feel different again.

The following day we headed up and climbed Lillaz Gully. It wasn't a come down after the day before even though the route is a lot easier technically as this is one of the best ice routes of it's grade in the valley with a real mountain route feel about it.

Colin heading up the first pitch of Lillaz Gully

Looking up at the upper pitches of Lillaz Gully

Colin heading up one of the upper pitches of Lillaz Gully

Me pulling through the narrows on Lillaz Gully

The last day we drove down the valley towards Aosta & climbed a great route up the side of and above an avalanche tunnel. Sounds noisey but actually is a superb route and in great condition this year. A steep first pitch grade 4 leading to two easier pitches of 3/3+ above and then a couple of grade 2 pitches above those if you're not to pushed with time. It was great for Colin to finish off the week doing some leading.

We had a great week and an inspiring drive back to Switzerland, already making plans for the summer and next winter again!

It was an even longer drive for me, as I dropped Colin off and then made my way back to the UK, as I'm up in Scotland next week and then over in Canada icefall climbing for 2 weeks after that.

Now I'm enjoying some time at home.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Blue Magic

We had a great day yesterday climbing up above Kandersteg on a route called Blue Magic.

Blue Magic grade 5+

It was perfect conditions only around minus 2, but it stayed that way for the whole day. Considering the warm weather we've been having, I think we caught it just right with the ice having the feeling of being welded to the rock behind & totally dry, but not brittle.

Me half way up the first pitch on Blue Magic

Me working the second pitch of blue Magic

Colin following the second pitch on Blue Magic

Me heading up the third pitch on Blue Magic

The route is 6 pitches in length, but we linked the bottom 2 pitches together giving us 5 great pitches of steep & technical ice to climb.

Blue Magic clearly stands out as the continuous long streak of ice on the big wall on the right.

It's a fantastic view up the valley to the surrounding peaks, which you can see by taking only a short walk from the centre of town.

Kandersteg's a great steep ice climbing venue & it's amazing how this winter it's been fantastic conditions, then it all fell down & became washed out in the warm weather, but it's since reformed in the recent colder spell, giving superb climbing. However it is starting to look thin again on some of the routes and again a little washed out, but it will be interesting to see how the season continues & what the weather does.

Safe climbing


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Over in Kandersteg

Staying with Herman & Peter Hari at the Hotel Alpina in Kandersteg for the first half of this week.

We had an early start & headed up to the Breitwangflue, which is the huge NW face under the Dundenhorn above Kandersteg.

With the lack of snow here in the Alps, it meant that we had fantastic access to which normally is an arduous walk up to Alp Giesenen & then into the routes.

The rarely well formed steep column of Saule 6+

We headed to the far end of the huge Brietwangflue Wall to climb the steep column of Saule. It rarely forms well & the climbing today was steep & strenuous, with very technical featured ice making it hard to get good solid axe placements and solid ice srews.

A view out of the cave behind the steep pillar of Saule on the right.

Me leading over the lower featured cone that forms the base of Saule & onto the steep pillar.

The lower features that make up the base cone from which the pillar is then formed are like huge cawliflower ears. They form as the water falls & splashes up, freezing as it does so & in this case creating ears over a metre high which were very fragile, hollow and difficult to protect.

The main pillar was very steep, featured and overhanging in places as frozen bosses of water had formed over the top of other bulges over the top of the pillar, making it strenuous & difficult to find good axe placements.

Colin topping out on the Pillar

The view across the valley from the top of the pillar

A team trying what I think is Flying Circus M10

On the way down you pass under the super classic 'Crack Baby' which looks in great condition with a team high up on the route.

Good climbing


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Cogne this week

I'm over in Cogne again this week as it seems to have the best of the ice at the moment.

I'm staying at Residence Chateau Royal, which has a number of self-catering appartments and is right in the centre of the village.

This lovely old listed building used to be the King's house, hence 'Chateau Royal' when he visited Cogne on hunting trips before the Gran Paradiso National Park existed.
The King hunted Ibex in the park which in the end he gave to Italy as a gift, The area then became the first National Park of its kind in Europe which they then called the Gran Paradiso.
The Commune of Cogne took it on and more recently used part of the residence as a library, part area for local gatherings and events. The Club Alpina Italiano also had a tie with the residence for many years.

The commune then sold the residence to the region of Aosta due to ever increasing running costs and the need for much renevation, as the Aosta region took on & looked after many listed buildings of this nature.
But in the end the spiraling costs of many of these such buildings forced the Aosta region to sell the building privatley at auction.
The Famille Herren who own & run the Hotel La Barme in Valnontey bought the residence and both Andreas, Stefano and their father worked long hours renovating the 12 rooms inside into self-catering appartments.
Last winter they opened for the first time and this week gave me the opportunity to stay here and see the place for myself. 

It's super convenient for the shops & cafe's with plenty of free parking right outside. We've taken a simple studio with an en-suite toilet/shower, 2 beds and a small kitchen/breakfast bar area which is plenty big enough for just the two of us. It works out pretty cheap buying the food in the small supermarket and going self-catering as long as you like pasta which is all we seem to have cooked this week!

Anyway, very warm weather here again with it still around 21/22 degrees around midday but its freezing well over night and the routes out of the sun are holding up well.

