July 16, 2014

Climbing the Gran Paradiso and other Chamonix "Classiques"

Dylan Taylor on the Passy Via Ferratta down valley from Chamonix. This was the rainiest day I have worked in since I can remember! And it lasted about 10 days. Tons of snow fell up high and the big peaks were practically inaccessible for about 10 days. In the Mt. Blanc massif alone, I heard various reports that up to 6 climbers went missing during this period.

Return to summer on Mani Pulite in the Aiguille Rouge. This is Neil J who I climbed with on Ama Dablam in 2007 and Mt. Elbrus in 2012. This year, he showed up in Chamonix for some warm up climbs before heading to the Eiger and Matterhorn. In the background you can see the Aiuille Verte, The Dru, The Mer de Glace, the Grande Jorasses, etc.

The Polartec boys heading down from the Aiguille de Midi the morning before the weather got bad!

Danica and Mike on the summit ridge of the Gran Paradiso.

Neil on the fine gneiss of Mani Puliti.

Climbing in the Alps on a quiet day with 100 of your best friends.

July 05, 2014

Guiding Mt. Blanc and The Frisson Roche

The boys descending a snowy ridge below the Gouter Hut.

As usual, the weather and conditions in Chamonix have been a mixed bag. The season started off in fine form with an ascent of the Frisson Roche on the south side of the Brevent. It's always cool to do a route you've never done - even if there are 5 parties ahead of you and someone else is shelling you with rocks while putting up a new route on a busy weekend! After that, it was back to Mt. Blanc. We spent two nights on the mountain which was a much more civilized experience with the addition of the new Gouter Hut. 

The teams lining up to climb the Frisson Roche. The guy in front of us - a guide from Austria - spent many years working for CMH.

Terri on pitch 2 of the Frisson Roche.

Top of Pitch 3.

Topping out pitch 5.

The ice caves on the Mer de Glace. 

The boys at the top of the ladders leading down to the Mer de Glace from the Montenvers Train. Extreme laddering.

Descending Mt. Blanc in wintry conditions.

When snow turns to rain, it's time to break out the alpine umbrella.

June 27, 2014

Flying from Mt. Blanc De Tacul and other Chamonix Hi Jinx

From left to right: The North Face of the Midi, The Tacul, The Maudit and Mt. Blanc. I took this shot after launching my light weight wing from the Tacul summit ridge. A pretty amazing "ploof" aka sled-ride as the French call it. 3100 meters and 35 minutes. 

After a two year hiatus, I've returned to Chamonix for the summer guiding season. Despite the jet lag and missing the homies back home, it's good to be back. There's not too many other places where you can wake up in town at 6:30, summit a peak 3000+ meters higher by 11, and return to town before noon. 

The morning I left for Chamonix, Sara and I went for an early morning hot lap on the classic NE Ridge of Ha-Ling. Although I've done the route numerous times and have taken this same shot almost every time, I've never been early enough to catch it in full sun. It's pretty cool how the same feature can look completely different depending on the light.

Sara coiling the rope on the summit.

While climbing a route on the south face of the Brevent yesterday, I took this photo of a paraglider flying in front of Mt. Blanc. Can you spot the wing?

British Mountain Guide Stu climbing the 8 pitch La Fin De Babylone (6C) on the south face of the Brevent. I think they got more sun on the north face of the Midi then we got on the south face!

A few minutes before this shot was taken, two wingsuiters buzzed over us and proceeded to carve down the long talus slope below.

I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it would be a good day to fly off a big mountain. These three guys were pretty much ready to go when I crested the ridge of  Mont Blanc de Tacul. The light weight wings and harnesses are incredible these days. My 19 meter wing weighs 2.5 kilos and my harness weighs 700 grams - and by today's standards, that's hardly even light anymore. I decided to  carry my reserve chute as well which adds about 1.2 kilos to the kit. Conditions were ideal with fairly firm snow and a very gentle / non existent breeze out of the SW. 

The Bosson glacier is a long way down.

June 04, 2014

The Shoulder Season

Paul McSorley demonstrating how to launch the Chief in Squamish.

After the last ski mission in K-Country, I flew back east to visit my brother Tony in Baltimore. For the better part of the past decade, Tony has been working on attaining his PHD in English Literature at John Hopkins University. Being quite obtuse, it is nearly impossible for me to explain the nature of his thesis.

Anyway, in all that time, I'm ashamed to say that I've never been out to visit. Of course, the one time I do decide to make the journey, it is LAW that my travel plans coincide perfectly with the peak of spring skiing. When I arrived in Baltimore, I expressed my angst to Tony and he tried to console me by reminding me how much skiing I'd done over the winter. Although he spoke truth, I tried to explain that spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies is akin to the playoffs in any other sport, and that the short window from mid April to mid May is when almost anything is possible.

