Rhoscolyn, Day Two.

Day two climbing with Ann! We decided that we’d take a trip to one of my favorite little crags, Rhoscolyn. Being the host, I was keen to show Ann around some of the nicest lower grade routes the crag has to offer, principally: Symphony Crack, probably the best Diff in the world and Truant, a nice VS 4c!

We arrived at Rhoscolyn at around 9:15am and took a leisurely stroll across the headland; It was obvious that Ann was keen to do Symphony Crack, it had been on her wishlist for some time. We made swift progress and soon we were racking up and scrambling down to the first belay. I set up an anchor and waited for Ann to join me, she readied herself and began leading the first pitch; I decided I’d follow her in my approach shoes, she’d get a much better experience by leading the route!

Photo 1.1 – Ann, about to step on the slab on Symphony Crack. 

ImageShe made quick progress up the route, announcing that she was safe and that I could start climbing. I stepped across the lovely delicate traverse and romped up the remaining immaculate slab and crack above. Ann was delighted at the route and agreed that the only disappointing thing about the route is that it isn’t longer! Beautiful climbing in a wonderful setting; who said Diffs aren’t worthwhile?!

We coiled the ropes and put our kit away and headed the short distance down the cliff, to the top of a route I’d lead a few days previously called Truant-VS 4c. We set up the abseil rope, racked our harnesses and headed down into the zawn. Ann said she’d rather I lead both pitches, which was absolutely fine. I set off on the rightwards traverse, deciding I’d take Ann up the slab and belay below the crux, again, to avoid the wet crack-line below. Soon I was belaying Ann up to me, she made short work of the easier slab and soon she was passing over the gear ready for me to lead again on the second pitch. I started leading and noticed a sling and grab hanging from a thread on the wall to the right, I retrieved it, always enjoying finding crag-swag!! I continued and placed gear ready to pull through the crux, which I did easily due to prior knowledge, I then romped on larger holds to the top!

Photo 1.2- Looking down the route, ready to bring Ann up!

ImageAnn required quite a tight rope on the crux, saying: “That was a hard move”, she seemed to enjoy it though and she climbed the easier section above in fine style before topping out with me. We sorted the ropes and kit and went back to the bags for a spot of lunch and some guidebook scouting!

After having a bite to eat, we saw this lovely arete just to the left of Truant, we decided it must have been S Hawk ally, Diff. It obviously didn’t get climbed much so I set off not expecting much; however, the climbing was lovely. First off was a leftwards trending crack on jugs, followed by a long blocky arete set in a fantastic position- another easy route, but absolutely stunning, such a hidden gem.

We sorted gear, ropes and packed away all the kit, commenting on a very good couple of days! With big smiles on our faces, we headed down for a pint at the White Eagle. What a great two days…THANKS ANN.

Cragging at Holyhead!

Today, I met up with Ann for a days cragging at Holyhead Mountain. We didn’t manage to get photos unfortunately; however, we did some great routes and we even bumped into Johnny Dawes! So hopefully this post will still interest you guys! During the day we did several routes including:

Comfortably Numb VS 4c
Curtains VS 4c
Pigeon Hole Crack S 4a
Stairs S 4a

The day started a little day with thick clagg encasing the mountain and the crags; we met at the car park a little before 8:45am, picked up some ropes and kit and started the short walk across to the base of the crags. Despite the thick cloud and sea mist it remained warm and soon we were regretting wearing our jackets. We made quick progress and soon we were at the base of the first of our chosen routes, a nice little warm up line called Pigeon Hole Crack S 4a.

It was decided that I’d lead the first route of the day, the rock was still slightly damp from the sea mist but otherwise perfect. I made short work of the initial cracks before climbing a grove and making quick progress, past the a lovely thread to the top. The climbing was very straight forward, yet still very pleasant. Ann, too, enjoyed the route and climbed in fine style; we coiled ropes and headed down for route number two.

Secondly, we decided to head for a two pitched Severe called “Stairs”; I’d done the route a few times and enjoyed it very much. I lead the first pitch, a diagonal slab to an overhang; I placed some gear and pulled through the overhanging wall until I reached the upper slab. I traversed left and climbed the thin delicate arete before making rightwards moves to the belay stance. I belayed Ann to the stance; she thought the move through the overhang was quite hard for the grade but she climbed the rest in fine style. Ann lead through, the second pitch consisted of a short slab before a narrow ramp leads around a large block- Ann lead this in good style and soon she was bringing me up and we were coiling ropes and kit and heading down towards the base of the crag once again.

