Category Archives: Alps

Bellavista

The Tre Cime. Photo- Calum Muskett

The Tre Cime. Photo- Calum Muskett

After our adventure on the Eiger, Dave and I were after a fresh objective. We had a number of routes in mind spread out across the Alps but, wimps that we are, were keen to avoid any more cold bivi’s! Dave mentioned Bellavista in the Dolomites, a route he’d tried a decade earlier. It seemed to be the perfect objective; easily accessible, only has a couple of difficult pitches and it’s near the best pizzeria on the planet in a place called Misurina.

Bellavista was first climbed by Alex Huber in 2000 and free climbed a year later. The pictures of the route are just sensational showing climbers swinging their way through the huge roof of Cima Ovest, some 150m above the ground. The route had just received an ascent by the talented American climber Sasha DiGiulian and we hoped to take advantage of some chalked holds which might speed up our process of working the route.

Dave seconding on one of the lower pitches. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave seconding on one of the lower pitches. Photo- Calum Muskett

We arrived early at the car park at the end of the toll road beneath the Tre Cime. Although we were keen to make an early start it felt so cold outside that we decided to get a little more sleep. We finally got round to the base of the route at about 10am, not exactly the alpine start we’d anticipated! I shivered my way up the first pitch, a relatively bold but fortunately easy pitch and we swung leads up to the 8c crux through the roofs. Conditions were poor for this pitch. The big roofs seem to have condensation sticking to their undersides for much of the time making the holds feel like they’d been slathered in soap. Dave made steady progress up this spectacular pitch climbing from peg to peg. This pitch is so overhanging that to get back to the previous belay you have to abseil down a separate rope for 50m before jumaring about 20m upwards! As conditions were so poor I decided to forego my attempt and we descended to the base of the route.

Dave leading on the spectacular crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave leading on the spectacular crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett


The wild abseil into space from the end of the crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

The wild abseil into space from the end of the crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

Unfortunately, just after pulling our abseil ropes down, Dave realised he’d left the car keys back up at the belay of the crux pitch. We both looked at each other in silence for a few moments, desperately trying to think of some miraculous way we could overcome this hurdle. There wasn’t. We ended up uncoiling our ropes quickly and linking the first five pitches in two to reach the keys just as it got dark. Dave jokingly said it was good endurance training for me. Plonker…!

We returned a couple of days later, but as we prepared to walk into the route I noticed the long range forecast on my mobile – rain for the foreseeable future. We’d had a good trip and with no hope of a dry day for the rest of our time in the Dolomites we decided to strip the route and head home early. It was a shame not to give the route a better attempt, especially as I have no doubt that Dave would have climbed it had we had a couple more days. I’m very keen to return for Bellavista next year though, it truly is an amazing route and one well worth putting in some winter training hours for.

Stormy skies brewing in the Dolomites. Photo- Calum Muskett

Stormy skies brewing in the Dolomites. Photo- Calum Muskett

Update

Dave returned to ‘Bellavista’ three weeks later with Alan Cassidy. Despite horrendous, snowy, sub-zero conditions Dave repeated the route on his final day of trying – the only day when the rock was dry but the temperature was still below freezing! There must be something in that Irn Bru for results like that! Here’s a link to Dave’s blog for the low down on the ascent.

Paciencia

The North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Calum Muskett

The North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Calum Muskett

The White Spider was one of the first mountaineering books I read. Written by Heinrich Harrer in 1959, it describes the trials and tribulations that led to the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1938 by Heckmair, Harrer, Kasparek and Vörg. My fascination with the face began a couple of years earlier in around 2005 when I was on a walking holiday with my parents in Switzerland. We passed through Grindelwald and I remember seeing the face, albeit briefly, before continuing on our travels. I heard some of the stories about the attempts on the North Face and in particular the tales of rock fall led me to believe that this was a mountain where success could be mostly attributed to a healthy dose of luck to avoid all the objective dangers.

I started climbing a couple of years later and then alpine climbing a couple of years after that and suddenly felt a draw to return to Grindelwald in the winter to climb the 1938 route when all the rocks were frozen in place. In March this year I headed over with my friend Andy to climb the face and after a wade to the base of the wall we bivied at its base ready for an early start the following morning. Unfortunately the forecast was very wrong and a storm hit us that night burying us beneath around a metre of fresh snow! After an awful descent through chest deep snow in places I thought it might be a better option to return to the face in the summer time.

