Just a short update on the conditions we found in Cogne a few days ago, 8-9 Jan 2013.
In general there was less ice then what I have seen the last few winters in Cogne at this time of the year. The recent warm weather has made the ice white and thin in most places that are exposed to the sun. Heavy traffic has also contributed to chopping off the ice from certain pillars and cigars.
Still there is lots to climb on the west side of Valeille (rive droite) as well as far into Valnontey.
The right start of Cascade de Lillaz was not climbable, too much running water.
The easier start on the left is doable, and then the steeper section in the middle of the canyon is also ok. High up on the slab the ice has taken too much sun and is melting away.
The first 35m pitch of Stalattite Di Cristallo is formed, and in pretty good conditions although the attachment of the ice at the very top is thin. Above that pitch there are only small icicles, no formed ice falls, however big enough to hurt should it come down on somebody in the afternoon sun.
Tutto Relativo is in good condition.
The upper pillar is pretty thick and well climbed of course. The falls higher up to the climbers left looks also pretty good (Eau de Cristaux / Cristal Guisy).
First pitch of Stella Artice is ok, although alomst see-through. The freestanding pillar on the 2nd pitch looked like it had seen too much traffic and we noticed some horizontal cracks on the top of it, so we stayed clear of that one.
Cold Couloir was in good condition (although we only climbed the first 4 pitches). It also takes a fair amount of sun in the afternoons though, but should stay fine for a while.
Candelabro Del Coyote was clinging onto the grass and was certainly to much of a shower for our taste. There was not so much ice left on the 2 bottom pitches.
Several teams were on Tuborg this day, and it looks still fine. Hopefully it will be saved during the coming week with colder temperatures.
Monday Money is in great condition as well as the Cirque di Patri. Fellow climbers also reported Repentente Super and L’Ago di Money (the left line on the photo, which is often a mixed route but now all ice!) to be in very good condition this day.
The week following our visit, temperatures has been colder again, so I’d assume the conditions to be the same or better right now.
- More photos in our Facebook album Climbing Ice Falls In Cogne (older photos too where you’ll see the difference regarding the amount of ice).
- Check the latest condition reports at Cogne Ice Climbing reported directly from the guest book of Hotel La Barme.
- More about what to climb in Cogne
- Contact Mountain Spirit Guides for guiding or ice climbign courses.
Powder Skiing and Northern Lights – Lyngen Alps 2012 from Eva Eskilsson on Vimeo.
The consistently good skiing starts end of February/beginning of March, when day light consists of a permanent sunrise/sunset. This is when we like to make our entry up north, still hungry for deep, fluffy snow, but craving solitude and peace after a powder-hunting first half of the winter in the Alps. Our life in Northern Norway is all about good snow, happy people, nice accommodation, and closeness to the beautiful nature.
Last year we got the opportunity to first ski on the Lofoten islands (west of Narvik) before settling down in our house on the Lyngen Peninsula (east of Tromsö) for 5 more weeks of incredible skiing and stunning views (March and April 2012).
Our experiences of the skiing and the perfect set-up for an unforgettable ski holiday in Lofoten, resulted in a new program for Lofoten Ski Touring Trips for 2013. As a ski touring destination Lofoten islands are still a well-kept secret, despite its beauty and great snow. Adventurous and wild, with steep mountains rising straight from the sea, it’s a place of striking beauty. Photos in our Lofoten Ski Touring Album on Facebook.
The Lyngen Alps then delivered as usual, with regular snow falls between sunny days, and more peaks and couloirs then you can ski in a lifetime. We have more amazing photos then we can share, but an extensive selection is presented in our Ski Touring above the Arctic Circle Facebook album.
This year once again (March and April 2013) we’ll organize all-inclusive ski touring trips to both Lofoten and Lyngen Alps. We have chosen to stay in a house rather then involving sail boats (for resons discussed at The Best Set-Up for Lyngen Ski Touring). Because of accommodation being limited and our trips being popular, we need to plan ahead, and now is the time to contact us if you’re thinking of joining us up there.
All info at Guided Ski Touring Trips to Lyngen Alps and Guided Ski Touring on Lofoten Islands.
- Ski Touring Lyngen Alps 2010
- The Best Set-Up for Lyngen Ski Touring
- Photo gallery from Lyngen 2011
- Facebook album: Ski Touring above the Arctic Circle
The temperature is slowly rising from close to freezing. The morning is silent except for a distant wind and sporadic bird song. A curious little squirrel joins my yoga, also he knows where the first warming sunrays will hit camp. After just a few days we’re feeling very much at home in this forest of giant pine trees. The birds and squirrels are currently our only companions at the world famous climbing spot – The Needles.
Earlier we had company of a couple of other climbers, but the second part of our stay we have not only the camp, but also the steep-sided granite domes all to our selves.
It’s our first time visiting the Needles. Excitement, motivation and expectations were high before we even saw the walls, based on far-traveling stories and tales.
Already on the approach you get a feeling for the rough textured and sharp, white granite, as you cross the slabs behind the Needles Watch Tower (that has recently burned down). After more then an hour of pleasant cross-country hiking, the canyon between the Sorcerer and the Witch Needle opens up to you like a gateway to a hidden, mysterious little rock paradise. It hits you with a striking beauty!
You’re overlooking a steep gorge framed by vertical, neon-green to white, granite walls. There is no need for a guide book to find the classic climbs – the perfect lines of cracks and corners are drawn out for you right there in the rock.
So the fun begins; preferably in the sun, which typically means climbing a route on the east face in the morning and another 3-5 pitch route on the west face in the afternoon. The setting is wild but peaceful. Our occasional commandoes echoes between the walls, until the afternoon wind kills the silence and boosts the wildness.
Surprisingly at first, but always frightening, fighter planes regularly cut the sky at low altitude, causing a noise worse then any rock fall or thunder. I’m trying to block my ears in the most awkward ways without letting go of the rock… I guess it’s the perfect place for war games, as close to wilderness as you get these days, nobody but the trees are disturbed right?
The green lichen, colouring most aspects of the domes, is neither moist nor slippery (since feeding mainly on CO2 in the air and not on water). The friction is mainly good since most routes are middle-aged (a climbing route’s lifetime going from crumbly to polished), although many of them were put up already in the ´70s. The rock is solid. Cracks are clean and continuos. Every pitch we climb seam like a specific gift from Mother Nature to rock climbers. Every summit rewards you with a new panoramic view from the adjacent Needle to the high Sierras in the north-east.
We are above 2000m in the Sierra mountain range in Southern California, in the home of the Giant Sequoia trees. The climate is dry and everywhere there are signs of forest fires. We never have campfires since the wind is always strong in the evenings. During the first week of October we find camping slightly chilly, but climbing wise it’s perfect in the sun.
Very appreciated is the absence of the common sources of discomfort when camping and climbing; such as mosquitoes, ants and spiders, snakes, bears (although they exist they don’t seam to interact much with people), crowds, and most importantly – rain! (or maybe we were just lucky)?
The 3 miles hike in from the end of the Needles Spring Road (to where it’s preferable to drive with a 4×4 SUV, but possible with a normal not-too-low car) to the main Needles took us about 1h30 when carrying in all our gear and thereafter less then an hour one-way. The hike is beautiful and enjoyable, but after a week of tracking the same dirt you long to hike somewhere else…
Climbing is in a way more forgiving then in Yosemite, more like European granite, because it’s very textured. This means good friction and a large variation of footholds apart from the cracks. Pitches are long and vertical, often close to 50m of continuous cracks.
Rest days: the lodge in Ponderosa offers a friendly atmosphere with classic American food from eggs and bacon to burgers, which is ok for exhausted climbers. They also have wifi, a store with basic stuff, and gas. Camp Nelson is slightly bigger, you also find a hardware store and a lodge with showers.
Driving about 1h down the valley to somewhere close to Springville, we found our favourite resting spot; a small river that has shaped it’s granite bed round and smooth into pools, little falls and slides – like a living water land!
Strolling around in the National Seqouia Forest is like going back in time. Giant Sequoia trees, soft, red, enormous, and absolutely amazing are watching over this place since 1500 years ago. Some tourist trails have been made in areas with high concentration of giants.
For a first-time visit, the clean and nice classic lines in the gorge between the Sorcerer/Charlatan and the Witch is a good start. All are well and easily protected.
- Fancy Free on Charlatan East Face: 3 long and sustained pitches of 5.10. The middle changing corner pitch being the high-light, but 150m of high quality climbing.
- Thin Ice on Sorcerer East Face: 3-4 pitches, with a short section of 5.10b, otherwise 5.9 to 5.10a, including a flare corner that allows you to combine squeeze, stemming and jamming deep in the corner crack.
- Don Juan Wall on Sorcerer East Face: with the same start as Thin Ice, then a similar but more demanding line. And a bonus pitch in the end with a roof-corner.
- Airy Interlude on upper west face of the Witch: 5.10a, the upper half of the route being the nicest, including an exposed hand to finger traverse.
- Igor Unchained on upper west face of the Witch: 4 good pitches of 5.9 climbing.
- Ankles Away on upper west face of the Witch: Starting from the ledge and easiest done in 2 pitches. Takes a lot of small gear.
Gear: We had 2*50m ropes which is good enough since most descents are walk-offs. 2*60m ropes can be useful if you like to do really long pitches. A full rack from blue alien to blue no 3 camalot, doubles to triples of all, gives you the opportunity to climb and protect most routes.
For a more adventurous day out, climb the South Face of the Warlock Needle: the longest route around (7-8 pitches), offering mostly off-width and chimney climbing (grades 5.6 – 5.8). An old-style route with a remote, alpine feeling to it. You’re likely to be alone. If you are not an expert on wide cracks, you want to bring at least 1 each of no 4-6 camalot, they will provide your main protections on this route.
- You find drawn topos and practical info by Clint Cummins at Needles Rock Climbing
- More photos in our Facebook album Trad Climbing Trips to US
- Guided rock climbing courses and trips by Mountain Spirit
The modern and attractive Almageller hut is reached from the village of Saas Almagell within a 3 hours hike. The most popular mountaineering route accessed from here is the Traverse of the Weissmies (4023m), a classic four-thousander in the canton of Valais in Switzerland.
However, when visiting in the end of July 2012, we decided to prolong the visit in Almageller hut to 2 nights in order to experience one of the region’s most spectacular attractions – the Portjengrat. Much more demanding both in difficulty and length, but highly recommended for those who like a bit more excitement, and who have some previous rock climbing experience. For those enjoying this 8-10 hour climb hut-to-hut, the Weissmies traverse will be a fairly easy bonus climb taking you back to Saas Grund, and making the whole outing a 3-day round-trip with a different descent.
Whether hiking up towards Zwischbergenpass and the Weissmies or traversing south along the west face of Pizzo Andolla to attack the Portjengrat, you get the same view when the first morning light falls on the Michabel massif on the opposite side of the Saas valley. From the left: Täschorn, Dom, Lenzspitze and Nadelhorn.
Portjengrat and the Weissmies constitute the border between Switzerland and Italy. From the summits you overlook the Pennine Alps to the east the Miachabel group as well as the east face of the Monte Rosa massif to the west.
The normal 2-day outing to traverse the Weissmies gives you all you want from a classic alpine experience; hiking over alpine fields with cows and sheep to an idyllic hut, alpine start at 4am, both snow fields and rocky ridges, sun rise and panoramic scenery, as well as a big glacier crossing.
A steady flow of hands and feet moving over blocks and steeper steps takes you up the rocky south-east ridge in the morning sun. When the angle lessens the last 100 height meters to the summit, the ridge gets snowy and more exposed on a short section. The descent via the north-west face is of a different character; ice and snow slopes with some large open crevasses all the way down to the Hosaas hut, from where the lift takes you back down to Saas Grund.