We’d not been rushing between routes, we enjoyed the time we had, especially considering the cloud had now brunt off leaving warm, bright sunshine. We leisurely headed further down the crag to the base of the next route…

Curtains, VS 4c was the next to-do route. The guidebook stated that it was a serious route that was bold and short of gear; however, I looked up at the route and felt that it was easily within my comfort zone. I racked up and started the bottom slab; soon I found a nice sling runner before making thin moves over a bulge. Another sling runner appeared and soon I was climbing the delicate and thin slab above; I placed yet more gear before reaching the final wall before the belay. Two mirco-cams and a small wire protected the next moves, arguably the crux, I made swift progress, unchallenged to the belay and romped up the easy second pitch rather than splitting it. Ann was soon following me to the top and afterwards, we both commented that we thought it was no harder than HS 4b.

It was now lunch time, so we set ourselves down and devoured our food, discussing the morning’s climbing. We packed away our kit ready to move down the crag again, in search of our next route. During our walk down the crag we passed the crack of King Bee Crack, I peered up at the climber making his way so smoothly up the crack- it was Johnny Dawes!! After saying a “hello” and watching the master ease his way up the classic climb, he shouted down to me that he had copies of his autobiography with him, if I liked one…how could I resist. We waited around for Johnny to complete the route (it didn’t take long) and to bring up his second, soon he reappeared at the bottom of the crag and took out a copy of his book from his bag. He wrote “To Chester, Johnny Dawes” and signed it, I was made up! I’d read about his exploits since I was a child and now we were sitting discussing routes, climbing and plans with a signed copy of his book in my hand!! I could have heard his stories for hours and watched his majestic climbing for even longer; however, we both needed to get back to the main point of the day- climbing! Me and Ann continued down the crag towards a VS 4c that I fancied doing; Ann was keen to do a VD next to it, that’s what we did next.

Ann lead the first pitch of a VD heading up a large crack in the slab before taking a belay below a chimney. Ann lead the first pitch quickly and easily and soon I was at the belay and climbing the steep, easy chimney above. A lovely route, despite the easy climbing, the moves were always interesting! We sorted out the ropes again and headed for our final route of the day.

Comfortably Numb, VS 4c was a route I’d wanted to do for a while. What the actual grade was, was much disputed. The eliminate nature of the route meant that one could move left/right and find easier ground; hence, some thought it was 4b. If the wall was taken direct, it was solid 4c, some saying 5a. Anyway, I romped up the easier lower section, reaching the ledge below the crux wall. I placed a cam under the bulge and pulled through before placing another cam. I ascended the wall direct on very thin crimps before reaching horizontal ground; the direct line was definitely 4c. Ann followed me, she found the crux tricky and announce that my lead was impressive and she agreed that route was definitely 4c! 

We packed away our gear, chatting about the routes and meeting Johnny. We’d had an excellent day, I was particularly chuffed to have done a couple of 4c routes and even more chuffed to be carrying away my signed book! We made the short walk back to the car park, eager to sample the coffee and cake on offer at the cafe!

An excellent day, me and Ann will be climbing again tomorrow at Rhoscolyn. Let’s hope for more good weather…

Rhoscolyn- a quick hit.

Tonight Dad and I found ourselves with a few hours spare before the weekend began. We decided we’d go to Rhoscolyn- a local sea cliff-to do a route we’d been meaning to do for a while, called Truant (VS 4c). The route was a short two pitches so seemed perfect for a quick hit.

We arrived at the parking area at around 8pm before making the short walk to the crag, the walk is across headlands on flat grassy paths and tracks enabling us to soon be at the top of the crag.

Photo 1.1 – Me heading for the cliffs!

ImageWe found the top of our route and proceeded to set up the abseil station next to it; once we’d racked our harness, put on our shoes and kitted up we descended into the Zawn below, eager to see the route ahead! We landed on a large ledge just above the high tide mark and began flaking the ropes out ready for me to lead away; strictly, the first pitch of the route should have followed the corner but it was wet and seeping badly. Hence, I decided to climb the slab variant to the first belay. According to the guidebook, the first pitch was much easier than the crux and that’s what it proved to be, quite an easy lead to the first belay.

Photo 1.2 – Me leading the easy lower section. 

