Sunday, 31 July 2011

Aiguille d'Argentiere ,,, via Fleche Rousse

Skiing anyone? Found this on the walk in to the hut ...

Dehyd for dinner ...

An early-ish start (before 4am - sigh!) from our bivvy on the snow saw us trudging uphill again, headed for a ridge on the east of Aiguille d'Argentiere. We slotted in behind a couple of guided groups, also headed for the same ridge, but who had already been going for 45 minutes having started from the hut. We felt a bit smug, having been able to sleep in 45 minutes later as our bivvy was 200-300m higher than the hut.
Dawn - and we're already a long way up (but with a lot further to go!)
As the light started to grow we approached the crest of the Fleche Rousse ridge, pressing on the heels of the group in front of us... only to get a short sharp lesson, as a flailing foot sent a shower of small rocks down onto us. With no damage done and our lesson learnt, we gave them some more space. Starting the on the mixed ground that continued most of the way up to Fleche Rousse, we reached the ridge just before sunrise and we were greeted by great views out towards Switzerland.

From here the route threaded along the ridge, often just off the crest, turning rocky gendarmes on either side as we moved together along rock ledges, snowy couloirs and everything in between. Even early in the morning we could feel the effect of the sun on the east and south facing slopes and were glad of the early(ish) start and that the descent was on the NW side.

A short rock pitch, that felt much tougher than anything in our topo had us to expect, lead us to the top of Fleche Rousse. It also lead us to wonder if we should have followed the group in front of us so exactly and also to curse climbing in crampons and not rock shoes... we think we missed the easy way up! Or are we just soft?

Just before the first summit of the day ... looking back down the ridge and at a very tired Jen!
Feeling the sun (but not feeling that we were climbing fast) we pressed on past the first summit of the day without stopping, abseiling down to the summit ridge of Aiguille d'Argentiere – the end of the mixed ground and now just simple snow plodding to the top. After a quick snack on the summit, we headed down the steep Mileu glacier, ending up frontpointing and daggering our way down for longer than we expected.
The summit shot!
Once down off the glacier, lunch in the sun called and then a stroll over the moraine back to the hut, returning some dropped gear to one of the parties who had been in front of us. Then we turned our back on the people lounging in the sun, with their beers, playing chess or cards at the tables... and faced uphill towards our tent, for that extra 200-300 vertical metres that we'd felt so smug about at 4am...
And down again ...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

High tea?

We totally deserved this. 

(We also ordered coffee ... each of which came with another, probably unnecessary, macaroon.)

Rain in Chamonix (again!)

Duck? Yes please!
Ooh, roast pork! Yum!

We don't really have good luck with the weather in Chamonix! Last year when we first arrived it was the same story … rain, rain and more rain, but then it was warm temperatures. This year, there's loads of rain but cooler temperatures and a lower snow level. So whilst last year the snow and ice wasn't there to climb, this year there's too much of it and it's unstable, perched ready to fall.

 So once again we've been doing the usual Chamonix rainy day activities. We went shopping for a new tent (no luck in Chamonix itself – apparently the gear shops there only sell fashion, so we headed down the road to Au Vieux Campeur), had the “Menu du jour” for lunch a couple of times and sat around in the guide's office looking at maps and hoping things would improve soon.

Seeing a gap in the clouds for the 25th and 26th July, we decided to make the most of it and head towards one of the guides' recommended routes: the Table du Roc ridge, on Aiguille du Tour. 

The view from our campsite.

The new tent!
First we hiked up to Albert Premier hut, in light snow and a bit of rain, and set up our new tent out the back – there we met a bunch of English climbers who were planning on doing the same route.

However, when the alarm clock went off hideously early and it was time to climb, Mark was in no shape to get out of his sleeping bag. A sore throat and feeling a little dead saw the end of our plans to climb that day. Instead, at the much more sensible hour of 9am, we headed out for a gentle stroll along the glacier, aiming for the Col du Tour. Annoyingly the clouds rolled in the entire time we were up on the Col, obscuring the view, but it was good to stretch the legs and get used to a bit of altitude.