Early this year I contacted Dave Macleod to see if he would be interested in a climbing trip to the Alps. I’d never climbed with Dave before but had only heard good reports about him both as a climber and a person. Dave had never done any alpine climbing before, but I assumed that someone with the fairly outrageous all round abilities that he possesses, should be able to walk around on a glacier alright!

Dave arrived out in the Alps just over a week ago. We had a few ideas up our sleeves but the one that inspired us most was undoubtedly a route called ‘Paciencia’ on the North Face of the Eiger. ‘Paciencia’ was first climbed in 2003 by Ueli Steck and Stephan Siegrist and later freed in 2008 by Ueli Steck. David Lama made a very impressive two day repeat of the route in 2011 describing it as “by far the most difficult rock route I have climbed to this date in the Alps”: this was after his repeats of ‘Bellavista’ in the Dolomites and ‘Voie Petit’ in the Alps.

We arrived in Grindelwald just after three days of bad weather which left the face streaming with water. Judging by the name of the route which translates as patience, our hopes of finding the route dry and the weather good were not particularly high.

Dave enjoying the 'extreme' scrambling up to the base of the Rote Fluh. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave enjoying the ‘extreme’ scrambling up to the base of the Rote Fluh. Photo- Calum Muskett

After a day of waiting for the face to dry we caught the Jungfraujoch up to Kleine Scheidegg hoping that we could get dropped off at the ‘Stollenloch’; the window that opens onto the face, thus avoiding an arduous slog up to the base of the route. Unfortunately we were out of luck and had to make two journeys up the scramble to reach the Rote Fluh as we were laden with so much kit. We gave the first few pitches a recce to see if the route would be achievable for us and descended, very surreally, by the train inside the mountain!

The first 7c pitch in 'atmospheric' conditions! Photo- Alexandre Buisse

The first 7c pitch in ‘atmospheric’ conditions! Photo- Alexandre Buisse

Having managed all the moves on the first few tricky pitches we were encouraged enough to return for a multi day ascent of the face. We were joined for the first day and a half by the talented alpine photographer Alexander Buisse who took some really stunning images of us climbing on the Rote Fluh. Our upward progress for the first couple of days was really positive, all pitches were climbed first red-point, including the sustained and amazing crux pitch which climbs through the apex of the main roof of the Rote Fluh. We reached the bivi spot beneath the Czech Pillar feeling tired but enthusiastic about our progress. Unfortunately the following morning we both felt pretty wasted. The first 7c pitch went without too much of a problem landing us at a pitch that David Lama upgraded to 7c+ on his ascent. The holds were really difficult to find on this pitch and after the crux lower section the climbing is really quite sustained. Dave took over the lead of this pitch as I was totally knackered but I still just about managed to fight my way up when I seconded it. We fixed our ropes back down to the bivi to help speed things up for the following morning.

Alex's stunning photo of Dave leading the crux 8a pitch. Photo- Alexandre Buisse

Alex’s stunning photo of Dave leading the crux 8a pitch. Photo- Alexandre Buisse

Strangely on our final day of the route we felt much more recovered and made steady progress upwards – I even made an unlikely flash of the final 7c pitch through a determination not to be on the face any longer! The final few pitches, although much easier, were quite loose and time consuming with the haul bag regularly getting caught but we eventually reached the west flank of the Eiger to pull over into our first sunlight for three days. We were both elated to have finished the route, both of us having climbed it entirely free alternating leads as we went. Unfortunately we missed the final train down to Grindelwald, so having just descended the Eiger, we were left with a long descent back to the valley.

Dave dreaming about deep fried mars bars and Irn Bru before an early morning climb. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave dreaming about deep fried mars bars and Irn Bru before an early morning climb. Photo- Calum Muskett

‘Paciencia’ is an amazing alpine/big wall challenge and should be high on the ticklist of any climber with the capability to climb it. Thanks to Dave for sharing a great adventure with me!

Acclimatizing

The campsite near the Petit Clocher du Portalet. Photo- Calum Muskett

The campsite near the Petit Clocher du Portalet. Photo- Calum Muskett

I’ve been to the Alps every year since my first visit when I was fifteen. I love the variety of climbing, the generally hot weather and the fresh pain au chocolats in the mornings. A trip to the Alps generally makes a nice, if a tad expensive, summer holiday.