ImageI set up a belay at the halfway ledge and shouted to Dad that I was safe, soon he began following me up the easier lower slab to reach me at the belay. We commented that the climbing was nice and that the crux was the bulge above the belay. We sorted kit out and soon I was ready to lead away again! I made short moves to gain a small ledge below the crux, the crux seemed to be two big pulls over a bulge in the slab. The gear around the crux wasn’t fantastic, one number 1 wire placement, not a fantastic one either. I climbed through the crux easily, it didn’t feel 4c to me, hard 4b would be my estimate.

Photo 1.3 – Me having just lead the crux. 

ImageAfter the crux, the climbing was easier. A slabby wall following the corner before stepping left slightly and climbing direct to the top. The climbing here, again, felt around 4a! The climbing was nice, though- interesting moves and a nice setting!

Photo 1.4 – Leading the head wall to the top! (sorry about the flash!)

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Soon I found myself at the top, a little disappointed that the route had been considerably easier than I thought it would be- HS 4b in my opinion. I set up a belay and shouted down to Dad that he could begin climbing; he took some time on the crux, finding the strenuous moves awkward. He climbed through in fine style however and made short work of the head wall above. We topped out a little before 9.45pm, swiftly sorted out the ropes and kit, eager to get home for a brew and a slab of cake! We romped the short few miles back to the car, the sun was setting over the fields and we felt in good spirits having made use of the evening. Rhoscolyn really is a lovely setting, I imagine we’ll be back soon to sample some of the other routes at the crag!

Photo 1.5 – Back at the car, ready for tea and cake!

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Slanting Buttress Ridge Route and The Horseshoe!

Considering we spent the night in a small tent with just sleeping bags and no bed mats to sleep on, Dad and I slept very well. The alarm woke us with a shock at 7am; we took a few minutes to find the motivation to get out of our warm sleeping bags and go outside into the cold, the sun had not yet risen over the mountains above us. I was first out and started up the stove to make a brew before heading over to the shower blocks for a wash. I returned to be handed a cup of tea and a bacon roll that Dad had made whilst I was away, perfect! After chatting, eating and finishing our tea, we packed away the tent and chucked ropes and gear into bags ready to make the hour long walk to the base of Lliwedd.

We parked, again, by the Cromlech Boulders and got the soonest bus up to Pen Y Pass. We arrived at the Pass at around 9:45am and began the walk to the base of the crag, the path is boring, wide and very touristy but allows one to make good progress before turning off the main path to arrive at the base of the crag.

Photo 1.1 – The broad path with Lliwedd in the distance.

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We continued along the broad path before breaking off left, traversing the steep grassy hillside and making our way to the base of the steep scree slope and eventually the bottom of the climb.

Photo 1.2 – Lliwedd getting nearer as we traverse the grassy slope. 

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We made good progress up the steep scree slope and arrived at the base of the route in 60 minutes, just like the guidebook suggested. Although the cloud had started to come over, it was still very warm and we were glad to be at the start of the climb and not to be slogging towards it any longer.

Photo 1.3 – The view back towards where we started, from the base of the route.

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We began to kit up, we decided that in the interest of speed, we’d move together Alpine style. I’d lead, placing gear between us but instead of pitching the route, we’d move continuously. This would make the 10 pitch route far quicker! I racked my harness before showing Dad how to take coils and to tie the coils off, I then set off instructing Dad to climb at the same pace, keeping the rope fairly tight so that he would not fall too far if he slipped. The climbing was straight forward but nice, very much a mountaineering route in feel and some pitches were quite exposed. Easy slabs continued through to around 150m, the route steepened before climbing a rampy groove just around the corner from the steep slab. The route then continued along the arete, steeply at first before a narrow ridge feature appeared- easy but exposed. I managed to get a photo of Dad following me along the ridge:

Photo 1.4 – Dad on the narrow exposed ridge.

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After this, we continued up a rightwards ascending traverse before turning the arete and climbing a series of grooves. Due to moving together, we were able to move quickly up the groves. We ascended the last grove slightly too far left, meaning that I had to make a short unprotected traverse across a steep wall to rejoin the route; the traverse was fairly easy but exposed, I decided I’d make an anchor and belay Dad through this section. He made it through ok but needed some assistance from the rope. Once past this section, only 60m of climbing remained, a leftwards slanting ramp followed by a short rightwards facing chimney section; we climbed these quickly and soon we were at the top. We snapped some photos, sorted kit and ropes and packed our bags up knowing that simple walking remained.

Photo 1.5 – Myself above Lliwedd after leading alpine style on SBRR. 

