Europe Trip, Summer 2014August 31, 2014
July, 2014 highlights
This past summer, i had the privilege of sharing a lot of good times in the mountains with Ron and Heather. Both from Alberta. We made a pack that we would attempt to climb Mt Blanc in France. Eiger and Matterhorn in Switzerland. Three of the biggest and most aesthetic peaks in Europe. I would help them become better and more competent climbers. It was a satisfying experience for me to watch them and help them achieve their goals of climbing Europe's highest summits.
I met Ron and Heather both independently. I thought it was a good match of ability and personality. I guessed right. We had a lot of fun times training in Canada through out the Rockies and Bugaboos prepping for "Our Olympics". This one is for your Ron. I put a program together for a fast track all mountain course. Covering many aspects of Alpine climbing. Rock, snow and ice. How to train, endure hardship, be fast, be efficient and stay positive, enjoying every minute of it. Smiles on our faces.
The foundation of our trip started by a 4 day weekend together starting with an attempt of Mount Columbia in early july. Mount Columbia is the highest peak in Alberta and the second highest in the Canadian Rockies. Elevation of 3747m.
We had planned to ski in, camp, summit and ski out. Our plans were quickly spoiled due to weather. So changing the plan wasn't so bad. We ended up snow climbing the decent route on Unnamed peak in blustery but enjoyable conditions. Unnamed Peak is a rarely visited summit , high above the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House at the far west end of Lake Louise, Alberta. Just a short drive from Golden, BC. You can obtain fantastic views of Mount Victoria, Mount Lefroy, The Mitre and the famous turquoise coloured Lake Louise. So our first successful summit and on to the next!
On our way back to Golden, i trying to figure out what made sense to do next. Since we had another 3 days together. The weather forecast had one more not so nice day and then blue skies in the forecast . i thought it would be a good idea to spend that bad weather day hiking into the Bugaboos and staying at the Kain Hut. The bugs has a special place in my heart. I have had the privilege to climb there for over a decade now. Contributing the time and energy it takes to put up some of the more modern routes in the area. The midnight way on the East face of Bugaboo, going at mid 5.12 and also Labyrinth on the East face of Snowpitch, also goes at 5.12. Both modern big free climbs.
The Lion's Way on crescent was our first real rock climb together as a party of three. Things went well. Ron and Heather learning the ways of climbing granite. Which is considerably different then the typical limestone rock of most of the Rockies. On limestone, you typically have to crimp small holds and grab the big holds similar to climbing indoors at the gym. On granite, there are no holds and the rock is generally solid. Formed from lava. You could think of granite as one big rock, rather then the limestone being millions of tiny rocks. Crack climbing techniques need to be used on granite. Which consist of hand, finger and fist jamming the rock. But the most important thing is how you place your feet. Which are place carefully on the slab or inside the crack. This can be a tiny bit painful. Remember, being a good climber starts in your feet. Not by how strong you are. This trip ended with another successful summit.
I've climb with both Heather and Ron on numerous occasions on snow and some ice. We needed to bond better on the rock . So I suggested another Bugaboo trip. And for the record, I'll always suggest the Bugaboos to my client. It is the best of the best in Canada hands down. Please book a trip with me in the Bugaboos sometime.
On the following weekend we headed back into the bugs to climb a few more routes. I wanted our crew to be efficient with the climbing and the rope systems needed to climb some of the bigger ridges in Europe. Rock climbing!
The early season alpine rock climbing conditions this past summer where a little tricky to guide. Generally snowier then usual. A lot of the higher climbs weren't in until later in July. The West ridge of Pigeon came to mind as our next objective. If you haven't climbed this aesthetic ridge climb. Better put it on your list! Another great intro to the Bugaboos with views high up of all the surrounding spires. Another success.
