Friday, 21 October 2011

Cold Chamonix...

Chamonix is starting to get COLD!

This is a slightly bitty post, and hopefully a more exciting and less disjointed post will follow shortly...

In the last week there was snow as low as Argentiere, we've had first, second and third frost so far i think and my trousers actually froze to my bike seat at 6am this morning!

Heres a couple of pictures of cold things:
The view from our balcony up towards Argie

Waking up to see a winter wonderland after a night of snow last week, we spent a morning frantically trying to locate a sledge, and generally failed miserably. Accepting defeat, we headed up to Buet, stopping to get Ben and Hannah on the way and headed for a short walk up the valley...

We walked up the valley through the trees and eventually came out above the treeline to be greeted by a gorgeous sunny day and knee deep powder!
The view of the Buet valley from the treeline

Just before the hut in glorious sunshine
We had a chilled walk upto the hut, had lunch, admired the view and then walked back down again. Lots of ski tours come down this valley so we spent some time looking at potential December days out and threw some snowballs etc. General conclusion was that the snow might be skiable and psyche is high for some ski touring!

By the next day the snow had mainly melted and we were back to normal Chamonix sunshine. Both me and Jonny have been working flat out for the last two weeks, so not much outdoor climbing has been done but lots of training at the EMHM military wall (an Indy equivalent). I've been working cleaning in a very posh chalet complex in Les Houches and getting free lunches, and for the last few days in one of the most expensive chalets in the valley doing a bit of hosting and lots of bed making for a male model underwear shoot, so I'm not complaining!

In other news, we finally experienced a rendition of Marvin Gaye's Sexual healing by Rob Greenwood. This had been hugely hyped and did not dissapoint, despite him and Jack only just having returned from an ascent of the North face of the Matterhorn.
Rob 'Hot just like an oven'

The last few days we've been scraping frost off the windscreen of the van and Autumn has definately hit. The garden was still frozen at about 11 today as the sun takes a long time to hit it, but it makes for a very pretty view!
The garden just before the sun hit

As of Sunday I'm free again and have no work lined up, so I'm hoping when Sandra gets back from Germany we are going to get some routes in either down the valley or up high! Psyche is high and after a break to recover from a mega work stint, I'm sure I will be ready to get some cragging on the go. Who know, maybe even some alpine peaks!?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sunshine funtime in Chamonix!

So here I am!
I've been in Chamonix for just over two weeks now, had a couple of ups, a couple of downs but overall having an ace time.

The kitchen in our
luxury chalet...
Our living room area
I arrived back in the valley to be met with torrential rain (bad), but also the news that rather than living in the van we would be staying in a luxury chalet (good!). Very hungry, pretty tired and a bit shellshocked Jonny drove us up to the chalet where I got shown around and generally didn't believe our luck! Rather than the van with its two gas rings and bed you assemble when you need to go to sleep, we have a fridge/freezer that produces ice on demand, a huge oven, flat screen TV, wifi, SHOWERS(!) and an actual bed to sleep in. Having the chalet has been really useful as it means that I have somewhere to stay and seach for jobs, with internet while Jonny is at work, rather than wondering the streets of Chamonix because the van has gone! Very lucky, and on top of that it stopped raining!

A normal evening at the chalet...
Wonderwall on repeat

The employment front has been slightly more sporadic, as I didn't anticipate just how hard it would be to find a job in interseason. After one very stressful week, I have one guy who I'm doing some housework for, and also working behind the bar in the 'Jekyll and Hyde' Pub at the end of our road. Having never had worked in a pub before I'm finding this good fun, but also surprisingly hard carrying lots of plates and suck the like.

Kelly and Sasha having a break from 'The Shack' and chilling at ours
One of the things that I'm finding great about Chamonix is meeting so many people, both old and new. For the last 2 weeks Sasha and Kelly, two friends from JMU have been out here and its been really nice having some people who I know about to help me settle in. They had an ace two weeks, doing Cosmiques Arete, 3 points of Lachneal and Mont Blanc, as well as a slightly less sucessful trip up to Envers. I've started making friends out here as well, and have been climbing quite a few times in a big girly team with Hannah (who is living in a red van), Heather and Sandra.

I've never really climbed much with girls before and its been quite an eye opener to see how much I've enjoyed it! I think it's pretty special to be somewhere where you can get a group of four girls who all climb pretty well to be out at the crag together, although i think we have shocked many a frenchman with the general singing and recorder playing that accompanies us!
Some local wildlife at the crag

So, onto where we've been climbing.  Being poor and impoverished, I've been staying in the valley rather than catching lifts up high but I've still got loads done in the last  two weeks (one benefit of relative unemployment!). I've been up twice to 'Le Zone', a crag with long routes of 6b and above. Me and Sasha ended up there the first time after hitching out to Barbarine, but realised that it was far too wet to climb the multipitch slabs there. Luckily the guys we were hitching with knew of 'Le Zone' and we just followed them up there and had a really good day doing loads of 6bs.