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It was still early due to climbing the route quickly, moving together; hence, we decided to walk the horseshoe back to the car. This involved a short ascent to the summit of Snowdon, a grade 1 scramble on the ridge across Crib Y ddysgl and Crib Goch and a descent back into the Llanberis pass.

The cloud had now disappeared and we found ourselves beginning the ascent to Snowdon in just a baselayer; the sun was baking hot! We made swift progress across the saddle before joining the Watkin path that lead to the summit of Snowdon via a steep scree slope. We walked up this quickly despite the heat and bags full of climbing gear and found ourselves at the summit. I always disliked the summit of Snowdon, it was always a circus of tourists that had either taken the train or walked the tourist path from Llanberis, making it unbearably crowded.

Photo 1.6 – Looking back at Lliwedd from the summit of Snowdon. 

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Due to our dislike of the summit of Snowdon, we spent little time here and headed down the broad path before turning off to make the short ascent to begin the scramble across Crib Y Ddysgl and Crib Goch.

Photo 1.7 – Looking back towards Snowdon with Lliwedd to the left.

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From here, rocky paths interspersed with occasional scrambling sections lead across Crib Y Ddysgl and Crib Goch. The section is probably one of the most famous ridge walks in Britain, Crib Goch notorious for it’s exposed and photogenic ridge.

Photo 1.7 – The ridge over Crib Y Ddysgl and Crib Goch in the distance. 

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We romped along the ridge, enjoying the scenery but eager to get back to the car after a long day. We continued over Crib Goch before heading left over another short ridge before descending steeply down a scree bank to enter Cyrn Las. We stopped briefly to refill bottles in a stream before descending the grassy col for an hour to the road in the Llanberis Pass. We were both glad to be at the road and made short work ascending the half a mile stretch of tarmac back to the car!

Hot from the day, I changed into shorts and flip flops and chilled right out by the car sorting kit into the boot. We’d both thoroughly enjoyed the climb and the walk but we were both eager to head the 40 minute drive home and have a nice meal and a cold beer!

A thoroughly enjoyable end to an excellent weekend!

Couldn’t pass, on the pass!

This weekend the warm and sunny spell of weather we’ve been treated with continued and I couldn’t resist a weekends climbing, based in Nant Peris. As you may have expected from my title, Saturday consisted of cragging in the Llanberis pass with a friend of mine, Paul. Now, before I continue, I must warn you that we didn’t manage to get too many photos of the day; hence, this post will be a little less colorful than usual.

Having spent Friday night with family in Aberdaron, I met up with Paul in Pete’s Eats in LLanberis at around 11:15am, after exchanging hellos and cups of tea we headed for the Pass. We finally found somewhere to park near the Cromlech Boulders; we discussed a few routes and decided to cross the road and head for Dinas Mot with a plan to do The Cracks, a lovely HS and then to do the supposedly hard and polished top pitch, graded 5a in my guide book. We made the steep but short walk to the base of the crag, dropped our bags and began to kit up. We chatted in the sunshine as we sorted out the ropes and racked up our harnesses.

Photo 1.1 – Dinas Mot, complete with climbers on various routes.

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Paul lead away on pitch one, a series of rocky steps and a leftward trending groove line to take a belay below an overhang; he set up a belay and brought me up.

Photo 1.2 – Myself seconding the first pitch, arriving at the belay. 

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I took over the lead on pitch two and three- stringing them together into one. I tiptoed along a delicate traverse beneath the overhangs before making steep moves up a short chimney; the second 4a pitch. I decided to tackle the crack above, despite this being the 4b part of the route, it felt as easy as the 4a pitches below and soon I was belaying Paul up to me with the fourth pitch waiting above. Paul took over the lead and made a delicate mantle onto the slab above and right of my belay, he tackled similar a similar but 4a crack and made his way to the top of the fourth pitch before bringing me up to him.

Photo 1.3 – Myself seconding pitch four!

ImageWe commented that the climbing was lovely; we discussed whether or not to take on the hard 5a pitch above or whether to avoid it- I took over the lead and decided to go for it. The pitch began with a rightwards blocky traverse; this felt around 4a. Soon, however, I was beneath a shallow groove that was glass like with shine- the 5a part of the pitch. I arranged some protection, a small cam along with a number 1 wire- both excellent pieces. I shouted to Paul that I was about to go for it, taking the side pull with my right hand and smeared my feet against the smooth and polished slabby grove, soon I was able to reach up with my left hand and gain the small hold at the top of the groove; with a heave, I was onto the ledge above. “That wasn’t bad at all”, I thought. A move of similar difficulty lay above, I made short work of it and soon I was belaying Paul up the pitch, I made a comment that I thought it was only 4c and Paul replied thinking that the crux was easier than the top moves. We quickly abseiled down the descent gully, packed away the ropes and kit and headed down to the road- Next stop, Carreg Wasted!

