Mont Blanc – The Finest Routes

This book of dreams was one of my top Christmas presents. Highly recommended!

Happy New Year!

Happy Christmas

This year we spent Christmas Day cycling from home in the Lakes, and Sophie and Charley (creator of my website) are staying out in our flat in Les Houches, taking advantage of the alpine climbing conditions and doing a spot of bivouacking as well by all accounts. Wherever you are spending it, we hope you are having a very Happy Christmas and send you our very best wishes for 2014!

One Wild Winter in the Scottish Mountains

Here’s a can’t miss TV program coming up shortly for anyone interested in the Scottish winter mountain scene. Mark Diggins of SAIS has this to say:

This is  a review of last winter and contains some very good information about avalanche hazard and how we interact with it. Its focus is the winter that we have just experienced in Scotland and draws on experiences and knowledge from further afield which helps illustrate the challenges of hazard evaluation, human factors and the  impact of avalanche tragedy.
It is a very powerful program and I would recommend you take the opportunity to watch it.

BMG Risk Management Seminar

Today I attended the BMG AGM CPD Day. This was the first Risk Management Seminar to be held with the support of the memorial fund set up following the death of ex-BMG President Roger Payne on Mont Maudit in 2012. The seminar was structured around the theme of “Risks in Mountain Guiding” and the aim is to help members of the Association better understand and manage the risks associated with the profession.

BMG Arc’teryx Alpine Ropework Session at KMFF

Together with Jim Blythe I delivered the free BMG Arc’teryx workshop on Alpine Ropework at Kendal Wall yesterday. All sessions (Alpine Ropework, Dry Tooling and the Big Wall Portaledge Experience) were fully subscribed and the participants all very appreciative and enthusiastic. The BMG workshops were kindly supported by Arc’teryx, who also supplied the Guides with t-shirts and Atom LT Hoodys. The Atom LT is an amazingly lightweight yet warm jacket and is a close fit, but large stretch side panels allow excellent freedom of movement. Looks like it will be brilliant in action on the hill. Many thanks to Arc’teryx once again for their support.

A bolting day in Cumbria

Yesterday I took part in a bolt placement training and work day at Cathedral Cave, Little Langdale. The day was led by Dan Robinson who is the Chair of Cumbria Bolt Fund and trained, experienced and also pretty passionate about the appropriate placement of bolts. His aims are to renew existing bolt protection on climbs where considered necessary for safety, and to place bolts that will reduce the impact of climbers and outdoor groups on the crag environment.

We started with a briefing session from Dan, and an inspection of some of the old fixed gear that had been removed demonstrated the obvious safety issues it presented. This led on to an introduction to the gear currently available and commonly clipped by all of us.

The bolt of choice being deployed in Cumbria is the twisted leg P bolt manufactured by Bolt Products These are stronger than the alternatives, have a very long service life and when they require replacement they can be removed and the same drilled hole re-used for the new bolt. However, as we found out during the course of the day, a controlled environment and plenty of time is required to fix these bolts. The holes need to be prepared by drilling, cleaning with air and water, drying and it’s best to actually glue the bolts  in batches for efficient use of the resin. Also the temperature needs to be above 4C.

Expansion type bolts are in use all over the Alps and elsewhere, and they can be placed in situations where it might be impractical to use the glue in products. They can however require core drilling to remove the fixings when they need replacement, and this is very costly and time consuming. The alternative is to leave the old bolt fixing in the rock and drill a fresh hole for the replacement. Repeated drilling of the rock is clearly undesirable, and where space is limited or the position of the bolt is critical, core drilling might be essential.

The old bolt protecting the crux of Darklands was loose and removed by hand, a reminder to check the fixed gear when climbing! Look out for glue in bolts that have come loose and for corrosion of expansion bolt fixings. Corrosion commonly occurs behind the hanger close to the surface, where water can accumulate and air is present. Check for rusty bolt heads, and even expansion bolts that were never intended for climbing being used, sometimes in conjunction with branded hangers. This Petzl webpage is worth a read if you are heading off cragging in a tropical marine location this winter!

During the course of the day we achieved all our objectives, which were:

– An AMI CPD workshop

– Equip the top of the big abseil with belay bolts to prevent further damage to the trees and facilitate optimal set up when multiple groups are present, and also to encourage abseiling away from the line of Basilica. Minor improvements were also made to the ground surface at the top of the crag.

– Replace a key bolt on Darklands that was previously rotating and was removable by hand.

– Mark positions for replacement bolts on Basilica.

The day provided a very useful insight, understanding and appreciation into the work being carried out on our behalf. Many thanks to all involved!

More photos here.

Free Alpine Ropework Session at KMFF

If you’d like to learn about Alpine Ropework why not come along to the free workshop I’m running for the BMG at Kendal Wall during the Kendal Mountain Film Festival weekend? Also on offer is the chance to try out the new dry tooling facility at Kendal Wall, or indulge in “The Big Wall Portaledge Experience”. All three sessions are being offered free of charge courtesy of the BMG’s partner Arc’teryx. Please click here for full details.

Weissmies, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc

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.