It's hard to believe that it's only a month since I wrote my last post. Then I was basking in the quiet glow of satisfaction having just qualified as a Mountain Guide. Autumn in Chamonix has seen a real mix of weather.... from a huge dump of snow that reached the valley floor in early October through to gloriously sunny and warm days only a week later. If anything the weathers been fairly unsettled and unpredictable. Not the most encouraging forecasts to commit yourself to big routes, and actually the high mountain ice routes haven't really been in great condition. Sure, folk have been up there and active... but conditions have been far from ideal. To a newly qualified Mountain Guide I'm finding out that this isn't perhaps too much of a bad thing. Passing those final tests and gaining my 'badge' may have brought one journey to a close... but this last month has proved another one has only just begun.
That journey is setting up a business and finding clients who want to employ me to guide them in the Mountains! I have a thousand and one ideas of amazing routes and journies to share with people... for me that's the easy part. The harder, much harder part is the concept of self-promotion and advertising... and that has never come easy to me. I guess for most people it isn't an easy concept to get your head around, even in a culture that promotes and idolises celebrity status.
What I've had to accept is that unless I get out there and spread the word then no-one will be aware of the amazing adventures they might be missing out on by not employing me to Guide them or teach them skiing... and no one will book! The work starts here to spread the word about what I'm doing or what adventures I'm planning for the future.
This week I've been working for BASI running a Nordic skiing refresher on rollerskis for 8 members at the Tudor Grange Cycle track in Sollihull. It was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and forge new links within the Cross Country ski community and to show what a bright future BASI Nordic skiing has! Then I headed straight back to Oxford to meet the new members of the Oxford UOTC ski and Biathlon team and with the help of committed cross country ski coach Felicity Bertram we helped 6 of the team make their first steps on rollerskis! To round off a great week of 'off-snow' ski training I woke up this morning to find that thanks to the help of Katy Dartford the BMC have published an article I have written in the hope to encourage more women to consider Mountain Guiding as a profession. If you know anyone you think might be interested in some words of advise please share! BMC ARTICLE- LETTER TO ME by Tania Noakes
If you'd like to hear the song which inspired this click here: BRAD PAISLEY
On Saturday I travelled to Leysin to be presented with my IFMGA Guide badge and licence. I'm immensely pleased and proud to have achieved this goal and excited about future work possibilities! My last few years as an Aspirant Guide have confirmed my love of working as a Guide, both climbing and skiing, and the fact that I am fully qualified now allows me to start putting all those ideas for adventures into action! For the near future though it's off to Finale Ligure for some family time, Italian ice cream and coffee, sunshine and sport climbing... maybe I'll even get the chance to swim in the sea!
I write this having just got home to Chamonix after two and a half weeks down in the Italian Dolomites. It may seem hard to believe but I have to confess that I had almost forgotten how amazing the Dolomites are and I'm so pleased that this recent trip has re-ignited the fire! The last big trip that I made to this magical land of steep walls and sunlight was two years ago, running another Oxford UOTC trip taking students rock climbing and trekking. (Right: Mike and Dave on the summit of Torre Grande West Summit, Cinque Torre). We spent some of that trip down in the Pala Dolomites based around San Martino di Castrozza, and the remarkably solid, pale creamy rock, generously furnished with huge holds had been the highlight of our time in Italy. This year the lead student organising the expedition had been open to guidance to base the main part of our Dolomite trip in the Pala. (Below: James and Dave on the summit of Punta Fiames above Cortina).
The Pala is the second most significant mountain massif in the Dolomites and yet it is surprisingly little frequented by British climbers. It has a much more 'mountaineering' feel to it, and perhaps this is one of the reasons... although I have to say if it is, it's a misguided one! The routes often have long approaches which means it's probably better to stay at one of the very hospitable and well positioned refuges in the area, Treviso, Rosetta, Velo or Pradidali.
The routes have a feeling of commitment and can also have some quite complicated and serious descents. That said it is an excellent area for the mid-grade climber... and a real forging ground for novices to launch into bigger routes. (Right: Me, James and Ali on the summit of Cima Val di Roda).
