Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Solo on Dolent

Mont Dolent at left. Its summit is the triple border between France, Italy, and Switzerland. I soloed the Left Gully Variations (AI4+) to the top of the large snowfield.

The left of the three corner systems.
While Erik and John were busy on Les Droites, I figured I would use the good weather to solo an ice route in the upper Argentiere. I planned to try the 1200ft Little Viking (AI4), but when I arrived there were already 3 parties en-route. This would mean more falling debris than I could deal with, since, when youre alone, you can deal with essentially none.
I tried to be flexible, since I was in a cirque with literally hundreds of climbs and ski descents. My next go-to was the Left Gulley Variations (AI4+, 1500ft) on Mont Dolent. This is probably the most fun I've ever had soloing: conditions were perfect, and I was confidently pulling through vertical sections on one-swing sticks, all in ski boots. 

The sunny weather was following a minor storm, so the spindrift was intense for a few hours in the morning. Quickly realizing it wouldn't knock me off my tools, I learned to pause and look down, keeping the hood up. A party started up the route behind me, pitching the whole thing out. I pulled out of the crux pitches and into easier terrain, finishing my climb on a large snowfield. I could have traversed left on 45 degree snow to reach the ridge bordering Switzerland, but instead I opted to descend with the warming afternoon temps, which might bring more than just spindrift.

On the way down I used a 60m length of 5.5mm tech cord that Colin Haley gave me. With a combination of rappells and lots of downclimbing, I made it back to the base and jumped over the bergschrund. A few nice powder turns took me back down the Argentiere and into the valley.

Backing up a bad in-situ v-thread with my own. Tech cord works well, especially when all the pulls are on ice.

The party behind me bailed, maybe I was showering them with too much snow/ice or maybe they didnt like the spindrift. I was surprised to booty an ice screw while soloing. doesnt happen much.
 This was the last good weather we had: a wet Foehn wind set in hard and in the last 10 days the powder was stripped away, visibility was low every day, 120km winds strafed ridges, and a layer of red dust from the Sahara coated everything. 
looking back up the route after rappelling

Still getting out, every... single... day...

Erik leads on Pinnochio (M6), on of the best mixed routes on the Tacul.

A good ski-tour in heinous weather with Rob Smith. Rob and Colin were preparing for the Infinite Spur on their Alaska trip this May.

I heard Colin Haley was in town, and I got his contact info from Erik. He was busy, but we managed to get out for a day. Here we are starting a simul-solo of the Mallory-Porter on the Aguille du midi. We climbed 5000 vertical feet in a bit under 3 hours, 3000 ft of which were exposed and (sortof) technical nordwand. I learned alot from (annoyingly) picking his brain, but I think I learned the most from simply watching him climb. He moves with the casual looseness and economy of someone walking down the sidewalk, as he's pulling through full consequence mixed moves, all ropeless. That's the result of 15 years of high-volume in the high alpine. He has got to be one of the fastest and most confident solo climbers around, but he's also a pretty approachable dude. I'm thankful he was able to get out with me, and he answered some pretty weird questions. I'd start watching the newsfeeds for his solo trips if were you.

The Bossons Glacier

John Collis sidesteps through a rock crux on one of the more technical on-piste skis we did. There is a wonderful spine on the Grand Montets that holds powder longer than everything else.
Lots of "foot stuff" was goin down in our apartment.

Here john clears a dead toenail. I was overdriving my feet on a gripped solo on one particularly cold day. The result was two blackened nails. I had a toenail so swoolen that I was willing to consider Erik's glowing hot needle method, apparently popular with runners. The ketatin stuff that makes up your toenails will actually melt and boil. This means you can push a hot needle through, and then into your nailbed, at which point you'll feel it. The pressure was such that blood from my toenail squirted the ceiling of the bathroom. It definitely helped.


The glacial museum in the Mer De Glace.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Argentiere: skiing the Barbey

On the Milieu glacier, John checks his skins. We climbed to around 4000m, at which point Erik and John skiied the South face, while I dropped into the east face alone.
We toured up as 3, and I hinted that I might go down a different way. I told them I had a GPS and knew how to get back to France. I was interested in skiing a steep face, and like most of the skiing I had done this trip, I wanted to go alone.  I knew the sun would be leaving the face, and it was a race to beat the re-freezing that would happen around 11am. I was 'in a mood' and wanted the challenge of hard conditions in steep terrain. So, instead of dropping back down south facing corn with Erik and John, I decided to drop in blind (or onsight) on the East Face.
Looking back down the Milieu glacier/Sface route. The beautiful North faces of Les Droites at left and Aguille Verte at right.

