Snowdonia Walk & Scramble
Ibex Quarterly Up Date 21 Summer 2011
It’s been a mixed summer in many ways: the weather in the alps has been unsettled, forcing me (unreluctantly) to travel and climb in different areas and I’ve found myself doing a mix of activities chopping between triathlon, sport climbing and alpinism.
The Ironman dominated my attention in the first weeks of the alpine season. I was in my tapering period of training where most athletes would be ramping down their training and resting up before the big event. That was never going to be the case for me. Staying in huts and being at altitude was good acclimatisation. Spending 16 hours traversing Mont Blanc from the Italian Gonola hut was not what my legs needed before a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle finishing up with marathon. It was however a fantastic day out. Rain at midnight meant an extra hour in bed, but by 1am the stars were shining and it was game on. The ‘complex’ glacier turned out to be manageable and the ridge from the Punta des Italiens was fantastically airy with fine views across to the Bionnassay. To top it all, we made a descent of the three Monts making for a grand south to north Mont Blanc traverse.
Another week of less demanding alpine skills training led me up to the Ironman which I wrote up on this website’s news pages.
It was a relief to have the triathlon behind me but there were consequences. Even after a few weeks I was always more tired than I thought I should be. With William, we ended up in the Ecrins climbing long and remote feeling peaks. Having the mountains to yourself certainly made it rewarding! The traverse of Pic Geny and traverse of the main summit of Ailfroide being the most memorable. It’s great the way you don’t have to go far off the beaten track to get away from the crowds. As time goes on, it seems that more and more of the clients who come out with me are open minded, turning attention away from the obvious and often crowded objectives. People seem keen to explore quieter areas and routes. This works well for both client and guide. The client gets a mountaineering experience that feels more like an adventure and less like a queue and the guide truly uses his guiding skills and experience as there are less tracks and fixed gear on the climbs to help you find the way.
Highlights this summer were the more often trodden Rocheforte Arete; the north east face and east ridge indirect was a great find on the Grand Paradiso; traverse of the Wetterhorn and some fantastic monolithic peaks climbed in the Dolomites.
It’s wasn’t all work though. Rocio came out for a week that coincided with a spell of good weather. With a friend Tania we set out on an expedition to traverse the Chamonix Aiguilles. We knew it would be a long route but where blown away when the technical intricacies lead to a 4-day epic journey. We started at the Envers Hut and made an ascent of the Mer de Glace face or the Grepon. As it panned out, this classic 850m D+ route was to be one of the more straight forward sections. A laying down bivi on La Aiguille Blatiere was a wonderful way to end a tough day. The following day we made progress on snow, ice and rock over the Blatiere with a committing abseil descent towards the Aiguille de Ciseaux. Here Tania, with some sort of sixth sense, managed to find a way on faint ledges round to the col leading to the Fou. Up to the summit was fine climbing but the descent was a series of gripping abseils. There must have been a recent rock fall as there was shattered teetering rock everywhere and the whole area had a feel that it was unstable on a grand scale. With much relief we out flanked the point du Lepiney and point du Chevalier and made an abseil on to the Envers side with view to climbing the Dent Du Caiman. This however didn’t come easily. The appalling route description and vast sea of rock lead us off route into un-climbable terrain. Abseil retreat wasted a great deal to time and we ended up hunkering down part way up the face on a small uncomfortable ledge. A far less pleasant night was spent filled with the uncertainty of the route ahead. On day 3 Tania started off with a sterling lead up an off width crack followed by some of the most unstable rock on the ridge. Rocio and I only narrowly escaped being smashed to bits as a massive dislodged rock span wildly towards us. More tough rock and ice pitches lead to the breche between the Caiman and the Dent du Crocodile where the fun showed now sign of letting up. The knife edge arête interspersed with abseils and rock and ice climbing pitches continued all the way to the top of the Crocodile. The tempo of intricate technical and often demanding climbing was unrelenting. It was only after another long abseil and a long section of moving together on bone hard 50 degree ice that the terrain eased off. Feeling completely knackered, the sight of a comfortable laying bivi was too hard to resist with only an hour before dark. The trouble was, however, we were running out of good weather and food. In fact, at midnight the forecast of a slight risk of a storm became a very actual thunder and lightning frenzy. The summit of the Aiguille du Plan only 100m away taking direct strikes and needless to say it was a white knuckle night with little sleep!
Ten cm of fresh snow, strong winds and poor visibility made the traverse to the Aiguille du Midi a great challenge. Tired bodies, no food, no sleep and miserable conditions meant slow progress over what is a long route on its own. Finally on the afternoon of the 4th day we made it back to the Midi.
Though this was not the longest alpine-style climb either Rocio or I have done, it was defiantly the most involved. 850m of rock climbing followed by 4km of pitched climbing and abseiling is by anyone’s standards a long outing!
To watch the Grepon Adventure film we made follow this link: http://www.ibexguides.com/index.php?page=videos
Tania also wrote a full account of the travers on her bolg: http://www.classicclimbs.com/?part_id=29258&post_id=7796&action=view_comments