The various types of terrain on this traverse makes it a complete mountaineering adventure in the very eastern corner of the Alps’ 4000m range. The climb is achievable for guided groups with little mountaineering experience, or private parties with basic ridge climbing skills and glacier travel competences (although putting in the track after snowfall on the north-west glacier should be left to someone experienced with the terrain).
Topo and all essential information is available at CampToCamp – Weissmies Traverse.
Portjengrat offers magnificent, airy climbing on solid gneiss, over and around pinnacles with almost no equipment in place. The ridge is almost 1km long of mainly sustained and exposed grade 4 climbing.
The route description of Portjegrat at CampToCamp is very helpful and accurate. The point of attack however can be done in many places. The hardest is probably up by the highest yellow arrow and the easiest a few meters below the first (lower) yellow arrow, traversing on ledges to the left.
Some towers are supposed to be contoured, such as the last big one before the snowy fields (cairn on the W side), but most of the time you follow the arrete. The second part (after the snow fields) is the coolest where you often find yourself balancing on a knife edge ridge.
Four big towers are left to pass after the summit. By a 15m rappel and then alternating between the equally steep east and west sides of each tower, airy down-climbing and traversing takes you through till the ridge meets the snow field on its west flank.
Portjengrat is probably the nicest ridge climb of it’s type in the Swiss Valais. Still it is not heavily frequented, maybe because the descent gets unpleasantly loose once the snow is gone, yet the ridge needs to be dry, so the season with good conditions is short.
- Guided mountaineering in the Alps
- More photos in our Facebook album Mountaineering in the Swiss Valais
In the middle of the complex south-east face of Grepon unwinds one of Chamoinx’s greatest classics; Grepon-Mer de Glace, D, 850m, first done in 1911! Now days it’s sometimes done in one day return from Chamonix, ascent via Montenvers train and cable car down-load from Plan de l’Aiguille. Light and fast, simule-climbing in friction shoes. We did it a bit more old-school in big boots carrying bivouak gear, setting off in the afternoon and spending the night on a large ledge 200m above the petit Trelaporte glacier.
Bivouak ledges are plentiful all along Grepon-Mer de Glace, but we choose the deluxe size spot just before sneaking around the corner into the large gully where our route separates from the normal route to Aig de Republique.
This way we did not have to do any route finding in the dark, which can be complex on the first half of the route. Crossing over the first (lookers-right) spur issued from Grepon there are multiple options. We did not encounter the little chimney described both in Piolas guidebook and on the drawing included in Camptocamp’s Grepon-Mer de Glace topo. Instead we did one stright 20m rappel into the gully and then traversed along a ledges to the next (east) ridge that we’d follow for the rest of the day.
Other then the various rappels to traverse this gully there is not much gear in place, no belays and only occasional pitons and old slings to be seen.
Once on the main spur the climbing is on top-quality rock and gets gradually steeper and harder. The pitches swing between both sides of the crest, following cracks and corners. For a chronicle series of photos from the climb see our website photo gallery Grepon-Mer de Glace, 18 Jul 2012.
Coming up behind Aig de Rock the route makes a detour to the left to avoid a steep shield, then traverses back right to a straight line of cracks below Breche Balfour. The last 3 pitches resembles modern 6a climbing and friction shoes can be handy, at least for the leader. Back packs can be left at the Breche for the last pitch (rewarded with a name of its own – the Knubel crack), which probably got famous because it is impressively hard for this type of climb (but well protected as you can put cams in a smaller crack to the left of the wide crack).
The descent along the west side of the South ridge of Grepon has a few installed rappels, one of them 20m traversing a few meters along the crest and ending with a 3m climb up to the next belay. Take care not to fall off the crest during your attempt to reach the next belay… After that it is down-climbing along ledges. Nantillons glacier is never pleasant to visit, but certainly better wiht snow on then without. We had good conditions in July 2012 with a soft snow cover and the glacier remained quiet.
Grepon-Mer de Glace being a round-trip, from Envers des Aiguilles back to the frontside of Les Aiguilles de Chamonix, adds to the beauty of the adventure. The views are constantly changing, together with the terrain, the sun and the moon.
- photos in our website gallery Grepon-Mer de Glace, 18 Jul 2012 and in our Fecbook album Classic mountaineering routes in Chamonix.
- Guided alpine rock climbing in Chamonix
Having heard that conditions were good to attack this well recommended rock ridge, we thought we must take the chance since it is getting less and less frequented due to the retreat of the Envers de Blatiere glacier. The East ridge of Aiguille du Plan rises from a series of massive bergschrunds off this little hidden glacier in the backyard of Les Aiguille des Chamonix. This prominent ridge line in-between Pain de Sucre and Dent du Crocodile was first climbed in 1906 by Lochmatter brothers and Ryan, and later on alternative starts were added in adaption to the varying conditions of the glacier.
We are reading in the mid-difficulty section of Rebuffat’s bible “The Finest 100 Routes” – that every wannabe alpinist needs to climb through in order to become an accomplished mountaineer – but the topo says little of the actual grades on the climb (D+, 500m, cracks, in Piola’s topo of Envers des Aiguilles).
On paper it looks like a fairly easy day out, but coming across the video from Arete Ryan by TV Mountain, Part 1 and Part 2 we realized that there would be mostly proper pitch-climbing…a few cams extra and 2*50m ropes went into the back packs.
The L.Theirry variation appealed to us since it avoids the cold and unpleasant climbing in Couloir de Crocodile, thus also shortening the time of exposure to rock and ice fall before reaching the key crest. As we were able to zig-zag through the bergschrunds the approach was quick and we reached the little secondary couloir (between the “rognon” and the SE flank of the E spur of Aig du Plan) before sunrise. After a short scramble up this dry couloir, we finally had hands and feet on solid granite, gloves and crampons off, and ready for a long day in the warming sun.
From the first pitch the climbing in not easy in big boots. A slab leads up to a steep corner where you need to squeeze into a short chimney, the back-pack had to come off already. Gradually traversing to the right from there, relaxing climbing takes you to the key crest, where the two alternative starts join. The next step on of the ridge goes through a bunch of corners and chimneys. New muscles and new techniques to squeeze up, around and over are being discovered…
Reaching the next good view point on the ridge, we spotted a really nice looking corner crack that we assumed must be the famous “Grad-ma crack”, but 2 pitches later we realized this might have been a bit too far left and that Grand-ma crack in fact pretty much follows the key crest. The cool hand-jam corner we did climb took us to even steeper and wider cracks before we recovered our position on the crest. Probably we climbed a few pitches of “Ne Tirez Pas Sur le DTN”.
Climbing along the crest is a mix of slabs, cracks and horizontal line-dancing. The drop to both sides, the general increasing steepness of the ridge, and wider views gives a feeling of exposure and awesomeness. Clear skies and low winds in the Mt Blanc massif makes the challenging climbing an easy life.
With just a few pitches left, the route takes off slightly to the left in order to find the weakest line through the steep shields of the summit pyramid of Aig du Plan.
A fixed rope has been installed to aid the climbing up a steep crack, finishing on a ledge traversing further left. Around the corner some pitons have been installed for aiding the last steep step before reaching the easy ground shared by the Midi-Plan traverse to the summit.
From the summit of Aig du Plan, it looks like you could almost throw a snow ball over to Aig du Midi. Getting there offers a quick download to the valley, instead of walking down the steep and crevasses Envers glacier to the Requin Refuge and returning by Mer de Glace to Montervers the next day. So reversing the Midi-Plan traverse was our obvious choice of descent. Although it took us 2h30 to reach the cable car, it was a good and safe decision.
The climb took us about 9 hours from Refuge Enverse des Aiguilles to the summit of Aig de Plan, 9 July 2012. Apparently the first ascent by Lochmatter/Ryan was done in 12h40 from the Montenvers train, which means they kept about the same speed as us navigating through unknown terrain with considerably disadvantaged equipment and possibilities for rescue, impressive!
Gear suggestion: 2*40m ropes, camalot no 0.4 – 3, crampons, ice axe.
- More photos in our Facebook album Chamonix Classic Mountaineering
- Camp to Camp’s info on Arete Ryan
- Private guiding on classic alpine climbs and Chamonix alpine rock climbs
As Chamonix did not get the most out of the few dumps there were in the western Alps in March, it has been ski touring most days except for a few powder-days off the lifts. However, after a bigger snow fall in mid-March the snow stayed cold and soft on the north sides for the rest of the month and the snow cover still reaches to the valley floor for the end of our ski tours.
- Guided off-piste skiing in Chamonix
- Guided ski touring in Chamonix
- Chamonix off-piste skiing in December 2011
- Off-piste and ski touring in January 2012
- Chamonix off-piste skiing Feruary 2012
Mother nature has been moody and gone between two extremes; The first half of Feb we hardly stuck our noses out the window without wearing double down jackets, boot heating, and full facial protection against the freezing winds. By the end of the month we went ski touring in t-shirt and skied slushy spring snow.
Through it all the sun has been shining relentlessly, not really any fresh snow to talk about. However, the siberian cold-spell dried out the snow pack and the powder was recycled to offer light and soft snow on ski touring descents. As the temperatures became more reasonable, ice falls had formed even down in Les Houches, and we treated our selves with ice climbing trips to Cogne and ice falls around the Chamonix valley. When spring came for real the ice fell off and snow transformed into corn within a weeks time.
Certainly was a bit of everything, but we’re looking back on a lot of good skiing and touring to new places with untouched snow in the Mt Blanc massif. Enjoy the 3rd video episode of Chamonix skiing:
- Guided off-piste skiing in Chamonix
- Guided ski touring in Chamonix
- Chamonix off-piste skiing in December 2011
- Off-piste and ski touring in January 2012
- Off-piste and ski touring in March 2012
I sometimes travel through big cities. And sometimes I see people wearing an air-filtering mask over their nose and mouth when walking to work. Shocked I stare at them and think “How can they possibly go on living in a place like this?” or “God help us” and “what has the world come to!”
So, where do I live? I live in Chamonix, the outdoor mountain sport capital of the world, and an idyllic town of 12.000 yearly inhabitants at the foot of Mont Blanc. Protected by the queen of the Alps we are well away from stressful and grey big-city-atmosphere, breathing healthy mountain air and value what is really important in life…
…Sure, dream on, that image is about as a false as the smiling doctor on a Lucky Strike package. The sad reality is that it is me who should be wearing the anti-pollution mask! I am stuck in a tight valley offering among the poorest air qualities in Europe. The levels of certain chemicals and harmful particles in the air are not only illegally high but have already shown to have direct consequences on people’s health.
Going cross-country skiing in Chamonix (inevitably along roads since the valley is narrow) on a cold winter day, you better think twice. I personally wonder if this physical exercise is doing me more harm then good?
The situation is very well explained by Gérard Decorps, professor and mountain guide at ENSA and representing FRAPNA 74, in a video published by TVmountain in mid-January 2012.
In short he explains that the air pollution in Chamonix have been reaching alarming (as in illegal and harmful) levels for several weeks in a row now, and that the population and its local representatives are waiting for the authorities (more precisely Préfet de la Haute-Savoie) to do something to improve the situation.
The negotiations between environmental and public health associations – demanding that the French law stating peoples right to breath a healthy air must be respected – and the authorities goes back 15 years in time, when the air pollution was first noticed to be a serious problem in Vallee de l’Arve. Finally in 2010, after the added pressure of a complaint signed by 33 doctors treating the valley’s population, the Préfet agreed to install surveillance stations and to make an action plan for when things get intolerable.