We decided that we’d like to get on Crackstone Rib, a supposed classic S 4a. We made the short walk along the roadside to the base of the crag before traversing the steep hillside to the base of the route. After some guidebook scoping, we found the line of the route and soon we were kitting up ropes and kit once again. It was Paul’s lead, so he took the first pitch, the easier but nicer part of the route.

Photo 1.4 – Paul on pitch 1 of Crackstone Rib.

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Paul made good progress up and across the slab, meeting the arete and climbing it steeply to the first belay. I followed swiftly and arrived at the belay, we were both disappointed with the route- considering it’s a classic, there was a lot of loose rock! I took over the lead and headed up a shiny slab to a corner, here I trended left and ascended the final steep crack to the top of the crag- a pleasant pitch! I belayed Paul to the top where we coiled ropes and headed down for our last route of the day.

we decided that our last route would be Skylon, a nice HS 4b on the left of the buttress. It was Paul’s lead and enviously gave him the gear so he could lead the fantastic looking wall above us. Paul climbed with ease before reaching the crux, after some thinking he made progress past the crux and up the head wall above. He shouted that he was safe and soon I was making my way up the lower wall, I reached the crux, removed Paul’s gear and made good progress before stepping onto the lip of the overhang and climbing the easier wall to the belay. I took over the lead and climbed the remaining walls to the top, the climbing was much easier and I was gutted I didn’t get to lead the first pitch- it was excellent!!

It was 6:45pm, we’d had a great days climbing but it was time for Paul to drive back to York and for me to meet Dad at the campsite in Nant Peris ready for Sundays climbing. We packed away the gear and romped back to the car. We chewed over the days climbing on the drive down to Nant Peris and both agreed that The Cracks and Skylon were the highlights of the day; I commented that I was pleased to lead the tough 5a pitch and do the route properly! Soon we were in Nant Peris, Paul dropped me off and then made his way home. I headed over to the campsite, Dad had just arrived, we picked a spot and pitched the tent. The sun was still warm and the breeze light, we sat out in the sun and made some food before heading over to the Vaynol Arms for a couple of beers. We met a couple I’d met earlier on Dinas Mot and had a couple of games of pool before leaving at around 10pm. We headed down to Llanberis to grab some fish and chips for supper and ate them in the still warm evening by the tent before turning in at 11:30pm, a good nights sleep was needed before heading up to Lliwedd in the morning! An excellent day!

A Weekend In The Hills!

It had been a week since arriving home from the Alps and as usual, I was feeling fit and restless and eager to get into the hills! This weekend was scorching and too good to miss, I’d originally planned to get out climbing but unfortunately all my climbing partners were busy so it was a solo/hill bashing weekend in the hills!

I started out in Llanberis on Saturday at around 2pm and followed the usual circus of tourists up the Llanberis path; It always amuses me seeing the kinds of people heading up the path- some of the looking moments from collapsing, probably the only peak they’d ever done! The usual ascent time for this route was around 2.5hrs, I managed to summit in 1hr 30mins including buying water at the halfway station, still fit from the Alps. I took a few moments on summit before deciding to decend to Rhyd Ddu via the South Ridge, I always liked the South Ridge, it was always quieter, In all the times I’ve been up and down it, I’ve probably seen a handful of people on it- certainly never crowds of rowdy, shirtless tourists! I descended in good time, arrived at Rhyd Ddu car park and refilled my water bottles.

The plan was to head to the base of the Nantille Ridge and bivvy for the night; however, it was still early, I felt fit so I pushed on to the second of the six summits on the ridge before taking a bivvy.

Photo 1.1 – Bivvying On The Ridge.

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I had a fairly good nights sleep and woke at around 7:30am; I’d planned to do the double traverse of the Nantille Ridge- 21km and around 1200m of ascent. I was keen to get the day started as it would be a long day, I was meeting my parents for lunch in Rhyd Ddu at 1pm that afternoon so I knew I needed to start quite early. The ridge was a little disappointing, even if the scrambling sections were taken direct it was quite boring and uninspiring. I got through the main hills quickly and soon I was at the end of the ridge, good time was made and it was only 9am so I decided to take a leisurely stroll back along the length of the ridge, knowing that I’d waiting for my folks. The sun was already hot in the sky and I was walking, once again, in just a baselayer. The ridge was no more inspiring on the return leg, though it was apparent that it had been a long day with lots of ascent. I made swift time over the six summits and was soon descending towards Rhyd Ddu car park. I settled in under a tree in the car park on the grass and relaxed whilst I waited.

