Sunday, September 26, 2010

Colton Macintyre

2 days ago Jon Griffith and myself climbed the Colton Macintyre on the Grande Jorasses north face. This was my third route on the face, and although not the best in terms of climbing quality, it certainly meant the most. Over the last two years i've been poised to climb the route so many times, and once i even found myself at the schrund before abnormally warm temps turned us around.
       Jon had a similar history with the route, so we were more than chuffed when we topped out, knowing we'd finally put it to rest.

The North Face of the Grande Jorasses, definitely the most beautiful face in the European Alps.

We made a relatively late start from our bivi, which was located about a kilometre from the face. The schrund was negotiated with no huge drama and after this we moved together for 400 metres up the first icefield. The initial icefield is pretty grey at the moment which means a brutal warm up for the calves.
      This led to the goulotte which disects the first rockband. The ice here is good and although steep in places its really straightforward.

The Goulotte through the first rockband.

         From the top of this section, the ice crux is clearly visible. I was surprised by its appearance- i'd always expected this pitch to be really intimidating up close but it didn't look bad. After crossing the second icefield  Jon sent the bulging ice smear with style regardless of the completely inadequate protection. From here we moved up the third icefield and in to the bowels of the rearing headwall.
     All the times i've climbed on the north face, i've been struck by just how 3D it is. The way the Walker and Croz spurs rear out, they form huge steep flanks which in the case of the Croz, forms the immense monolithic wall and ramp systems taken by No Siesta and Manitua. On the top section of the Colton Mac you really feel like you're entering the face, deeper and deeper you go up the final icefield before launching up the headwall formed by the right flank of the upper Walker spur.

The ice crux

Jon getting committed on the ice crux.

Me heading off to find the third icefield.

Me with the huge walls taken by "Directe De L' Amitié", "No Siesta" and "Manitua" to my side.

The upper amphitheatre drawing us in.
Although by far the shortest section of the route, the headwall is definitely the most technically absorbing part. The first three pitches all feature quite tenuous thin ice/mixed climbing with poor protection. We did a bit of an alternative start to the headwall, starting it lower down and more direct, which Jon assured me would pay off in the long run. As to whether it did save us time i'm not sure, but it made for an excellent first pitch, with a devious little traverse on very small rock dimples with a sling on a loose spike a fair way below.
       We reached the headwall 5hours 30 after crossing the schrund. But the headwall slowed us a little and we topped out 11 hours after starting the route. We made a slight route finding cock up half way up the headwall which cost us time, and we do believe that the headwall is quite dry right now. At least compared to when Jon rapped the route in the winter of 2009 while photographing Ueli Steck.
Starting the headwall. The ice was abit useless after what you can see in this photo, until the top of the route.

Loose, tenuous and a little scary.

After topping out and enjoying some sun, we descended in to Italy via the rocky rib straight from Pointe Walker and ran underneath the ominous serac which heavily threatens the Voie Normale. After a scary all-fours crawl over one very unstable crevasse, we reached the raps to the Rocher du Reposoir and a few hours later the Boccalatte hut, 6 hours after reaching the summit.

A quick stop to melt snow on the descent. Caught in a long exposure image with assistance from a full moon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Its warm....

Inbetween some building work in town, Jon Griffith and myself managed to squeeze in a quick attempt at a route on the Brenva face of Mont Maudit. I've had my eye on this route for some time, as the climbing looks stunning. I've always been awestruck by the faces which span between the Kuffner and Brenva Spur. Although not huge (7-800 metres), the faces are complex and the routes are very rarely climbed.
       It was all looking great, the route, the weather, the company at Col De La Fourche. We made an early start so we could be established on the first technicalities before sunrise. Upon reaching the bergschrund it was pretty obvious that it was far too warm to be climbing a south facing ice and mixed line. It was about +2 degrees and thats 2 hours before sunrise! Although highly annoying, it was the right call, but hard to tear myself away from the schrund- even when you know somethings a really bad idea it can still be tempting!
O well, its healthy to fail sometimes.
A little known but really cool face of Mont Blanc/Mont Maudit.
      Things are generally shaping up pretty good on the big faces, i think this Autumn could be a good one. I however am going to be taking as much work as i can for the next two months, as i just bought a ticket to Bueonos Aires in mid November,  dos meses hasta Cerro Torre!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The summer's pretty much over, and here in Cham things have finally cooled down and are starting to look autumnal. I haven't really been up to much big stuff this summer minus the odd excursion. Instead i've tried to dedicate my time to work and training, unfortunately the working part wasn't as productive as i would have liked!!....

Looking a little beasted (and snotty) on Mont Blanc summit after a 2hour 50 run to the summit. A good cardio session.
Freney Pillar about a month ago.

Most of the "work" over the last 4 weeks has been towards a trip to Cerro Torre in Agentina this November. It's been a real steep learning curve trying to seek corporate funding. Its hard to perfect a proposal in such an effective way that some desky in a plush office many miles away will find it interesting enough to read and be generous with his/her annual marketing budget. You can't help but feel a bit cheeky as well, asking for a lump of cash for a project which to a climber is fascinating and exciting, but to 99.99% of the world is more dull than scrabble. However, when you're climbing with a professional photographer and SLR camera these projects start becoming more appealing to people.

Cerro Torre
 Anyways, its in the hands of the gods for the time being, with proposals in the post and fingers crossed. Its blatantly gonna be a credit card job.....

Mental pain
So things are starting to cool down. Autumn's great in the alps. Winter conditions but less brutal temps and longer days make it THE time for big and fast stuff. Its the official Jorasses season, and i expect over the next couple months i'm gonna be walking up to the base of the north face more often than i should to watch it progress. (looking a little dry as of a week ago).

     Jon Griffith and myself kicked off our autumn yesterday with the Boivin/Vallencant (aka Cechinnel Nominee), a beautiful line up the grand Grand Pilier on Mont Blanc's south face. Its a route we'd both wanted to do for a while, the elegant linking ramps which form the meat of the route entice the eye whenever you're at the Col de la Fourche.

North face of the Blanche De Peutrey and the Pilier d'Angle, the Cechinnel takes the linking ramps on the lower part of the pilier then the fatter ramps higher up. The first 200 metres is hidden. Then the skyline arete to the summit of Mont Blanc, (off the picture).

After a 3 a.m. start we completed the awkward and loose raps off Col Moore and played a little russian roullete with the Brenva seracs before we crossed the triple Bergschrund and located the initial ramp. We soloed and simul climbed the whole route apart from a 10 metre easy aid section at the crux, which was bare of ice. After breaking a trail up the final 150 metre snowfield we reached the top of the face 4 and a half hours after starting. Chuffed with our time we carried on plowing a sometimes deep trail up the upper Peutrey arete for another 600 vertical metres until the summit of the Blanc. We raced down the three monts and made it down to the midi before last lift- Ahh chamonix's great!

Me in the early light.

Me about to start the crux.

One of the easy upper goullottes.

The route's in great nick apart from the crux, get on it!