This plan (Plan Protection de l’Athmosphere PPA) has been made in cooperation between various associations and local politicians and has been accepted by the authorities to be effective from 1 Jan 2012. The PPA reaches several conclusions regarding; the most significant pollutants, how to measure their concentrations, and the measures needed to be taken in order to improve the quality of the air (during peaks of pollution as well as on a long-term basis).
So people are monitoring the air pollution and reporting intolerable values (well above the recommended European standards), but none of the planned measures are being imposed. The ones in power of this region are wasting a lot of work put in by competent individuals and organizations. The fact that the Préfet has reinforced none of the measures mentioned in the PPA is the reason for Mr Decorps’ (tenth or so) letter to the Préfet 9 Feb 2012. How this man can maintain such a gentle and polite tone in his complaints goes beyond tolerance and patience.
Can it really be true that absolutely nothing have been done?! Oh well, currently they kindly ask people to lower their speed with 20km/h when driving on the Autoroute Blanche – What a courageous and radical measure imposed by the authorities, I’m impressed now!
The levels of NO2 and PM10 has been exceeding allowed European levels for months now, and one plan after the other of possible measures is being ditched or ignored due to its short-term unprofitability (I assume). The situation is so bad that the EU court is threatening to sue Chamonix on up to 30 million euro for endangering the health of its inhabitants. If that money cannot be invested in something more useful then a penalty to the EU apparatus, it is due to a serious lack of initiative.
Below is my interpretation of the facts/research presented in the Atmosphere Protection Plan (PPA) in Sep 2011, and some other sources linked to, mixed with my own comments. Some things might already have changed and for sure there is a lot that I do not know, so I’m happy for any comments or corrections!
The pollutants regulated by European laws are: NO2, PM (particles in suspension), BaP (benzo(a)pyrène), SO2, CO, O3, metals et benzene in the air.
Four observation stations in the Chamonix Valley (representing urban, industrial, road-side, and altitude environment) are active and reporting the concentrations of the above molecules in the air.
The pollutants having the largest affect in the Chamonix valley seems to be:
Airborne Particulate Matter, size <10µm (PM10): Very small particles in suspension, penetrating deep into your lungs. Coming mainly from the heating of buildings by burning wood, but also from burning of organic (green) waste in the gardens, as well as vehicles and industry. Simplified 50% of the particles are residential (wood-heated houses and garden fires), 25% industrial and 25% transport. The industry’s part of it is coming from small to medium size companies, SGL Carbon being the worst. CO and SO2 are of the same origin, but PM10 is the indicator that reaches alarming values most often.
Peaks of PM10 exceeding the recommended limits (set by EU) are observed way more often then the yearly allowance of 35 days. The 35 days of too high PM10 concentrations had already happened as early as in March 2011. And this year will be a new record, did we possibly make it during the first 35 days of the year?!
Benzo (a) Pyrène (BaP) is an infamous, cancerous organic compound, which is part of a larger group of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), many regarded as air pollutants. Especially in Passy BaP is frequently reaching unhealthy concentrations. The PAH pollution is also contributed to the industry in Sallanches and wood-fired heating of houses.
Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2) are inorganic gases formed from the N and O in the air when fuel is being burned. Levels are constantly exceeding healthy values in approximates to the roads, being worst along the Autoroute Blanche between Sallanches and into the Mt Blanc tunnel. Lorries pay a big role here, proved by the augmenting of NO2 during the progressive reopening of the tunnel in 2003. However the heavy traffic is only locally affecting for example les Bossons, but not central Chamonix. The regular hourly pollution-peaks causing the alarms in Chamonix town are due to urban traffic (especially weekends and end of the year holidays).
Ozone (O3) is a secondary pollutant formed from NOx and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in presence of sun radiation. It is found within large distances of the direct pollution (where it actually persist longer since it is also degraded by NOx). The highest concentrations of O3 are being measured on Aiguille du Midi (where alarming peaks are registered throughout the year) favored by the strong sun radiation in the high Massif du Mont Blanc. But also in Chamonix town the critical limits for O3 are exceeded during more days then allowed every year, especially on hot and sunny summer days. The failure to keep O3 levels within the set limits has been described as: Systematic violation of the public health regulations, not to mention the complete disrespect of environmental agreements supposed to provide a minimum of protection for the fragile alpine ecosystem.
Vallee de l’Arve is an important passage for the transportation of goods as well as tourists going to the mountain resorts. But also inhabitants and industry is dense. Still pollution in the lower parts of Valle de l’Arve (Bonneville, Roche-Sur-Foron) is not reaching alarming values too often, but rather higher up towards Chamonix where the topography and climate is different.
The part of Vallee de l’Arve stretching from Sallanches to Chamonix has been contributed the Worst Air Quality in France (more precisely the commune of Passy) by a liberal journal already in 2008, and thereafter Passy has been figuring on numerous occasions as a persisting candidate for this title.
As the valley gets narrower and higher in altitude, habitats, industry and roads get highly concentrated at the valley floor and the climate gets colder. In winter the heating of houses is more intense and the air mass is often very stable, since it is protected from wind and often captured by temperature inversion. This hinders the air to rise and circulate, thus the diffusion of the pollutants is slower and their accumulation in the lower atmosphere is favored. This is the main reason why this area is extra sensitive to air pollution.
The bad air quality is associated with cardio-vascular and pulmonary diseases in the population, such as asthma crises, damage to lung capacity and the bronchial system, as well as increased cancer rates. Irritation, coughing and sensitivity to inflammations in the respiratory apparatus are widespread symptoms. See the short presentation of health effects caused by each pollutant.
Of course elderly and children are the main victims here. For example, kids have been checked since birth in Passy and do show abnormal signs of developing asthma.
In Valle de l’Arve the main concern is the long-term effects on public health due to chronicle exposure to high air pollution. Even when the norms are respected (i.e. the number very high pollution peaks are reduced) it is probably the base level of air pollution that has the biggest effect on people’s health and mortality.
And to answer my own question (about the cross-country skiing): Yes, red/alarming level of air pollution is an incentive to athletes to cease their out-door training, and for children and fragile persons to stay inside and shut the windows!
Environmental consequences are more common knowledge, so I should not even get started on that subject…
The measures discussed in the PPA are of two characters, temporary and constant regulations.
These are the temporary measures supposed to be taken when an air pollution alarm is raised:
* Stop all wood heating systems that do not possess cleaning filters, unless they are the exclusive means for heating in a building: Unfortunately it has been extremely cold in Chamonix the last few weeks so all heating has been running on full gas.
* Limit the heavy traffic through the Mt Blanc tunnel by redirecting the traffic to Vallée de Maurienne, unless they are also facing a critical period of air pollution, in which case the traffic can be limited during the night. However, blocking the heavy traffic through the Mt Blanc tunnel is like dumping your rubbish in your neighbors bin, it only moves the problem to another valley, unless it is combined with an obligatory redirection towards a train tunnel, such as the car-train service AITON (Charmbery – Turino). So far environmentalists in gas masks from the ARSMB are the only ones to have blocked the Autoroute Blanche (Dec 2011). They suggest a permanent interdiction for Euro class 2 and 3 vehicles to use anything but trains when traversing the Alps.
* Interdiction of fire works: An enormous peak of particles in suspension is observed in the air every year during the first few hours of 1 Jan. I think we can live with this restriction…
Constant measures that are taken (or being introduced) in order to reach the legal levels of air pollution (within a year or two) are presented in the PPA (see below). However, I’m not sure if everyone is on the same program here, goals agreed on are talked about as if more or less obtained, but the actual actions seem to be more or less absent…
* Reducing the emission (PM10, PM2.5, HAP, COV) from combustion installations in the industry sector as well as private houses: Certain building projects in the valley are receiving financial support or tax reductions for installing or constructing sustainable heating systems, such as particle filters, solar panels and proper insulation of buildings. Some regulations of the industry emission have been imposed, for example SGL CARBON in Passy have been forced to reduce their outlet of certain particles by improving their facilities and processes.
* Stop the burning of green waste in gardens, forests, and agricultural fields by informing, prohibiting and controlling, as well as offering alternative solutions (composting, waste centrals, collection at your house etc.): Burning 50kg vegetation apparently equals about 20.000km driving with a modern petrol car (when it comes to PM10 emission), or half a season of heating up a small apartment with a recent fuel heater. So it is way better to actually drive your wooden waste to the waste central in Chamonix then to burn it in your garden. The interdiction of “clearing by fire” as a forest and agricultural management system dates back to 2004, but bonfires are still lining the valley on both sides from Bonneville to Chamonix in spring and autumn…
* Reducing the emission in the transport sector (NO2, PM10, HAP, PM2.5) by:
1. Favoring the public transport by selling packages including accommodation + transport + ski pass: How about making sure that the busses and trains actually provide a good alternative that is also capable of supporting a larger public to start with? I mean, if the travel time and frequency of the trains was reasonably convenient.., if we didn’t have to worry about the one and only hourly buss being full and driving by without stopping.., if the bus lines were a bit organized to provide a reasonably quick transport from A to B (and not a sight-seeing circle around Chamonix town).., the attraction problem of public transport might just sort it self out without tricking tourist to buy packages that completely lack functionality.
2. Improved public transport, construction of biking roads and side walks, plans for the larger companies to transport their employees (by car sharing etc), organized deliveries to the mountain resorts, and regulations of the traffic in winter, are actions mentioned but details and deadlines are undefined.
Presently the only actions taken are adding some extra busses to the existing lines, occasionally decreased speed limits on the highway, and sporadic controls of the over-weight of the heavy traffic.
A planned biking road through the whole valley so far reaches from Bonneville to Cluses and is currently trying to make its way through the bureaucracy in Sallanches. Biking in Chamonix is always unpleasant since cyclist must share the narrow roads with so many cars that are already fighting each other to get through, but trying to bike to town in winter is horrifying; throwing yourself over the snowy sidewalk every time a car wants to over-take, queuing among the cars with pollutants being shoved down your throat… Walking is not much better. On a typical winter afternoon when the snow turns to slush you’ll get about 20 mud-showers on your way from Chamonix to Le Praz.
There is a single railway through the valley that has seen no renovation or improvements in 40 years, and the investments needed now seem to big to overcome. The promised renovation and doubling of the tracks (by Réseau Ferré de France, RFF) was abandoned when it stood clear that South Corea was to host the Olympic games in 2018. RFF then pulled out of the deal.
TVG trains St Gervais – Paris could be a good reliever for the cars bringing the majority of the tourists to Chamonix, but TGV:s are very rarely offered (to shameless prices) by SNCF on this distance.
A direct train St Gervais – Geneva would serve the many commuters working in Geneva as well as all the tourists and residents travelling between the resorts in Vallee de l’Arve and their closest international airport; A distance of 1h by car that today takes at the very best 3.5hours by train. This direct rail is also a very diffuse project, discussed for about 10 years and not to be expected in the near future.
Alarming values means that pollutants have reached a concentration in the air that is affecting people’s health and the environment even at short exposures. When this is happening or is about to happen, the authorities are obligated to inform the public and take the measures necessary for air pollution to revert to acceptable levels. This message must include: where, what, how much, for how long, as well as symptoms and recommendations for people at risk. This would be as much work as the daily avalanche report for Chamonix town (probably one of the reason why it is nowhere to be seen).
Informing the public has a price tag in the PPA, but it does not suggest how this is accomplished, which is a major problem since most of the suggested solutions rely on the information and voluntary (or control) of the public! Personally I would not have known unless I would have searched for the information myself. The local news paper has done a good job of acknowledging the situation, but considering that Chamonix has twice as many visitors as permanent residents, which of the vast majority are non-French speaking, I’d say most people missed the alarms, let alone understood what we should do to improve the situation??