The day after that me, Jack, Mac and Hannah headed over to Switzerland to a crag called Secteur Corbeau . Me and Hannah climbed together and warmed up on a couple of tricky 6as, then moved onto a really nice 6b. We finished on a 6c that I had some issues with first time, eventually dogging my way out, and on the second go only giving up once!

Jonny climbing into the night
at Le Couteray
Another evening was spent at Le Couteray 'working' a 7a+ which i didn't do. This crag is home to an 8a offwidth-it looks horrendous, maybe another time!

Another really good day was spent at Le Coupeau, climbing with Sandra and Hannah. We had an awesome day chilling in the shade and got loads of mileage in as well as getting a 6c+ 2nd go!

Sandra on a 6b at Le Coupeau
 The second time I went up to Le Zone was with the awesome girly team of me, Hannah, Heather and Sandra. Heather bought her recorder and there was lots of singing and general merriment, a real positive atmosphere! After a 6b warm up, I managed to fight my way up probably the longest 6c I have ever done onsight, but then completely wimped out of a 6c+ with some awesome undercut moves which Heather cruised!

Toto at Chezerey
Another 2 days were spent up at Chezereys Slabs above Argentiere, both times the 45min uphill walk in the Indian summer heat nearly killed me. Me and Hannah had an awesome relaxed afternoon going up and down the Aguille d'Argentiere numerous times on easy routes then posing for silly photos on the top.  A second day was spent climbing with Heather on Voie Bleue, a multipitch climb up the slabs, with a cool corner crack pitch and a nice 5c pitch with an odd move at the top. By the time we abbed down, we realised we were on our 4th day on, knakered and so just chilled in the sun for the rest of the day!

Me and Hannah pulling silly faces
ontop of the Aguilette
A German couple ontop  of the Aguilette

So that's a general update so far. After the gorgeous Indian Summer, the weather finally broke last night and it has been raining since! The snow level is way down and should be getting lower, so we've been watching lots of ski movies to get psyched. I had a bit of a suge of employment offers this morning which was pretty cool so I should be busy for the next week at least, and we are starting looking for somewhere to live when we have to leave the chalet.
I'm missing everyone back home hugely especially the Bangor crew, but have been lucky enough for at least one game of Skype 'Cock or Ball' to keep me amused (no screenshots avaliable luckily). I'm also really looking forwards to Rosie coming out soon, partially because she will be bringing ice axes and tea bags, but also because I miss my little sister!
In summary, so far life out here is good and I'm looking forwards to adventures to come...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

An explanation of the life trauma up to this date...

Soooo where to start hey!?

The last month for me has been one of big decisions, or more specifically one Big Decision.
In complete defiance of whatever was expected of me academically five years ago, I've still not made it to University, and I have to say that I am unlikely to do so in the near future. Instead I'm off to live in a van in Chamonix for a bit and then sport climbing in Spain if all goes to plan!

I believe at this point a short summary is appropriate:

I have had a pretty awesome summer, I felt a bit like I deserved it after working pretty long shifts all winter and being thwarted by bad weather at every attempt to climb!

The first big trip of the summer was to Squamish, BC in Canada. Me and my good mate Spunky concocted this trip after Bubbles bailed on a trip to Yosemite at the end of the summer. Despite the pretty wet weather, I can safetly say my first dirtbagging experience was rather a good one. 
Duncan soaking up the ambiance
We based ourselves in the Stwamus Cheif campsite, blagging one person in the tent nicknamed "The Palace" due to being so big. Just staying at the campground was an experience and meeting awesome people there such as Liam & Doug, Barry the Pirate and swedish Tim would have made the trip on its own, without all the awesome climbing we did. 
Me and Spunky representing midgets united ontop of the Cheif
Route highlights included Squamish Buttress, Exasperator, Birds of Prey and St Vitus Dance. My favourite route that we did was a 12 pitch mega route called Angels Crest. It was an awesome, sustained route, each pitch being fantastic in its own right and all together just an awesome climb! The Angels Crack pitch and the final 10a face were probably my favourite pitches, exciting but not too challenging, while the traverse over the Acrophobes was awesomely exposed. Unfortunately The Grand Wall remains on the tick list, but luckily that just gives me reason to return!

After a whistle stop trip back home, which in 7 days included a 3 day trip to Cornwall, 2 days in North Wales and approximately minus 4 days of sorting my life out I was off again, this time to Switzerland. 