This year I’ve planned and saved up for six weeks of climbing in the Alps and I’ve got a list of objectives as long as my arm! The first ten days of the trip were planned to be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things; to get used to climbing on granite and get fully acclimatized before hopefully getting on some bigger routes in August.

I met up with Hazel Findlay and Pete Graham on my first day in Chamonix. The forecast wasn’t great with evening thunderstorms every day for the foreseeable future, so we decided to head over to Switzerland and climb on the Petit Clocher du Portalet.

Hazel Climbing the first tricky pitch of 'Ave Caesar'. Photo- Calum Muskett

Hazel Climbing the first tricky pitch of ‘Ave Caesar’. Photo- Calum Muskett

I’d never heard of the Petit Clocher before but Hazel assured me it was a very good cliff and she was keen to make a free ascent of ‘Ave Caesar’, a 7c she’d last tried several years earlier. We camped in a sheltered spot about forty minutes walk from the wall with a convenient overhang under which we were able to cook our food. The route itself exceeded my expectations of its quality. Splitter cracks and great quality granite made ‘Ave Caesar’ reminiscent of some Yosemite classics.

Hazel waltzed up the first tricky pitch, a lovely, long layback crack and we continued upwards, climbing parallel to a couple of teams of Italian climbers on the tough looking ‘Etat du Choc’. Fortunately for me Hazel also had the lead of the next pitch and first crux: a short and stern 7c finger crack. Hazel made quick work of this pitch whilst I was unceremoniously spat off just before reaching better jams. I gave the pitch a second go immediately after my first but was too pumped to give it a good effort. The following pitch, a 7c ringlock crack was my lead. Already pumped and tired my chances weren’t great, but the fact I didn’t know how to ringlock made things even trickier! After ‘ascending’ this pitch Hazel once again cruised it and we were soon on the top looking across at a very stormy sky. Hazel, who’s been reading about clouds on her kindle, told me that these were “bad clouds”.

The following day we returned to the Petit Clocher for a look at the ‘Darbellay Crack’, a stunning multi pitch crack climb with a crux of 8a. We worked the crux pitch fairly quickly but were both feeling a bit too knackered for a lead attempt. It’s one of the best pitches I’ve seen in the Alps and is certainly something worth returning for.

Having returned to the campsite in Argentiere I met up with Gabby to take her up her first alpine routes. Gabby is a self-proclaimed skier and runner but is a handy rock climber too so I thought where better to go for a first alpine rock route than the South Face of the Midi? We started up the classic ‘Rebuffat’ route, but being impatient and caught up in a long queue we traversed across and climbed the main pitches of the ‘Contamine’ route, another fantastic, albeit a little trickier, free climb. After a swift ascent of the south face we headed over to the Grand Capucin where we spent a chilly night on the glacier.

A german climber engaged with the difficulties of the lower cracks of the 'Contamine' route. Photo- Calum Muskett

A german climber engaged with the difficulties of the lower cracks of the ‘Contamine’ route. Photo- Calum Muskett

Our objective for the day was the ‘Bonnatti’ route up the east face of the Grand Capucin. Rather than head up the snow gully on the south side we headed straight up the east face to join the ‘Bonnatti’ after its traverse in. We were thankful to have done this as later that day, the gully which is notorious for rockfall anyway, started to rumble ominously and we witnessed a massive avalanche which just missed a couple of guided parties.

Gabby climbing at around half height on the Grand Capucin. Photo- Calum Muskett

Gabby climbing at around half height on the Grand Capucin. Photo- Calum Muskett


Our tent on the glacier beneath the Grand Capucin. Photo- Calum Muskett

Our tent on the glacier beneath the Grand Capucin. Photo- Calum Muskett

We made steady progress up the ‘Bonnatti’ which although great is a bit of a route finding extravaganza. Gabby, not used to wearing rock boots for such a long period started to suffer from blisters on her heels but was still keen to head on upwards and we finally reached the summit at around six in the evening. Fortunately there is now a new line of abseil anchors down ‘Elixir d’Astaroth’ which is well worth knowing for anybody keen to climb the Grand Capucin as it provides a quick and easy descent.

Next up I teamed up with ‘big’ Tim Neil and Keith Ball – two really experienced and super psyched climbers. We headed straight for the Grand Capucin once again and climbed ‘Directe des Capucines’, an amazing line of moderate difficulty up the East Face. This route surely supersedes the ‘Bonnatti Direct’ in terms of quality of climbing and its visual line. With the forecast still good we stayed up high and the following day climbed the outstanding ‘Ligne Blanche’ on the Chandelle du Tacul. This route is on some of the best rock found in the Alps and each pitch has fantastic and varied climbing. We just managed to make it down to Courmayer in time to miss a big thunderstorm.

