Rob, Matt and I leave for El Chalten next Tuesday, which is pretty damn soon! So the last couple of weeks I have been trying to get out on my legs as much as possible to prepare for the monster approaches in Patagonia.
Whereas in times gone by climbers used to pitch camp close to the peaks in Patagonia, it seems with modern weather forecasting and the fact the El Chalten now boasts some places to eat and drink (not too much booze Rob!), the usual technique is to stay in town, and then hike in when the weather clears – which is a long way.
So I’ve been ski touring quite a bit, and trying to get as many vertical metres in to my legs as possible. With variable skiing conditions around Chamonix at the moment this has meant driving a little way to the Aravis, but I have been rewarded with some great (and some not so great skiing). The snow cover has been quite thin, so it is still best to take the old rock skis, but there is powder out there!
As well as some great skiing I also had quite a big day climbing the Terray-Rebuffat (Carrington-Rouse) on the Aiguille des Pelerins. Due to the Midi lift being closed until the 20th of December, this made for quite a walk in the day before, then a great bivvy, followed by some nice climbing.
I wanted to climb at least one Alpine route just prior to heading out for Patagonia to run through some of the kit I am taking. I’ve just got a new Marmot Helium sleeping Bag, which is a model I haven’t used before, so I was pretty keen to see how that performed. It’s rated -9c and I was fine that night in an open bivvy with no thermarest (I used a hut blanket to sleep on), so that is good to know.
An interesting fact about sleeping bags that is worth bearing in mind when buying one is this: a ’4 season’ sleeping bag isn’t as versatile as a ’3 season’ sleeping bag. With a super warm 4 season, you are likely to be too hot a lot of the time, sweating in the bag (not good for the bag or you). With a lighter 3 season model, if you do find yourself a bit cold, you can beef it up with your clothing. So a ’3 season’ bag covers more seasons that a 4 season. Just something to think about…
Anyway, the winter refuge at the Plan de l’Aiguille was really full (17 people!) so we slept outside and were rewarded with a great view.
And the climbing was pretty cool too…
The best part of course was the ski / walk down. The snow was the most unskiable I have ever come across and I only skied around 1/3rd of the way to Chamonix from the refuge. After that it was quicker to walk! I was quite pleased to read that even Ross Hewitt took his skis off!
There’s more skiing condition info on Charlie Bosocoe’s excellent Chamonix Conditions Blog, with some more details of some of the spots where we’ve been in the Aravis.
It is six weeks until Rob Greenwood, Matt Pycroft and myself head to Patagonia, hopefully to climb Cerro Torre.
It’s a beautiful mountain, its difficulty almost at odds with its aesthetic nature. A perfect granite peak; the southern hemisphere’s answer to Nameless Tower, and the ultimate ‘Chamonix Aiguille’.
The last couple of weeks I have been trawling back through my guidebooks and climbing photos, noting down some of the wheres and whens of my climbing life, preparing for a future project. It’s nice to look back on some of the amazing places I have been lucky enough to visit, and also to think about some of the amazing people I have met along the way.
In some ways this trip to Patagonia is the ultimate expression of those climbing experiences, as summitting Cerro Torre is one of three lifetime climbing ambitions that I have not yet realised, and the skills and experience I have built up over the last twenty years will all play a part in a successful ascent. And with the Compressor Route bolts now no longer in existence, a summit by any route is going to be a memorable outing.
Looking back at the thousands of photos on my hard-drive, it’s impossible to single any out in terms of importance, but here are a few that brought back some good memories and made me smile. Looking back at all these past adventures has really hit it home to me that it isn’t about hard moves, it’s not about reaching the summit and it isn’t about achieving an arbitrary goal or grade. It’s about burning off your mates! Only joking! But most of my favourite photos were of people, and not of routes. And that must mean something, right?
Earlier in the year I was filmed for a video for my main sponsor Marmot. The video is part of a series featuring each of the UK Marmot sponsored climbers, climbing some classic routes in their favourite climbing areas.
