Alpine Mountaineering

Chamonix Climb and Ski

Dave and I were climbing and skiing around Chamonix last week. It was a very brief visit and we wanted to stay local so our options were limited. The skiing was very good after the recent snowfalls, but access to the ice climbing was less than ideal and a lot of the climbing in this and other areas was under too much snow. We climbed several routes at the Crémerie and the Argentiere Left Bank and had one day skiing. Dave had done a lot of skiing in the military in the past but it was his first time on skis for 20 years! Like riding a bike, it soon came back and by the end of the day we were off piste in the trees with ideas about trying some ski touring in the future!

More photos here.

Descending the labyrinth after climbing the Dufourspitze, Monte Rosa

Alastair and Thomas have just returned home after a successful alpine trip climbing the Weissmies, Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze) and finishing with an ascent of Mont Blanc. The weather was excellent when required, but it was very wet  on the first couple of days when we travelled over from Chamonix to Saas Grund and made the most of the conditions with an ascent of the SW Rib of the Jegihorn. After staying at Hohsaas we climbed the Weissmies, then travelled over to Zermatt for the Monte Rosa climb. We enjoyed perfect conditions on Mont Blanc ascending from the Tete Rousse Hut and stopping at the Gouter on the way down. This meant we crossed the Grand Couloir in the early morning on both the ascent and descent and avoided afternoon rockfall. Sadly there was a fatal accident on the 3 Monts route on Tuesday morning, a serac fall triggering an avalanche that swept a party of 3 into the bergschrund. There are details and photos of the avalanche here. There have been several avalanches on the face this season.

Matterhorn Week

Last week was a Matterhorn week. The weather was bad on Monday so we did some essential gear shopping, drove over to Saas Grund and went to the Hohsaas Hut. We had a rock training day on the Jegihorn followed by a second night at the hut and an acclimatisation day on the Weissmies via the Trift Glacier, which was in excellent condition. We were able to return to the valley before lunchtime and make arrangements to hire a second guide so we had a 1:1 for the Matterhorn ascent. We also had chance for some R&R at the Schonblick Hotel to recharge our batteries for the forthcoming climb. All went smoothly on Thursday and we met Philipp from Leukerbad at the Schwarzsee restaurant and walked up to the Hornli Hut. After a comfortable night in the hut the ascent seemed very relaxed on account of fewer people on the route with the reduced hut capacity this year, and good conditions. Both Ed and Richard made the summit and we ended a long day on Friday by driving back to Chamonix. Photos here.

Bionnassay Traverse

Andrew was visiting Europe with the Australian Police Rugby League Team, and he wanted to see the Alps and do some climbing whilst he was here. His team won the Police Rugby League World Cup, then he had a few days off before joining me for 5 days alpine climbing last week. We started with the Cosmiques Ridge and then decided to take advantage of the good conditions to make a traverse of the Domes de Miage  and Aiguille de Bionnassay. After that we wound down with a relaxing day on Via Corda Alpina and a pizza in Les Houches. So all in all, Andrew had a pretty successful European Tour! Photos here.

Hornli Jam

Dave and I climbed the Matterhorn last Sunday. We had hoped to do the Zmutt Ridge, which had been in very good condition. However, on traversing the Breithorn as our training climb we realised that significant fresh snow had fallen during a recent spell of bad weather. We suspected that the new snowfall combined with subsequent very warm temperatures had put the Zmutt out of condition, and this was confirmed by a call to Kurt Lauber at the Hornli Hut. We considered various alternative plans, and finally settled for an ascent of the Hornli Ridge. After some light entertainment at Scharzsee (see photo here) we headed up to the hut where I was amazed to bump into Nuru Sherpa, our Sirdar on several trips to Nepal including our 2007 Everest Expedition. Nuru is working at the Hornli Hut this summer.

Dave said this about the Zermatt trip: “Thanks once again for the outstanding time we had again in your back yard.  Shame about the Zmutt plan but it could still be a possibility in future.  A good excuse to keep fit.  What we managed to achieve though was just brilliant.  Great experiences throughout and I feel quite elated at having been to the top of the Matterhorn.  Anna is happy too, and my Mam as well as others.”