With one more day to play with before this trip ended I decided we would attempt the Kain route on Bugaboo spire in mixed conditions. Early season conditions, mixed snow and ice is a specialty every serious climber must have experience with. This style will bring out your true colours. Exceptional rock climber or not. Mixed conditions require holding the attitude, patience and experience. . I wanted Ron and Heather to experience this stye of tough conditions. We may encounter such condition in Europe on the Eiger. This day started off casual up to the bugaboo/snowpatch col. It was 7:00am when i stood up on a frozen snow surface. The snow collapse and i put one of the rear crampon points through my calve, kissing the bone. Full body weight. Ouch!. Amazing such a wound can not bleed. My calve became a rigid ball of knots for the next 3 weeks. We continued the climb up the mixed conditions slowly ending our ascent at the gendarme due to time. I was proud of my two people and i have to admit, it was the only time I've ever witnessed Heather melt mentally. This was a good experience.
The next details of what happened to Ron would reflect the next two months of our time together and his successful bid for the summits of Europe. On descent he severed a tendon in his finger on a sharp rock. Which later on became a serious infection to his blood. Calgary's best doctors had Ron on IV's and meds. They were thinking it was close to amputation. Next time go to the Doctor sooner I guess.
Chris Braz and I have had a really good time climbing together. Chris and I are share a common interest in adventurous hard climbing. Along with Jon Walsh and a few others, we have put up most of the newer modern free climbing around The Apple bee campground. Chris, single handedly has done what several full time working folk would do. He should be given the working mans hero award for new routing in the bugaboos. We have c;imbed together in the Bugaboos for about ten years.
We have always talked about the Great Wall above the town of Field, BC. It was one of the Rockies truly monstrous unclimbed big walls. Yet road side and so accessible. We have always been distracted by the lure of big alpine rock climbs on clean granite in the Bugaboos. This year we tried really hard to not be so distracted. Focusing our attention on the Great Wall. We had a strategy. Climb Chris' s real stout newer routes around the Bugs one weekend, and do a little ground up new routing in the Canadian Rockies the next weekend. This usually consists of run outs on choss rock, characterized as steep, in your face climbing in virgin terrain. A formula to acquire the right head space for such an adventure. Then we set our sites on the big wall. Things were just right. Including the weather. See this link http://gripped.com/news/apocalyptic-wall-finally-climbed/ for a read or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1_TlNfn6lg for a home made video I made.
After Chris and Jonny's excellent adventure, I was heading to Europe to meet Ron and Heather to attempt the fine summits we had planned. Questions hung in the air about Europe. It had been the worst weather and coldest weather this past half century. Lots of snow up high. With not much success on any of the higher mountain. A lot of media's negative attention about guides, their clients and other people dying in the Chamonix area didn't help. Things changed in Europe. Just like they usually do in the mountain. Things have to change. Three months of horrendous weather in a row. Things always change.
The crux of climbing in Europe isn't the climbing. It is the logistics of accommodation, huts, lifts, transport, countries, languages, people, etc. It requires months of preplanning things. I spent numerous nights this past summer waking in the middle of the night to book huts in Europe via Skype. Good times of course. No complaints. Because in the end, it is well worth the experience. The experience of a new mountain range, conditions, routes and huts. The people are another story. All usually great.
It is a good idea to start with some acclimatization before going high on the bigger peaks in the Alps. So we planned on climbing Aiguille D'Argentiere, staying at the Refuge D'Argentiere.Aiguille d' Argentiere, 3901m A short distance from the Grand Montets lift outside of Chamonix. The route to the Refuge D'Argentiere is a straight forward glacier walk from the montets lift. About 4-6 hours to the hut. The huts in Europe are something else. Very well equipped. European meals, comfy beds, good beer. All you need to bring is your day climbing bag and some cash. No sleeping bag, or anything else necessary. This trip to the summit started at around 5am. The last night had a really good freeze. Ideal for this style of climbing. Snow climbing. The good freeze making for very fast travel and ideal front pointing on the upper face above face of the west face. The lower glacier has quite a few crevasses to negotiated before the shrund crossing and access to the upper face. With the poor weather this summer, one advantage was that the glacier's were in great shape. Lots of bridging the holes and lots of snowpack. Perfect. The Bergshrund crossing provide little trouble, but the upper slopes was time consuming. i had one 50 meter rope with me on this trip so the continuous T slots I had to make to protect Ron and Heather took a bit of time.