The summit of Argentiere

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful faces I've had a chance to ski. The tour begins at Grandes Montets, from the valley in Chamonix. After skinning and then booting up the Milieu glacier, you arrive at almost 4000m, straddling the border between France and Switzerland. After that the plan was to ski back around the North face, and to climb up the backside of the Col du Chardonnet, skiing corn back into France in the afternoon.
Borrowed overview photo
The first few turns dropped off blind. Skiing a face like this "onsight" takes a certain amount of faith. I had one tool on my pack and another in my hand, looped through my ski pole strap. I trusted my edges to bite hard, but was ready to arrest anyway. I could have climbed out of a bad situation, so dropping in blind didn't feel entirely unreasonable.

The first half of the route is rocky and exposed, with a section over 50 degrees in full consequence terrain, given the E3 exposure rating.

reasonably good skiing above cliffs

After chattering, icy turns in the crux, I found pockets of soft, windblown snow that inspired confidence. Since it was still variable I didn't loosen up the turns much. I eventually got into heavy corn, and out of the exposed sections, making wide sloppy turns as fast as I could before it would re-freeze.
This guy knows how to relax. Here is the view back into France from the Col du Chardonnet

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mary Poppins: Solo attempt

Yes, I tried to solo a route called Mary Poppins. Yes, I failed. And yes, this is hilarious.
Mary Poppins is an AI4 serac route in between the Col du Plan and the Aguille Du Midi. I was originally hoping to solo Fil a Plomb, but another party beat me to it and it quite obviously would be ill advised to climb under them and try to pass. With the wind slab problem from the past night I decided to do a quick lap up and down a simple ice route. I had a rope and a screw to v-thread with.
The Aguille Du Midi from Brevent.
plan du l'aguille

 Soloing is normally the best way to minimize exposure on something like a serac, but electing to descend the same way, while usually quicker than climbing, sortof defeats the purpose.
The ice of the serac had a beautiful wood-grain texture.

I ended up soloing through some 80+ degree sections of neve in a nice runnel leading up to the left edge of the serac. It was very cold, and I was moving quickly but still wearing nearly all my clothes. I felt confident in the sticky, aerated ice, pulling through a thin, vert section on shallow but carefully tested placements. At this point I had climbed something like 3 pitches. The climbing got easier next to the serac, allowing me to relax as the difficulty let off and I reached a point mostly out of the way of the calving hazard.

I climbed an increasingly steep snow pitch, getting very wet. I tunneled in for security, something I wouldn't have done as aggressively had I not been unroped. This got me soaked. At the top of the snow bulge I pulled into a small ice cave. All around me was a strange, broken series of ice roofs. I pulled off my wet shell and put on a down jacket.  I didnt want to solo brittle, overhanging serac ice in my shivering state, even if it was only 15 or so feet of hard climbing. Not spotting an easier way, I decided to start descending on v-threads. 

nice patterns on the serac.

Mary poppins climbs the left edge of the serac, while Fil a plomb follows ice smears on the left wall.
The serac made some groaning sounds as I was rapping down. I nearly shat my pants.  I did some downclimbing in the easier sections, which may have been faster.

The broken ice roof where I turned around.
rappeling from the cave.
This was the first V-thread, which I dug inside a strange cave under the ice roof.

An older wind-slab avelanche scar on the way down.

saw some crazy scando mo-fos who built snowlerblade approach skis. Its been joked about many a time by climbers and skiers alike, but I never thought I'd see it.  I guess its fitting that I saw it here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chevalier, the Tacul, and something every day

Looking down the Chevalier

Chevalier couloir at right, with a long section of turns over 50 deg.

From Col Des Cristaux, Upper Argentiere

On the Triangle du Tacul

John Collis leading on the Triangle Du Tacul
Mer De Glace

starting up to the Col des Cristaux
Chevalier Couloir at right

The Dru