We climbed Lillaz Gully yesterday which was in fantastic condition with great ice filling out even the mixed sections higher up which tend to normally be dry rock sections

Sagi seconding one of the lower pitches in Lillaz Gully

Sagi climbing the narrows which is normally a dry/mixed rocky section

A view from Lillaz gully down to the village of Lillaz, with the south side of Mt Blanc in the distance

The south side of Mt Blanc seen from the top of Lillaz Gully

In Valeille, the routes I know that are still in great shape are Stella Artice, Cold Couloir, E Tutto Relativo & Pattinaggio Artistico. Routes in Valnontey such as Patri, L'Acheronte, Monday Money, Flash Estivo & Fulmana di Monety are also in very good condition.

Keep out of the sun and you'll have a safe time.

Safe climbing


Well it feels like summer here in the Alps, with midday temperatures in Leysin a crazy 34 degrees on the balcony & in the sun!

Leysin hasn't seen any reasonable amount of snow since early January & looking at the forecast only flurries are predicted into the middle of next week.

The weather besides the lack of snow and warm temps affecting the ice has been amazing, crystal clear skies with fantastic views across the Rhone Valley.

This is the view across the Rhone Valley from the top of Leysin near to the Grand Chalet

The west face of the Grand Mouveran with the classic South ridge on the right

I'm climbing over in Cogne again this week where they have more snow, colder overnight temperatures and still some great ice to climb at a higher altitude.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

Valsavarenche today

We drove around to Valsavarenche today, it was minus 13 at La Barme in Valnontey this morning but high cloud swept in bringing a warm wind & it was 10 degrees when we got back to the car mid-afternoon!

A quick check of the meteo when we got back revealed that in fact it's going to be another week of beau soleil - Ho hum!

Anyway, we had a great day climbing Rovenaud, which in about half way up Valsavarenche just above the small hamlet of the same name. The route was in great condition & a few short steps led to the first main pitch.

A climber on the 1st main pitch of Rovenaud

A team heading up the 1st pitch of Rovenaud after we'd abseiled down

Jesper topping out of the 1st pitch on Rovenaud

The canyon continues with a short walk around the corner, with the canyon becoming deeper & more atmospheric, with a steeper second pitch.

Abseling back down the 2nd main pitch of Rovenaud

Me leading the steeper 2nd pitch of Rovenaud

Placche De Rovenaud just to the right of the ice route Rovenaud which we climbed today

There are a number of harder 2 pitch routes which have all formed well this year and look in great condition. The routes form initial steep slabs leading to long vertical pillars which have all had a number of ascents recently.

Good climbing


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cogne Ice

Woke up to another sunny day, with the overnight temps here at La Barme in Valnontey of minus 14

We drove a mile down the valley past Epinal to one of the tunnels protecting the road from avalanches. It was only minus 5 where we parked up and in the shade all day, which I felt was the best of both worlds.

The route is 3 pitches, with the 1st pitch being the steepest, climbing vertically up and over the side wall of the tunnel & onto the roof.

The wet weather they had here in November had created plenty of run off, coupled with the cooling winter weather & freezing temperatures, had formed a fat steep pillar of ice spilling out over the tunnel roof.

The ice was beautiful, very featured, chandeliery in places but almost plastic when placing the axes.

The climbing really worked you're technique and was so good we dropped the rope back down and climbed it a couple more times.

Jesper working hard on the middle steep section

A team on the 3rd pitch ahead of us

After the first pitch you're now standing on the roof of the tunnel. It's a huge area with no road noise and a feeling of being on the side of a steep canyon with snow all around. The second pitch eases off a little as you climb 40m up and left to a flat area and a chain belay. The 3rd pitch continues on up slightly steeper ground and then into more of a gully to the top. There are a couple more short steps higher up, if you have time in the day to explore.

Back to Cogne for a coffee and a relax in the afternoon sun!


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Valeille today

Woke up to a beautiful morning today and an overnight temperature of minus 16.

We drove up to Lillaz & walked into Valeille, which felt super cold down in the valley bottom.
I decided to change my initial plan & climb a route on the east side of the valley getting the morning sun after the super cold overnight temps. 

The view north up into Valeille, walking in from Lillaz

I love these signs, keeping us of the ski de fonde tracks & on the straight & narrow!

One of the first routes in Valeille on the west side - Lillaz Gully

The classic Lillaz Gully looked in great condition today, with a team climbing the route yesterday, putting in a good track up to the base of the first pitch.

On the west side of Valeille - a team on Stella Artice which looked great, with Inachevee Conception on the right

A climber enjoying the 2nd pitch of Stella Artice

Tuborg, the first ice route on the righthand (east) side of the valley as you walk in from Lillaz, which looked in great condition

Il Candelabro di Coyote which again looked in very good condition, with it looking fatter than I've seen it for a long time. The route is the 2nd line you pass when walking in from Lillaz on the righthand (east) side of the valley after Tuborg.

The classic Cold Couloir on the opposite (west) side of the valley to Tuborg, Coyote and the route which we climbed today was Chandelle Levure.

Cold Couloir's a fantastic route which is long and has a big mountain route feel about it.
It's a long day finishing in a huge bowl high on the mountain, which is the main feed for the route and the cause of many accidents. The bowl/catchment regularly fills with snow, which then releases down the route, hence the huge avalanche cone you regularly see at the bottom.
Be careful, but done in the right conditions, it's one of the best routes at it's grade.

Another shot of Stella Artice to also show you the feed from above the route.

Chandelle Levure which is the next route along from Il Candelabro del Coyote

We had fantastic conditions on the route today & this is Jesper seconding the first pitch of Chandelle Levure

Jesper abseiling the 3rd steeper pitch of Chandelle Levure 

Me enjoying the sun & great climbing today!

A great Panorama looking across to the routes on the other side of the valley - Cold Couloir just right of centre & Stella Artice seen on the left.

You've got to love the climbing here.