One week prior to our ascent was the scene of a horrible accident with one guide, two clients and another party of three climbers above them. As the story goes, one of the party of three climbers may have caught a pant leg on crampon during descent. Bringing with him the other two, who were all tied together. The party of three colliding with the guided party below. Killing five of the six climbers. The sixth climber was later found dead in a crevasse. Most likely surviving the accident and wandering solo down the glacier for help. Not good. This sort of a situation is what can't be controlled as a guide in Europe. The human factor of other climbers, being exposed above you. Not necessarily with a lot of experience in the terrain. Scary. Not something we experience in Canada.
Our ascent to the summit and descent off was uneventful with a pleasant breathless summit view of all the mayo peaks in the area. including Mount Blanc, Monta Rosa and Matterhorn off in the distance. Upon descent I used my existing T-slot holes for descent. Making the lowers and down climbing quick and easy. We were back at the hut by 4:00pm. A good day.
The following day brought us back to the lush Chamonix valley enjoying pizza and drinks at the local pizza hang out in Argentiere. We checked the weather and rested for a day, planning to take two days off. Our plans changed, instantly when we saw that the great weather we were having was ending in the near future. Ron, Heather and I did a quick repack, figured out logistics, and headed to the near town of Les houche. Catching the Train du Mount blanc. Which takes you high up the East facing slopes of Mount Blanc. After the rail terminus, the hike to the Tete Rousse hut is about 3 hours up a well used trail. Again, all that is needed is the day bag and some cash to stay the night.
The biggest concern on this route up Mount blanc is the "Grand Couloir" . Which has been the scene of many deaths. Being here at the wrong time in the day is very bad idea. Yet, when the Grand Couloir is frozen, it is no problem. On this morning, it was frozen. The route to the top of the grand couloir follows an undefined rib on the lookers right side. Through many loose areas, with climbers of all nationalities above and below you. This spot is where i felt most exposed during my whole European trip. In terms of human factor, it is a high hazard, hard hat area. The grand couloir ends up topping out on the exposed East ridge beside the brand new Gouter hut. Which is the template for any future mountain hut. Modern, efficient and spacious. This hut is definitely the coolest hut I have ever experienced. Solar panels, motion censored led's, flush toilets, running water, modern kitchen with chef. All at 3800m. Higher then the summit of Mount Columbia. A great place to come back to after a summit attempt on Blanc.Gouter Hut
Speaking of the summit of Mt blanc. It was an early rise at the Tete Rousse hut. Perhaps about a 4:00 am breakfast. The Europeans are very good at facilitating and feeding a lot of people in small hut spaces. So up the grand couloir we went, to the ridge, past the Gouter Hut, up the vast broken steep glacier, while taking in the stunning views of the Mt Blanc. The Vallot bivi is the last shelter before the the true top of Europe. The Vallot is nothing more then a beater bivi with a door in the floor! Really! This idea works great. Blocking the wild winds, rain and snow from entering this bivi shack. Maybe a bivi, but perhaps the most important shelter for climbers coming off Mt Blanc in a bad storm. Best idea is to wait it out!
The trip to the top of Europe is not much more then a walk. Not an easy walk though. The conditions and the weather need to be right. If so, there are no problems. So our walk to the summit came at 11 am on August 22, 2014. Ron, Heather and I. We shared a happy moment. Reflected on our training together, shed a few tears, took some shots, group hugged and descended the peak. This is a good objective for any recreational mountaineer. Technically easy, amenities along the way, and an attainable objective for anyone one interested in climbing Mt Blanc. I would be delighted to share this experience again with others interested in climbing to the true top of Europe.
