Loschental Breithorn North Face

During a fortuitous meeting in the street with Ben Tibbetts a few weeks ago, he kindly shared the news that Jon Bracey ad himself had made a rare ascent of the Loschental Breithorn North Face…the seed was planted and I was psyched to go have an adventure.

Breithorn North Face on the right

With lockdown rules in France allowing professionally registered guides to train during lockdown, a controversial privilege that I am forever grateful, I had been training hard with some very long days on my bike. My legs were strong but I hadn’t worn crampons or been in the alpine for 2 months and was completely unacclimatised. James Clapham would partner me on the climb and conversely he was climbing fit, but looking after a toddler at home hadn’t left much time for cardio. It sounded like with some team work we would complement each others strengths well.

Off we went to Switzerland with heavy bags and light hearts, our spirits lifted by seeing something other than the sides of the Chamonix Valley after a month of lockdown. We planned to park at the roadhead in Fafleralp but to our dismay the authorities had closed the road for winter at Blatten, despite a distinct lack of snow. When the point of the trip was to catch up on lost time in the mountains, whats another 4 km added to the approach?! I usually hate walking as biking and skiing are such superior methods of transport, but after a month at home I loved just being outside and feeling alive in nature. The conversation flowed keeping our minds off the effort and we steadily gained height passing some steep icy grass, only to be forced to wage war on evil crusty faceted glacier snow. Our intention to climb and scope out the first pitch faded with the failing light and we settled on making our home for the night and the lengthy process of melting snow and hydrating.

We had a relatively civilised (for alpine climbing) 4 am ‘reveil’ and listened to the purr of the stove from the warm of our sleeping bags. After a quick breakfast, it was a pair of reluctant alpinists that swapped the warm comfort of our down cocoons for the frosty night air, knowing the quicker we got moving, the quicker we would get warm. The full moon that had risen as soon as we went to bed and kept out tent illuminated all night, set the moment we got going and plunged us into inky darkness. At the buttress James traversed off into the dark on a snow ramp with increasing exposure. The boys had warned us of compact rock with sparse protection and James did well to find a decent belay. As I followed the rope the precarious nature of the climbing and the unfamiliarity of mixed climbing was making itself felt. The route was pretty dry and it was more effective to crimp small edges rather than dry tool. The next pitch was lower angle and easier, but I found thin delaminated ice and only found one piece in a 60 m pitch that might hold anything. My belay was akin to Gogarth style affair in an attempt to distribute the load across multiple less than ideal pieces.

The next pitch was the main deal with steep rock plastered with blobs of neve, thin delaminating water ice making you wary and hard to spot protection arriving just at the right moment. James was in his element and quickly sent it. I followed absorbed in the delicate and interesting climbing feeling fully back in my comfort zone and trusting my feet. After collecting the gear from James, I led off and a short step was followed by the conspicuous elliptical snowfield we had spotted from below that joined the upper icefield. It was time to unrope and pick up the pace as we had a long day ahead.

At 11 am I made the last few metres onto the summit ridge and stepped out of the frosty shade and into the sunlight. The snow capped Alps stretched out to the horizons all around, a subliminal moment after a month of ‘confinement’. We paused for a moment to eat before continuing up the PD+ ridge and traversing the summit to the Biechglacier. The day was far from over with shocking snow conditions on the descent down the glacier and on the far side Biechpass but we got off the rough terrain in daylight which was a big relief for tired minds and tweaked ankles. As the forest trail gave way to the last 4 km of tarmac, the moon rose and we made the last section without headtorches.

James on the final steep pitch
Blasting up the headwall
Getting closer and lack of acclimatisation becoming apparent
James near the ridge
James arriving at the ridge and welcome sunshine
Savouring the sun and views at the exit of the North Face. Photo by James Clapham
A really fun PD+ ridge traverse led to the summit of the Breithorn. Bietschorn in the background. Photo by James Clapham
Photo by James Clapham
The final moves to the summit. Photo by James Clapham
The vistas and the world of light were especially nourishing for the soul after a month in the dark valley floor.
The Breithorn North Face centre profile and our bivi site at the col.
Thankful to reach the valley floor before dark with hideous leg breaking crust on the descent

Sorenson Eastman

Fabulous adventure climbing Sorenson Eastman with @lukedavies_outdoors. Beautiful delicate thin ice plastered on steep walls akin to Labrynth Direct in Scotland. I’ll warn you that the rimaye is more than a bit spicey 🌶🌶🌶

IMG_1205IMG_1222IMG_1251IMG_1338

Rebuffat Terray

Fun outing to Rebuffat Terry the other day with @digitalsteak. Unfortunately from the first lift we didn’t quite beat a slower team that started from the refuge and so after a couple pitches in the upper runnels we went home. All good training.

