September 19, 2014

Mountain Flying - Aiguille de Midi North Face, Chamonix



A short video of some flights from the Tacul and the North Face of the Aiguille de Midi. I had been wanting to fly the North Face for some time and was stoked when the work schedule and weather aligned to enable it. Even though the flights were short (about 20 minutes), the visuals from skimming the Bosson Glacier were sublime. I could hear the Ice Sirens calling "closer closer closer." But I've been intimate with the ground before and she is a cruel mistress!

After three months of living, working and recreating in the European Alps, I arrived back in Canada yesterday. The place I rented in Chamonix was an 18m2 shoe box. When the fold-out bed was folded out, the apartment became practically non-navigable. And when the one big window was open (it opened inwards on a side-ways hinge), the chances of smashing your head and collapsing on to the bed or floor were about 100%.  Oh, and did I mention that the 18m2 apartment was more expensive then a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom place in Canmore?? But it worked great even though it was expensive and packed with three wings and a ton of climbing gear. On days off when I didn't have a climbing partner, I'd make some coffee on the micro-burner in the micro-kitchen, and head off to the Brevent or the Midi for some flying. I didn't have a car so I biked or took public transport everywhere.  After one night back at the Canmore Chalet, I feel lost in all the space. A good reminder that you don't need a huge shoe-box!

September 15, 2014

Climbing and Flying the Frendo Spur, Chamonix


Joe Stock never misses a burro shot. The Frendo Spur climbs the rock buttress just left of the beast's left ear.

For many years, I felt like the only person in Chamonix who hadn't climbed the Frendo Spur. Between work and flying and utter laziness, it just never worked out. But this year, the ducks rowed up enough for Joe and I to climb the classic route. I did a fair bit of internet trolling before getting on the climb. Afterall, the lift hours are short at this time of year and we didn't want to lose the route and suffer the indignity of not making it back to town. What I found was that most of the route descriptions were useless but that the photos were invaluable. The route was climbed in the 40's so if you follow your nose, look at some photos and take the obvious weaknesses, the route finding should work out. Unless it doesn't. In which case, call for a rescue.

The route was dry when we did it on September 11 and we climbed it in rock shoes with not more then 25 meters of rope between us. A single rack to Camalot #3 worked well with a few ice screws for the upper slopes. The most heads up section was probably crossing the bergschrund at the start of the climb. 


Photo from the camp to camp website.



I cheated and scoped the route from the air the previous day. The transition from rock to snow is in the sunshine at bottom right.


Close-up of the bivy sites and the start of the snow arete.


Low down on the initial low angle ramp.


Somewhere on the buttress.


Climbing the crux pitch just above the exposed col.


Going for the snow.


Finally on the snow arete.


Hey wait for me!


When we got to the snow, Joe took off like a weasel!


Putting those BD picks to good use.


Second to last pitch.


Joe on the second to last pitch before the steepish ice.


The Aiguille de Midi needle in atmospheric conditions.


Trying to pull the ice cave down.

September 08, 2014

Ten Days Guiding in France, Switzerland and Italy


Day 3. Mike A climbing the Entreves Traverse , Italy.

After a summer of wet and stormy weather, the sun finally decided to come out. I'd say that Mike A brought the clear skies with him from Texas, but after climbing with him in Canada over the past few years, I can say that Mike and good weather do not always go hand in hand. In 2012, we fought our way up Mt Assiniboine and then got pummeled at the Abbot Pass Hut. The following year, Mike and I took the beats on Mt. Athabasca. So I suppose we were due for a little sunshine.

Over the past ten days, we climbed a great assortment of rock, snow and ice routes between France, Italy and Switzerland. Mike's main objectives were to a) climb as much snow as possible because they don't have snow in Texas! b) photograph the flowers and c) never trod on the actual summit of any peak. 

Many thanks to Mike for being a great climbing partner over the past ten days! 


Day 1. Quiet day on the Arete de Cosmiques. The moody weather kept the crowds away.


Day 2. There were six parties on the Chere Couloir so we turned our attention to Pointe Lachenal.


Day 3. Taking the Helbronner to Italy with Mt. Blanc de Tacul, The Grand Capucin and the Tour Ronde in the background.


The Aiguille Noire as seen from the Torino Hut.


Day 3. Entreves Traverse.


Still on the Entreves.


Day 4. One night at the Torino Hut (3375 meters) was too much for us to handle so we walked down the 228 steps to the cable car and returned to Chamonix via Courmayeur and the Mt. Blanc Tunnel.


Day 5. A mellow climb on the Index at Flegere,


Day 6. Looking back at the Aiguille de Midi from the Midi Plan Traverse. 


The Midi Plan Traverse was much steeper and icier than when I did it one month ago! In this section, heading down to the Col de Plan, Mike and I dropped on to the steeper north and south faces in order to have the ridge act as protection between us.


We opted to climb the steeper but more secure rock whenever we could.


Avoiding the icy slopes just past the Col de Plan.


Climbing back up the steep, exposed ridge with the North Face of the Midi below.


Day 7. Buddy tries to fly his speed wing into the open door of the Brevent Cable Car.


Day 7. Mike and I climb the Frisson-Roche (6a) on the Brevent.


Still day 7. We top out the Frisson Roche to behold this holy spectacle.




Day 8. I don't always take pictures of food, but when I do, I make sure to post them on the internet. After seven train transfers, we arrive at the Monch Hut in Switzerland.


The Swiss take their signs seriously.


I never knew that Pissoir was a word. 


Day 9. Climbing the Monch!


Day 10. The Monch and Eiger as seen from the Jungfrau.


Mike A as close to the summit of the Jungfrau without actually touching the summit of the Jungfrau. We topped out at 9 am and, seven train transfers later, made it back to Chamonix by 7:30 that evening.

August 30, 2014

Speed Flying From the Brevent, Chamonix



Earlier this month,  Dylan T and I spent the day lapping the Brevent on our small wings. It was a cool, cloudy day and there was hardly any thermal activity. The cloud flying was short and fun and the acro guys were out in full force throwing down all the tricks while facing backwards. We did about 5 flights total and it was a lot like skiing at the hill where you ride the lift up, bomb down and repeat. Dylan was flying an 18 meter Little Cloud and I was on a 12 meter Ozone Fazer. 

August 28, 2014

Climbing the Tour Ronde and the Entreves Traverse


Sara on the lower section of the SE Arete of the Tour Ronde with the Dent de Geant, Aiguille de Rochfort and Grande Jorasses in the background.

Even during a summer that has been dubbed with the worst weather in 40 years, there are still some sunny days. So even though a lot of the bigger objectives are not in great shape, lots of smaller routes are good to go. Here are some photos from a couple days out on the Italian side of the massif.


Approaching the Tour Ronde with the SE Arete on the left and the North Face on the right.


Low down on the SE Arete.


The views of the Aiguille Noire, the Peuterey Integrale and the Munchkin are awesome from the Italian side.


Looking down at the Brenva Ridge and the Frontier Ridge / Kuffner Arete of Mont Maudit.


Seth Hobbitsis showed up and gave everyone a lesson in proper guiding techniques.


Here Seth demonstrates the appropriate belay method on the summit of the Tour Ronde.


I found a girl on the top and took a photo with her.


The next day guiding Richard on the Entreves Traverse. How many climbers can you count in this photo?


Climbing along the exposed ridge of the Entreves.


Some parties didn't get the memo that the traverse starts at the Col D'Entreves! 


Another cloudy day in Chamonix. The flowers are the only ones in town that aren't complaining about the rain.