Unusually for an OTC expedition we had quite a few well qualified and experienced instructors along with a few other instructors with a little less experience but no less enthusiasm for the mountains. This meant that I would often find myself Guiding two novices on a route and also mentoring one of the less experienced instructors as they themselved looked after anotehr novice climber. It made for a very sociable and richly rewarding team experinced... with lots of development for the climbing team at every level! I was working once again with Tarquin Shipley (Worked on our Ecrins expedition last year) and newcomer Gary Mason who has a passion for the Dolomites second to none... and rather un-inventively is nicknamed Dolomite-Gary.
(Above: The Pradidali hut and the positively gorgeous Cima Canali). After a days warm up on the Cinque Torre the instructional team headed to the four winds around Cortina in search of bigger and longer routes whilst the weather stayed warm and settled. I took Dave Liddard (One of our novice mountaineers) on a steep learning curve with an ascent of the Punta Fiames above Cortina on the classic South Face "Via Comune" a 15 pitch IV+ with an adventure approach and easy walk off.
(Left: Joe Fischer on the exposed abseils off the Campanile Pradidali). The Italian team we caught up with at the foot of the climb were totally impressed to learn this this was Daves' second ever multi-pitch route and he rapidly gained the nick-name "Brave Dave". James Smith and Mike Kent also joined us for this fantastic route as an independent rope team, with James proving a very capable and reliable instructor in his own right.
After regrouping that night in Cortina it was off to the Pala for the next week for the meat of the entire exped. (Below Right: James on the grade V pitches on the Soleder route on Cima Immik.)
The meteo unfortunately wasn't to prove as reliable and some unsettled rain and eventually snow encouraged the team to be flexible and resilient in order to get some of the bigger planned route done. A combination of a few days in the campsiet in Val Canali and four days staying at the delightfull Pradidali hut reaped considerable rewards in terms of pitches climbed and experienced gained... this was adventure training at it's purest!
We climbed the classic Weisner-Keis Route on the stunning Sasso D'Ortiga, the Campanile Pradidali by the Spigalo del Vecchio (complete with brass bell on the summit!) the Cima Val di Roda NW Face, Cima Immik by the SW Ridge Solleder route and to top it all off found the determination and resilience to scalee the Pala de San Martino "Gran Pilastre" route, SW Arete... and then face up to one of the most complicated and serious descents in the Dolomites. (Left Below: Ross White on the upper pitches of the Solleder route on Cima Immik).
Not bad for a weeks work when fresh snow might make for stunning photos but doesn't bode well for alpine rock climbing! The days were cold and even the light breeze made for properly testing climbing conditions so generally we tried to find souh facing routes, but even then it was never quite the balmy sunny rock of two years ago! ( Below Right: Joe Fischer having completed the five towers of descent from the Pala de San Martino... one of the trickiest descents in the dolomites!) That said all students rose to the occasion marvelously and can look back on the routes they achieved with justifiable pride... of course we left quite a few amazing routes to be done in the Pala in future. We spent a final few days in a very wintry Canazei further north where we met up again with the five members of the Trekking team. The trekking team had been shepperded by newly qualified ML(Summer) and final year student Antony Butler along a version of the Alta Via 1 with great success. It proved to be an emotional and enjoyable reunion and final meal. I was able to thank all the students, not just for their energy and hard work which had gone to make this expedition such a resounding success, but also as representatives of a wider body of students whom I have instructed over the years and who have helped me on my journey to becoming an IFMGA Mountain Guide.
(Left: Joe James and me on the summit of the Pala de San Martino.)
Without these students, many of whom have become good friends over the years it would have been a much less dynamic and vibrant journey... with far fewer amusing stories and memories stored away... and most importantly it would have been no where near as much fun! I sincerely hope that I can share some mountain magic with many more of them into the future! Thank you all so very much for helping me achieve one of my life goals. (Right: Alasdair Sherry lost in a sea of limestone on the Pordoispitze, Mariakante).
It was (as you can tell) an emotional farewell, as the instructors and students started their long drive back north to the UK, and this time I decided to take a little time for myself and not rush back to Chamonix. I spent the day recceing an area where I plan to run a ski tour next spring, and then looking round the beautiful city of Brixen. It was a lovely and immensely enjoyable finish to a great expedition to the Dolomites and as always I take away so many wonderfull memories that it's impossible not to start dreaming of the next Dolomites adevntures! (Above: A happy team after the Punta Fiames, James, Mike, Brave Dave and Me.)