The team on top of the Allalinhorn
After some hectic train journeys and almost missing a bus, I made it to a very wet Arolla where I met up with Katy and Josh. I'm starting to believe that the rain follows me everywhere, it's a bit of a curse. Anyways, whilst in Arolla we did a cool scramble that isn't named, and also ventured out to climb La Pigne de Le which was practically in Scottish Winter conditions! To escape the unforgiving weather we ran away to Saas Grund. From here we did a nice scrambly ridge up the Weissmeiss, topping out on our first 4000m peak in a horrible wind, meaning that we quickly ran back down again! After a few days chilling and a spot of valley cragging we set off again with the Allalinhorn set in our sights via the Hohlanubgrat route. We walked up to the hut in bad visibility, that didnt get any better as the evening went on. When we went out to scout out the approach across the glacier it was full on snowing and we were pretty dubious as the snow continued on into the night. Waking up in the morning, we set out across the glacier, but it soon became clear that in the zero vis and thick snow we didn't have enough experience to cross the glacier, epecially when the guided party ahead of us turned back. We ended up still doing the Allalinhorn but went up an easier route, in what turned out to be a very nice sunny day in the end. The next day we caught a ride over to Chamonix, where I had a late night out, then a very hungover jaunt up Lawrences arete, followed by Cosmiques arete-possible contender for worst hangover ever? 

Ceuse at sunset
After that, Katy and Josh went home so I was on my own a bit until Jonny rescued me. We did some really cool climbing over two weeks including Indiana Juane, a really nice 10 pitch 6b at Mavaldiere in the Vallee d'Arvee when i realised my shoes were far too tight after the second pitch! We also climbed up high at Envers on two occasions and did Guy-Anne and La Piege, as well as getting snowed off of 'Le mariage de la terre et du vent' a route at the Belvedere. At the end of the trip we took a short trip down to Ceuse to appreciate the epic walk in, but I puntered about and didn't get to the top of alot of things. I did  start learning how to fall off though which was pretty scary on the renowned Ceuse runouts!!

As soon as I got home, I realised that I kinda wanted to be out in France again, so I worked my ass off for a week to afford flights back out again, Jonny picked me up at the airport and we headed south. Or rather, failed to drive out of Geneva, got lost and eventually gave up and just slept in a random car park somewhere in France! Anyway, the next day was my 20th birthday (now offically old) and we eventually made it down to Orpierre. Orpierre is a really nice crag, alot friendlier than Ceuse, but still with lots to go at, and a much shorter walk in! Over the next few days Jonny ticked loads of 7bs and onsighted a 7c, I onsighted lots of 6s, fannyed around a bit and got scared, but eventually got the redpoint on a 7a (Je t'aime moi non plus) which I was pretty chuffed with. First proper 7a tick, may many more come my way please!

Orpierre panorama of the crag

Jonny on one of the chimney
pitches on Le Demande 
The next day we headed even further south, stopping at Voulx for a day and night (pretty cool routes, but also FAR too hot!).
We arrived at the majestic Verdon Gorge in a rainstorm, and spent the evening in the bar making plan for the next day. The first route we did was a 6c multipitch in the Dalles Grises area called 'Dingomaniaque'. We originally started up on the wrong route, so ended up having to ab down and start again! Eventually we started up the correct route and realised just how hot it was, we eventually reached the top dehydrated and absolutely knakered but still decided for another big day tomorrow. 
The next day we decided to do the classic La Demande. The walkway into the bottom was officially closed but we sneaked past and walked through some very long dark tunnels to reach the bottom of the route. The hardest pitch on the route is only 6a, but indirect sunlight all day, with large runouts and a heavy bag this was a hard day (for me anyway!). We got to the top completely  exhausted again and managed to hitch a ride back down to the van again with a very nice french couple. 
Me puntering on the 6c+
The next day, we decided to do a bit of a shorter route so set up Pichenibule, a 6c+. The first few pitches were lovely, not too polished, exposed traverses covering some awesome ground. Eventually we got to the 6c+ pitch, which was absolutely desperate. I ended up hanging in space and pulling on the rope, draws and generally just cheating my way up the pitch, absolutely desperate! We eventually topped out a few pitched later and rewarded ourselves with some awesome pizzas, ready to drive through the night back in a Geneva direction for my flight home again.

Basically what this whole post has been working upto, is the fact that I had an amazing summer and I don't want it to end. Therefore I'm not going to let it. On Sunday I'm moving out to Chamonix to try and get a job and climb loads! The plan is to work until December, and then go sport climb in Spain until we run out of money.

I've had a stressful and emotional week sorting out things like dropping out of University, finding someone to fill my place in the house, and squeezing in the odd climb here and there as well with Duncan and Jess. I'm really going to miss all of the Liverpool and North Wales crew, but am expecting lots of visitors in France and I know I'll be back at some point!

Duncan on the traverse pitch over the Zawn on Dream of White Horses
So, thanks to everyone who's helped me make decisions and I hope it all turns out okay in the end! Fingers crossed!