Our European adventure continued by departing to Grindelwald, Switzerland for an attempt on the Eiger South Ridge. The South ridge is the easiest route to the top of Eiger. The Mittellegi ridge is the classic route up the Eiger. Taking the top of Europe train. An amazing Swiss engineering feat. Which, the rail system runs through the Eiger itself, stopping within the mountain. From here, one would exit this station and climbing to the Mittellegi hut. Located at the base of the ridge. But, this classic route was not in condition to climb this year. Due to the large amounts of snow and ice contributed from this season snow falls. Our other option was the South ridge. The Top of Europe train brings you to the Jungfraujoch. A tourist spectacle in itself. Flashing laser shows, glacial sculptures and ice tunnels through the large glacier at the top of the Jungfraujoch. From the top, one heads to the Monch hutte. A nice swiss mountain refuge located at the base of the Monch. Which is part of the massif of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Upon the arrival to the Monch hutte, we geared up and planned the south ridge of Eiger. There had been no previous summits on the Eiger this year. Again due to the conditions. In the early morning we departed to the base of Eiger south ridge. Which is about two hours from the hut. We started up the ridge, but i quickly decided the route was not a possible guiding objective this time around. Due to safety concerns. An option I came up with, was to climb the North East Face of the Monch with Heather. A fantastic 8 rope length face on snow and Ice to the summit of the Monch. This was one of my favourite routes I climbed this summer. The position, views of Eiger and overall climbing on good ice made this plan B a real treat. Hut to summit took us about 6 hours. Being in Europe where people are everywhere. We did not see another soul until reaching the top of Monch. Where we descended the standard route pack to the Hut.
No Eiger summit, yet we felt really lucky to climb this particular route to the top. Another summit. Three for three during Europe's worst weather season. Happy with our efforts, Heather and I descended back to Grindelwald and headed to the next destination. Zermatt, Switzerland for the famous Matterhorn.
Again, upon reaching Zermatt, I quickly realized the Matterhorn was not in condition either. Due to snow on the route. Climbing Matterhorn is described as the Mount Sir Donald of Canada. Another fine outing if you get the chance.
I chose the Breithorn traverse. Another 4000m peak. This would be our third. Mt Blanc, Monch and now Breithorn. The Breithorn is another fantastic climb. Consisting of Snow, ice and good niess rock. Heather and I had a real blast on this route. She quickly learned some new mixed skills following me along this dramatically exposed ridge. Many short pitches of snow, ice and rock on such a fine day. Successful summit number four!. We were very pleased.
Our trip continued to courmayeur, Italy. our intentions here were the Tour Ronde and Dente de Geant. Two regularly visited summits of the Italian side of the Mount Blanc massif. Our hut for this final leg of the trip was the Torino Refuge. Located at the top of Courmayeur, opposite to the Aguille du midi at the far end of the Mt Blanc cable car. You can visit the Torino hut from Chamonix via the cable car or from Courmayeur.
The tour Ronde is a smaller summit below the towering Mt Blanc. A good objective considering how the trip was going. So far four summits, three of which were 4000m in a week and a half. Delighted.
The tour Ronde went off without a hitch and we were happy to be back at the Torino refuge to prepare for our main objective on this leg. The Dente de Geant. A needle like spire. considerably more technically demanding then any of the other things we had climbed this trip.
Again an early start had us out the door and travelling across the glacier to the route. Mixed rock and ice for a few thousand feet brings you to the base of the dente. A spire that appeals to all climbers due to the nature of excellent rock in a stunning position. The towering Grandes Jorasses looms over the Dente. Many ascents were completed this summer on the Jorasses. A lot of buzz in the air about this big mountain coming into shape for experienced
The dente, I admit was at first a little intimidating to guide. Due to the technical difficulties and high altitude of this peak. 4013m. Our fourth 4000m peak and sixth summit in under two weeks. What a trip. Once in positions to climb on the Dente. We continued up the clean rock amongst swirling and misty cloud. The route itself was something you could find in Patagonia or the Bugaboos in Canada. Clean, beautiful and peaceful. Have a look at what we found on the summit. A great way to end our streak of European summits. Thanks Heather Alksne, Thanks Ron Bell. A memorable experience.