Big Tim seconding the crux pitch of 'Ligne Blanche'. Photo- Calum Muskett

Big Tim seconding the crux pitch of ‘Ligne Blanche’. Photo- Calum Muskett

Probability Drive

The North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Calum Muskett

The North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Calum Muskett

Two weeks in and finally a good forecast. We raz across to Switzerland; Citroen C1 buzzing along the motorway and struggling up the hills until we finally reach Grindelwald and the car park at the Kleine Scheidegg train station. We have a comedy moment trying to work out where the Eiger is (the clouds were fairly low…) and swiftly pack our bags in time to hop on the train. Kleine Scheidegg’s a rush of excitable Japanese tourists and drunk German’s so after a quick bite to eat we swiftly leave in search of a good bivi spot somewhere beneath the North Face.

As expected, the powder on the approach was pretty deep and putting in tracks was hard work despite the short distance. The face looked to be in good condition though: its angle steep enough for snow to quickly avalanche off. We finally found a reasonably good, sheltered bivi spot and quickly dug out a nice ledge in the snow to sleep on. The wind picked up a little as the night-time drew in carrying with it spindrift snow which forced us to fully envelope ourselves inside our bivi bags promising for a claustrophobic night’s sleep.

A bivi in the snow. Photo- Andy Woolston

A bivi in the snow. Photo- Andy Woolston

The North Face of the Eiger. Those words have a different effect on each mountaineer you speak to. I remember first setting eyes on the North Face when I was around twelve years old whilst on a walking holiday across Switzerland. Even then I’d heard the stories and epics that climbers had had on that face despite never having done more than a scramble in the hills. At that point, I thought that if you wanted to climb the North Face of the Eiger you must have a death wish! So it’s funny, seven years later, returning to the face expecting to make short work of the route and, in all honesty, not feeling too worried about the difficulties or dangers involved in getting up it. It actually feels as if it’s an obligation for me, as a climber, to get up such an impressive and historic wall.

I don’t know whether it was due to being slightly hypoxic, cocooned in my bivi bag that night, but I had a host of vivid dreams- one of which featured me being buried alive under snow. It was no great surprise then that I woke up at 4.30am struggling to move out of a trench of snow. Because it was dark, I couldn’t really tell how much snow had fallen, so I shouted across to Andy to wait for first light so that we could assess whether to head up or not.

Wading out through deep snow. Photo- Andy Woolston

Wading out through deep snow. Photo- Andy Woolston


The Swiss sense of humour! Photo- Calum Muskett

The Swiss sense of humour! Photo- Calum Muskett

Things didn’t look much better when it got light: around a metre of un-forecasted snow had fallen over night. For a minute I was still keen to head on up. Too many recent failures were fresh on my mind and I was letting frustration affect making a sensible and obvious decision. I guess you’ve got to take the good with the bad because, at the end of the day, failure’s just a part of climbing and, without trying to sound too clichéd, it’s the failures that make the successes all the more special. Maybe I was in for a bit of bad luck following a series of successful trips last year? Hopefully the odds are stacked in my favour for the rest of the year now and as Edward Whymper once said: Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.

Nuit Blanche: one of the few climbing successes of the trip! Photo- Joey Durkin

Nuit Blanche: one of the few climbing successes of the trip! Photo- Joey Durkin

A Quick Trip to the Dolomites

Awesome climbing on the South face of the Marmolada. Photo- Calum Muskett

Awesome climbing on the South face of the Marmolada. Photo- Calum Muskett

Three weeks ago I made some last minute plans to climb with Jerry Gore out in the Alps. Jerry has set himself the challenge of climbing three of the most difficult routes in the Alps to raise money for and increase awareness about people with type 1 diabetes in third world countries where insulin and testing kit are difficult to come by and often very expensive- or at least relatively so. Jerry has type 1 diabetes himself but it certainly doesn’t seem to slow him down as he’s already had an impressive year of climbing with an ascent of Divine Providence as well as some difficult routes in the Ecrins Massif near his home. We planned to climb a difficult route on the North Face of the Eiger called ‘La Vida es Sibar’ which is predominantly a rock climb but the weather had different ideas and a dump of snow put payed to our plans making the wall we hoped to climb very wet with no hope of drying this late in the year.