My parents arrived soon after 1pm, we exchanged small talk and remarked that the ridge was disappointing- nowhere near as good as the Snowdon Horseshoe. We decided that we’d take a short walk around the lake and through the forest before heading to the pub for lunch, it was a nice little bimble- all that mum really enjoyed doing these days, she wasn’t any longer a keen hillwalker.

A nice lunch and some real ales topped off what had been a nice weekend; quite a change of pace to the Alpine mountaineering the week before, but nice nevertheless.

The Last Week in Zermatt!

So, we completed the Glacier Haute Route in seven days despite the poor conditions- see my last post for details. That gave us six usable days in Zermatt, with the Matterhorn in our sights…

The plan was pretty simple, we needed two rest days in order to recover from the Glacier Haute Route, our feet were swollen and we had some nasty blisters. Not to mention muscle fatigue.

Photo 1.1 – Tired, tending to my blistered lips and swollen ankles in Zermatt!

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These two days mainly consisted of leisurely strolls around Zermatt, we visited the mountaineers grave yard, drank some beers and had a couple of nights out on the town.

On the third day in Zermatt, Michael and I decided to head up on the cable car up to the glacier and get ourselves up some easy 4,000m peaks to top up the acclimatization. We were already fit, strong and well acclimatized after the Haute Route so the day felt very easy, especially with our day sacks! This also gave us a good opportunity to check out the condition of the Matterhorn  on the cable car up and to our surprise, it was very close to coming into condition. After heading down and hitting the pubs and clubs in Zermatt, we were very tempted to have an attempt on the Matterhorn!

We decided to allow another day of sunshine to clear more snow of the Matterhorn; I took a rest day here whilst Rob headed up for acclimatization. I sorted kit for our upcoming Matterhorn attempt, we had a quiet evening and went to bed early. DISASTER! We woke up to torrential rain (snow higher up) and zero visibility…it was OVER. We needed two clear days in order to complete the Matterhorn, we didn’t have those clear days. We were gutted, we knew that the Mountain would still be there next time…we just needed to make sure we made the right decision and decided against an attempt, that’s what we did.

The rest of the trip consisted of one day avoiding the rain in Zermatt, then we took a train to Geneva early to take the pain away from the early flight the next day. We had an extremely heavy night drinking in Geneva and gingerly made our way to the airport on Friday the 5th of July. Overall we were very pleased with the trip, just disappointed we weren’t able to get more done whilst in Zermatt!

The Glacier Haute Route.

This summer, as part of our annual Alps trip, we decided to do the Glacier Haute Route or the Classic Haute Route if you prefer, we’d hoped to do it in seven days and then be in Zermatt in time to attempt a route up the Matterhorn. Whether the route, from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland, is completed in winter on skis or in the summer on foot, this is one of the very finest glacier tours in the world, a tour not to be mistaken for the low level Haute Trek. The Classic Route spends a lot of time high on glaciers and climbing over snowy and in some cases icy cols and passes up to Scottish grade II; the difficulties faced depends largely on the conditions, though in any conditions the Haute Route is a mental and physical test when carrying all of your equipment, tents and food. Here is a short account of our Haute Route:

Being an experienced winter and Alpine mountaineer, I was filled with excitement and a desire just to get the trip started; I’m sure Rob was feeling slightly more apprehensive. We arrived in Chamonix on the evening of Friday 28th of June, just in time to join the festivities at our hotel bar- a very loud live band was playing and soon the drinks were flowing. We then headed on to a night club…I’d like to write a more in depth account of the night…but I don’t really remember the rest too clearly..something about tequila and French girls.

Day One began with a short-badly hungover-bus ride to Le Tour where a cable car would take us a short way up the hillside, where our route began. The eventual first day destination was the Tour glacier above the Albert 1er hut; after a few hours of rocky paths and snow slopes we were digging in our tent above the hut, we settled in, cooked our meal and took the short walk to the hut to share a few beers before the serious route began the next day.

Photo 1.1- Rob and I making our way, fully laden with food and equipment, to the Tour Glacier.