And that brings me to the point of this way-too-long blog post that only very interested and aware people will ever read…
Maybe none…everything seems impossible here. Even the Chamonix mayor stands crippled, begging on his bare knees for some higher power to safe his railway and close the tunnel! Who is in charge then? For a foreigner that will always remain incomprehensible, but here (as everywhere else) money is above whoever thinks he is in charge. In this case loosing the good image, loosing visitors, and thus money will eventually bring about change. The question is, how far does it have go before all parties can come together and realize that it’s game over when the resources are finished, nature and people gone..?
The day we actually start wearing anti-pollution masks in the cross-country tracks and the tourist office is forced to put the same deadly warnings on Chamonix-valley-adds as on cigarette packages, it might be worth the investment already.
My point is simply to provide the information that is hard to find, and adding another few pages to the pile of complaints on the table.]]>
To summarize skiing conditions in Chamonix the last 4 weeks: A few seriously snow-loading storms with up to one week high pressures in-between, allowed for a lot of powder skiing off the lifts as well as a good start of the ski touring season.
The general snow cover is better then ever and we especially enjoy all the skiing on the lower half of the mountains down to the valley floor, exploring new variations that are seldom skiable but now full of fluffy snow on a thick base.
However, we must admit that the camera came out almost exclusively on sunny days…enjoy the result!
First week of 2012 it was still snowing almost every day with good melting temperatures in-between the storms. Often the dumps started with rain in lower altitudes and strong winds up high. Getting to ski all the favorite shutes down to the valley floor that were never skiable last winter added lots of interesting options also for the snowy days.
A sunny period in mid-January got us started on the ski touring training… Fun skiing in not so high altitude, such as ski touring in the Aiguilles Rouges and from Brevent and Le Tour, offered the most and best snow.
During 20-21 Jan, again it fell enormous amounts of snow, and most of the Chamonix lifts remained closed for 2 days. Until blue skies opened up the full potential of the high mountains, the tree skiing on Grands Montets and Brevent was the saviour that delivered plenty of face shots. Topping this with some moderate snow falls and cold temperatures during the last days of Jan, the snow was finally perfect (and in perfect amounts) for powder skiing on big, open slopes.
The out-look for February: it looks cold!
- Chamonix off-piste skiing in December 2011
- Guided off-piste skiing in Chamonix
- Guided ski touring in Chamonix
As 2012 has just arrived we are excited and confident that 2012 will be a BIG winter in the Alps. We aim to produce a monthly ski report capturing the recent conditions and happy moments through out the winter, so stay tuned!
This was our December 2011. The pre-season skiing took place mostly in Chamonix, but also a short visit to St Anton. Enjoy and be inspired if you missed it, remember if you were here…
…and get out there if you now if you can, the party is still going on! New Years Day will be another clear powder day that cannot be missed, no matter how late you go to bed.
Happy New Year from Mountain Spirit Guides Team!
- Guided off-piste skiing in Chamonix
- Facebook: MountainSpiritGuides
- Vimeo: Skiing and climbing short movies
Ten years ago we visited the Lyngen Alps for the first time, and since then we have been back most years. We like it for many reasons; the quality of skiing, the solitude, silence and absence of lifts and helicopters, the views, the fishing, the exotic food… The excellent quality of life is enhanced by the cleanliness and absence of air pollution as we know it in central Europe. In fact Lyngen and Northern Norway has become our favourite spring-skiing destination.
I’ve told you about ski touring above the Arctic Circle before, but every year we explore more of the terrain and refine our ski touring trips to Lyngen so that we can offer the best experience for all level of skiers with the most convenient set-up for skiing and comfort.
In 2011 we spent 3 weeks ski touring on the Lyngen peninsula. Some beautiful shots and teasing ski clips captures well the everyday life up there.
First film is from the last week of March. Arriving just after a heavy storm and with lots of cold snow falling during the week. Luckily the weather is ever changing and very local up there. Being at the right place at the right time, we often arrived on a summit in time for the clouds clearing and skied down with open views to the sea and the surrounding islands. Snow conditions were nothing but deep, cold powder!
The 2 first weeks of April conditions gradually turned into spring snow on the south facing slopes while remaining powdery on the north faces. With the mild sun conquering the harsh winter, it is like a long lost friend coming back to share the joy of skiing the smooth, creamy corn snow.
It is always special to finish a run straight by the sea, take your boots off, and cool your feet in the sea. Some even claim that there is a rule stating that if you make your last turn by the open water you are going in for an obligatory swim…
Video to come…
Meanwhile see the Best of Lyngen 2011 photo gallery.
For 2011 and 2012 we have decided to lodge in houses on the Lyngen peninsula, rather then sailing around on a yacht. This is to be able to maximize the good skiing we get as well as for the comfort and value for money. Staying on a sailboat is of course an adventure in it self, but from a skiing point of view it is less convenient.
With the boat you can only start skinning from the harbours, thus only those mountains straight behind the harbours are suitable. Landing with the dingy from the boat elsewhere is often not possible due to wind and weaves. Since the skiing options are limited and there are now many boats around in Lyngen, it can also get a bit busy from time to time on those peaks.
Staying in a house or a lodge and driving around the roads (covering all coast line and some in-land) we have seemingly unlimited options of peaks to ski. It also gives us more flexibility to adapt to the current weather and snow conditions, which is important since the weather is extremely local. Knowing the place well, we have never skipped a day of skiing because of the weather conditions, which means that for example 2011 we have had good skiing 6 days a week for 3 consecutive weeks.
Other advantages with the house/lodge are that you have way more comfort, private space and possibilities to dry your things every day after skiing. We still get fresh fish from the local fishermen and the same magic views on our days out as well as from the terrace.
As on all our programs we mainly take bookings from private groups, but for the trips to Lyngen the prices drops considerably with the group size (up to 6 persons), and it is a great opportunity to meet other like-minded skiers. This adventurous week offers possibilities for private space and time (staying in a spacious house) and you will not be very limited by the abilities of other members your group (as on for example a Mt Blanc week). Ideal is of course to have similar skiing abilities and touring experience, especially if you do not know each other, but even if you don’t everyone is guaranteed a good challenge and an unforgettable week.
Therefore we will put dates out on the website (at Guided ski touring Lyngen) for groups to join, and announce when we have spare places in groups also on MountainSpiritGuide’s facebook page and Mountain_Guides twitter.
Ski and sail trips to Lyngena will also be arranged in the future, but only for private groups and we will need your request up to 1 year in advance.
From there, the Rock Trip Autumn 2011 went on to Finale Ligure where the focus changed to sport climbing and pushing the grades. Reaching end of October, a natural continuation was to head southeast to Kalymnos, Greece, (taking a cheap flight from Milano) to test our limits and stay on the perfect climate border (where swimming in the sea is still enjoyable and climbing in both sun and shade possible). To combine this trip with another becoming-world-famous limestone climbing destination, we continued (2 weeks later) further east by boat and bus to the hills above Antalya in Southern Turkey. Here the rock climbing season is just starting and will continue through out the winter.
So far our search for the highest quality of rock (and of life in general) has been a mix of holiday and work. We have met so many friendly and inspiring people and had so much good food…as always the road is by far more important then the final destination. However, to highlight a place that I have not written about before, I’ll drop a few lines about at the sport climbing in Geyikbayiri, before we take off to finish this years sun-beach-rock trip with a month in Thailand.
I particularly liked the combination of travelling from Greece to Turkey, getting two equally great climbing destinations of slightly different characters into one holiday and without flying in-between.
No need to pre-book – just go! 2h ferry from Kos to Bodrum, 9h over-night bus ride to Antalya, a final 30min taxi, and 50€ per person later, we have crossed the boarder from west to east and find our selves in a Muslim country where English is of little help once away from the big tourist traps. The scenery and culture is different and in Geyikbayiri most people still live traditional lives unconcerned by tourists and climbers.
We instantly conclude that this place provide great competition to Kalymnos; From 6a to 8a the climbing is equally spectacular, Turkish food beats the already good Greek, but therefore the sea is 30min drive away. Tough choice!
It comes down to personal preferences: Oso or Raki, Souvlaki or Kebeb, snapper or trout, sea or forest, climbing on big tufa formations or more compact colonette structures… Ola Hillberg has made and detailed comparison between Kalymnos and Turkey (unfortunately in Swedish) at: Grekland vs Turkiet – Jämn Match
…is cheap and peaceful, even though there are way more climbers in the valley now then 5 years ago. At least two more camps have opened after the original two camps (JoSiTo and Climbers Garden), as well as numerous guesthouses. It is hard for the locals to compete with the original camps run by foreign climbers when it comes to attracting climbers. Knowing our way of traveling and typical life style, they have already created a dream set-up, providing exactly what climbers want (i.e the option to camp and cook, wifi, available cars, easy booking via internet etc.) and marketed it well. All this, the locals can only try to copy and market as second-generation options.
However the locals can provide some expert traditional cooking, competitive prices, equal hospitality and a genuine cultural experience. If they make the effort to get to know their customers, people in Geyikbayiri may in the future be living from tourism like the people on Kalymnos. But unfortunately they missed the train when Geiykbayiri got marked on the climber’s map.
“Our last day in JoSiTo coinciding with the Turkish holiday week, the campsite overflowed with people. Having one tent after the other pitched more or less on top of ours, it was very strange to see the neighbouring camp completely empty!? Wondering if this dude next door has poisonous snakes in his garden or served cockroaches, we went over for dinner to check it out. Food was excellent, camp was nice, shower and toilet facilities less well made than at JoSiTo, but ok. Our conclusion was that people (not even the Turks) just don’t know about it.“
The food in the camps is good, but the food at the local trout farm is amazing! I especially appreciate restaurants with not too many choices on the menu. I like when we sit down and local meze specialities with freshly baked break and salad is simply served. Then they ask you if you want the fish oven baked or grilled, which is the only choice you have to make. Like this you’ll get the best they have to offer and Turkish-speaking waiters only is not a problem.
In early November we still have to hide in the shade during most parts of the day for climbing. In this valley the sectors consist of one long continuous south face and one long northwest face, as well as some smaller sectors and caves of varying aspects. This means that you can always get good climbing in sun or shade, but the dream would be to be able to climb on both sides of the valley so that you get the full potential of this valley and so that people spread out all over the place. This is possible a bit later in the year, around Christmas, and you can enjoy the big south face during the winter months.
The routes are long and well bolted. Tufas and colonettes make esthetical lines up the steeper orange rock and offer three-dimensional and athletic climbing. For technical and balancy climbing there are beautiful vertical lines on grey limestone with sharp crimps and pockets.
The best thing with Geyikbayiri is that you can focus all your time and energy on climbing (and eating)! There is nothing else to worry about, no logistics or other diverting attractions…It is you and the rock, and the people sharing your experience.
- More practical info about the trip and the climbing at UKClimbing.com.
- Mountain Spirit Guides organizes Rock Climbing Trips and Courses to all the destinations mentioned above for private groups.
- Guide book: A Rock Climbing Guide to Antalya by Ozturk Kayikci (4th edition 2011)
- More photos in our Facebook album Rock Climbing Kalymnos and Geykibayiri
This 650m high granite pillar is a big Chamonix alpine rock classic on the most left one of the highest peaks in the group called Les Aiguilles de Chamonix. Grand Charmoz (3445m) is one of those prominent peaks that you look up at from the valley every day and dream to stand on top of…
(Click on the photos to enlarge)
The route follows cracks and dihedrals on this huge pillar, which is divided in two parts by a large terrace two thirds up. From these ledges it is possible to reach the Nantillon glacier and descend on foot. However, the Nantillon glacier, between Grand Charmoz and Blatiere, has huge serracs hanging off its top, which makes the approach and descent quite dangerous at times.
