Monday, March 23, 2009

Les Grandes Jorasses

With the remainder of the high-pressure system, and fairly consolidated snow conditions, Maxime Turgeon, Adam George and I headed toward the Leschaux hut Saturday afternoon, for a crack at the famed north face of Les Grandes Jorasses. We left the hut yesterday morning at 3am, and a couple hours later reached the first bergschrund below the Colton-MacIntyre. It took us about 14 hours to climb the 1,200 meter route - so we're only about 600% slower than Ueli! The route is fairly sustained, in that there is almost zero easy snow slogging, but no pitch is extreme. The hardest aspect of the climb was the very cold conditions and strong wind.

The north face of the Grandes Jorasses on Saturday evening:

Max and Adam arriving at a belay a couple pitches above the initial ice field:

Adam leading the Alexis variation, which was in better condition than the Colton-MacIntyre proper. This pitch is a lot steeper than it looks from below:

Max traversing back to join the Colton-MacIntyre proper:

Max starting the upper mixed section:

Max at a belay a couple pitches below the top of the Walker Spur:

We topped out just before dark and started descending immediately - not only to use the last available light, but also because it was incredibly cold and windy on the summit. The descent down the Italia side went fairly easily, but in the dark we somehow missed the Boccalatte hut, and ended up walking all the way down to Courmayeur. Very hungry, thirsty, tired and cold at 3am, we decided our best bet was to bivouac in an information kiosk at the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel. Max at the bivy:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bienvenue a Chamonix

I arrived in Chamonix on Sunday night, and as the weather has since been excellent I have been busy every day. High winds were forecast for today, so I am resting for the good weather that is predicted to follow, running errands, and posting some photos here...

On Monday I went for a solo romp up the easy and classic Arete de Cosmiques on the Aiguille du Midi. While waiting for a guided group at the mid-way rappel station, I was joined by this crow (or is it a raven?):

On Tuesday I met up with fellow North-American Julia Niles, who is in town for just a few days. We went up the Aiguille du Midi and first skied the classic Cosmiques Couloir, followed by the Grand Envers. Julia rapping into the Cosmiques:

On Wednesday Julia and I joined my generous hosts Peje and Jonno, along with Peje's friend Eva, for some sunny gneissic sport-climbing in Valle d'Aosta, Italia. It's pretty awesome that one can drive from Chamonix literally through the Mont Blanc massif, and come out in Courmayeur, where everyone is suddenly speaking Italian. Jonno clipping bolts on a fun 6b:

Yesterday Julia and I went back up the Aiguille du Midi, this time with packs full of climbing gear, and skied down to the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul to climb its moderate classic ice gully, the Albinoni-Gabarrou. Julia soloing the grade 3 pitch at the entrance of the gully:

Kicking steps in the couloir above:

Julia on pitch 2:

Julia on pitch 4:

Like so many routes in Chamonix, the standard practice for the Albinoni-Gabarrou is to climb a few pitches and then rap off where the angle starts to kick back. And as the famous saying goes, "When in Chamonix, do as the Chamoniards..." Julia setting the first rap, with Aiguille Verte just above her head, Les Drus just to the left, and the south sides of Les Doites and Les Courtes just to the right:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Le Fin de Mes Etudes

The weather this winter in the Cascades has been rather bipolar. For a long time there was an atypically dry spell, which was a boon for climbing, but made for mediocre skiing. A few weeks ago the weather finally shifted to the normal Cascades winter: non-stop dumps of lots of snow. No good for alpine climbing, but the skiing recently has been amazing.

As for me, I've been too busy with schoolwork to play in the hills much, but I did get several dry, sunny days cragging at Index in February (a real rarity for wintertime). Also during the dry period, Dylan and I made a brief attempt on the McNerthney-Klewin on the Middle Peak of Mt. Index, but turned around after only a few pitches due to thin ice that was rapidly turning to slush in the sun.
Dylan busting out the rope:

In the past couple weeks I was very busy wrapping up the quarter at school, but able to sneak out of town for a few days of skiing, which were all awesome, deep days. And yesterday was, thank dog, the last day of my undergraduate education - a day that I've been looking forward to since enrolling in the fall of 2003. As a personal celebration I have lined up an action-packed spring, and I'm taking off for Chamonix in just a couple hours!