I get asked a lot by different folk if I’m a mountain guide or if I want to be one in the future. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot in the past few years and with the application deadline around the corner I’m thinking about it again! I’m sure I will be thinking about it again in the future too. I wanted to put some of my thoughts, feeling and influencing factors down to try and rationalise my choice of not starting the scheme yet and to offer an explanation to others too, if they care, which I’m sure most won’t. Perhaps no one cares but hey it’s my blog…my diary… and one day I might look back (as a guide or not) and want to read this. I’d welcome any thoughts or feedback from guides or anyone else in the comments section at the bottom btw.
In Chamonix I often see a lot of folk out and about with some pretty monstrous bags! I rarely take a bag bigger than 30l into the mountains and I often prefer to have a bag around the 25l mark for day tours. What’s goes into my bag? Here’s a basic list of what goes into my bag and some thoughts/ideas on what to take with you when ski touring/mountaineering.
If your a skier you shouldn’t get all excited. I was there to climb! A route with so much mystique both up and down draws the attention after a while…. Especially when it staring you in the face from your balcony! Over the past few seasons I’ve been keen to ski this route but never been here on the really good day’s to drop in. With poor snow conditions abundant in Chamonix right now the appeal of skiing is somewhat dwindling. I really just wanted to go out for a fast solo today and the Mallory route on the North face of the Aiguille du Midi provided me just that….1hour 55mins from the “bergshrund” (the start of the first couloir) to the Snow Cave. Super nice to be moving with almost nothing on my back or harness again and the conditions were pretty good so it made for some fun climbing in some places.
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For years I’d looked up at the Grande Charmoz north face and never seen it in “good condition”. I’d heard that the first third needed good cover to make it viable and in the past it always seemed that the crucial ice was never there. This year however it has been “in” and some of my friends had already been and climbed it earlier in the winter and in the past week. No chance of a true onsight as we had some beta from them about the descent and the conditions on the face but we still wanted to do the route despite the adventure being mostly taken away. With snow conditions deteriorating out here and motivation for skiing dwindling it didn’t take much persuading from Mr Psyche himself, John “spoon” McCune to give it a punt. Johns been tearing it up in the past few months with ascents of the Eiger, Droites and Petit Dru to name a but a few so I knew we was going to be fit for it.
We meet up the day before to discus our plan of attack. We both decided we like our beds so quickly came to the conclusion we’d rather try and go from first cable car at the Midi than from the Plan d’Aguille refuge. I toyed with the idea of borrowing some approach skis from some more dedicated climber friends but pretty soon convinced myself it wouldn’t be the best time or place to try and learn how to ski short skis in my climbing boots.
After dealing with the usual Aiguille du Midi morning clusterf*#K we were soon skinning our way over to the bottom of the Col de la Buche where we ditched our skis and ski boots and raced up the ladders and snow. Down climbing and wading through knee deep (in places) snow from the col to the bottom of the face was pretty hot work with the sun beating down on us pretty much the whole way.
Once we passed the bergshrund (not difficult) we were on our way and both feeling pretty good. We moved together through the first two thirds minus 1 short “chimney pitch” where we decided it would be a lot easier to haul our bags as it looked pretty tight from bellow. It was pretty tight and it was and well worth the extra few minutes of faff. After the long snow field and some more perfect neve, 4x60m pitches brought us to the summit Col of the Grande Charmoz. Not perfect conditions on these pitches but enough ice to cover the loose rock and some run out sections. That said it was pretty fun mixed climbing and in a cool situation with the clouds starting to bubble away in the valley bellow.
The descent was pretty straightforward abseiling down to the Natillons Glacier with mostly 55m abseils. We walked, down climbed and abseiled our way back to our ski’s that were waiting for us at the bottom of the Glacier. A 1000 vertical meters of slush and the plan track brought us back to the valley and naturally straight onto Midnight Express for a much needed Steak, Frites, Fromage and half a liter of Coke….as a starter.
It’s been a while since I’ve done any big routes in the mountains not counting the Courturier. I’ve either not been in Cham or I’ve been more psyched on skiing which is my poor excuses for not doing more big routes in the past years. I also haven’t mixed climbed much in the last year so yesterday was the perfect shake down for another season of climbing! Psyched!! We were also pretty pleased that we manged to climb the route in 5 hours and complete the whole trip from car to car in 13. All in all a super fun day to remember. Cheers John for the good company and banter.