Posts tagged Alpine Climbing
From Scotland to Alpine Guide

This is what it was all about

First day out as a guide, however, I wasn't guiding, just a nice day climbing with Lou who is recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery!   

The summer has flown by.  Last thing I remember from Scotland seemed only a couple of weeks ago but the last 3 months has been crammed full with so much.  The main highlight was that last week I passed my final guides exam.  Yeeehaaaaw!!... as they would say across the pond! Three and a half years of training and assessments has brought me here and 10 years of holidays in the Alps has allowed me to get too where I am.  God know's how much has been spent on the process but every penny, bead of sweat, drip of blood, alpine knee and Poco Loco's has been worth it!  What a relief to get awarded the badge. 

Guiding the Rochefort Arete with fellow guide Andy Nelson

Huge thanks go out to so many people.  My parents for agreeing that this is better for me than university, all off my climbing partners along the way, far too many to name but Kenny Grant was there from the start, we had epics but so many more successes and most of the routes in my application form were with him.  Thanks to everyone who put me up, let me sleep on their sofas or use their showers, sleep and smelling good are two things I like.  Also I would like to thank everyone who has helped me financially throughout this process, without this help, I probably would have had to delay a year and draw the process out for longer.

Guiding the Dent du Geant.  Well cool!!

Most of all though, thank you to the gorgeous Louisa Reynolds who has stood by me throughout this process.  I have been away from home so much in the last couple of years and I'm so glad you stuck with me and came to celebrate with me when I passed and share this experience.  You are the best!

Bernese Oberland

Also to the lads and lass.  My school buddies.  Jack, Ally, Tamsin, Ross, Calum, James and Max.  It's been great fun and emotional but looking forward to working in the Alps with you all!

Happy Guiding!

Practice day with Ross Hewitt on Petit Charmoz

By the way, it wasn't all mountains.  We enjoyed some of the other beauties of the Alps.  Biking and swimming at Lake Annecy is recommended!

My first Alpine season
The summer has flown by and as a result I have hardly had a moment to sit down to write about what I have been upto.  I can't decide if I have just been too busy or I have just avoided spending time on my computer.  Mostly because the weather has been great and I have been outside most of the time.  Probably a combination of the two.  But, now as I am back in Scotland, I finally have a chance to sit down and catch up from where I left off.  I hope I can remember what happened 3 months ago let alone remember all the clients names!

It all started with a week climbing with Jack who got me psyched for the summer

After my last post climbing with Jack, I was engrossed in my Summer Alpine Training run by two BMG IFMGA guides (Andy Teasdale and Neil Johnson) teaching everything they knew about becoming an alpine guide.  The week's course was essentially the gateway to working in the alps because as soon as we finished, I was straight into work.
Alpine training

My first week of work was for ISM.  A long standing alpine guiding company who run's courses throughout the summer and winter.  The course was an introductory course to 4000m peaks.  Myself and Andy Teasdale guided and taught the group for 6 days with the finale being that they led themselves up a 4000m peak.  We packed in training and skills throughout the week and it all came together as all teams executed the Weissmies is fine weather.  A top week to start my alpine guiding career!

The full team on the Weissmies

With a few days off, I firstly teamed up with another guide and we guided our clients over the brilliant Cosmiques Arête from the Aiguille du Midi.  For some reason the Scottish weather turned up for a day so we had a bit of a battle but made a smooth ascent and down in time for a nice lunch in Chamonix.

Cosmiques in the calm before the storm

After this I had a few days of with Lou who flew out to visit.  A spot of mountain biking, climbing and flying filled our days which left me well rested for the next block of work.

A spot of flying with Lou above Chamonix

Early morning views on the South ridge of the Lagginhorn 
The Matterhorn week.  I had been looking forward to this for quite a while!  We had 1 client each for 6 days and the weather looked good at the start.  Fortunately the guys were acclimatised so on our 1st day, we walked to the Hornli hut.  The following day we climbed and descended 'the horn' in 10 hours, which to date, was my most enjoyable days guiding.  It is so sustained, never desperate and really good fun.  The ridge was pretty quiet, the views were stunning and the company was super.  I remember thinking...'does it get much better?'
On the summit of the Matterhorn
After this I had a spot of time to play with which involved escaping the mountains (weather was poor) and I headed to Italy with Swaily and Rudders for some crack climbing, another summer highlight.  What a place.  Like a mini Yosemite.  Endless amounts of granite cracks and we were only there for 3 days.  I was broken by the end of it.  Fortunately a quick flight back to a wedding in Scotland enabled a good rest before I flew back out with Lou for another week of crack climbing, yet another summer highlight.  I could certainly get use to this way of life!

