Alps Summer just gone…
I was in the Alps for 3 busy months this season. Guiding on average for 3 weeks each month and leaving a week each to do some climbing in my own time. The season benefited from a very snowy spring and early summer, then extended spells of good settled weather until I left mid September.
June was fairly poor weather wise and a couple of Conville Trust courses based in Chamonix endured terrible weather so ended up being very skills based rather than enjoying cool inspiring vistas…
A short spell of nice weather after allowed a couple of mountain rock climbs with Matt, Keith and Paul. Brown Sugar is a recommended Piola route on the Perrons and we also managed the Über classic Bonnatti line on the Grand Capucin…a fair bit of melt water pouring down the crux wall made it all a bit spicy.
July started with 3 weeks guiding for the UK Joint Services Alpine Concentration. We were based out of Realp in the Uri Alps of Switzerland. The first few days were spent up at the Diavoletza hut in the Bernina…acclimating and enjoying easy access to cool glacial peaks around Piz Palu and Bernina.
Returning to Realp we swarmed around Switzerland doing a good mixture of technical 4000m peaks and good alpine rock objectives as weather and tiredness dictated. Highlights were N Face of Lenspitze and traverse to Nadelhorn, N Ridge of Wiesmies in good snowy conditions, Houhlabgrat on Alalinhorn, some nice peaks around Arolla in some wild Scottish weather and a bunch of great rock peaks around the Furkha pass and near Ticino.
Straight after I joined Chamonix based British guide and top alpinist Jon Bracey to look after Lewis and Jane’s endeavour to complete the classic 50 list of 4000m summits. Over a busy 10 days we did a heap of great climbing around the MT Blanc range and summited the beautiful Aiguille Verte and,the awkward to get to, Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey in good style. This left only 2 more on their list…one of which was knocked off later in the summer! Inspiring effort.
Early August saw a week with my mate and fellow guide Mark Walker. We shelved hopes of the Grandes Jorasses for the Bonnatti route on the Red Pillar of Brouillard followed by the Innominata Ridge to the summit of MT Blanc. Always good to climb the mountain from this side, although we only enjoyed our descent via the Pope route back to the car in retrospect! Either side of this we enjoyed some easy access mountain rocks at home in and around Chamonix.
A fair bit of guiding locally around the MT Blanc range and some great day routes with friends led towards assessing on the BMG alpine test. Hopefully concluding the training scheme for a bunch of super talented and strong young aspirants I had the pleasure of been guided for 5 days over some less travelled classics. We started with a hefty approach to the Jacchia bivi hut on the S side of the Grandes Jorrasses and then an early started saw us flying up the mighty Tronchey ridge to the summit of Pte Walker and down to the road ( and pizza kindly delivered by my wife Lou and little girl Esme…she thought the Jorrasses looked big!) without head lamps…good stuff considering the terrain. Next day was a lazy start to the old Triollet hut and the day after we climbed the S ridge of the Aiguille de la Savoie…rock as good as anything on the Midi S face and an easy 5 hr grade IV ridge…well worth the convoluted glacial approach. A further day of crevasse rescue tests concluded my part of the test leaving Bruce and Mark to traverse the Perrons and give the guys the good news they’d passed their exam. Very cool!
I then joined Jonathan for an excellent trip questing up a few more awkward and elusive 4000m summits. Warming up with a few little summits from the Torino hut, we set off early on day 2 for the Aiguille Rochefort and the less visited Dôme de Rochefort and then back to the valley. Next morning up to the Boccalatte hut and then back to the summit of Pte Walker of the Grandes Jorrasses. The following morning a lazy hike to the Monzino hut and then an early start to the Eccles bivi hut for my 3rd visit there of the summer. Due to the heat and location we left at 11 o’clock in the night to climb over Col Eccles and summited the Aig Blanche de Peuterey by 5am and back to Eccles for breakfast and then all the way down to Val Veny by early afternoon.
We called in our rest day card before setting off for the Valsorey hut to climb the Grand Combin. A shaky forecast meant we had the whole mountain to ourselves and a rapid climb up and back down the Meitin ridge…the solid red and golden granite of the MT Blanc range a distant memory! This is a really cool big mountain in a gereat isolated setting…and certainly the safest way up and down.
The following morning I was walking to the Leachaux hut with my mate Miles Perkins with a date for the Walker Spur…we had arranged to climb together on our 3 days off earlier in the summer and were hoping to get lucky with this elusive route…I’ve hoped to climb this classic every summer since my first visit to the Alps in 1990 and it’s never quite happened. Strangely it was the same date as my previous climb up the N Face of the Jorrasses a couple of seasons ago when I climbed the Colton McIntyre with Pete Graham…the omens were good but the weather wasn’t!
Rain all afternoon seemed to clear in the evening. We got up at 1 am to a solid cloud base low down on the mountain…re check at 3 had a few stars twinkling in the gaps…so dawn saw us over the rimaye and on our way.
Damp rock gave way to verglas then good dry rock climbing gave way to superb icy mixed at the triangular nevé and soon enough the summit of Pte Walker for the 3rd time in a fortnight. Miles phoned in a wine order to the hut and a couple of hrs later we made the Boccalatte hut for great hospitality, dinner, wine and a good sleep! We were very lucky with conditions apart from the wet bits low down…and the fact the only other team was miles behind…the Walker lived up to all the hype!
Miles’ partner Kasia and their little boy Iago picked us up early next morning at the road and got us home via coffee and pizza. A final climb with Matt on the Brevent the following day ( Premier du Corveé… brilliant route) and I was off to Arolla for my final guiding engagement of the summer…a regular fixture with the Diploma of Mountain Medicine and their final module of alpinism. A great week of autumnal weather and quiet mountains and finishing the season for me on the summit of the MT Blanc de Cheilion…and a long descent back home to Snowdonia!