Photos here.

Mont Blanc Successes

Here’s a photo from Jeff Smith who says:

Hi Robin,
Thanks for your e-mail, here is a pic of me and Philip at the top of Mont Blanc with our Help A Capital Child flag, and if you could put a link to on your journal that would be dynamite! Also any links to would be greatly appreciated, thank you.
Our meal at Le Delis, I think that’s what it was called, was awesome, so thanks also for your recommendation, it was a great finish to a great day.
Cheers for helping me achieve a memorable 50th, which will always be with me.
I wish you well, and thanks again from me and Philip.
You can read more about Jeff’s Mont Blanc week and his Everest at 50 projects on his website and Facebook Page.
I’ve also made 2 successful ascents of Mont Blanc from the Aiguille du Midi cable car during July. Photos are at
Alpine Update

Late June has been really great here in the Alps. Sam and I made a successful ascent of Mont Blanc by the Gouter Route. Then Dave and I had 3 days rock climbing on Voie Caline, Mille et une Pattes and Voie Frison-Roche. We then had a day off before heading up to the Couvercle Hut and climbing the Aiguille Verte by the Whymper Couloir, which was in excellent condition. We wound down on the Cosmiques Ridge to end the week and Dave hopes to return later in the season to try the Zmutt. To end the month of June Rebekah and I went up to Les Chéserys and had a really nice afternoon on Un Père Noël pour Lucy.

There are photos of all these routes here, and please also visit UKC and vote on the Whymper photos I posted this week.

Good climbing!

Descending on snow shoes from the Albert Premier Hut

It’s lovely weather here in the Alps right now, but the first 2 weeks of our season were pretty tough on account of the winter conditions. Large amounts of snow in the mountains severely restricted travel on foot, and it was raining or even snowing right down to valley level. We used snow shoes to reach the Albert Premier Hut via the moraine 2 weeks ago, but skis would have been better! The same week we did a glacier training day on the Mer de Glace, went rock climbing and crevasse rescue training at Les Gaillands and Le Fayet, went for a recce and acclimatisation to the Col du Midi and finally climbed Via Corda Alpina in big boots, a long alpine style rock route starting near Les Praz. This provided an excellent introduction to movement on alpine rock, but with snow down to the valley floor the route threatened to be Scottish in character! Fortunately we lucked out with the weather and the sun melted the early morning valley snow leaving the rock climb itself pretty clear.

The second week provided a couple of sunny days at the start, so we went back to the Midi and climbed Point Lachenal and the Arete Laurence to the Cosmiques Hut, where we spent the night. Next day we put fresh tracks on the Cosmiques Arete with an incredible depth of snow necessitating some careful belaying and route choice and making the climb rather more serious than usual. The usual crux wall was totally banked out with snow however, and we could just kick steps up it, and now that a steady stream of people have been consolidating the trail the entire route is in really easy condition. Next we wanted to do some multi-pitch climbing and abseiling so we went to Vallorcine, and the weather deteriorated again prompting a retreat to Machaby where we climbed the excellent Bucce d’arancia and enjoyed some wonderful Italian hospitality. We rounded the fortnight off with some cragging at Pontey in the Aosta Valley where Angus made his first lead of a rock climb before catching the airport shuttle for his onward trip to Thailand.

This week I’ve been preparing the rest of my alpine season, but I’m out on the hill tomorrow with Charley. Lets hope the fine weather continues to consolidate and stabilise things so we can look forward to some excellent summer climbing conditions in the coming months.

Click here to see photos of the season so far!