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Day Two began early, we woke up at around 4am, made some delicious (awful) pre-packed dried breakfast, dug out the tent, geared up and made steady progress up the Tour Glacier. Due to starting early, the snow was firm and we were able to make good progress towards the col. We picked our line up towards the col, which we would pass over and onto the Glacier Du Trient.

Photo 1.2 – Me making progress on the Tour Glacier.

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We passed over the col in good time only to find that the decent onto the trient glacier was banked out due to the unusually heavy snow for the time of year; usually this section would simply be a snow slope down to the glacier, the conditions we found we’re rather different and required an abseil. We rigged up and I abseiled down onto the glacier (over a very large bergshrund); Michael and Rob followed and we were soon able to make progress across the trient glacier and down towards Champex. The time taken on the abseil had allowed the sun to beat down on the glacier, turning the once firm snow into softer powder, sinking with each step, progress was tiring and we were glad to cross the glacier and get on the traversing rocky path that would eventually lead to Champex. We’d hoped that the cable car would be running, this would make for a much shorter decent into Champex; however, it wasn’t and we had to walk the steep scree hillside and forestry paths all the way down into Champex- A BIG DAY.

Photo 1.3 – Michael and I,relieved after reaching Champex.

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Luckily, right at the end of the path into Champex, we found quite a welcoming campsite. This would be the last town we’d pass through before reaching the end, In Zermatt. We pitched our tents, bought some beers and celebrated reaching the end of a very taxing second day- we even went out for a pizza and drank yet more beer, very civilized. Though we knew the meat of the route was yet to come, day three gave us a nice reminder!

Day Three was a monster, 1430m of ascent and some very tough conditions. The day started with a short bus ride to Bourg st Pierre; a bus, incidentally, that I left an ice axe on. So after returning to Champex to collect it, we carried on with the route. We knew today would be short, distance wise, but a lot of ascent. From Bourg st Pierre steep grass slopes and trails headed up the valley before the path came off left, steeply climbing through rocky broken ground and meeting the snowline. The weather had really come in, visibility was down to around 5m and route finding was difficult. We found ourselves on some awkward icy rock scrambling but this lead us to easier ground. Snow slopes continued, endlessly it seemed, to a steep banked out slope of firm snow. We took a few moments below this to check over maps and decided that the hut should be immediately above the slope; we front pointed our way up the steep snow and gladly found the Valsory hut above. The hut was empty and the conditions bleak so we decided we would stay the night at the hut instead of pitching our tent in poor weather, it was late and the wood burning stove and cooker proved very welcome!

Photo 1.4 – Rob and Michael relaxing in the empty Valsory refuge after a long day!

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After fixing some dinner, hanging wet kit to dry and chewing over the next day, we got in our sleeping bags hoping that the bad weather would pass over and the next day would be clear.

Day Four began with a weather check, Michael rose from his sleeping bag first and gingerly poked his head out of the refuge door…only to announce that the bad weather was still with us. We decided to have a couple of extra hours in our sleeping bags and see if the weather passed over…it didn’t, so we decided to crack on anyway. Snow slopes lead to the first real obstacle of the route; we read that this section should be an easy snow slope leading to the Platau du coloir but the dump of fresh snow the night before and the unusual conditions the Alps were experiencing changed this into an insecure, unstable and very banked out 700m snow slope. After considering our options, we decided to press on to the Platau Du Coloir assessing the slope as we did so. We found the slope to be stable enough and we made slow progress zig-zagging our way up the slope in near white out conditions, each step was very insecure with our steps crumbling and snow tumbling down the slope.

Photo 1.5 – Micheal heading towards Platau Du Coloir

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We continued to make progress towards the Platau, the weather eventually cleared towards the top, revealing what lay ahead. The slope was never very steep; however, we were ever aware of it’s instability, fresh snow had made the slope insecure.

Photo 1.6 – The slope to Platau Du Coloir

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We were forced to stay to the far left (out of shot) of the snow slope to avoid the softest and most avalanche-y looking sections before making a long and insecure traverse to top out to the left of the large cornices at the top of the photo above. The traverse we faced lead us from the more solid snow we’d been climbing, through the soft and dangerous middle section of the slope, to the good snow on the extreme right- we made quick progress across here, keen to avoid lingering on the dangerous middle section. Rob fell on the middle section, dragging me off and sending me sliding alarmingly quickly towards the base of the slope. Some swift ice axe arrests from myself and Michael made the situation safe and soon we were hauling ourselves back to the traverse and eventually onto the Platau Du Coloir. The difficulties we found on this section made for extremely slow progress, the day had passed and we were into the hottest part of the day; we decided that we would sleep in a tiny biviouc shelter above the platau du coloir and rest.