We first attempted the Cordier Pillar on the Grand Charmoz in the end of August 2009, starting from the first lift to Plan des Aiguilles. I then noted for our records:
“Stiff grades, in fact most pitches felt like challenging pitches of 5-6a, not much simul climbing terrain. The route finding was not obvious but protection always good.
Clouds caught up on us, started the rappelling about 6 pitches away from the summit. Rocks were tumbling down from every one of the surrounding peaks and the Nantillons glacier did not allow us a safe descent off the terraces, so we chose to rappel the bottom part too. Backed up every single belay with new prusiks. Descending the glacier rive-droite to the moraine, then walking all the way down to Chamonix. A very long day. At 9pm the Pizza-man in Cham Sud couldn’t work fast enough!”
Two years later in mid September we finished off the route and finally got to stand on the summit of Grand Charmoz. With the first lift at 8.10 in the morning and the night being pitch dark at 9pm there was not much time to waste. This time we left sleeping bags, food and beer by the Plan des Aiguilles cable car to have a good nights sleep after the climb instead of walking down to the valley.
Apporach was quick (1h40) and the Nantillons glacer quiet. However the first few pitches of the route was looser then I remebered and very sandy. Higher up before reaching the big ledges, marks from falling blocks were frequent and the smell of gun powder still thick in the air from recent activity. The reason for all the sand became clear when reaching the moon-landscape of loose blocks on the terraces between the lower and the upper pillar.
The upper parts on solid yellow and red granite was really enjoyable. To start with we climbed too far right (like many other parities before us). Still following nice hand cracks and dihedrals, so we didn’t mind. The various off-route and original lines comes together one pitch below the famous off-width pitch anyway. Like all big classics there must be an off-width pitch up high to humble and put some respect into modern climbers. But well equipped with two #4 camalots we had nothing to fear.
From there a quick simul climb to the top. Being sunny and warm we felt like we had all the time in the world sitting on the top, soaking in the views of the Mt Blanc massif. From here we’re looking down on most other peaks we’ve climbed here, as well as up on Mt Blanc.
To summarize we did 14 belays on the whole route and the climbing took almost 7 hours. Mostly we climbed in long (50m) pitches and on some easier sections with a running belay. The line is homogenous, direct, and mainly high quality rock even though exposed to rock fall in a few places.
The summit ridge of Grand Charmoz continues south, and another rappel route is offered in the guide book after traversing behind the highest summit. As that route would bring us down to the terrace closer to the glacier and then have us traversing in the loose blocks to reach the rappels of the bottom part, we decided to go back exactly the same way as we came instead. This did not pose too much problem when starting off with some really short rappels.
No major rope-jams, but as always rappelling is laborious and time-consuming. The last rays of sun fell on us, but the expected full moon was screened from us by Grand Charmoz and Grepon. So the darkness was thick around us during the last few rappels and the walk back to the mid-station.
- In times of increasing temperatures and melting of permafrost, one should research conditions before attempting any alpine climbs in the Mt Blanc massif.
- Guided alpine rock climbing in Chamonix
- More photos in our Alpine Rock Climbing Album on Facebook.
Walking over the flat valley floors in Bohuslän, south-west Sweden, you look at gentle hills and the wide horizon of a landscape shaped by the big glaciers. Forest and cattle fields rest on ancient bedrock of solid granite. At first glance, these hills don’t seem very interesting to alpine rock climbers, but when taking a closer look the area is full of smooth vertical walls with clean splitters that makes it itch in the fingers of any crack climber.
In fact trad-climbing areas like this are very rare in Europe. Those continuous finger or hand cracks you occasionally come across in the Alps (after 2h approach and 5 pitches of slab climbing) are lined up on 50-100m high walls, often rising off a lawn with playing children, a pick-nicking family or a few casual-looking cows. Here and there we spot a colorful climber about to send a magic line.
This is our second visit and we have still only seen a fraction of what Bohuslän has to offer. Therefore again we find our selves at a new crag every day, climbing only 3-star classics marked on the tick-list we’ve got from local experts. However the list of must-do climbs only seams to grow, no matter how many lines we send… You find an official tick list at 8a.nu under Search Tick List -> Bohuslän.
It is easy to drive around and even change crag during the day. Approaches are short and flat. The trad-crags are more or less clean of bolts (including anchors). Therefore climbing is a bit more time consuming then at well arranged sport-climbing sites. This doesn’t matter so much when you are on vacation though, and the Swedish summerdays are long. After climbing there are both lakes and the sea to dive into…
Basically life is easy and cragging is tuff in Bohuslän! However climbing is safe and all classic routes are easy to protect. Just make sure you are well equipped to defend your self against mosquitos and tics!
Even spoiled people used to climbing in Yosemite, Gritsone or Chamonix call Bohuslän a world-class place for single-pitch trad-cragging. Probably not because of one crag, but the assembly of crags within a small area. And for the high quality crack lines in all grades – from your first trad lead to some of the hardest trad routes in the world.
Where: At the west coast of Sweden, after 2.5 hour’s drive from Oslo and 1 hour from Gothenburg, you are in the heart of Bohuslän, which is actually a department. Towns within this area are Dingle and Munkedal.
Guide book: Klätterguide Bohuslän by Joakim Hermanson/Bohuslän klätterklubb.
This 2002 guide book describes approximately 1000 routes on 95 crags. Loads of new routes have been done since that! All grades are found, from 3 to 9 (Swedish grades), with the highest concentration at grades 5 to 7.
There is also a net-guide to all climbing areas in Sweden where you find most of the crags in Bohuslän.
The Swedish grading system uses the same numbers as the Norwegian and the UIAA scale, but is slightly different. Becoming standard prctice is to give bolted routes French sport climbing grades and Swedish grades for the trad routes (even when in the same area).
Be very careful to not violate any access rules when climbing in Bohuslän. It is a very sensitive issue and especially when parking your car.
Accommodation: You either rent a summer cottage from a local family or camp.
Most campers gather at Klättertorpet,
or at Bohusläns’ Climbing Clubs’ Hut.
Best time: May till October. Local weather forecast at smhi.se.
Trad Climbing Courses: Mountain Spirit Guides organizes climbing trips to Bohuslän for private groups. The goal is to make you progress in trad- and crack-climbing. We don’t yet have a program on our website so please contact us if interested.
More photos: In our Trad Climbing Trips Facebook gallery.
Climbing movie from Bohuslän: An adrenaline teaser for those looking for excitement…
According the site 8a.nu, Kalymnos is currently (2011) the most popular climbing crag in the world! After 6 days of non-stop climbing on Kalymnos I can tell you why. The easy access to exceptional natural rock formations, equipped by the safety standards of an indoor gym, makes it is so easy to get a lot of top-quality rock climbing done in a stunning environment.
Approaches are well arranged and relatively short, the world class routes are lined up next to each other, and they are all very safely bolted. This means that you can efficiently feed your self one amazing line after the other, and have exhausted your biceps well in time for the afternoon sun on the beach.
The list of advantages of Kalymnos as a sport climbing resort can be made much longer;
- the flights are cheap from many cities in Europe (directly to Kos)
- if you have an interest in good food you will eat very well
- accommodation in studios are cheap and practical
- you don’t need a car (a scooter takes you anywhere on the island)
- hang out for climbers is centered and it is easy to find climbing partners for singles
- it is suitable to bring small kids to many of the crags
- the rock dries super quickly, and notably there are rain-proof crags as well as tufa climbs also in the lower grades (from 6a and up)
- perfect destination for rock climbing perfection for all levels
The main business on Kalymnos was earlier the fishing and selling of sea sponges. The business died because of a combination of over-fishing, environmental groups lobbying against it, and the replacement of the product by cheap chemical alternatives. The complementing economic activities consisted of agriculture, fishing, and some summer tourism (July-Aug), but over all Kalymnos was in a time of economic stagnation before the climbers invaded the island.
After the initial routes put up by Italian climbers, Kalymnos municipality in collaboration with Aris Theodoropoulos started to develop and promote climbing on Kalymnos on a bigger scale.
In general climbers are well aware of and concerned about the environmental impact and sustainability of their activity. We seek to justify our traveling around the world in our hunt for the most beautiful cliffs and mountains, by doing our best to minimize our negative impact on nature and supporting the local communities and tradesmen.
Climbers based tourist economy
It is clear that the climbers have become a very important part of the tourism on Kalymnos, increasing the season from 2 months to almost year-round. The locals have been quick and cleverly adapted their business to this new form of tourism. They have help to develop the crags by lodging experienced route builders and even sponsored them with bolts. This positive reaction have made it possible for the locals to stay in charge of the development and profit from the “new wave”.
As a visitor on Kalymnos I happily spent my money feeling that I was contributing to the local community (and not to some big charter corporation exploiting the locals as underpaid hotel cleaners). However the climbers are so far very centered in Masouri, even though you find as good (or better) accommodation and restaurants in other smaller villages.
Even though popular sport climbing destinations tend to be short lived, changing with the newest discovery in fashion, Kalymnos has such a large potential for further development and the quality of the crags are so high that climbers will likely keep on coming for a long time. When the early developed sectors get too polished the crowds will spread all over the island and it’s satellite island Telendos.
Environmental concerns are in general not high priority in Greece, and environmental activists have most likely been absent during the ‘sportification’ of the cliffs and caves on Kalymnos. Apart from climbers interests, the development of Kalymnos as a climbing resort by the local authorities is strictly economic.
However, climbers have helped to increase the environmental awareness on the island by organizing cleaning days of the beaches and demonstrated the importance of a clean place for attracting visitors. After the first clean up of Masouri beach this has become a yearly event. Other villages should profit from the motivation among climbers and organize the same; Barbecue & Beach cleaning – who wouldn’t come!?!
Ideas how to reuse your rubbish (since possibilities for recycling are limited) and other ways to make (and keep) Kalymnos clean are shared by climbers for climbers at Reducing our negative impact on the environment by ClimbKalymnos.com
On top of reducing waste and water consumption we must not forget that we are intruding on a very sensitive ecosystem that has previously been completely protected from human activity (isolated micro-ecologies established in caves and on cliffs). Maybe the impact of the intense traffic of climbers ought to be further investigated by experts, to ensure that the biodiversity is not harmed.
With the opening of new sectors one of the tasks is to “clean” the place from loose blocks and too fragile stalactites, as well as bushes, lichens and mousse covering the holds. This process is completed by the actual climbing during the first years of repetitions of the routes.
Other then possibly killing your belayer, braking of a tufa formed during millions of years makes you feel like you broke the nose of the Great Sphinx of Giza. At the same time it is preferred that people enjoy this exceptional places that would not have been visited by otherwise. By starting the debate and involving ecologists in the development of crags on Kalymnos, we can avoid doing the same mistakes that are now venturing the access to many climbing sites in central Europe.
The local authorities have after all proved to be protective of their natural heritage by having limited the number of routes in Grande Grotta above Masouri. Regarding preservation of the biodiversity there might be initiatives that I do not know about, we’d be happy for all comments enlightening this subject…
- All other useful information, from the history of Kalymonos to upcoming climbing events and new routes, at climbkalymnos.com
- More photos in our website gallery Rock Trip Kalymnos 2011 and Facebook album Sport Climbing Kalymnos and Geyibayiri
- Mountain Spirit Guides offer rock climbing courses at various destinations.
Jan and first half of Feb 2011 – locally referred to as the Great Powder Depression that will be spoken about for years in Chamonix – opened up to us the opportunity to focus more then usual on the ice climbing. In times when the great ski lines are patched with rock and ice or skied out harder then a piste, the ice falls and ice gullies come out into view both practically and mentally.