Lou spotted a bat in a crack

But, all good things have to come to an end.  I was back to work.  Fortunately, I love work and I was keen to get stuck in.  This week I was working for Frost Guiding with 5 other guides of whom I know very well.  So a super social week with a group of 20 school kids.  A great week introducing them to the Alps.  Although we did not achieve everything we wanted too, they had a good experience.  It was a super useful week for me as the weather was we were all putting our heads together trying to come up with suitable plans and I think we just about made it work.  Did you hear about the landslides this summer in the Alps?  It was that week.  So much rain.  Poor kids!

Team young on their first alpine summit
The following two weeks were taken up with Martin Morans Alpine High peaks tour.  This was a 'mega' trip.  5 countries and their highest peak.  So Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland.  Martin has done a great write up, far better than I could do so here is the link to his words.
It was a total success, we summited all peaks by our planned routes, all peaks I have never been on before.

Heading up the Studlgrat
So all was left was a trip up Mont Blanc.  What a great way to finish the season...the highest peak of them all (well in the Alps anyway).
So this time working for Stu MacDonald, we had a team of 3 and set off on our 3 day conquest onto 'The Blanc'.  Day one faultless...we arrived at the Tete Rouse hut.  Day two...started well but once we got too 4200m the weather turned biblical.  High winds, zero vis and bitterly cold.  We concurred that this was not the place to be teetering up and down ridges so we decided to call it a day and save it for another time.  A great effort by the whole team and it's great to have a good team who understands the importance of turning back while its still safe too.  We salvaged our final day with some brilliant Via Ferrata in the valley.

After turning back on Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc wasnt quite the end.  I had one final week working for ISM in Switzerland.  The Saas 4000's.  Working with Paolo, an Italian guide we explored the high peaks around Saas Fee with our team of 6.  Due to a wide spread of fitness abilities, not everyone summited every peak we planned to do but we had a good trip nonetheless.  Finishing on the Nadelhorn was a good finale for most of the team.
Heading up to the Nadelhorn
So after my first summer in the Alps, I am happy to report that I wont be giving up guiding.  It has been a great journey so far and I have barely touched the surface in the Alps.  Next summer I will be out guiding again and hopefully on lots of different objectives.

Some faces from the Alps

A week of Alpine rock
With a week off between Part 1 and 2 of our Alpine Training, I teamed up with fellow trainee guide Jack Geldard for some rock climbing and acclimatization.

Our first day we decided on a sport climb in the mountains and headed up onto Brevant and climbed the brilliant 8 pitch La Fin de Babylone (TD+ 6c) of the South face.  I remembered how to climb granite with sun on my back so I was keen for more routes in the mountains but with less bolts and more trad gear.

Day two we climbed on the Red Pillar on Aiguille de Blaitiere.  We opted for Majouette Thatcher (TD+ 6b+) British money we thought it was E3 6a.  Superb route with 5 brilliant pitches after an 1.5 hour walk in. (no pics from the first couple of days)
Day 3 we climbed on the South Face of Aiguille du Midi.  We climbed the Contamine Route given ED1 6c+.  In british money, we thought E4 6b, it was a fight.
Jack on the crux pitch of Contamine

After 3 days of sore feet in climbing shoes, we ditched the torture devices and went mountaineering with Emily on the Clocher Ridge (PD+ 4a).  A great mountaineering ridge which is a brilliant introduction to the Alps.  I suspect I will work on that route quite a lot.
Mont Bianco, Emily and Jack...cruising.

Day four Jack and I went back to the Blaitiere and climbed the classic L'eau rance d'arabie (TD+ 6b), probs around E2 5c.  8 superb pitches of pristine granite cracks and a few testing slab for good measure.  A great day out.
...after pitch...

...after pitch of excellent climbing.  Superb Route MT
To conclude the week, Jack, Emily and I teamed up with Kenny for a day on the mountian bikes which was brilliant fun up at Le Tour.  Lift assisted Mountain Biking...what's not to like!?