Photo 1.8 – Me resting in the tiny Bivoiuc shelter

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Photo 1.9 – Rob outside the Bivouic Shelter!

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Day Five began very early, a 2am start would hopefully give us good snow conditions to make up lost time on day four. We woke,  eager to check the weather- I think a little bit of each of us prayed for clear weather! That’s exactly what we got! After a couple of energy bars and some kitting up we were ready and descending the steep snow slope back down to the Platau Du Coloir. We headed across the platau where we’d descend onto  the glacier; the decent was tricky due to fresh snow, we snook a line hugging the rock on the right of the steep snow bank and eventually made our way onto the glacier. We headed straight across towards the small col we’d need to cross; the snow here was very powdery making the slog up to the col very tiring- Michael and I took turns breaking trail at the front and soon we were at the top of the col and looking down the glacier.

Photo 2.0 – Rob and I at the top of the col in the early hours (Rob looking a lot more cherpy than me!)

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Some intricate route finding through some steep crevassed ground lead us to easier terrain and easy glacier trotting followed by a rocky path down into a green and rocky valley. We took the chance to make breakfast here, some more horrid porridge! We then continued up the steep rocky trail that lead to the glacial moraine of the Ottema Glacier; by this point I was tired and drained, instead of continuing we decided to pitch our tent at the start of the Glacier and take a longer day to below the Bertol hut the next day. I took double meals to recover whilst we chewed over the plans for the next day, we were aiming to be in Zermatt in just two days and we were really excited by this!

Day Six, more perfect weather greeted us as we woke at 2am. Jovial at the prospect of just two more days and the great weather we’d been given, we dug out the tent, kitted up and more progress up the glacier. We were soon at the junction where we’d take a small glacier up to the col du petit collon; it was good that we were crossing this section early, this section was littered with crevasses and with each step the glacier creaked and groaned- we were glad to get past the creakiest sections!! A steep icy slope separated us from the col du petit collon; somewhere around Scottish grade II/III. We made swift, calf bursting, front point progress up this and soon found ourselves at the col where we continued before climbing further and descending around the back of mont collon and down the glacier. At the end of the glacier we were glad to drink from the glacier run off, remove excess layers and pack away our crampons, axes and ropes- steep rocky paths lay between us and the Bertol hut..or so we thought. Steep rocky paths began, we climbed higher, the day getting longer and our legs tired. The weather came in again and we were in a white out, a little unsure as to where the Bertol hut was; we were soon back on snow slopes that weren’t meant to be there, another sign of the increased snow in the Alps! Taking bearings we were able to zig-zag up snow slope after snow slope until the cloud broke and we were able to see the Bertol Hut towering above us- finally, another big day of over 1200m of ascent at altitude.

Fig 2.1 – The Bertol Hut from below.

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Our original plan was to pitch the tent beneath the Bertol Hut; however, the conditions had made the whole route much more difficult/strenuous than it should have been so, fuck it! We stayed at the hut, ate some proper food and drank plenty of beer!

Day Seven, the last day! We woke around 4am to start the last day down into Zermatt; so excited to get down and put our feet up we made swift progress across the glacier before reaching the final col and climb of the Haute route. It felt long and taxing, mainly due to a hangover and the strain of the last week! Once over that we jovially romped down the glacier towards Zermatt, laughing and generally being pleased with ourselves and admiring the views!

Photo 2.3 – Rob heading down towards Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background!

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We reached the glacial moraine beneath the Schonbeil hut in good time, removed excess kit- crampons, axes, ropes etc and began the long rocky descent into Zermatt. We knew that overall this day would be 21km and a long and tiring decent; it seemed to go on for ever and ever. Even when we saw Zermatt below us, it seemed to take an age to arrive; we knew we just had to keep plodding and by early evening we’d be sipping an ice cold beer in Zermatt. I finally took the last few steps into Zermatt where we ordered a beer…it was over, we’d finished in just seven days, despite the conditions! We arranged some accommodation in Zermatt and headed out into town where we bought the largest meal of spicy ribs we could find and proceeded to drink and dance (badly) until 5am  before stumbling back to our beds!

We still had a week of our trip left to go, with the Matterhorn in our sights! In the next post I’ll detail what else we got up to!