I am happy to report that the winter is back to normal i the Alps and that the après-ski bragging is once again about those great runs and endless face shots. But even so we are still making regular visits to the Cogne Valley to climb ice falls – we got hooked on this sport!
After getting over the first struggles encountered by novice ice climbers or getting back into shape after years of mostly skiing and little ice climbing, you actually long to have the axes back in your hands. I personally found the ice climbing more satisfying in terms of movements, flow, climbing speed and possible challenges once reaching the more advanced level of an accomplished ice climber.
At grade 5 the icefalls contain longer sections of vertical ice that demand a certain amount of technique and endurance. I have come to realize what my friend Hanna-Kajsa meant when she suggested that there is a fine line between ice climbing being fun and not fun at all. Too easy is not very exhilarating, then there is a narrow grey zone where the climbing is interesting and you have lots of fun, but you can quickly climb yourself out of your comfort zone and into a terrifying and desperate position.
Choosing the right ice falls are not always evident, since the difficulties varies by the hour depending on the temperatures, amounts of ice, and the number of people that have climbed before you. Knowing about the current conditions significantly increase your chances of a good day out (as always). Lyckily we are not too far away from one of the ice climbing Mekkas in the Alps…a great place to take your ice climbing to the next level.
Cogne is a peaceful place in the end of the valley stretching south-east from Aosta towards Grand Paradiso in Italy. From the town Cogne, a smaller valley stretches to the south; Valnontey, and if you drive 3 km further in the Cogne valley to the village of Lillaz you have Valeille as well, parallel to Valnontey. These two valleys are lined with long, thick ice falls on both their east and west sides. The old villages around here are genuinely Italian with beautiful stone houses, cozy bars and restaurants, and friendly people. The atmosphere is calm even though the visiting climbers are many – a nice contrast to the stress and noise in busy ski resorts. Life is simply good and the climbing is magic!
There are enough ice falls in Cogne for weeks of climbing. This winter we have climbed about 10 well formed ice falls of grades 3-5, but there are many more. Most ice falls are climbed frequently, which allows for a lot of hooking, which generally makes it a lot easier then if you are making the first marks on the ice.
Right by the village of Lillaz you find Cascata de Lillaz that offers a beautiful and long intinerary for the novice ice climber, starting deep in the river gorge and finishing on the upper sunny slopes.
In the main valley the ice falls of 100-600m are lined up as in a beauty contest. On the shady west side of Valeille (rive droite) we highly recommend E Tutto Relativo (4, 200m) and Stella Artice (5,180m). Alongside these you also find the longest ice fall in Cogne, Cold Couloir (4+, 600m) as well as some mixed routes.
On the sunny side (rive gauche) we climbed two great classics of grade 4+/5, Tuborg and Candelabro del Coyote that were well formed all the way up in January (the upper pitches are apparently not in good conditions every year).
The approaches are relatively comfortable (15-45 min on foot) and all ice falls are in good view when walking in along the valley floor.
The well formed ice falls (this year) we found pretty far into the valley (around 1h30 approach on foot, but much faster with skis). A nice one on the sunny side is Erfaulet (5, 140m), hidden in the shade of a narrow gully.
On the more shady west facing walls there is plenty of room for many climbers, for example on Mur de Patri (4/4+, 250m). Even a bit further into Valnontey on this side is of course the queen of Cogne; Repentance Super (5+/6 220m) that we did not get a chance to climb yet, since there was always rope-teams ahead of us on this popular master piece. Luckily there is a worthy alternative just next to it, Monday Money (4, 180m), offering the same great views but a bit easier climbing.
We have been visiting Cogne this year from beginning of Dec till end of Feb, finding that not all ice falls were formed to start with and that the last few weeks the ice has become rotten on the sunny sides.
Current Conditions: In general the ice is still good on the west facing walls but often becomes very soft in the afternoons when the upper pitches get the sun.
With 1h30 drive from Chamonix we found it nice to stay for the night and treat ourself with a mini vacation of 2 days sometimes.
- Hotel La Barme in Valnontey became the favorite. Friendly staff and often full of climbers enjoying the plentiful dinner after a successful day of ice climbing.
There is 80km of cross country tracks going through the woods and the bottom of the valley floors. Really well maintained and beautiful surroundings.
- Contact Mountain Spirit Guides for guiding or ice climbing courses.
- More photos in our Facebook ice climbing gallery.
- Current conditions of the ice falls in Cogne.
- Updates on conditions and photos of the ice falls in Jan 2013.
The question is: Is ice climbing fun? Or should anyone that is not a hard core alpinist or grew up in northers Scanidinavia stay away from this sport?
Even though I was already an accomplished rock climber and keen mountaineer and skier, climbing icefalls never really appealed to me. I had been a few times, but only as a last resort, on winter days when the snow conditions were bulletproof, or visibility was zero. I had the idea that ice climbing was a pure hassle and involved a lot of suffering – Frozen carabiners and ropes to manage with your gloves on, ice lumps falling on your head, and above all freezing cold! Risking seriously long falls dressed in an armor of sharp tools, also seamed kind of dangerous to me. I completely understood why so few girls were into ice climbing, they’re just too clever.
But then I thought again; Wasn’t rock climbing also a hassle and a bit scary in the beginning when I didn’t know how to handle all those ropes, slings and protection devices? I wasn’t particularly over excited about climbing multi-pitch trad routes to start with, and now that is what I am the most excited about! So maybe ice climbing deserved a chance too..?
Already on my first day out I discovered a lot of pros with ice climbing compared to other activities around Chamonix; No need to get up at 7am since there are no queues to beat, and no need to worry about the weather (as long as you stay down in the valley and not in a place exposed to avalanches). Cloudy, foggy, snowy or windy… padded up like a michelin man in my down jacket, fleece pants and gore-tex suit it is quite cozy anyway.
Ice climbing (in its less extreme forms) proved to be quite contradictory to my former believes. When well formed, icefalls are pretty solid after all. There is no need to stress yourself to tears neither, top-roping is fun too! In fact it doesn’t even have to be unpleasantly cold. Some times we are climbing ice in the sun, -3 degree Celcius, the ice is sorbet-soft (so that even I can get my axes in there), and often you find yourself in absolutely magic surroundings.
After a few days out in the Chamonix valley I had a better feeling for when the axes and crampons stick to the ice and when they don’t. I’m no longer scared of falling off just because I don’t have my axe placed with the full length of the blade in the ice. I also learned that I can stand well on my feet and not progress only by doing pull-ups in my axes. As I got more relaxed it started to get really fun. I have realized that most people climb icefalls with a good margin of capacity when leading, but also that you need a strong head to always climb at your best in this dynamic and uncertain environment.
This winter (Dec 2010 – Jan 2011) we’ve been around for quite a few days of ice climbing in the Chamonix valley. Some ice falls are well formed and others are still thin or wet. Below are a few suggestion for a day out – not too big of a mission and no scary stuff! Grades 2-4.
You find them all in the guide book “Cascades autour du Mt Blanc” by Damilano/Perroux. Consult this guide book for further descriptions of access and maps.
La Cremerie – Argetiere
About 20min walk from the Cremerie above the Grands Montets cable car station, is a popular sector for ice climbing introduction. Here we found two wide ice falls for easy introduction with a few snowy sections. Then a 60m long pitch with a 10m almost vertical section that was interesting.
Col de Montets
On the top of the col, you see the icefalls on the right of the road when coming from Chamonix. It is just 10min walk from the car and it is partly in the sun most of the day. Great for a day out! From right to left: Two short but thick, almost vertical icefalls are formed. Then there is a 60m icefall, easy in the start then a 10-15m vertical section. On the left there is a 130m icefall also in good condition of maybe 3+ climbing.
Le Chapeau – Gorges du Bas
The ice here was (around New Years) still a bit wet and the falls not completely formed. The approach (45min) is a bit tricker, but therefore a bit more adventurous. Walking from Lavancher toward the Buvette de Chapeau, just before reaching the big couloir below the cascade du Chapeau, a small trail is descending towards the gorge. Crossing the big couloir the trail follows a ledge traversing below the slabs. There are some iron foot steps and rails to follow unless they are covered in the snow. Reaching the end of a rocky buttress you have the easiest icefall coming up in the couloir on your left. Rappelling from the lowest tree in that couloir you reach the bottom of the gorge with 2x60m ropes. You can climb back up where you rappelled on the grade 2 icefall (60m) or the one left of it (grade 4, 80m).
Barre des Charcotins – Trient
The best way to walk there is from Col de Forclaz following the snowshoe trail traversing along the south slopes of the valley overlooking the village of Trient (approach about 1h). In December the sun don’t yet reach the icefalls, but later in the season it will. At the far right of a serie of wide ice falls, there are a few variation of a 200m icefalls in good condition, with sections of grade 4 climbing.
Le Châtelard – Secteur du Pesseux
About 500m after the Swiss border you get a glimpse of the icefalls from the road. You can walk up from here, but the shortest and easiest approach is from the village Les Grangettes above. By the main waterfall, the first pitch of 20-30m, grade 3, is climbable, but a lot of water is running beside and behind it, so I do not recommend it unless it gets colder again. The Frigor (4+) is in better shape (at least up to the freestanding part in the end).
We will continue to explore the ice climbing in the Chamonix area and keep you updated on conditions. Please comment if you have any updates.
I can hight recommend people to explore this vertical ice-world. Most often it will take you to some stunningly beautiful places, it is great fun, and a good preparation for bigger adventures in the mountains.
Surely I often do get cold fingers and I occasionally swear at my equipment or cry out for Mama… But should you get frustrated about the cold, your non-cooperating ice screw, or about ripping you new gore-tex pants with your crampons, there is no better anger-reliever then the frantic hitting and kicking that ice climbing is all about. So in the end you go home happily exhausted.
- Contact Mountain Spirit Guides for a private course or guiding by UIAGM qualified mountain guides.
Note! All recommendations are completely subjective, and current conditions can change by the hour. Mountain Spirit Guides team take no responsibility what so ever for any of your private adventures.
Seen from the Mer the Glace, the one satellite of Grands Charmoz catches the eye of every adventurous alpine climber. The esthetic shape of an index finger pointing towards the sky is a serious temptation for those who like to stand on top of a sharp rock needle with 1000m of air between them and the glacier.
The first ascent of Aiguille de la République was done already in 1904 by Joseph Simond. To ascend the slightly leaning top-pillar, a top-rope was sent over from the Grand Charmoz by using a crossbow! Today the technical, 20m long slab, is equipped with bolts and is either aided (A0) or free climbed (6c+). There are several routes leading to the summit, the most popular are the Normal Route and Republique Bananière, the latter being considerably harder.
The Normal Route to La République offers a relatively easy way to the summit needle. Still it is long and requires extensive mountaineering and rock climbing skills. The route is 600m of mainly grade 4 alpine rock climbing that requires efficacy in rope maneuvers, route finding and progress on traditional gear.
It combines two different aspects of alpine rock climbing; first adventurous terrain where you move together with your partner and only occasionally make belays, possibly climbing in big mountaineering boots. Then the last 100m becoming rock climbing in its common meaning with vertical pitches on steep, orange granite. It is a good test piece for the confirmed alpine climber.
The hike up to Refuge de l’Envers is about 3h in a beautiful scenery. When climbing La République this summer, 19-20 of July, we passed the hut in the afternoon to fill up our camel backs and our stomachs with a big and tasty omelette. Late afternoon we headed for the climb, choosing to experience an amazing sunset on the very mountain instead of sleeping in the crowded hut. There is a perfect bivouac ledge 200m above the base of the route where we spent a pleasant night under the stars.
