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.