It's been a long journey with plenty of ups and downs along the way but as I write this on a wet weather day in the Dolomites I can proudly announce I have completed my IFMGA Mountain Guides training and assessment. Thankfully, on reflection, there have been more positive experiences to negative ones and if there is one thing I remain sure of is that I love my work in the mountains!
Over the last few weeks I have been working on a few routes with my close friend Stuart Macdonald who as one of my Mentors through the Guides scheme has been immensely supportive and helpfull in helping me find good work and gain the right experience to pass my final exam. As ever... thank you so much Stu!
I spent a few days working alongside Stu with two clients Tim (Seen left) and Amy. Stu and Amy on the final summit slopes below right.
We climbed the North ridge of the Weismiess and the South ridge of the Lagginhorn, both good AD routes. Then I returned to Chamonix to rest a little time before my test. It's over a week away now but if I reflect on my test day I can't help but smile... it proved to be a great route on a beautifull day in the good company of BMG trainer and assessor Andy Teasdale. We did the SW ridge of the Douves Blanche from the valley, and although I have climbed it before about 3 years ago I haven't Guided it and we did a different variant start rather than the 'Integrale' which I'd done with friend Richard Bently a few years ago. (See Blog Post July 2010).
The ridge was clear of snow and in great conditions and it was nice to be able to just get on with Guiding the route without switching in and out of role with another candidate. With a reasonable competent client (I think I can call Andy Teasdale that...) we moved very efficiently and by 2pm were back at the Plan de Bertol and able to look back up at the ridge from below in admiration. It truly is a lovely route and one I'm sure I'd be delighted to Guide again in future. A true gem in the Arolla area! On the walk down from the Plan de Bertol Andy was able to debrief me on the day... and I'm sure you can imagine my happiness and relief when he congratulated me on a job well done and told me that I had passed. I almost hugged him on the spot. I had been so disappointed to be deferred at the end of last summer, with the prospect of not qualifying with my fellow Aspirants unless this test went well. Finally the pressure of assessment was off and I could start planning for the future. I think that Andy was probably just as pleased for me as I was and it was a great end to a very enjoyable day. I have really enjoyed working with Andy this summer, and although from now on I will no longer require supervision from a more experienced Guide, I hope to get the chance to work with him again.
I headed home to Chamonix that night with a real sense of satisfaction... and excited about where my journey would take me next. No opportunity for rest immediately afterwards though because full Guide Sandy Allen had contracted me to work with him on the Matterhorn the very next day! So with a quick turn around and small celebration at home with Roeland I was off to Zermatt to meet up with my client Mike Lean with whom I would climb the Hornli for the second time in as many weeks.
I'd been keen to work alongside Sandy all summer but dates just hadn't worked out, so was glad to have these few days with him, even though it came straight after passing my test. He is an experienced and very approachable Guide and has been nothing but encouraging since I met him earlier in the summer. He promised that Mike was a capable and very interesting gentlemen and he was totally spot on. Mike is a Professor of nutrition at Glasgow University and having google-stalked him the night before I also knew he was partly responsible for the development of the 'healthy pizza'. I was able to quizz him about this at dinner in the Hornli hut and ask whether these were good deep fried... Both him and his friend, Manfred who would be Guided by Sandy were excellent company and I enjoyed my time with them. Mike had even climbed with the Uncle of one of my students whilst he was at University.... small world!
With a steady pace we made good time up the route in cold conditions, and although we were somewhat delayed by teams returning from the summit we found solitude and splendid views on the top of the Matterhorn after 5 1/2hrs of climbing. It did take us somewhat longer on the descent I have to admit, where I found out that Mike is a very carefull downclimber and not a huge fan of being lowered... thankfully he was ever patient with my sense of urgency and although we didn't make the last lift to Zermatt, we did at least make it down to town before last light. Mike... I'm sure you'll read this... I hope you like the photo of you in the lee of the wind here just below the summit. Not a drop of Coca Cola has passed my lips since we parted... Good luck for your future alpine adventures!
So after considerable time spent scouring over weather forecasts trying to find the best places to climb in the alps during a week of very unsettled weather with Adrian Nelhams I had a little bit of time off. As luck would have it my time off also coincided with a return to beautifull sunny conditions, and as always with such moments, the idea of resting had to be put on the back burner.