Plan B however was a trip to climb Tempi Moderni on the South Face of the Marmolada in the Dolomites. I’d climbed on the South face before and knew how fantastic and adventurous the climbing was in a truly sensational setting.
After a day of multi pitch sport climbing in the Ecrins we crept our way across to the Dolomites getting caught in all manner of traffic jams to finally reach the car park below the approach to the South Face where we camped and had a nice lie in after our long journey. We headed up to the Fallier hut late in the morning and then went up and fixed a rope on the first pitch of the route, a technical pitch of 7a.

The brilliant runnel pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

The brilliant runnel pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

A nice evening meal of tuna pasta preceded a short sleep and an early start to get onto the route for first light. We made reasonable progress up the wall which had some really enjoyable and at times quite run out climbing up slabs and walls and we reached the halfway ledge at soon after midday. This spot is where most climbers will bivi for the night to allow themselves plenty of time to tackle the rest of the route and in a little cave was a small bin bag full of various random items including porn magazines and a glow in the dark dildo! Not what you really expect to find on a kilometre high rock wall in the Dolomites!

The Sella group in a spectacular cloud inversion. Photo- Calum Muskett

The Sella group in a spectacular cloud inversion. Photo- Calum Muskett

After a very short break we were back climbing again but some navigational errors with a slightly confusing diagram of where the route went wasted valuable time and left us very worried of getting benighted if we tackled the final four pitches which included some climbing that would have been very difficult at night time in sub zero temperatures. We decided to cut our losses and finish up a nearby route which was somewhat easier that Tempi Moderni but we only just mad the summit before darkness fell and were glad of our decision. The glacier descent was quite exciting in the dark wearing trainers but other than a small slip above a crevasse we made it down quite safely to the road and the long walk back to the car.

This quick trip certainly highlighted the fact that the Dolomites are an amazing area and I can’t recommend the area enough for outdoor people as the walking, skiing, paragliding, climbing and via feratta’s are amongst the best in the world. I’ll certainly be heading back next year for a longer trip.

Jerry enjoying some of the superb climbing in the Ecrins. Photo- Caum Muskett

Jerry enjoying some of the superb climbing in the Ecrins. Photo- Caum Muskett

Divine Providence

Miles on Col Moore approaching Divine Providence. Photo- Calum Muskett

Miles on Col Moore approaching Divine Providence. Photo- Calum Muskett

I first heard about Divine Providence when I was 14. That same year I started climbing with a runner I met at some local fell races. I didn’t even realise he was a climber when I first met him, just an extremely fit fell runner with some exceedingly dodgy ankles that left him limping after every race. His name is Paul Jenkinson and I soon came to understand that his ankles were full of metalwork following a monster fall he had taken in the Llanberis Pass whilst attempting a new route in the early 90’s. Being an enthusiastic and persistent youth I was soon able to persuade Paul to take me climbing and I remember the first time we went out climbing together was at Ogwen on a bitterly cold day early in the year when most people would have chosen to stay indoors. Paul always amazed me because although he rarely climbs nowadays he would always come out and lead up to at least E4 with apparent ease. Despite theories about Paul secretly training hard behind my back I soon discovered that he had been a very good climber in his day and whenever I asked him about a route I wanted to do he’d in most cases done it ‘before I was born’!

That year I planned my first alpine trip and scoured through the pages of guidebooks looking for suitable challenges- predominantly rock routes. When you look at alpine rock climbing in the Chamonix area undoubtedly the best routes are found on the Grand Capucin, South face of the Midi and the rest of the Chamonix Aiguilles. One route stood out beside the classic rock routes and that was Divine Providence, taking the central line up the Grand Pilier d’Angle on the little frequented South East face of Mont Blanc. Famous for being called the most difficult Alpine route in the early 90s it still has a big reputation and probably remains to be the most difficult route up Mont Blanc. Divine Providence encapsulated all that I looked for in a route: A phenomenal line up an impressive wall- long, committing and difficult representing as much of a psychological challenge as a physical one. As soon as I saw it I set my heart on climbing it. I asked Paul if he knew anything about the route and yet again he’d climbed it ‘before I was born’ with none other than Andy Cave. The achievements of these two guys in the early 90s went largely unnoticed. They climbed what were at the time the hardest routes in the Alps and Dolomites in the same summer and they were both regularly climbing E6’s on-sight back in Britain. I remember being staggered at the number of hard on-sights Paul had made in the late 80s and early 90s, all under the radar during the sport climbing revolution of the period. To illustrate this point I remember Paul told me that Andy Cave was about to be interviewed by Dave Jones for his seminal book of interviews ‘The Power of Climbing’ until Dave realised that Andy hadn’t climbed 8a and therefore didn’t meet his criteria for a top climber!