We became a bit worried on our return, however … we hadn't seen the English guys on the glacier and they hadn't returned to their tents. It started to get late, and when the clouds started to roll in we saw the first helicopter come out of the valley and hover over the Table du Roc. It didn't stick around, though, and soon flew off – was this a training exercise, or was it too cloudy to rescue someone up on the ridge?

We found out a bit later, when another chopper was heard … and watched from the hut along with all the other guests as 6 people were hoisted from near the top of the ridge, and dropped back down onto the glacier. When the boys returned to their tents, they explained that there was just too much snow – and just too much soft, unstable snow – on the route. They got into a position where they could not get across to the summit and down the normal route, and they could not get down the way they came. It had been a long and tiring day for them, and they were quite embarrassed by the fuss of the helicopters – but grateful to no longer be on the mountainside. We were pretty glad we had not decided to do that route after all! 

Anyway, the weather was going to be good the next day and Mark was feeling better, so we decided to head up Aiguille du Tour by the normal route – not up the ridge! - going across the glacier, up the col we'd been at that day, then around the corner to the rocky summit.
The summit shot.
We set the alarm for a bit before 6am, and were on our way by 6:20. And without any dramas, by 9:15 we were sharing the summit and it's view of the surrounding peaks with a large group of Spaniards. After making a birthday phone call, we easily headed back to the tent to pack up and wander down the hill. 

Then the next afternoon, the rain started again …

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Gurten Festival

Four days, three nights of music on top of a hill outside of Bern.

Entry was via a funicular, which neatly separated the sleepy town of Wabern and it's pretty, riverside setting from the noise and mass of people at the festival above. Each day we caught the funicular down in the morning, to pick up lunch of fresh bread, roasted chicken and beer in PET bottles, before heading back up to enjoy it on the gently rolling hills of the festival grounds whilst the bands of the day got started.

The music would start in the early afternoon, and the live acts continued on three stages until 3am or so … then if that wasn't enough, three DJ tents kept the crowd awake until after 5am. (Sad to say, we never quite stayed awake that long … )

It was pretty cool that one of the stages was dedicated to Swiss acts – local bands rather than big, international names. We didn't know any of these, and they were a real mix of styles, but some we really enjoyed.

Even on the main stages there were acts we just hadn't heard of – that's probably more because we haven't listened to any new music in years – and some of them were just great fun. The gorgeous Jamie Callum had everyone laughing, dancing and singing along (as he says, just don't sacrifice beauty for volume), and Aloe Black provided some funky soul on a Sunday afternoon.

It is also true that some of the names we had heard of didn't really excite in live performance - Kate Nash tried hard but obviously wasn't really enjoying herself, Pendulum built the crowd up but took them nowhere and the Arctic Monkeys, the main headliners, suffered consistent technical problems and kept the crowd waiting far too long for the music. Thumbs down!

But these were the minority – most performances were as amazing as we'd hoped. I'd change continents to see 2 Many DJ's do a live set again (if only for the random German covers), or Jamiroquai (were we expecting the jazz band and the three dancing back-up singers?). The Eels showed off their beards, and the Ting Tings had lifted their game since we saw them last year. The Aussie act, Angus and Julia Stone, did us proud with a particularly haunting cover of … “You're the one that I want”, from Grease. Crazy but true.

All up, on the music side of things, this was one awesome festival. 

However … here is our tent. Jen's faithful Black Diamond Firstlight that she's both loved and hated since purchasing it six years ago was finally destroyed in the festival campground – on the very first afternoon. We assume someone fell into it, then thought it was funny to rip off the entire side of the tent and then rip that side in half again ... then for good measure, rifle through our bags too (but thankfully find nothing of value to steal - I guess we're now paranoid about these things!) 

