As the first snows of autumn start to coat our mountains in a scant white negligee causing us to fantasise about winter adventures, I finally have some time to write about some of the things that kept me busy this summer. Working as an aspirant mountain guide has kept me busy and taken me to many new areas of the Alps as well as revisiting some that I haven’t been to for 20 years. This didn’t leave me any time to train for rock and I often wanted to be free of ropes on my day off and ride my bike but I did make a conscious effort to do at least one quality rock route every 2 weeks to keep a base level of fitness.
The Grand Perron offers swathes of impeccable Gietroz quality gneiss with unparalled views over the Mont Blanc Range. With a breeze blowing onto the sunkissed crag taking the edge off the sun, we were set for primo friction conditions. My partner in crime for the day was Andy Perkins who never fails to impress me with his no nonsense, positive and forceful approach. Mix in some brilliant banter and it ranks as one of the most memorable days of the summer.
Me eyeing up the moves on the first hard pitch.
Pretty pumpy start fresh off the deck.
Andy making dynamic moves on another 6C pitch.
Andy arriving at the belay.
The pitch. Andy makes the hard start on the 7a+ crack. Felt like E6 6b to me seconding. We took a spectra line for the raps and hauling our sac reckoning that was the most efficient system.
Andy mid pitch. Stunning
On and on like a lot of the Perrons pitches – full value.
The crux 7b pitch. I found this hard to read and technically hard on feet. When you havent been climbing a lot it was tough sequencing the moves. Andy took one flier and I hung out twice after reading the rock wrong.
Balancy technical climbing on the 7b pitch. Me figuring out the last few moves. After that all that remained was a few ‘easy’ pitches to the summit ridge.
In the lead up to Christmas I was lucky enough to get invited to an Avatech training and awareness day offered to the British Mountain Guides. Avatech rep Craig Widdicombe who happens to be my neighbour, hence the invite, ran the course. For those of you who have not yet seen the Avatech system, its a smart probe that gives you a snow profile in under 30 seconds. Compared to a manual pit which could take 30 minutes! The probe has a pressure sensor built into the tip that records the different resistances offered by the layers in the snow.
We started off in the classroom with a run through the application, its layout, how snowprofile data and associated observations / photographs are input and how to find historical data for your chosen route or ski area. Data from the probe is transmitted by Bluetooth to the app on your smart phone where it is uploaded to Avatech’s site. The interface is really user friendly and intuitive so its pretty easy to find your way around. It also incorporates a map system which can be used for your route planning.
The system has already become popular amongst the professionals in north America where it is hailed as a game changer. Meteo France and the Italian avalanche forecasters have also invested in a number of probes. A probe costs around 1800 Euros so its a significant investment but you can subscribe to have access to the website on an annual basis. The real benefit is if these become the industry standard and a number of snow profiles are performed on a particular slope of pitch giving subscribers a good overall picture of the stability on that particular slope.
Screenshot from the Avatech site showing the mapping system with data and observations
Like herding cats, a ‘clowder’ of British Mountain Guides searching for a snow profile location
Andy Perkins and Craig Widdicombe confirming suitable snow depths
Craig deploying the Avatech probe
A snow crystal comparator plate
Taking snow temperature profile
Manual recording of the snow profile in the field
Shovel shear test result.
The Avatech probe showing the snow profile. The resolution here was set to low to compare with the manual profile however it was obvious the Avatech probe has the sensitivity to pick up very thin layers which could possibly be missed on the manual pit.