Now for Alpine training Part 2...
Alpine Training part 1
Tamsin on or warm up route

Arriving in Switzerland I was greeted by a substantial thunderstorm.  Great!  Our training course was established in Evolene, a stunning alpine village high up in the Val du Herens.  I arrive a day early and met up with Tamsin for a via ferrata which was local to where we were staying.  Having never don e Via Ferrata, I made a lanyard and off we went.  Great way to get into very exposed terrain with constantly good handholds!

Ally and Callum looking worried about the upcoming section

The course kicked off with a whole day of Via Ferrata.  A very fun activity but not to be underestimated.  It still has plenty of risks involved and as a guide, needs to be managed appropriately.
We did two routes covering some steep and exposed ground, 'pumpy' in places but fortunately you can clip in at any point and rest.
Fellow trainee guide enjoying the shade

Day two we headed onto the 'Glacier De Moiry' in the Swiss canton of Valais.  A very accessible glacier which ideal for 'Ecole du Glace'.  We spent the day looking at techniques to teach and prep clients for a week in the mountains.  Crampon and axe use, glacier travel and crevasse rescue.  A really useful day and looking forward to putting it into practice.
Steep and exposed...accessible to all

Now a week off before Alpine Training 2...and there is a heat wave here!
Alpine Ski Training and consolodation
Avalanche forecasting above Arolla

Before I could even blink the next BMG training course was here.  It was the Ski touring training based from Arolla in Switzerland so I managed to get a couple of days skiing to acclimatise before the course commenced.  The week was brilliant and headed up by 3 brilliant guides Graham, Jon and Ric.  It was a very chilled atmosphere and I learnt a great deal about ski guiding and it is definitely something I look forward to doing more of.  We split the week into two...a 3 day hut to hut tour then and 2 day hut tour looking at all aspects of ski guiding and dealing with issues that we will come across when we guide.

Sunshine and snow....must be the Alps

Skinning up towards the hut...can you see it?

Jon Bracey teaching crevasse rescue

Spot the flying pole

Nice morning

After the ski course we were asked to carry on skiing to consolidate what we have learnt.  I Skied in Austria for a week before heading to Chamonix to link in a bit of climbing and skiing.  Lou and I climbed the North Face of Les Droites which was cool, my second time up that face.  We then did a few days skiing and valley cragging getting to know some of the local areas for the coming seasons.

Lou leading on Leguard Direct on Les Droites

My office one day..

Lou showing me how to look cool

Taking layers off after some whiteout skiing

Great day on the Valley Blanche
Im back in the UK now and will be here for two months before heading back out to the alps for the summer Alpine is going so fast!  I think I can just about keep up!  Feel free to get in touch if you fancy some climbing in Scotland over the next couple of months.
Skinning up

Skiing down into Italy

Back on the Valley Blanche

Calm before the storm
Not a bad place to ski
Mont Blanc and Les Drus
As the winter conditions have been few and far between this December I thought it was the perfect opportunity to book a quick hit to the Alps for a nice relaxing skiing holiday before the onslaught of Storm Barbara, Christmas and a very busy winter season.  Lou and I headed to the base of Mont Blanc and skied on both sides of the tunnel.  Some days in Italy, some in France.  This time Italy was holding far more snow and became a good option so we visited a few resorts as well as a wee ski tour to get some fitness.  Like last December when I was out, the hills and slopes were almost deserted, sometimes it felt we had the resorts to ourselves!  With several other friends around it was like a British takeover.  Despite the lack of fresh snow, it was a super fun trip and now I'm ready for getting stuck into Scottish winter.
Lou boot packing on our wee tour from Courmayeur

Lou skinning with Mont Blanc in the background
Lou showing me how it's done
Empty pistes
Becca, Lou and Kev after our tour from the Argentier Glacier
Combat skiing down the glacier

Swiss 4000m peaks
First light on the Zinalrothorn
The Matterhorn

With only 7 days spare on this trip I knew I wouldn't be coming home with record amounts of routes and summits under my belt.  However it was a fantastic few days and most importantly a brilliant laugh with 'The Big Ben'.  Two days were lost to driving out from Perth to Zermatt via the ferry to Zeebrugge.  Our 3rd day was spent walking up to the Rothorn Hutte which is beautifuuly situated high above Zermatt underneath 2 majestic 4000m peaks.  Our objectives.  The Ober GAbelhorn (4063m) and the Zinalrothorn (4221m).  With early starts and speedy ascents we were able to climb to the top to have the summits to ourselves.  The Ober Gabelhorn took us 7 hours hut to hut and the Zinalrothorn took a swift 5 hours hut to hut, leaving us with plenty of time in the hut to rack up a substantial bill (bit of a mistake!)...the cake was sooo good though!