I did my best not to be a big baby and then we went to the Gunks for some climbing! Tony used to climb a lot fifteen years ago but hasn't entered the vertical world since then. Awesome is a much over used word but it was awesome going climbing with him again! We tried to keep things mellow so to ease his re-entry in to the sport, but being the Gunks, even the 5.8's can pack punch. Our first climb was a 2 pitch, 5.8+ called Airy Aria, and lets just say that if we'd topped out two minutes later, Tony's bowels may have failed him... It was a close call but a great learning opportunity, and we tried to plan accordingly for the rest of our climbs.

Tony on the first pitch of Directissima - an alternate start to the super classic High Exposure. If you look close, you can see a certain look in his eye's that says, "you need to lower me to the ground immediately before my bowels give way... again."

Climbing above the lush canopy on CCK

 I'm not sure this is something to advertise.

After the great trip back east, I took a week of work on the coast. I packed up the truck with all the toys for climbing, flying and riding and capped off  the time with a session from the First summit of the Chief. McSorley suggested that the air was reminiscent of coastal flying in places like Turkey and he wasn't mistaken. It was only the 7th time I'd flown since crashing last year, and it was the first time that I felt comfortable in the air. The Chief is a spectacular cliff launch on perfect granite and you only get a handful of steps before the ground gives way and you're flying... or not.

Pablo on the committing Squamish Chief launch.

Flying towards the Sound in the evening light.

Sara on the shores of Lake Minnewanka. A perfect way to cap off the 10 hour drive from the Coast to the Rockies.

Next time we'll bring life jackets.

May 14, 2014

Spring Ski Lines in K-Country

Gery U sent me this photo late one night in hopes that it would motivate me to go skiing early the next morning. It worked! On day one, Gery and I did the main line that is looker's left (and mostly obscured) of the central buttress. When I returned a few days later, we skied a line looker's right of the buttress. Gery U Photo.

Just outside of Canmore lies one of the great, backyard, steep-skiing venues of North America. The approaches are typically short, the lines are aesthetic, and the crowds are often elsewhere. The only problem is that you have to be motivated to go skiing in May! If you try to go before the Spring snowpack is well set-up, things might not end well. But if the stoke is high and the timing right, steep skiing in Kananaskis is as good as it gets.

This season, one of my priorities has been to keep things civilized. In other words, I've been trying to minimize driving time and ridiculously early starts (anything before 4 am), and maximize time on the slope. Following this criteria, the past two outings have been quite successful. 

But the real story for me on this day was the reminder of how important it is to have strong and motivated partners. I've been struggling this spring to push out of my comfort zone and I can attribute this to a few things: 1) last season's mini-wing crash and 2) the recent deaths of some young friends  - specifically Timy Dutton. Timy was a super talented and positive guy who died doing a relatively simple skydive.  Our trip to Baffin Island in 2012 was a highlight for me and it's hard not to think of one's own mortality after something like this happens. So, with these thoughts in my head, I've been content not to push too hard this spring. When Gery and I topped out the face and emerged on the summit ridge, I was more than happy to stop there, pull the skins and ski down. But the wolverine wasn't listening to my whining and pushed on towards the summit. In the end, that motivation was just what I needed.

Gery heading up the endless slope to the summit ridge. Conditions were about as good as they get with boot-top to waist deep snow and minimal sluffing.

A rare sighting of me breaking trail. Gery U Photo.

Going through one of the chokes. Gery U Photo.

Gery on the summit ridge.

A great perch.

Next up is the face in the background! Gery U Photo.

Last time I did this was on the SE Ridge of Mt. Victoria. Gery U Photo.

Gery on the 3000 meter+ summit.

Descending the summit ridge.

Getting ready to ski.

Gery on the upper face.

Skiing the lower half of the 800 meter face.

Not the cheapest day out.

You know the objective is worthy when you have to crane your neck to see the top.

A few days later, I came back with Ali and Pino Nico to ski another line on the face. The last time Ali and I skied together was back on the Sickle of Mt Victoria exactly three years ago.

Another perfect day with no wind and 20 cms of new snow. Nico P Photo.

Overlapping ridges to the south. In the distance you can see the upper part of a more popular line.

It always feels good to ski beautiful north facing powder in May. Nico P Photo. 

Nico making The Turn.

A great view of the two lines that Gery took from the opposite side of the drainage. Gery U Photo.

Timy Dutton in Baffin Island.

Timy D straight off the plane in Iqualuit. RIP.