Before tucking ourselves into our down jackets and sleeping bags on the ledge we had a good exercise of 2 hours from the hut with our fairly heavy back packs. The first obstacle to pass is the massive bergschrund. Often it is possible to pass over on the rocks right of the bergschrund. If not, some topos suggest to climb the 10m high ice wall, but that looks like a very acrobatic mission. Once on the upper snow field, getting onto the actual route can also be quite exciting. Therefore conditions are better earlier in the summer season than later.
The initial rock ramp leads to sections of cracks and ledges. The climbing up to the perfect bivouac spot is enjoyable. After passing a dihedral with a big block jammed in it, there is a belay on slings and a narrow ledge. Traversing the ledge to the left it opens up to 10x10m of flat ground with views onto Aig Vert, Petits and Grandes Jourasses, and Dent du Geant… adding to that scenery, an evening meal, great company and a warm and clear night, and you are not suffering!
The main part of the hight meters on this route are gained in the wide couloir dominating the space below the Grands Charmoz. The terrain is easy on compact slabs and cracks, but the itinerary is full of optional variations. Just before reaching the grey shield of slabs leading up to Grands Charmoz, the traverse in made towards La République. Crossing a gully just underneath the col (de la République) and a traversing further right on ledges leads out on the actual peak.
From there it is proper climbing in the 4c-5c register. A nice variety of crack, dihedral, ridge and slab climbing. To finish, the last pitch is strengtheous and technical even if aided (compared to the rest of the route). The excitment increases with the exposure on this last pitch that culminates on a super airy summit, no wider than 30cm. Less than 4,5 hours after waking up with the first lights we were standing on the summit of La République, soaking in the amazing 360 degree view.
It is a grandiose atmosphere on this mythical summit. Standing on top, one can pretend to by flying. A sensation of achievement makes us smile, even though knowing that the adventure has only started. Reversing the whole itinerary can take almost as long time the ascent, mostly by rappelling and short sections of traversing and down climbing. Belays (slings around blocks) is in place (but not always easy to find) for the common descent piste. For the last 4 rappels down to the glacier, the belays on Republique Bananière are used.
From there it is about 2,5 hours walk back the the Montenvers train. Finally it is a long day that really gives a feeling of having completed a true alpine climb. The route is graded D+. For climbers in the 6 grades the climb is a pleasure, and 7-grade rock climbers get the opportunity to discover the dimesion of alpinism. Overall it is a complete tour that demands a passion for the mountains.
- Enverses des Aiguilles by Michel Piola, classic guide book from 2006, the best for that area.
- Sommets du Mt Blanc by Jean-Louis Laroche and Florance Lelong, accurate descriptions and information as well as a great inspiration to climbing classics in the Mt Blanc massif.
Mountaineering itself is a celebration of nature, but when practiced by tens of thousands climbers every summer it will inevitable cause progressive damage to the local environment. Summer alpinism is slightly controlled by the system of huts, cable cars and helicopter rescue that provides the means for the modern way of mountaineering, but it does not ensure that the environmental impact of the visitors is minimal. It is very much in the self-interest of alpinists to save our shrinking glaciers and ensure that regulation of mountaineering stays minimal in the Alps.
The Alps have become a magnet for tourism, attracting 100 million visitors a year. For the 13 million residents of the Alps stretching over 7 countries tourism has been an economic boom. It also has contributed to congestion, pollution by motorized travel, and over-development in many areas. For the glaciers and the extremely sensitive high alpine ecosystem the number of human visitors has become a major threat over the last few decades. It is our responsibility and duty to lessen the severity of our impact on the alpine environment if we want to keep on enjoying the massive playground of the European Alps.
The developed system of mountain huts greatly helps to accommodate climbers on their way to the summits in the heavily trafficked areas of the Alps, such as the Mont Blanc mountain range and the Saas and Zermatt regions of the Swiss Alps. Only a few number of visitors choose to bivouac or camp on the glaciers, in doing so they take on an even greater responsibility to leave no trace after their stay. Either way there are many things we can and have to do to minimize the impact of our visit and preserve the glaciers and the alpine flora in these popular areas.
This list can be made much longer, especially if including more aspects of travel and tourism. Feel free to comment and add suggestion below!
1. Reduce car mileage by using public transport, trains, and shared transfers. Come for a longer visit instead of many short ones (it is also better for your acclimatization).
2. Preserve the rare alpine flora and stop the erosion problems by staying on the present trails.
3. Leave no trace. Do not mark routes in any way, use maps or a GPS. And bring down all your rubbish to the valley, including food, even if there are bins in the huts!
4. Never soil the glacier with human waste. To protect water from contamination, speed up decomposition and avoid disgust to others try to avoid defecating on snow at all (use the toilets in the huts). In case of emergency; search for rocks (on dry ground poop has a chance to decompose). If no broken rock available, dig a proper pit and bury it.
5. Keep your party size small in areas with wild animals; this reduces noise and social interaction.
6. Be responsible when choosing your routes, climbing days and partners, so to stay out of trouble and unnecessary flying for the helicopters.
Mountaineering practice will never go back to what it was in the beginning, when a few pioneers had the hills to themselves. Neither can we stop natural and cultural changes. But we can try to actively contribute to the preservation of the high Alps by minimizing our direct impact and making enlightened choices.
As a guiding company we still believe that bringing people to the mountains is a good thing, because experiencing the mountains creates an awareness and understanding for the alpine environment and a wish to take care of these beautiful places. Being introduced to mountaineering together with a qualified mountain guide is a good way to learn from someone passionate about the places he lives and works.
Mountain Spirit Guides naturally transfer environmental education and information to clients and team members, as well as manifest good mountaineering ethics.
The high season for summer mountaineering in Chamonix has started. Last week we had 3 groups on a 5-day Mont Blanc course, all performing well on the acclimatization climbs and successfully summiting Mt Blanc from the Cosmiques hut over the 3 summits.
Before taking off on such an adventurous week, we always discuss everyone’s personal equipment carefully; from boots and socks to sunhats and beanies, from underwear to down jackets. To aid our clients in the pre-arrival shopping process, we would like to supply some information on what to wear on mountaineering courses in the Alps.
Having the right clothes significantly increases your comfort and also your chances for success when alpine climbing. Weather conditions and temperatures changes extremely quickly in the Alps summertime. You need to be able to stay dry and maintain the right degree of warmth from morning till the afternoon, without bringing your whole wardrobe in your backpack.
Being too cold, too warm, or wet quickly becomes an additional factor of fatigue. Fuffing around with badly adjusted clothing and equipment costs you precious climbing time, and time is safety in the mountains.
In the clothing list below we have exemplified many of the described items with products from Norrona. We use their clothing because they simply have the things we like. Norrona is a high-end brand who are developing the next generation of outdoor clothing in close relationship with professional mountain guides and sports men.
Following is a list of clothing that we suggest that you bring for all our mountaineering courses:
Base layer: Long-sleeve underwear top and long johns made of wool or synthetic materials is best to wear close to the body. Avoid cotton since it tends to get cold and clammy when wet. Depending on temperatures and your type of mountaineering pant, the long johns can be worn underneath or not. However, a long underwear top and one layer of long pants is always worn in order to protect our skin from the snow and the strong sun radiation in the mountains. Even though temperatures are sometimes +10 degree Celsius, we do not go to the high mountains in shorts and t-shirt.
Pants: A thin pair of soft shell mountaineering pants, such as the Norrona Svalbard pants, are comfortable with or without a base layer and practical to wear most days. Additionally, bring a light pair of shell pants for rain, snow and wind protection. Instead of baggy gore-tex ski pants, bring a light pair of rain pants that you can pull on without taking off your boots and crampons (really handy when standing in the snow). For example the Falketind pack-light pants.
Jackets: As insulation layer, both a thin and a thick fleece is good to have; the choice of the day depends on the temperature. Norrona 29- and Narvik-series provide various thicknesses and have hoods, which can be used as sun and wind protection. Wind stopper fleeces are less convenient since they are heavy and do not breathe as well as a fleece, and you need a wind and waterproof shell jacket anyway.
Always bring a thin gore-tex shell jacket or a light rain jacket for rain and wind protection. We recommend the Falketind pack-light or the Bitihorn rain jacket from Norrona.
When going as high as Mt Blanc, a light down jacket is also nice to have since is can be very cold with the wind chill.
Hats: Sunhat and beanie are both indispensible for long summer days in the mountains. The face also needs to be protected with 30-50 sun cream, and the eyes with sun glasses (preferable category 4). For climbing Mt Blanc, also bring skiing goggles to keep the face warm in case of cold winds.
Gloves: You need a thin pair of waterproof gloves, impregnated leather is good. For cold days and high peaks, bring an extra pair of warmer gloves too.
Boots: A pair of gaiters to link pants and boots is always good. Even if the snow is not very deep, the gaiters will prevent you from ripping your pants in pieces the first day you are using your brand new, super sharp crampons.
The boots you need is a stiff pair of leather boots that you can fit crampons onto. Which boot to buy depends on what type of mountaineering you want to use them for, and if you easily get cold feet or not.
For most summer mountaineering we use a light and comfortable boot such as the Scarpa Triolet. It is very nice for walking and works well for all the climbing except for very technical ice routes. It is ideal for our Matterhorn courses.
For climbing Mont Blanc, a warmer boot is recommended if you easily get cold feet. La Sportive Nepal Top and Scarpa Jorasses GTX are all round boots that work well for both for summer and winter climbing in the Alps.
Scarpa Phantom Lite is an option for those who are concerned about cold feet. It might be good on Mont Blanc, but for all other summer mountaineering in the Alps it is unnecessary warm and heavy.
There is a lot to choose from on the market when it comes to alpine climbing boots. You just have to try them out and see what fits your feet best. For a first time mountaineer, renting boots to try out the first week is a good option.
- Equipment lists for mountain adventures
- What equipment to bring for Mont Blanc
- Norrona outdoor clothing
Until the 16th of may snow kept falling above 2000m every afternoon in Chamonix and we enjoyed the powder skiing off Aiguille du Midi. Often the powder was waist deep and most days only a few people were up there. Even though most people in Chamonix have stashed their skis in the basement and oiled up their bikes and climbing gear, lots of enthusiastic skiers showed up in the weekend for a last powder feast – skiing was just too good! All possible lines on the west and north side of the Midi was skied as well as plenty of variations of the Vallee Blanche.
Check out plenty of powder shots from week 19 on Mountain Spirit’s Facebook Album.
Also enjoy the little video from skiing off Aiguille du Midi by our friend and colleague Asmus Nörreslet.
Once it stopped snowing the Mont Blanc massif got hammered with strong winds followed by more normal end-of-May temperatures. In the high mountains, north faces turned into chalky, compact powder and crust formed on the south faces. Depending on the exposure, ski touring during week 20 involved sleeping in huts and starting early to be successful.
We skied some great lines in the Cirque Maudit after sleeping in the Cosmiques hut, feeling fortunate to be in that area this quiet time of the year. The skiing all the way down to the Montenvers train afterwards is starting to become a hassle in the end though. However, the opening of the Panorama lift between Punta Helbronner and Aiguille du Midi is planned on the 28th May and easy access to the high Vallee Blanche area is guaranteed once again.
For months now we have also been keeping a close eye on an impressive mountain face that you see every time you drive up to Chamonix from Sallanches; the north face of Dômes de Miage (next to the popular Metrier Ridge climb). Until now the 1100m high face has had patches of ice on it, but after all this snow in May it looked well filled in. This big face, that seldom in such good conditions, seamed like a great way to end the ski season.