Summit of Ober Gabelhorn
Another Matterhorn shot
Teams climbing the Ober Gabelhorn as we descend
Another Matterhorn
Descending from Zinalrothorn (ben has the summit shots!)
Matterhorn left, Ober Gabelhorn on the right
The Zinalrothorn
Time to leave the hut
 With only one day left before I fly back we decided to have a day cragging in the sunshine, light bags and a route that we could move quickly on.  We found a great route called 'Remiz' in Ben's select guidebook and fitted the bill perfectly.  This 500m 6a+ on the Miroir d'Argentine kept us entertained for a good 5 hours which weaves its routes through a huge piece of rock which starts steep-ish and and turns back to a slab.  A brilliant day out.  Cracks, slabs, overlaps, padding, crimps, jams, name it, the route has it.  Well worth seeking out before you fly home or for a rest day from the mountains.

On the slabby section
The summit ridge
Our route climbs between the two obvious crack and then finished on the left hand peak
Another fantastic alpine trip finished
Uisdean heading up to the tear drop
It's just amazing!
I knew I couldn't resist one more route.  It had to be done, something inside my head was telling me it wasn't over.  I as write this, I know for sure then my winter season is well and truly over.  No more ice axes, skis, 4 season sleeping bags.  No more 'shiver bivi's', no more hot aches, no more crampons and no more melting snow.  I can now look forward to rock climbing, bbq's, sunshine, sea, cold beers, flip flops and scottish weather (oh...well that could be any of the above!?  eek!)

Bivi views
This winter season has been fantastic and this alpine trip has been the icing on the cake.  Since my last post I spent 3 days in Oltre Finale on the Italian Coast.  Nope, I wasn't enjoying the comforts of the beach but enlightening myself as to how strong my fingers are after holding ice axes for several months.  Despite not being the strongest they have ever been, I was still happy with what I climbed, both Uisdean and I were climbing exactly the same so had I been much much weaker I would probably have got a wee bitty upset.

Bivi views
Les Dru
After 3 days in Finale, it had stopped snowing int he mountains, so back to Chamonix for one last route.  Bearing in mind, the last route I tried in the mountains was the Grande Jorasses, and failed again, (I have history here, when I fail on the Grande Jorasses I succeed elsewhere (Eiger 2010, Matterhorn 2014).  This time would I suceed on Les Dru?
Team psyche
I remember first setting eyes on the Dru, back then it was an impossible peak, something that I could only ever look at.  Years later coming back as a climber, it cried out as an iconic objective, a mountain which would require all I have to give.  It came together for us on this trip.  I was teamed up with the youthful Uisdean, a Scottish winter climbing warrior and we climbed the North Couloir Direct (ED2) on the North Face.  The route breaks off the Cechinel-Jager route after 300m, which leads to 3 amazing pitches which we thought were in the range of Scottish 8/9.  I knew it was going to be hard, i had huge doubts in my mind as to whether this was the right route for me.  Could I get up it?  Should I even bother leading? 3 hard pitches, 2 climbers, who does what? When did I last climb grade 8? or even grade 9?  Oh well....lets give it a shot.  I'm just glad it worked out.  Definitely the best route I have climbed in the Alps so far and kept me psyched for more!

Spot the fault
I'm back in the UK now after another week down in Finale doing some more rock climbing, some biking, some swimming and plenty of pizza and wine.  A great trip away from home and ready to get back to work...well....sort of!
Alpine trip so far
Great Skiining conditions
The team. Jamie, Ben and Calum
I feel as I am going through a little transition with this Alpine hit.  I'm starting to look forward to reaching for crimps rather than swinging into ice, walking in trainers rather than sliding on ski's.  It does feel a little premature as there is plenty of snow and ice in the mountains but maybe 4 months on snow is enough for this season.  Since leaving Scotland the trip has been fantastic.  I drove out to the Alps with my good friend Ben Cooling, he is a bit like a strawberry blonde Duracell bunny.  He wanted to do everything in the Alps!  We had 10 days before he returns home.  From leaving my mums house in Cumbria, we drove flat out to Dover, then non stop to the start of the Grand Paradiso Ski tour.  In 25 hours from leaving Cumbria, we had skinned up to the Sella Hut to start an amazing 6 day ski tour.