One of many projects circling in my imagination for a few years now has been a sequence of ridges in the Arolla valley ranked in degrees of seriousness. The next one on the horizon for me was the complete traverse of the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla. Now I've heard quite varying reports of this ridge traverse, with some people suggesting that it is a ridge of truly epic-making potential and considerable lose rock... whilst other reports rate it as a wonderfull classic alpine adventure. I have known for a long time that I needed to find out where the truth lay. When I heard that British Guide Graham Frost had guided two friends, Matthew and Bill over it whilst working for Martin Moran... well I knew that the time had come to find out for sure!
With a brilliant email packed with information about the best line for the route from Graham and the knowledge that fellow British Aspirant Mike Brownlow might have time off and be open to such a suggestion I knew that a plan was definitely on the cards! After a little bit of convincing (Of which I believe I have to thank Mark Charlton for gentle encouragement) Mike was in on the plan, of a valley based 'day-hit' on this classic Valais adventure ridge traverse. The photo above shows Mike cruising up the somewhat borken climbing of the north summit. So how does the ridge rate? Well in my opinion it was excellent and I will certainly be guiding it in future for anyone who loves this kind of thing. And what is this kind of thing? Well to be sure there is some lose rock... the breche at the start of the traverse actually has a section of 'kitty-litter' like rock (well decomposed rock fragments) that give surprisingly good foot holds for such uninspiring material. Thankfully that was the last time we encournted this... well until the west-flanking descent of the latter section of the traverse.
For the most part the rock is good and the climbing no-wehere tricky, we never needed rock shoes and for the most part could move together... hence we made a fast ascent car to car of about 10hrs. The main section of ridge includes 15 pinnacles some of which are climbed, and most turned and this provides the most interesting climbing. After the south summit the route drops off onto the west flank to avoid the rotten rock of the final ridge section... that said the flank provides some alarming if easy down-scrambling where there is no obvious line but many seem to work until you pick up a better and more obvious track at the Col Ignes far below. Both Mike and I were very glad of Grahams notes for this section as it's not easy to believe that a sensible descent can easily be made of this rubble strewn face.
I have to say in reflection that I really liked this route and would recommend it to you! If you don't like lose rock and require all your mountain-climbing to be totally solid and secure then this probably isn't going to be your cup of tea... but lets be honest... the Alps has been formed by weathering processes which leaves a lot of ridges and mountains in a less than 'sanitised' state... so if you really want to climb some of the most inspiring routes of the Alps, dealing with a little lose rock is something you have to face up to. That said, the traverse of the Aiguilles rouges d'Arolla has some lose rock, but not really very much and this certainly didn't detract from the overall enjoyment. I'm pretty sure that Mike agreed with me about this... but he was glad it didn't turn into an epic and got back to the campsite in Evolene in time to rest, do some washing and prepare for work the next day.
I was lucky to be having a full day off the next day before a couple of days working on the Matterhorn with Stuart Macdonald. My client was to be the first man from the Faroe Islands to climb this iconic summit... a charming gentleman named Jakup. He had just finished a week with Mont Blanc Guides successfully climbing Mont Blanc and had spontaneously decided to try the Matterhorn since the weather and conditions were good and he was acclimatised. My friend Miles Bright put me in touch with him and it proved to be a fortuitous pairing as on thursday we successfully gained the summit after a slick and rapid 4 1/2hr ascent. Jakup proved to be pretty nimble on his feet but (and I feel sure that he won't mind me saying this...) fairly disappointingly inexperienced with any kind of ropework. That said he's a fast learner and by the time we regained the Hornli hut he was actually getting used to having a rope on and what various bits of climbing equipment were called. His quip later that "why bother learning rope systems on training climbs when you can learn on the Matterhorn" was fairly disturbing... but given how steady he was on his feet there was a certain reason to his arguement. He proved great company for the climb and as my first ever client on this coveted mountain we made a great team... here is a photo of us on completion of our mission.
With more good weather following this work and more time off I team up with friend and former student Toby Pitts-Tucker (in Chamonix for a few weeks with another good friend Joe Williams) for a Classic Aiguilles Rouges ridge traverse from the Aiguille Martin over the Aiguille de Perseverence and onto the Aiguille de Chamois and back... again a day hit from the Index lift above Chamonix. The guidebook rates it as a long day, but splitting the lead with Toby made for fast progress and we were back enjoying the tasty cakes at the Lac Blanc refuge for lunchtime... it made me think that perhaps we should have gone for a longer traverse... maybe even an integrale from yhe summit of the Brevent... has it been done? I'm sure it must have... but now I have another plan hatching away for the future....