In this video I solo the classic Gogarth route ‘A Dream of White Horses’, and the nearby ‘Electric Blue’ at Rhoscolyn.
The day out filming with Ian Burton of Image Impossible was a lot of fun, and I believe the whole series was inspired by the video I did last year of Almscliff in Yorkshire.
It was a lot of fun climbing these routes as they are both so good, and this was one of the least stressful days of climbing filming I have done. I hope you enjoy!
Big thanks to Marmot and Ian Burton!
It has been a busy summer. Not one with hard rock climbing, but with hard work!
I’m not shy of a bit of hard work though. So, this summer I have mostly mixed work, house renovations and running.
Climbing has been a write-off really, for two reasons.
1: Time. Climbing is really, really time consuming. Especially alpine climbing. I haven’t had enough time to pursue the sport to the level at which I am used to, so the easiest thing in my mind was to take a break completely. This has served two purposes, it has freed up my time to concentrate on other things, and it has freed up my body to recover from climbing. It seems to have worked, and also completely rekindled a burning desire to climb, which is fantastic. After twenty years of climbing I can occasionally feel the psyche waning. It’s good to get it back.
2: Ego. This year has been tough climbing-wise for me. After a trip to the Himalaya in the autumn, then a big break from climbing due to an epic ski year, the spring came and my arms were not quite what I was hoping for. It was a slow dredge back to fitness (which never really came good) and then when I had only limited time to climb, the level didn’t increase. All I can say is that my ego took a pounding when I was finding routes at my normal onsight level to be too hard to redpoint! Interesting stuff.
So, I have been doing a little bit of running, including the Tour Des Fiz (30km, 2500m height gain – 5hours 40mins) and the running section of the Mont Blanc triathlon (10km 37mins 37 secs.), but I have done both these off the couch, with not really any time to train. The difference with running is that I have no expectations to perform well, so it is very stress free for me as a sport. It has been a good change of scene and also a good bit of cross training for my trip to Patagonia this winter. I’m going to keep up a little bit of running all autumn.
The scorching heat of summer has passed now, meaning better climbing conditions. Hopefully all my house renovations will be done in a month, so that means it is time to climb. Realistically I don’t have a high enough base level or enough time to get the sport climbing back in to the high 8s this year, but focusing on some alpine faces would be excellent preparation for Patagonia, and is the most sensible thing to do… bring on the sport climbing then!
The last few months have seen some sporadic climbing, but a lot of work on UKClimbing.com, and after buying a new apartment in need of full renovations, even more DIY.
But training has begun for the next big mission – this time I am headed to Patagonia.
The Patagonia season is December/January, and this is exactly when I am heading out there with my eyes set on Cerro Torre.
In preparation for this trip I have reentered the world of running, and last week I ran my first real race for over a decade. A 30km race (Tour des Fiz) , with over 2500m of ascent, did leave my little legs a bit tired, but a few more of these, coupled with some big alpine north faces in the late autumn, should see my mountain fitness level quite high by the time December comes.
Once again I am heading in to the mountains with Rob Greenwood, and I must say I have never in my life been so excited about a climbing trip.
Bring on Patagonia! Woo!
As life moves on so do our characters, ambitions and dreams.
A huge trip planned for 2014 means that my obsession with climbing is still firmly in the forefront of my mind, but it is taking bigger and bigger objectives to spark my fire.
Since my return from the Himalaya last November I haven’t been out on the rock much. This has been due to injury (my long suffering shoulder, oh woe is me and also due to the huge amount of snow we have had this winter. (Skiing is FUN!)
A quick trip to Spain for some rock climbing was fantastic, but confirmed in my mind that I have a huge amount of physio style work to do on my shoulder if I am ever going to be pain free.
I have however officially transformed myself in to a skier. After two years of hard work (is skiing really hard work?) I have progressed from being a liability to being more than happily competent in all terrain.
This new found ski ability has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for alpine climbs of the ‘up and over’ style, carrying skis on the route, and wearing skis on the descent.
