Chamonix

I had been climbing in Chamonix a few times in the past but this year I had the opertunity to spend the whole winter there, and was so excited if not a bit nervous.  I have always had a dream of buying a van and traveling around the alps for a season. So I took a gamble and spent all my savings on a van I saw online which turned out to be perfect. It was just a shell so in a few days I kited it out and was off to do a season in Cham.

I did not know a single person in Cham, but managed to soon find a job with Cham Van driving to and from Geneva airport 4 days a week, and the plan was to ski and climb the rest of the time. As I drove into the valley it was like the first time you see El Cap. You are in Awww. Although I then burst out laughing, buy the fact there was not a drop of snow around and thought what have I done deciding to leave the snow of canada for this! Ah well I could always climb.

Soon the snow came and it was incredible. Some of the deepest snow I had every skied, it was insane too good to even take video or photos but eventually I took the go pro out at the end of December, when only one lift was open with too much snow.

So into January and I met and  I met with Alex Buisse a French Photographer in Chamonix a week before, and we decided on doing some routes together.  We had decided on the Swiss route to be our first time sharing a rope, and it looked fantastic.  Below is a picture of the route which is roughly 1000 m in altitude gain.

The route was in fantastic condition, and was really fun.  We slept in the Argentiere hut the night before, which lived up to it’s haunted reputation!!  And we were at the bergschrund just before 6am.  Although the days are quite long in the Alps even in winter, night fell and we were still on the route till 8pm where we found a small cave which we bivied in.  We had no bivi gear or cooker and the hole be slept in was barley big enough for one persons top half and was horribly sloping but it was better than being stuck in -15 temperatures with 100 km gusts outside.  It was freezing, and one of my coldest nights yet, but with some great team work we made it through the night with all our fingers and toes, which were still tingaling for a while after…

The Next morning the cold was unbearable and we had to get moving again at 5am.  We started to ski the Austrian Route, It is an incredibly steep and exposed decent and found it was definitely not in condition and a no go so after 200m decided we had to get off and rapped the whole route…this took forever and meant leaving all my tat and slings behind.  But we were off the route before sunset.  We were destroyed I had planned on a 6 hour leisurely climb which turned into a 2 day epic with no food and water.. And everyone in the valley feared the worse, with a police man even being called to visit my mothers house in England.  Was a great adventure though and the hard days are the ones you remember best.

I next had some time off at the end of the month when my mate Nathan Murphy came out for a week of climbing.

We when streight up the midi and bivied in the observation hut that is open in the winter there.  It is fantastic in there and we had the whole area to our selves, infact we did not run into anyone else the whole time.  The weather was perfect for skiing it was dumping, but nathan does not ski so we decided to try and get some easy routes in and try something big at the end of the week weather permitting.

We started on the super clasic Cherie couloir on the tryangle.  It was an incredible route, almost 90 ice in places and it is a highway of foot and pic holds, it is the equivelant to camalot 2 crack climbing.. A dream!  So we did that to the top on the first day and it was brilliant.  The weather was definatly moving in though and we decided to do the Cosmique arret the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Altitude is a real slap in the face and whenever you head up there not aclimatised it is brutal.  If you go streight to 4000m It is hard to sleep, and you have a constant headache.  Plus you can guarentee it will be cold.  The next day it was brutal conditions.  Even an easy route like the arret was going to be hard.  You could barly see any rocks it was plastered.  There was 35cm of fresh powder on one side which felt bottomless as you tried to swim through it and then no joke 2 foot of rime plastered on the other side. which would fail when weighted.  So there was a LOT of gardening to be done.  It was very windy and between -15 to -20.  I led the route and Nate was following.  I did make a big mestake of absailing too far at the abb, which led to a very costly and hard exit, but we were back on the route.  We did not have a topo and there was no trace of anything on the route, so I went off route especially at the end but really enjoyed the last 3 pitches it was pretty wild in those conditions and a fantastic route.

It is amazing how much the conditions can affect it, the Cosmique aret is one of the easyest climbs in the valley, but it was a real fight when we did it.  We then decided to go Ice climbing in Cogne in Italy, as it was going to be -40 up top without the wind.  So it was good to get some pizza and coffee in Italy and was great fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It then get really cold at the begging of Feb and it was -25 in the valley for about 3 weeks.   It was a real strugle to survive in the van everying would freeze within minutes and it was mabe the most miserable 3 weeks of my life!

When I moved to Cham I thought it would be easy to find people to ski with.  Well it was imposible.  A lot of people looked the part but when it came down to it were not very cleaver in the mountains.  So I was getting fed up of not having anyone to go skiing with so decided to just go on my own and did some great couloirs like the cunningham off the bridge on the midi, the pu bell, and lots more.  I was gutted however later when my car was broken into and my gopro and all photoes from then were stolen!  The cunningham was a real highlight of the season for me, the conditions were not great, but it was an adventure.  There are 2 absails in off the bridge and you really feel the exposure.  Then 2 pretty streight forward couloirs which would be amazing in good snow, and then I skied all the way down the valley down the Bosson glacier, which was really fun and good snow.  It is routes like these which is what Chamonix is all about.  To be honest the lift skiing is ok, but what you can access from the high lifts with not too much effort is incredible!

I then went skiing in verbier a few times which looked like it has some great potensial off piest but the snow conditions were really bad as it had not snowed and was sunny for the last month.  It was then on to riglos for a few days climbing with Chris Bevins and then back to Cham for one last route.  While I was in Spain I found out one of my Australian friends the Tazmanian devil Simon Young just got there.  I had met him 5 years eirlier on Mescalito on El Cap where we celebrated his birthday.  I was really spent now it was the end of the winter and just living in a small van being cold for a whole winter was really debilitating.

He sugested the route fill a plomb which is just lookers left of the midi and a 700m route.  It sounded perfect for my last route.  We managed to miss the first cable care, but overtook the crouds on the walk in to the route.  There was some awesome mixed climbing and a great 50 odd meter 90 degree pitch of ice.  It was incredible weather and so so so much easyer doing a route in warmth of march compared to the usual deep winter.  I could not belive how easy it was on the route but, my tirdness soon caught up with me and i was very slow on the arret back up to the midi.  I think it was my body’s way of saying thats enough for one winter please, time to go.  I had really wanted to stay and do some routes with Simon, finally I had found somone good, but i was done and the conditions were too hot, so I was off to fontainblue to train for Freerider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall my thoughts of Chamonix are mixed, I left there feeling a bit bitter, that it had not lived up to my dreams.  Looking back though it is an incredible place with such good potensial.  My problem was I was living in the van with no insulation or heating, which was miserable, and had no money so did not socialise, and when I was not working I was training, or skiing.  It can take time to find the right circle of people to ski and climb with, it took me 2 years to do in Whistler.

I will definatly be back, but with money an apartment and heating, and it will be awesome!


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