A weak front passed over and gave a few days off for some valley cragging before Roeland and I finally got some time off at the same time... our first of the summer. Somehing I had been looking forward to for months! So what do a couple of Mountain Guides do when they have a holliday... well they go climbing of course!
Which route to choose always requires some negotiation between Roeland and myself... we both have to want to do it of course and when time is in short supply it has to be something both of us have had our eyes on for a while. This time we easily agreed on a route.
There is a face in the Ecrins with some striking pillers and ridges above the Vallon de Bonne Pierre above La Berard. You can made a lovely bivouac quite close to the face and the description promised to deliver 1000m of climbing on a great line. At TD+ it should have some interesting pitches and route finding to boot. We agreed... the Left Hand Central Piller of the N Face of the Dome des Ecrins... never heard of it?? Well I would love to be able to tell you it was amazing.... and everything about it screams out for it to BE amazing... but there is simply too much creaky and alarmingly lose rock. So I can't recommend it. In fact about two thirds of the way up Roeland and I (a little frazzled from so much sustained concentration in dealing with the looseness) agreed that it probably wasn't justifiable.
I'm partly writing this so that in future I remember that it was somewhat traumatic... as the line is so striking and inspiring that it is conceivable that in future I might forget just how bad it was...
It probably looks fine in all our pictures... don't be fooled! Even though I consider myself reasonable at dealing with less than solid rock... this was too far gone on the scale for me. If you choose to do the route knowing this... then at least forewarned might be forearmed and with your perspective set like this you might actually find it ok. The harder climbing (thankfully) was on sections of more solid rock... note that I say "more solid rock".
Enough said... it was good to be out climbing with Roeland again... but next time we might stick to solid Chamonix Granite...
The last two weeks I've been based in Switzerland, with another week working for Martin Moran and then a week with Adrian Nelhmans at ISM. A heavy period of rain and snow to low levels put the breaks on our early attempts on the Weishorn.
A quick return to high pressue allowed most of the fresh snow to burn off which meant that the Mitellegi on the Eiger was firmly on the cards for Dave, seen here left. The ridge itself is only part of the adventure and the approach to the hut together with the descent and traverse off the mountain to the Monchjoch hut makes for a really rewarding alpine package.
I've climbed the Mittellegi before on my Military Alpine Guiding exam in 2007, so I knew the routes and how good it can be in the right conditions. We found it with somewhat more snow than usual but with mostly dry rock and it was a true pleasure to share this route with such a steady and positive alpinist as Dave.
We even found enough energy to complete our Bernese Oberland adventures with a traverse of the Trugberg the next day. Although this suffers a little from some lose rock at the start the whole ridge is a great alternative if you've already climbed the Monch and the Jungfrau and has several rocky peaks interspersed with snow crest.
After celebrating our success back in Arolla I teamed up with ISMs Adrian Nelhams for a week of technical Alpine Ascents wherever the best weather in the Alps would take us. Unfortunately for the first time in weeks there appeared to be a period of very unsettled conditions approaching and nowhere presented itself as a clear winner in terms of settled climbing weather We knew we had to hit the ground running though because the first two days of the week were set to be the best. We headed south to the Grand Paradiso and after a night at the delightfull Chabod refuge we climbed the Petit north face and north ridge of the Grand Paradiso. This is a route which has great variety, an interesting glacier approach, some steep snow and ice climbing and then an exposed snow arete and rock towers to scale before the final summit ridge to reach the Madonna. It makes a good alternative to the true north face when grey ice is beginning to poke through and seems to hold the snow a little later in the season. Adrian and I agreed that it provides a lot more interest as an Alpine journey and we're sure to do it again in future, perhaps even in prefernce to the north face itself.
This week I've been based over in Arolla working for Martin Moran on the first week of one of his "Big Three" courses. The two week course aims at climbing the South Ridge of the Dent Blanche, the Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn and the Eiger. First of course it's necessary to refresh basic alpine skills for and get some acclimatisation! I was working with Gavin and Becky, and after a shake-out day on the Ferpecle glacier and some valley cragging we headed up to the Tsa hut, well positioned below the Dent de Tsalion. The west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion was to be our warm up route before tackling the Dent Blanche later on in the week. This Ridge is a fine sweeping 600m arete which gradually steepens before finishing on the glaciated ridge linking it to the Aiguille de la Tsa. Left you can see Gavin high on the West ridge enjoying the increased friction of his gardening gloves to help through the slabby sections.