Security just didn't care and it took a lot of persuasion to get some tape and a sheet of plastic from them, in order to patch it up for the remaining three nights. We did still sleep in it, but on Sunday as the festival finished, when the heavens opened and the field became mud, we left it there. RIP.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Climbing in the Dolomites

After spending too long sitting around sorting out insurance, police reports and repairing Fred, we finally got around to doing what we came to the Dolomites to do... climb! On Kalymnos we'd met a friendly Dolomite local, Helmut, who volunteered to give us an introduction to climbing in the Dolos, so off we headed to Piz Ciavazes near Sella.

Two Tourists and the Local
We geared up (not taking long - Helmut needing only the sparsest of racks) for a gentle multi-pitch classic route (Rosi-Tomasi), leaving lots of time for Helmut to get back to work. There were a few people in front of us but we figured we had a few spare hours up our sleeve - how slow could they be? Well... a few pitches up, after spending an hour and a half on one belay waiting to climb... we bailed. Unfortunately Helmut, not being the slacker that we are, had to work for the rest of the week, so we'd be left to our own devices, but we'd had a taster of the long, sometimes loose and sometimes crowded climbing the Dolos has to offer.

Helmut hot on the heels of another party.
Over the next two days we climbed a few more routes, swinging leads with a random Kiwi, Calum, who we found sitting in the bar looking a bit forlorn – his climbing partner had decided that Sport was the way forward for him, leaving Calum partnerless for his Trad ambitions. 

After finding our first choice for routes, Schubert, with a queue, we quickly settled on Bergfuhrerweg instead, avoiding a repeat of the day before. With no-one in front, and on more solid rock, we romped up quickly and had to jump on another route to fill out the day, heading for Vinatzer Corner on the upper level.
One route done, one more to go to the top ...

Team Antipodean (at a very crowded belay)
A bit looser but fun climbing and leaving us in awe of the days of the pioneering climbers with what we would consider primitive gear. (Some of which is still rusting away in situ...) Mark was glad of every piece in his modern rack though, which seemed small to him (Helmut would probably disagree). As a bonus until 3 o'clock the valley was extremely peaceful with only bikes on the road below for a cycling day, making the atmosphere fantastic for a normally busy part of the mountains.
At the top!

The day after we teamed up again with Calum and climbed the south west wall of the first Sella tower. We took a twisting line up the face that often came close to some recently installed shiny ringbolts... teasing us when the protection we had available was not always available at friendly 2m intervals. Everyone had a lead, this time Calum getting the crux to make up for missing out on the Vinatzer. After the long day before we were tired enough to leave it at just the one route for the day.

And then we had to head north to collect a numberplate, leaving the Dolomites as a place with many climbs demanding attention. Maybe we'll be back in September...

Friday, 1 July 2011


So we're in Bolzano, about to catch up with some old mates from Amsterdam.

Being about half an hour early, we parked Fred in a public parking area near the meeting spot and decided to head to the nearby river to sit in the shade and dip our feet in the water. It was stinking hot, well over 30degrees, so we closed all the curtains and wrapped the front of Fred in his shiny, reflector panel.

About 20 minutes later, with much cooler feet, we headed back to Fred. We thought it odd that a small, white car had parked so close on the passenger's side, and that it left in such a hurry when we came back. But as Auste and Vytus had just arrived in their car, we were too busy saying hello again and meeting their friends to think much of it. We made a plan to drive out of the valley and up the hill, where it would be cooler, and do some climbing.

We got into Fred, prepared to follow the others ... and something didn't seem quite right. We then realised that my handbag wasn't in the car ... then that our computer bag wasn't in the car either ...

We'd been robbed. Then we saw the busted lock on the sliding door.

So our time in Bolzano has been spent in a far different way than originally anticipated. The Police have been helpful, but we don't think we'll see our belongings again. Jen's come down with an eye infection and a cold (great timing!), too. We've had the van's door fixed, we've filed Police reports, an insurance claim and started to get replacements for Jen's bank cards, insurance cards and licence. What fun.

If it wasn't for the warm hospitality and company of Auste and Vytus, it would have been a dismal week indeed.