With spring officially in town here in Chamomix, the snow is rapidly disappearing from the valley, the sky is blue and I am dreaming of some long mountain missions.
An abundance of psyched partners ranging from Chamonix ski-bums to Yorkshire based truck drivers means that in the next month I hope to get at least two major adventures in the mountains.
I’m back on the rock climbing training mission too, with a short term objective in mind for May, and a loose plan to hit the granite of Ticino in June.
Eventually the time came for us to move. Although sitting drinking in the view was sublime, we needed to start the descent to avoid another night on the face. After anchoring the ropes to a rock buried in the snow, we hopped over the ridge in to the couloir, from the sun to the shade, like two men vaulting over the handrail of a ship. My mind now focused on descent, I was once again back in the physical world of snow and ice. The ropes hung 60m straight down the couloir, yet they hardly entered this huge icy snake. This retreat was going to take some time.
We made steady progress down the ice, a system developed naturally; the ice anchors were built, backed-up and stripped out in a factory like process. Little was said between Rob and I, just occasional phrases, the familiar shouts of ‘Rope free’ and other climbing calls were all that punctured the soft silence of the gully, and we inched our way down the face, like ants on a house wall.
When the angle lessened we decided to pack away the ropes and down-solo to increase speed. One of the things that I enjoy about climbing with Rob is the ease of decision making. We seem to make the same decisions at the same time, meaning conflict is kept to a minimum and much of this decision making goes unspoken. This I think is the sign of a good climbing partnership.
A ledge was stomped, we traded a few words, coiled ropes and then once again started our silent descent. After a few hundred metres, I stopped to take some photographs, and Rob continued down the couloir, reaching a steep ice-bulge. Not wanting to down-solo this steeper section, he reached for his rope and cut a snow bollard anchor. The snow was in general quite poor, and we had been taking care throughout the day.
I reached the bollard just as Rob was weighting the ropes for his 30m abseil. We knew the anchor was mediocre, and Rob eased his weight on to the rope. It held.
Part way down the bulge Rob must have jiggled slightly on the rope and, like a wire through soft cheese, it cut halfway through the bollard in a second. SHIT. I shouted at Rob to get his weight off the rope, and he teetered forward on to the front points of his crampons. He down-climbed the rest of the section.
If the rope had cut through the whole way, the most likely outcome would have been that Rob would have fallen around 700m down the face, although perhaps he would have come to a stop in the snow gully. Either way, I was glad we didn’t have to find out. The strength of a few snow crystals, the weight of Rob’s pack, the friction on the rope, just these little things had, in that split second, added up and altered the course of both Rob and I’s lives forever. Rob smiled and suggested I climb down the ice instead of abseiling. I did.
Had we become complacent? We were around halfway down the face, with only easy ground below us, and yet this slight mishap could have been terminal. I shook my head and reminded myself just how dangerous a game it is that I play.
Endless but uneventful down-climbing brought us to the base of the mountain, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Peak 41 reared up above us, shrouded in mist and snow, and the wind picked up. We could no longer see the huge couloir that we had just descended. I pulled the zip of my jacket up tight against my face and turned, pressing on toward base-camp, feeling lucky that we weren’t stuck on that upper ridge.
The slog across the moraine to reach the comfort of our tents was long and painfully slow, yet I was glad to be stumbling over the rocks, and panting my way up the hillside. The short but unforgettable journey on this Himalayan face had taught me a lot. It had taught me about the levels of fitness required for this kind of endeavour, the strength of mind needed for multiple days out on a mountain like this, and of course I had experienced a range of emotions; dread, elation, terror, relief, wonder, connectedness, disappointment, joy, and more, all distilled to within a period of 48 hours. But more than anything else, I think this trip taught me the meaning of being in the moment and it opened my eyes even further to what a wondrous world we live in.
I was exhausted, hungry and cold, but despite these hardships, by the time I reached base-camp I had pieced together a plan. Though this adventure was not yet finished, the next one was already in the offing.
“Rob…” I said. He looked up, and I continued; “I have seen a picture of a cliff on the internet…”