Divine Providence topo 1

Divine Providence topo 1


Divine Providence topo 2

Divine Providence topo 2

I didn’t get round to attempting Divine Providence that year and it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I asked Miles Perkin if he wanted to go to the Alps that I found a willing partner for the route. Fast forward to August and we had ten days in the Alps in which to try the route, eight if you exclude flying there and back. We arrived to bad weather but a promising forecast of five days of sun which left us feeling optimistic. We spent the first couple of days acclimatizing on the Grand Capucin and South face of the Aiguille du Midi before spending a morning re-packing in the valley and heading back up the cable car to walk in to The Grand Pilier. We took our time walking across to the Fourche bivouac hut on Frontier Ridge knowing full well that we hadn’t spent long acclimatizing and we would need energy in reserve the following day. From the hut we decided to abseil down that evening to the glacier below and cross it to the next col where a series of abseils down jenga like rock bring you to a reasonable bivi spot in full view of Divine Providence.

Miles looking up at the headwall. Photo- Calum Muskett

Miles looking up at the headwall. Photo- Calum Muskett


Carrying the haul bag up the easy lower pitches. Photo Miles Perkin

Carrying the haul bag up the easy lower pitches. Photo Miles Perkin

We set off at first light the following morning crossing swiftly beneath the Brenva Seracs over the detritus of multiple avalanches to the base of the route. The first 400m or so go fairly quickly with climbing up to about E1. From here the difficulty steps up a few notches and we soon reached the first hard pitch which Miles dispatched easily. The next pitch had a wet crux section but the climbing was reasonable enough to allow passage to the crux pitch. When we looked at the next pitch it was clear that our free and on-sight ambitions were over as the first half of the pitch was running with water. It was going to be my pitch but Miles volunteered to lead as he’d done more aid climbing than I. I attempted to free the pitch on second but quickly the combination of difficult climbing and icy cold water shut me down leaving me with a painful dose of hot aches. One more pitch landed us at a disappointingly snow covered bivi ledge which took a while to clear and provided us with a cold and sleepless night. The sun hits the wall at first light in the morning and after spending a while thawing we got back into the rhythm of climbing quite slowly, spending a while to work out which line to take. The final hurdle was the roof pitch graded at 7a+ at around 4000m. Miles looked solid leading up to the roof and dispatched the pitch easily with a woop once he reached the belay. I seconded and was happy to find the pitch quite amenable.

Miles seconding an awesome groove on the headwall. Photo- Calum Muskett

Miles seconding an awesome groove on the headwall. Photo- Calum Muskett


Warming up after the cold bivi. Photo- Miles Perkin

Warming up after the cold bivi. Photo- Miles Perkin


Seconding the final difficult pitch. Photo- Miles Perkin

Seconding the final difficult pitch. Photo- Miles Perkin

With all the hard climbing behind us we thought we’d motor to the top but the mixed climbing leading to the Peutrey ridge took us longer than expected and we finally reached the ridge late in the day. We un-roped and slogged our way up towards the summit of Mont Blanc for sunset. The long walk back to the midi left us feeling exhausted, myself in particular but we were both chuffed to have climbed such a brilliant and legendary route that we had both dreamed of doing for so long.

Miles finishing up the Peutrey Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

Miles finishing up the Peutrey Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

Alps

The Grandes Jorasses and Dent du Geant. Photo- Calum Muskett

The Grandes Jorasses and Dent du Geant. Photo- Calum Muskett

At the beginning of August I arrived in Chamonix for a month of alpinism. The summer weather had been appalling in the alps but fortunately a band of high pressure promised more settled weather for August.

I’d only climbed in the alps once before, back when I was still classed as a child on the Aiguille du Midi telepherique and I wasn’t pleased to see that I now had to spend an extra €20 on the cable car! On my last visit with Cumbrian Francis Blunt we mainly rock climbed on the sunny granite towers above the Valleé Blanche and Argentiere Glacier. In contrast to my previous visit I mainly climbed mixed routes this time around.