The Rochefort Ridge

Nick was coming out to Chamonix on a 3 day whistle stop tour. With several recent Scottish winter trips under his belt he had done some pretty technical climbing and was already very capable in the British Hills. This was to be his first alpine visit except for some distant holidays with his Dad’s school groups, so the brief was for an alpine intro and to pack in the action. Pure rock routes were not on the agenda; he wanted to experience some alpine snow, ice and mixed. There was significant snow left from the recent heavy falls. I’d done the Dufourspitze on Friday with Andy W because there was still a lot of snow left on the Matterhorn, his primary objective. We’d had a massive day starting at 2.30am from the Monte Rosa Hut, topping out on the Dufourspitze at 8.30am via the Silbersattel in very snowy conditions, and arriving back in Zermatt around 4pm and Chamonix 7.30pm.

All these factors meant that the Cosmiques Ridge was an ideal choice for day 1, a hugely enjoyable, relatively technical and very easily accessible route where we could get straight on with some action and into magnificent scenery. We experienced a variety of alpine terrain, starting with the famous Aiguille du Midi ice arête, then a short glacier crossing and finally moving together on the mixed Cosmiques Ridge that includes short technical sections and rope manoeuvres.

Next up was the Traverse of the Aiguille d’Entreves the following day and a night in the Torino Hut, where the wine is very good value! The Entreves has a longer glacier approach than the Cosmiques, has some very exposed work on a sharp rock crest and a harder crux move of 5b. It’s predominantly rock and less varied climbing than the Cosmiques, but the similarity is it’s a relatively technical and very easily accessible ridge route in a magnificent mountain setting, and it fitted our requirements perfectly.

Our final route, starting from the Torino at 6.30am on Monday, was a mega classic route that somehow I’ve not done in absolutely ages. (1992 was the last time!) I wanted to do the Rochefort Ridge with Nick because it is a longer route requiring an earlier start from the hut, it is very different in character to our other climbs, being primarily a very sharp snow crest with a mixed approach and also some rock climbing to and abseils from the summit of the Aiguille du Rochefort. And it had the aesthetic appeal of heading off in the opposite direction from the hut from the previous day so we didn’t need to go over any of the same ground. There’s a glacier crossing and easy mixed scramble to the Salle a Manger at the base of the Dent du Geant. From there you follow sharp snow crests to the foot of the Aiguille de Rochefort. The recent snow had consolidated nicely and conditions were pretty good really, with just one section near the start a bit icy. The rock to the summit of the Aiguille was verglassed on the way up but this had cleared for the descent. It was a fantastic 8 hour mountain day and a very beautiful route to enjoy just as the season was drawing to a close. If you do it make sure to take a camera!

The best guidebook is Snow, Ice and Mixed. More photos here.

The Zinalrothorn North Ridge

If you want an alpine tour that’s really good in all respects then the North Ridge of the Zinalrothorn is hard to beat. I’d previously climbed the peak from Zermatt via the Rothorn Hut, so when the opportunity arose to make an ascent from Zinal I was keen to squeeze it into my summer schedule.

I met Andy and Dave at Sierre station and drove them to the roadhead above Zinal, which is a nice journey in itself up a relatively unspoilt Swiss valley. The lads then set a cracking pace up to the hut, in spite of my efforts to slow them down by giving them the rope to carry. Andy was literally running up the path to get ahead and take photos, and I wondered if I could stick the pace. It’s a stunning walk if you’re given chance to admire it, and the panorama from the Mountets hut is quite breathtaking.

The hut and the staff are fantastic, and it was very quiet too affording a good nights sleep.

We were up at 4.30am and off at ten past five for the climb itself: a moraine approach, glacier ascent, snow/ice crest, scrambly ridge and finally some harder climbing on the airy and exposed summit push. There was significant snow on this upper section of the route, making the ascent of La Bosse quite interesting! See the photo above.

We descended the way we had come, back to Zinal, largely for logistical reasons and time constraints. I had to return to my car, and we only had a 2 day time slot for the route. Eventually the terrain levelled the playing field and I could at least keep up with Andy and Dave. The comment from Dave was that I have only one speed and it doesn’t change, even when scrambling along 4000m ridges all day. We descended all the way down to Zinal in one go, and dare I say it, all three of us were quite tired!

Photos here.