Linking the ridge with an ascent of the Aiguille de la Tsa makes for a longer but much more satisfying alpine journey and one which the entire group enoyed immensely... even if there were some tired legs in the party! Mid-week weather threatened heavy thunderstorms so Becky and I enjoyed a lovely chilled out day sport climbing at a secluded local spot. We had the small crag to ourselves almost the entire day. After such a leisurely day the walk in to the Dent Blanche or Rossier hut was a welcome stretch of the legs. With plenty of beautifull alpine flowers in the alpine meadows and the moraines on the approach combined with this majestic ridge soaring through the sky above us and it proved not to be as arduous as its reputation and we made the hut in very good time. The ridge itself deserves its reputation as one of the classics of the Alps and maintains interest along its length. Becky and I thoroughly enjoyed our route together and Martins rope team of Martin and Dan also proved great company whenever we shared a belay or picnic spot. The route was in excellent condition with dry rock and good snow for cramponing where required and so we made good progress with a 9hr round trip from the hut. Above left, Becky traversing into the base of the Grand Gendarme and right on the final meters tp the summit along the snowy ridge.
Even the long descent back to the valley was made easier by being able to head down the glacier almost to the little lake which is now forming in the slabs and moraine at its foot. From there only another hour and a half of brisk walking seperated us from our celebratory panaches! This is certainly a route I'd be delighted to do again and even more so some of the other majestic ridges on this fine alpine giant. Next week I'm back to Arolla working for Martin on the second week... with hopes for the Eiger and the Matterhorn!
My Summer Aspirancy has continued to take me all over Switzerland, with the opportunity to explore some new hut and peaks and even get onto some routes I've had my eye on for years!
My weeks work around Andermatt included experiencing the steepest furnicular in tthe world... 106degrees, which is certainly steep enough to be hoping the cable doesn't break... and to have my first glimpse into the amazing limestone multi-pitch climbing to be found on the Gross Spannort above Engleberg. A more welcoming and tranquil mountain hut surely can't be found, with a very hospitable and knowledgable Guardian.
I am certain to return for the 20+ pitch route he kindly re-equipped a few years ago and insists is a true classic not to be missed...
After a week teaching on an Alpine Mountain Training course for the Military around Andermatt I teamed up with Andy Teasdale and his two clients Graham and Jason for the north Ridge of the Rimpfischhorn and then the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn from the Britannia hut. Although I've done the Hohlaubgrat before I think it's a wonderfull line and think I'll be happy repeating it many times in future. The north rdige of the Rimpfischhorn is a big day out from wherever you choose to base yourself, but I have to say it is totally worth the long approach. The ridge is continually interesting on mostly sound rock and keeps you up high with stunning views over its' entire length. The whole team agreed that this was a first class alpine outing!
With the weather becoming a little more unsettled I have come back to Chamonix to rest and prepare for the next few weeks work. What a wonderfull surprise to be greeted with my Carte Professionelle for teaching Cross Country skiing in France. After submitting my BASI ski qualifications and racing history to the department of sport in January I have finally been granted the legal right to work coaching cross country skiing here in the Franch Alps.
I'm over the moon to have been able to prove this pathway for future BASI ISIA Nordic ski teachers and become the first British qualified cross country ski instructor in France!
This next winter I will be combining my work as a Mountain Guide with coaching cross country skiing and plan to run a few specialised nordic tours over here in the French Alps... if you would like further information then please feel free to get in touch.
The Alpine winter just didn't seem to want to end this year. Spring didn't bring much more settled weather and ski touring conditions, even though we had plenty of snow, were quite challenging. The colder and unsettled weather intersperced with days of melt-down temperatures has meant that even now there is an unseason amount of snow up high. (Unseason compared with the recent past that is...)
During my first week of work in Andermatt this summer, middle of June, some of the passes were still not open. Ski Tourers were more often to be seen out in the hills than groups on foot... and we had to make extensive use of snowshoes.