My first few days were spent sport climbing and bouldering before my climbing partner British Mountain Guide Stu MaCleese arrived. We climbed the popular Rebuffat on the South Face of the Midi as part of our acclimatisation and unusually we had the whole face to ourselves due to the previous day’s thunderstorm. The following evening we walked to the Fourche Bivouac hut on Frontier Ridge which was crammed with people. We left the hut early the following morning happy to escape the suffocating atmosphere of the hut and climbed the ridge to be treated to a beautiful sunrise on the final section of ridge.

Stu MaCleese climbing the Rebuffat Route on the South face of the Aiguille du Midi. Photo- Calum Muskett

Stu MaCleese climbing the Rebuffat Route on the South face of the Aiguille du Midi. Photo- Calum Muskett


Stu looking happy atop Frontier Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

Stu looking happy atop Frontier Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

Feeling fit and acclimatised I walked back up to Plan de l’Aiguille the evening after climbing Frontier Ridge to bivi beneath the justifiably classic Frendo Spur. I was up early the following morning to solo the route which was in perfect condition, reminiscent of a multi pitch Hard Severe in Britain finishing up a steady grade 3 ice climb. I even made it back down to Chamonix for a late breakfast. A week and a half later two friends climbed the spur following several days of bad weather- the whole route was plastered in snow making it a far more challenging prospect, as I passed them on the cable car I felt happy not to be in there boots!

The rest of the trip went well climbing more classic alpine routes, although I did make a very long and frustrating abseil retreat down the North-East Spur of the Doites due to poor conditions high up on the route, benighting Sam and I on a glacier. The glacier was so awkward to descend that we were forced to abseil off a snow bollard over a serac the following morning! An interesting place to put knowledge into practice!

My parents came out to Chamonix at the end of August for a few days of walking. At the end of their visit we camped at a busy Col Du Midi. The following morning we walked up Mont Blanc du Tacul in fantastic weather where we were treated to fabulous views, it was my mum’s first alpine route!

Sam Simpson climbing on the North East Spur of the Doites. Photo- Calum Muskett

Sam Simpson climbing on the North East Spur of the Doites. Photo- Calum Muskett


Intrepid mountaineers! My folks going big on a via ferrata. Photo- Calum Muskett

Intrepid mountaineers! My folks going big on a via ferrata. Photo- Calum Muskett

After a month’s camping I was happy to return home and with a gap year ahead of me I’ve started to train for some local projects, looking forward to the cooler conditions autumn will bring.

Extreme Fishing in the Dolomites

Rob gets advice from a local guide! Photo- Calum Muskett

Rob gets advice from a local guide! Photo- Calum Muskett

It’s not every day I get to pack skyhooks in with my holiday gear, but then, this was no ordinary holiday: a five day trip to the Dolomites to climb two of its most famous routes. The trip had always been a bit of a gamble, squeezed in to suit Rob’s work commitments and the end of my exams, we needed good weather and good fitness.

Our holiday began with a 2:30am start for the airport followed by a full day of travel bringing us to the Fallier hut below the South face of the Marmolada by early evening. The Fallier hut lies almost directly below the start of The Fish and is a good place to take a look at the route, relax and prepare. The Fish is a classic hard alpine route first climbed in 1981 with aid by Igor Koller and Jindrich Sustr. It is known for its long and difficult pitches and also for its boldness: on the whole route the only usable bolts were on the Fish ledge which is very rare for alpine or Dolomite routes. The route is 1220m long and has 38 pitches up to E6 6c (F7b+) in difficulty, that’s as long as the biggest routes on El Capitan! A bivi is deemed necessary for most parties and the descent is down a large, though easily negotiable glacier.

We’d packed light for a two day ascent, saving weight by taking plastic survival bags for the bivi and a minimal quantity of food and water. Another early start got us well on our way in the early morning drizzle up the easy yet serious lower pitches. The grading in our guidebook was rather conservative: F5+ pitches felt loose, bold and technical whilst the F6b to F7a pitches higher up were total sandbags but brilliant to climb thanks to the intricate and technical slab climbing on immaculate water worn pockets.

Seconding one of the awesome lower pitches. Photo- Rob Greenwood

Seconding one of the awesome lower pitches. Photo- Rob Greenwood

As the morning drew on the sun burned off the clouds and the temperature stepped up a notch as we arrived at the first difficult pitch, a tricky traverse which helped get the brain in gear for what was to come. After another tricky pitch we reached the first crux pitch, an incredible curving open groove on perfect limestone. I set off confidently up the lower slab but on reaching the crux felt pretty exposed fearing a long fall due to a jammed old tri-cam taking up the highest gear placement. I balanced a skyhook on a small hold as some psychological protection but shocked myself by slipping off- only to be held by the skyhook a few feet lower! Rob later humorously commented that this was more impressive than the on-sight! I finished off the pitch and Rob led through to the fish cave.