To our knowledge we were the first ones to ski the face in the last two years (please comment if you know otherwise) and we were happy to find solid snow all the way to the top. The story and route description is well covered in our photo gallery from the ski descent of Dômes de Miage north face, as well as on the Norrona Blog.
Skiing in Chamonix in May is mostly enjoyable for the highly motivated, expert ski mountaineer. It requires lots of experience and patience – but when it’s good it’s good!
Nobody is planning their weekly off-piste skiing holiday to Chamonix in May… but in fact, powder skiing is now as good as it has been any week this winter, and only a few keen skiers are still meeting up at the lifts in the mornings.
It has been raining heavily in most parts of central Europe for the last 10 days, hence it has not been much else for us to do than to enjoy ourselves above the rain-snow limit. The high mountains have accumulated large amounts of snow that stick to the steep faces, making the mountains look even whiter than in winter. With fresh snow above 2000m every night, the main activity for us in Chamonix is still skiing – not ski touring in creamy spring snow, but simply skiing powder off the lifts.
The options to ski off the lifts are of course limited in May. Only the Grands Montets and the Aiguille du Midi lifts are normally running since the snow is long gone from the lower lift systems in Chamonix. Grands Montets alone is enough to handle the small amount of people (mostly Chamonix locals) that is still hungry for the powder after a long winter of skiing. Unfortunately it closed 9th of May, but luckily we have Aiguille du Midi operating throughout the year.
The return of powder conditions made the closing week of Grands Montets a successful one. Even though visibility was low at times, many mornings offered sunny powder skiing in wintery conditions. The weekends were actually fairly busy.
Skiing off Aiguille du Midi has also been great when the visibility has been good enough to go there. The snow cover still stretches more or less down to the Montenvers train (just a few meters of scrambling on the moraine down to the stairs). The ropes on the snow ridge from the top of Aiguille du Midi have been removed though (or buried in the snow), so the exposed ridge must now be skied.
Since getting 10-30 cm of fresh snow almost every afternoon/night for the last 10 days, and never 2 days in a row without precipitation, ski touring has not been a great option. If ski touring, especially with this much fresh snow, one must consider the warm temperatures this late in the spring. To be on the safe side, skiing down should happen very early during the day (at the time the sun hits the face or before). However, pre-dawn starts have not been so easy lately, since the clouds have most often been dense throughout the nights. Nevertheless a lot of lines are in great condition and the mountains are absolutely wonderful just to look at.
Watch the scenery of the north faces in the Argenitere basin on the 8th of May. Seldom does the Triolet look that white…
Due to the fog lifting way too late in the morning, skiing any of those lines was not possible that day. Instead we have been just watching the active north faces, taking photos, and feeling the calm but impressive atmosphere of the empty basin.
After the Easter holidays Chamonix gets quiet. The town is now all green and flowery, snow is settling on the high mountain faces, and barbecues are held everywhere (even on Mer de Glace!). We have been busy ski touring and ski mountaineering around Chamonix, escaping the pollen invasion by staying in the mountains, but occasionally coming down to attend a barbecue or two… This is holiday times for us in Chamonix, and we will keep on skiing as long as the snow is there (probably another 3 weeks).
Updates on the blog about the skiing conditions in Chamonix have thus been absent since the first week of April. But there has at least been a steady stream of photos posted on Facebook and updates on Twitter, and we have made 4 photo galleries from big mountain ski tours.
Week 14, Wolfgang spent ski touring in the Lyngen Alps, Noway, hitting the perfect weather and spring-snow conditions. In Chamonix we were still skiing powder, but the fresh snow got quickly heavier and the avalanche accidents were frequent in Haute-Savoie.
The week after, the valley didn’t see much fresh snow, and the snow settled. Ski touring in the Aiguilles Rouges was still on as well as the glacier runs in the Swiss side above Le Tour, even though the snow cover on the trails out to the valley roads started to break up. Typically we skied powder up high, possibly a short section of crust, and transformed spring snow lower down.
The last two weeks 16 & 17, is normally considered as late- or even off-season for skiing in the Alps. There is a lot less holiday visitors coming to Chamonix due to the closing of the lift systems and uncertain snow conditions. This time of the year is not like in the powder season when you easily find exceptional skiing every day, now you need to be patient and wait for the right conditions. We take the time to do big ski tours with friends. There has been only a few light snow falls, and the snow has transformed to compact spring snow also in the high mountains and disappeared completely from the lower slopes.
Grand Montets have still been a busy place in the mornings, due to lots of keen alpine climbers, randonneurs and extreme skiers running to reserve “their route” in the Argentiere basin. Also the time to ski Mont Blanc is here and almost every day more tracks have been added to the north face.
However some really impressive serac falls have occurred, and getting to Mt Blanc is a bit complicated and involves a certain risk via the popular routes.
Witnessing the serac fall from Glacier Rond triggering an enormous avalanche, definitively put us off regarding all skiing below the west side of Aiguille du Midi, but many people still do this traverse on their way to the Grand Moullet hut.
Temperatures have been rising through out April pushing freezing levels up to 3500m during the days, but in general, refreezing of the snow over night have been good thanks to clear skies. To ski or climb safely, earlier and earlier starts have been necessary. Many ski tours now requires sleeping in a hut and to start skinning before sunrise. For example, the last two east faces we skied (of Point d’Orny and the Tour Noir), we skied in perfectly soft surface-snow with a still solid base at 9am. This also allows to ski the lower glacier slopes before the snow gets too warm.
The sunny and warm weather has allowed both day tours and multi-day ski tours in the area. One tour has led us to the next as we have screened the mountain faces for runs in good conditions.
On the 16 of April we climbed Aiguille d’Argentiere and skied the Barbey couloir, a north-east face that at the time still had powdery snow. On the mountain opposite on the Swiss side we found our next objective – to ski the NW face of Grand Lui. Returning one week later we skied this in perfect corn snow in the afternoon. The views from the summit of Grand Lui revealed the great looking ski down the east side of Col Superieure du Tour Noir, which we returned to ski in the early morning a few days later.
Many lines in the Argentiere basin have been in good conditions both for skiing and ice/snow climbing. On April 18 we had great powder in the bottom half of Col de Courtes, but did not go to the top due to changeable snow conditions. Sitting on the glacier down in the Argentiere basin can be highly entertaining on a sunny day, watching skiers coming down all the impressive lines on the north faces.
We have visited two mountain huts recently, Refuge d’Argentière and Cabane Treint. Both are newly renovated huts with very friendly staff. The huts were not too crowded even in the weekend and the visits were over-all good experiences.
On all the lines we have skied (except for the Barbey) we have been alone. It is very nice not to have any stress, racing other parties when climbing up or skiing down steep couloirs for example. Also the mountains make a wilder impression when no one is around.
This weekend (already started friday afternoon) a lot of precipitation is forecasted and the falling temperatures will hopefully bring snow down to 1800m. Meaning that this was not at all the end of the skiing season!
What is alpine climbing all about and how do you attack and proceed in this activity?
Climbing peaks and routes in the high mountains demands careful preparation and a certain amount of experience. When becoming an independent climber or taking your practice to the next level, you clearly need to know your capacities and limits. Only by stepping up slowly, choosing the right objectives and acquiring the adequate skills before, this adventurous sport becomes safe and highly enjoyable.
Below is an introduction and explanation to what we call alpine climbing and how we usually approach it. The information is meant to serve as a complement to our Alpine Climbing Courses. We do not encourage or take any responsibility for anyone trying out these activities without our expert supervision.
Alpine climbing is a broad term which we all have different images and experiences of. But when we speak about alpine climbs we basically refer to rock, ice or mixed routes and ridge lines in high alpine terrain.
Alpine rock climbing is typically multi-pitch rock routes of 150-700m of climbing. In Chamonix these routes are often equipped with bolts or pitons at frequently used anchor stations, but in between those, the pitches are climbed mainly by putting your own protection (traditional gear: cam devices, stoppers etc.) We climb these routes in friction shoes and light back packs.
Alpine Ice Routes, are often a mix of ice and snow. It can be a couloir or a face with sections of ice-falls. We climb them with crampons and 2 ice axes, using ice screws, pitons (usually in place on the classic routes), and possibly some rock gear for protection.
Mixed Alpine Climbs involves climbing on both rock, ice and snow – also referred to as modern mountaineering. The objective can be a summit, peak or ridge line. We climb in mountaineering boots, bringing crampons and an ice axe. The ways to protect your party depends on the terrain.
The people coming to Chamonix in summer for a week-long Alpine Intro Course have typically been intruduced to alpine climbing either by trying out rock climbing or mountaineering (or both). Having completed our 5-day Mt Blanc course, and liking the steeper and technical climbing, many people get the serge for more and wish to learn how to safely and successfully plan and carry out their own alpine adventures.
Of course all levels of climbers, complete beginners to experienced, have the possibility to improve and get to the next level. Starting from the former skills and knowledge you have about climbing and mountaineering (if any), you can learn and practice new techniques to improve efficiency and safety.
Putting together the pieces of climbing and mountaineering skills you need can be done in many ways and eventually they will come together by practice and experience. In a place like Chamonix, we have the possibility to introduce educational elements while climbing beautiful routes. Learning by doing, under expert supervision, is a great way to gain both knowledge and experience.
The approach we like to take is staring with the basics of rock climbing before proceeding to more committing routes in the high mountains. Which skills (A-F) to focus on depends on your interests and preferred disciplines, but having a certain knowledge of all types of climbing makes you more confident in general in alpine terrain.
Going through the following steps, mastering each of them in order, is a logical way to build up and progress:
A: Get familiar with climbing gear; belaying, lead climbing bolted routes, rappelling.
B: Climb multi-pitch, partly bolted routes; building anchors, belaying from the top and efficiently handling the ropes.
C: Learn how to place traditional gear and do easier long routes with natural protection. Building belays and organizing the gear gets more complicated when protection points are not already in place. Alternative ways to progress on easier ground, such as moving with a “running belay” or with just a short rope, is yet another skill to master.
D: Knowing about glacier safety and crevasse rescue is essential before moving into the high mountains. Even the pure alpine rock climbs often involves glacier approaches. Get familiar with using with crampons and ice axe, and learn how to build anchors on snow and ice. Practice how to pull someone out of a crevasse, as well as self arrest techniques.
E: Climb ice or snow routes in glacier terrain. Transferring your multi-pitch rock climbing techniques to ice and snow.
F: Climb mixed routes, changing over between different climbing techniques; climb in pitches, move together, set up rappels and necessary belay stations, crampons on and off etc. Climbing ridge lines is a great way to practice, and there is usually a lot of route-finding involved too.
Next: To take on bigger objectives, speed in essential. Efficiency is gained by improved rope-work, quickly finding the right belay settings and getting a wider repertoire of belay techniques. Fast mulit-pitch rappels and quick decisions will save you hours on the mountain.
When practicing educational elements such as safety and speed techniques, it is convenient to decrease the physical difficulties of the climb. Therefore we do not climb routes on our maxumum ability when trying to learn how to place trad gear for example. On the other hand, if trying to improve our climbing technique, we try to emilinate the stress of exposure and educational tasks – we might go bouldering or top-rope sport climbing.
Depending on the topic you want to practice, choose a suitable climb. It should not be too difficult or exhausting. Acclimatization is another factor to consider. To feel well and maintain a sharp mind is obviously crucial for an efficient and safe learning process.
- Alpine climbing and mountaineering courses with private UIAGM mountain guide.
- Guided alpine rock climbing in Chamonix.
- Guided mountaineering in the Alps.
- Equipment lists for alpine climbing and mountaineering.
- Photo galleries from our climbing adventures. More photos you find in our Mountaineeirng and Alpine Rock Climbing albums on Facebook.