Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Alpine Playground

I've returned for a few weeks to the ultimate alpine playground, Chamonix, to do some enjoyable skiing and climbing on the fantastic peaks here, and hopefully gain some fitness for the Alaska climbing season. Chamonix has experienced a really lean snow year, but there are always good things to do here.

I've been skiing and climbing a bunch with Norwegian friend Nils Nielsen, with whom I am also headed to Alaska soon. Our first day out was a nice tour up to the Passage d'Argentiere. In the background are the north faces of Les Courtes, Les Doites and Aiguille Verte. Photo by Nils.

Next up was a ski of the Glacier du Milieu on Aiguille d'Argentiere. We were joined by Swedish skier Morgan Sahlen. Nils and Morgan coming up the last bit of the Glacier du Mileu:

Nils, Morgan and myself on the summit of Aiguille d'Argentiere. Photo by Nils.

Morgan dropping in heavy and blowing shit up like a muthafuckin' powder gangsta. Photo by Nils.

A few days later Nils and I went to one of my favorite faces anywhere, the north face of Les Doites, to climb a combination of Le Ginat and the Messner Route. Looking up at the north face of Doites from below the base. Photo by Nils.

Nils crossing the bergschrund:

Myself low on the route. This section is the most commonly climbed start to Le Ginat, but is actually part of the Messner Route. Photo by Nils.

We simul-soloed to the top of the central ice field, and then climbed to the summit in three simul-climbing pitches. Myself on the first roped section. Photo by Nils.

Nils coming up to a belay shortly after diverging from Le Ginat. The camera tilt was not intentional!

Nils starting the second simul-climbing pitch.

Myself coming up to a belay. Photo by Nils.

Myself starting the third simul-climbing pitch, which took us to the summit of Les Doites. My two previous "climbs" of Le Ginat, like 95% of the "ascents" of Le Ginat, finished at the Breche des Doites and then bailed to the south side. It was nice, therefore, to finally take the line to it's logical conclusion on the summit of the mountain. Photo by Nils.

On the summit of Les Doites. Photo by Nils.

Nils checking out the descent down the south side, with Les Grandes Jorasses and Mont Blanc behind.

To return to our skis in the Argentiere basin we chose to climb over Les Courtes and downclimb the Northeast Face of Les Courtes. Nils coming up the West Ridge of Les Courtes:

On the summit of Les Courtes in the evening. Photo by Nils.

Starting down Les Courtes in the late evening. Photo by Nils.

Myself downclimbing the Northeast Face of Les Courtes, with Aiguille du Chardonnet and Aiguille d'Argentiere behind. Nils, who claims he is "not so much the aggro, cocky type of mountain guide, but more like the metrosexual mountain guide," thought the evening light in this photo was romantic, and would help us score chicks. Photo by Nils.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Viking Alpinism

In May 2006 I spent a magical week in the Lofoten Islands of northern Norway. Situated above the arctic circle (aka, outside of the "moral circle"), and jutting out into the North Atlantic, the Lofoten Islands have an enchanting scenery of craggy peaks coming straight out of the rough ocean. My trip to Lofoten in 2006 was during the most joyful and carefree period of my life, in the company of a beautiful girl, and blessed by perfect, sunny weather - so, needless to say, despite only doing some very moderate climbing, it left me with wonderful memories.

Thus, when the Norsk Tindeklubb (Norwegian Alpine Club) invited me to join their winter climbing meet this year in Lofoten, I was psyched to join, and revisit this special place. The meet was held during the first week of March. I climbed mostly with my friend Bjørn-Eivind Årtun, but there were lots of great folks from various countries to socialize with in the evenings. The entire week was plagued with stormy weather, but we had a great time anyways. The wind and blowing snow just makes you feel more like a Viking, which, after all, is the whole point (well, at least for me)!

Lofoten is a very scenic place, so here's a rather photo-heavy post...

Flashback: Myself on the beach at Kalle in May 2006. Photo by Camilla Gjørtz.

The same beach and view in March 2011:

Flashback: The view towards the peaks from the beach at Kalle in 2006. Photo by Camilla Gjørtz.

The same view, minus the flip flops:

On our first day in Lofoten, Bjørn-Eivind and I climbed this buttress above Eggum. It looked more impressive from the road than it turned out to be up close, but it was a nice warm-up nonetheless. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Ice, moss, and saltwater: myself starting up the buttress above Eggum. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

The last section of the buttress above Eggum. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Our next climb was a line on Vågakallen, one of the nicest peaks in Lofoten. Some British friends were headed to Vågakallen the same day to climb a different line. Here is Nick Bullock on the approach, with Vågakallen behind. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Myself feeling like a Viking in the gully that we started up on Vågakallen. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Bjørn-Eivind a bit higher in the gully, almost getting knocked off by the spindrift:

We branched off the right side of the gully, to climb the buttress to the right of the Storpillaren. Colin navigating some mixed terrain.

Bjørn-Eivind scratching around on Vågakallen:

On the summit of Vågakallen in stormy conditions. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Myself downclimbing the summit ridge of Vågakallen, with the shoreline and some small islands visible below. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Rappelling off a rime-covered boulder. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Climbing Vågakallen was definitely the best, and most memorable day I had in Lofoten. The climb went fairly smoothly, but fortunately the descent and hike out along the coastline had more excitment: nightfall, a non-working headlamp, an overhanging rappel into saltwater, and kilometers of crawling and climbing across snow-covered, seaside boulders and cliffs. Never before have I had seaweed on my crampons, or had saltwater washing over my winter climbing boots. Never before have I dove from one boulder to another, in crampons, to avoid a big wave. And all the while, the snow kept dumping down. This was Viking Alpinism! Photo by Bjørn-Eivind of me pulling the rappel ropes, standing on a boulder in the water:

On our next climbing day we were joined by fellow junkie of Patagonian climbing, Trym Atle Sæland, for the Swiss Route on Abrahamstind. Trym on the approach, with Abrahamstind behind. The route is the obvious, straight white line in the center.

Myself starting up the runout first pitch of the Swiss Route. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Bjørn-Eivind coming up to the belay at the top of the first pitch:

Bjørn-Eivind on a mixed step higher on the Swiss Route:

Trym starting up the second-to-last pitch:

I thought Abrahamstind had the highest-quality climbing of the routes we climbed in Lofoten. Bjørn-Eivind following the second-to-last pitch of the Swiss Route:

Trym and Bjørn-Eivind on the summit of Abrahamstind, with the fjord below.

On our last day in Lofoten we headed out with lover-boy Marius Olsen to climb an ice/mixed line that he had spotted on the Svolværgeita (Svolvær Goat). The Svolværgeita is a craggy pinnacle directly above the town of Svolvær, and one of the most famous landmarks in Lofoten. Here is Marius, Bjørn-Eivind and myself on the approach, with the Svolværgeita above. The line we climbed is the white line in the center. Photo by Marius Olsen.

Looking down upon the town of Svolvær from the base of the Svolværgeita. Wouldn't it just be horrible if your neighborhood had a view like this?

Marius leading the crux first pitch of the line we climbed. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Myself leading the second-to-last pitch, at which point we had joined a classic summer rockclimb. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind.

Fortunately I knew the beta! Myself leading the same pitch in 2006, under slightly different conditions. Photo by Camilla Gjørtz.

Svolvær lighting up at dusk:

I spent the week afterwards in Oslo, with some visits to the climbing gym, a day ice climbing in Rjukan, and a bit of nordic skiing. Marius and myself in a bit of a tangle. Photo by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.