598A2649IMG_1150IMG_1152IMG_1154IMG_1155IMG_1174IMG_1177IMG_1184IMG_1190

Beyond Good and Evil

The legendary Andy Parkin- Mark Twight route from the early 90s that took them multiple attempts to finish off. With a route with such high reputation for quality, it didn’t take much to get me fired up and psyched for it, and arguably its been a 20 year wait for the stars to align for me to get the opportunity to go. A quick ask round the trusted partners and Guy Steven instantly signed up. The crux would be to kit him out as he had flown out from Scotland for the week.

Many Alpine mixed routes fall short of the mark for me due to monotony of moves but each pitch of Beyond was so varied and unique providing continuous interest in stunning surroundings, mostly delicate and enticing rather than burley and intimidating.  A bit like Labrynth Direct on the Dubh Loch albeit much longer. 

We headed out from the small winter room at the Plan Refuge into a still mild night illuminated by the full moon. For the first 45 mins there was no need for a head torch as we took in the fantastic ambience under the Chamonix Aiguilles, friendly rather than foreboding. I kicked off and Guy and I alternated on the sharp end for 11 pitches to the junction with Thierry Rebuffat (known as Carrington Rouse in winter). With the upper pitches blasted dry by the wind we rapped arriving back at the skis at 130 pm and took the cable car to Big Mountain bar for some quality IPA to quench the thirst. All very civilized. Thanks @guystevenguide for a very memorable day.

38a4073e-f484-4e9c-86bc-1aa7fca37d6dIMG_0993IMG_09970d4bed05-4816-4e04-bde4-6f44b03480b8dfbd78af-5358-4f31-9fdd-f18df6c787e7IMG_1001IMG_1012IMG_10175c1afc81-2fea-4ed1-b473-864f2075da2696aa6f71-2e7a-4cf1-b719-1fdf28cd418017435770-71bf-4e55-9488-77f4a7eb5a6fIMG_1021IMG_1024IMG_1025

Mixed Climbing – Rebuffat Terray V5 550 m Col des Pelerins

The Rebuffat Thierry route was first climbed in winter by Rab Carrington and Alan Rouse who followed a series of ice runnels that drooled down from the Col des Pelerins. For some reason or another I had never got onto this route. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending a day climbing at Gogarth with living legend Rab Carrington and knew I had to amend this obvious omission to my Chamonix winter climbing resume. Aged 60 odd Rab is inspiring to watch on the rock, still climbing big E5s and 8a with impressive flexibility, a testimony to the benefits of a stretching regime. After a year off climbing myself with being busy skiing, this was going to be a challenge to my residual climbing fitness and break me back into shape. I headed up with Sandy Simpson who was keen for a mid length day route and is fit from time well spent dry tooling at the Zoo.

The route itself was in good to lean conditions with a couple of breaks in the ice at the steeper cruxy locations due to traffic. It was great fun being back Alpine climbing and moving quickly in the mountains and not spending much time searching for protection (unlike Scotalnd) – even if slowed slightly in freeride touring boots!

On the way down we descended Pre de Rocher which contained a mixture of awful crust, disgusting wind buff and treacherous frost coated boulder fields. Hopping from sugar coated boulder to boulder was the order of the day (or night by now) and after 600 m I gave in on the skiing and decided to walk. Rebuffat Terry

Rebuffat Terry-2Rebuffat Terry-4Rebuffat Terry-5-2Rebuffat Terry-5Rebuffat Terry-6Rebuffat Terry-4-2 Rebuffat Terry-3-2 Rebuffat Terry-2-2Rebuffat Terry-7