Three weeks later and conditions are beginning to settle down, huts are beginning to open and it is certainly feeling more like summer... and so it should in July! This year has had a very International flavour for me so far. I've already had a week of training clients from the UAE in crevasse rescue and beginner Alpinism in preparation for their future expedition to climb Denali in Alaska, and then I had a quick turn around before taking my Aunt and Uncle up the Grand Paradiso as a taster to see if they wanted to climb Mont Blanc in future years.
Last week I was working with a really good Guide and friend, Miles Bright on Mont Blanc. His calm and steady manner helped us summit with two lovely Japanese gentlemen with a combined age of 143yrs! They had acclimatise well in a Hypobaric chamber in Tokyo before coming over to France, and had left themselves plenty of time for the summit attempt. Their success was a true pleasure for all of us involved.
This weekend I have been down on Monte Viso in the Southern Alps taking a friend of mine up the East Ridge of Mon Viso. It is a continually interesting 1000m rock ridge to a peak very close to 4000m, which at one stage was thought to be the highest in the Alps. It is easy to see why when you appreciate how dramatically the mountainside falls away 3 1/2 thousand meters to the flat Po valley below. In this season at this time there haven't been very many ascent of the East ridge so far and it is still in fairly mixed conditions high up.
Though we did have dry rock in between the mixed sections and thankfully no verglass to deal with! The descent of the South Face (the normal route) is also quite delicate at the moment and adds more interest that its more rocky nature later on in the summer. (Pictured here right)
Al and I agreed that it was a great day out on a fine long ridge to an isolated peak.... with the whole mountain to ourselves. Not really something that is possible on a summer weekend back in Chamonix. I can totally recommend this route if you are prepared to travel a little further afield. It has been an interesting and enjoyable start to my summer work season and I am looking forward to a vibrant mix of work through the next three months.
The sun is shining brightly here in Chamonix, for the first time in several days. There is a real sense of the forthcoming summer, not just in the increasingly vivid colours around the valley but also inside me. It's been a fairly intense winter for me this year. A return to a full ski season for the first time in three years (After my scottish adventures...) and culminating this week with my IFMGA Ski Guides exam. Which, with a great big smile and a good deal of happiness I can tell you I passed.
It's such a great feeling to have this important hurdle under my belt. I've been leading ski touring adventures through my qualifications as a Military Mountain Guide for quite a few years now and it is mainly my love of ski adventures that encouraged me to aspire to become an IFMGA Guide. Finally it feels like I'm about to realise a massive life dream... and that feeling is so exciting it's almost too hard to find the right words to describe it.
This winter has been so much fun and I've been fortunate to share my time with so many different, interesting and charismatic people. Friends both old and new who continue to enrich my life. I'm conscious that in my present mood I risk gushing too much about what an amazing time I've had this winter... but then again I really have thoroughly enjoyed myself. It has completely reinforced my faith in the fact that whatever happens in future I have chosen the right path to follow in life... With each new year life seems to grow bigger and more interesting. This summer I already have quite a few exciting plans which I'm really looking forward to... and then next winter I have almost too many ideas for ski adventures for the time available!
My three fellow Aspirant Guides and I all passed our final exam after an intense week of fairly difficult ski touring conditions. The first half of the week we spent around Chamonix before transfering to the Bernese Oberland in search of colder temperatures and more stable snow conditions. Although I know both areas reasonably well, conditions in the mountains are always changing and when the weather conditions are challenging getting anything done safely requires quite fine judgement on behalf of a Mountain Guide.
Ski Mountaineering is a real passion for me, there isn't really any aspect of it that I dislike. Except perhaps sharing dormatories with snorers... :) So I half expected this exam to feel easier than the others. The trouble is, when something really matters to you, you set your standards quite high. This week certainly didn't feel easy... although it feels easier now it's over!
I have been helped this winter by many very professional and experienced Guides. All of them have simultaneously inspired me and shared their depth of knowledge and passion for the mountains. I have enjoyed working with all of them and I feel proud to be about to join them in the Guiding profession. Their belief in me and their respect has helped ease my nerves during this important test and remains something I value deeply. I look forward to a future where I can help others find that same love of life and sense of connection that life in the mountains has helped me find. In the meantime I am excited about the prospect of my second Aspirancy summer and hopefully successfully completing the scheme in September! If anyone fancies sharing an adventure with me this summer then get in touch and we can start planning! :)