I wasted valuable energy and time trying to leave the wrong side of the fish cave, hanging off some small holds and separated from the belay by only a couple of skyhooks. In the end we changed our attack to the other side of the cave which was a bit easier and less frightening. The following three pitches were still tough, all graded at F7a in our guide (though more correctly at F7a+, 7b+ and 7a+ elsewhere!) and we were forced to take several rests and ‘Yosemite’ Rob had to make a couple of cheeky French free moves on one pitch which brought us thankfully to easier ground and the big ledge with the bivi cave.

Rob enjoying the crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett

Rob enjoying the crux pitch. Photo- Calum Muskett


Nearly at the bivi. Photo- Calum Muskett

Nearly at the bivi. Photo- Calum Muskett


The spectacular but utterly freezing bivi cave. Photo- Rob Greenwood

The spectacular but utterly freezing bivi cave. Photo- Rob Greenwood

Our bivi was utterly freezing and uncomfortable in only our survival bags with the ropes for pillows; consequently we got no sleep and were back moving at first light- a real shame because the bivi was a truly lovely spot with amazing views. The remaining 14 pitches were pleasant and quite easy but tiring as we were only fuelled with a thimble full of water each and a packet of fruitella! We were pretty relieved to reach the summit of Punta Rocca (3265m) but totally chuffed to have climbed such an amazing route. The glacier descent proved to be fine in trainers although we both got terrible sunburn having left the sun cream behind in our attempt at a light approach.

Keen to make the most of the good weather we set off to climb the classic Brandler-Hasse on Cima Grande the following morning. We were surprised to bump into some other Brits, Ben and Theo at the bottom of the route and enjoyed a sociable ascent of the route. The Hasse climbs through spectacular terrain and is predominantly a sport climb on the harder pitches due to a mass of in-situ gear, unfortunately Rob and I were totally boxed after our previous exertions and I had to take a hang on the final hard pitch. Rob made a spectacular on-sight of the previous F7a pitch, more off than on and later commented that it was one of his best ever efforts due to his exhaustion!

We spent the next couple of days drinking coffee, eating pizza and doing a bit of sightseeing in amongst some relaxed sport climbing before our return home. The Dolomites are a truly amazing place to climb, certainly up there with the very best long routes in the world and totally convenient with plenty of cafes and pizzeria’s to help a nice days RNR. Both Rob and I agreed that we would definitely return at some point in the future. The Dolomites are just so impressive and it seems really odd how they are so out of vogue with British climbers.

Rob seconding the crux pitch of the Brandler-Hasse. Photo- Calum Muskett

Rob seconding the crux pitch of the Brandler-Hasse. Photo- Calum Muskett

On my return from the Dolomites I found that North Wales was experiencing some lovely weather. I decided it was time to seal the deal with one of my projects up on the East Wall of the Idwal slabs at Ogwen. I originally attempted the line on-sight but couldn’t commit to the dynamic moves above a large ledge. I returned the following week with my dad belaying and after a quick top rope was confident I could lead the route quite easily. I underestimated its difficulty and took a painful fall onto the ledge when I failed to hold a dynamic move.

On this occasion I felt worse than I had previously, I was still tired after the Dolomites and also slightly worried about the hot weather and the state of my boots. I also knew that a fall from the final moves of the route would be very nasty indeed. A few goes on top rope helped me find a more secure sequence though this was offset by my tired arms. I decided to pull the ropes and go for the lead. My first attempt saw me take a safe fall near the beginning of the hard climbing which really frustrated me as I began to see the climb slipping out of my grasp yet again. Next go I went all guns blazing, I was unable to chalk up for the final few moves and my legs were shaking awfully but I dug deep and finished it off, slightly surprised to have reached the top. The route is very good and I found it unusually hard on lead due to its dynamic style. It starts up a classic E3 called Capital Punishment then breaks out up a 12m headwall in a very grit like style. I called it The Great Escape, E8 6c.

Big moves between pockets on The Great Escape. Photo- Ray Wood

Big moves between pockets on The Great Escape. Photo- Ray Wood