Making a new plan

Ben on Frendo - Ravanel

Ben again

Me on Frendo - Ravanel

In the Sella hut we met Calum and Jamie who had the same idea so we joined forces and completed the 6 day tour together, driven on by Calums endless cheese related jokes!  I had been on this tour a couple of years ago but bailed due to bad snow conditions, this time I was keen to complete.  The tour started with some very difficult conditions, high winds and knee high sastrugi (wind erosion).  Word had got around that several teams hadn't made the summit of Gran Paradiso (4061m) so we hoped our attempt the next day would bring results.  Fortunately the wind eased, the clouds parted and the summit was there for the taking.  A brilliant day and a great ski down.  This was our high point of the tour, everything we did was slightly lower but we were blessed with fresh snow every night.  Each of the following days we had fresh tracks, Calum and I hit some sweet jumps and the final day completed the best week of ski touring I have ever done.  I can't wait to be able to do a week like this as work!
Great company, great condition's and a brilliant tour.
Uisdean on the Swiss route
Ben and I on the summit Les Courtes
View of Mont Blanc and Jorasses on the left

After our week in Italy, Ben and I headed to Chamonix to make the most of Ben's last 4 days.  We thought no need for a rest day, lets just get up high again and climb Supercoulior!  We were psyched, first in line for a lift up the Aiguille du Midi, we had ski's, climbing gear and some grub.  We also met up with Uisdean and Tim. All we needed is for the lift to open.  Guess what! didn't.  Damn it, we had to have a rest day.  New plan had to be formed!
Swiss route

Swiss route
We decided to make the most of the good weather by heading up to Argentiere Hut and having 3 days climbing from there.  We all made use of mechanical uplift and then went straight into the Frendo-Ravenell Gully (TD-) which was a brilliant 540m route with abseil descent.  Perfect for getting up to the hut in time for dinner!  The next day we all agreed on doing a 'Grande Course'.  Uisdean, Ben and Tim were keen for their first long tick and I was keen for my 7th so we opted for the 'Swiss Route' on Les Courtes.  A great day which only took up 5 hours as 2 roped teams.  When we returned back to the Argentiere hut to find that my ski boots, rope, cams and wires had been removed from the hut!  WTF!!  It turned out that my stuff had been scooped up by a film crew and taken for a helicopter ride down the valley!  I needed to get this back ASAP.  Fortunately the guardian of the hut lent me his ski boots and despite being a size too small, we still managed to ski down.  I retrieved my kit and with one day to spare before Ben fly's home, we headed up the Aiguille du Midi and climbed the Perroux-Proffit Gully (TD) before driving Ben to Geneva.  Despite a few hiccups, it all went well, we were active for 9 out of 10 days and had some fantastic days in the mountains.

The following day Uisdean and I met up with Paul Swail and John Macune for a spot of relaxing sport climbing, to be honest we only did 3 routes as we were all pretty tired from the last few days.
For us all, it was back to the weather forecasts, back to the drawing board.  Our research showed that the weather looked good so John, Uisdean and I planned for an ascent on the Colton Macintyre on the Grande Jorasses.  Surely 3rd time lucky for me on this North Face?!  We took the afternoon lift up to the Aiguille du Midi and skied into the face, carrying all out climbing equipment, bivi equipment, winter boots and plenty of food.  We dug bed space below the face, away from any fall lines, brewed up and settled for the night.  I remember thinking that this time I would make it to the top!  Everything was falling into place in the morning, we started on time and we were all feeling pretty fresh.  We made good progress into daylight and found ourselves at the midway this point we hit our brick wall!  The 90 degree ice was cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  OK not to worry, lets take the harder variation...cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  I couldn't believe it!  Why does this face not let up for me!?  After several attempts we decided to call it a day, retreat back to our ski's, retreat back to Chamonix.  I knew this was going to be my last window for a big route on this trip and as I am writing this I am now on the wire...I want to climb another big route but maybe I will save it for another time, should I just go rock climbing or should I endure another big committing North Face...only time will tell!  Either way, I'm sure it will be fun. day!

Cruddy 90 degree snow!

Matterhorn North Face
The Horn
I am writing this post as Tony is scrubbing the apartment clean because we have decided to end our Alpine trip a week early due to the upcoming poor weather.  Now watching Tony do all the cleaning isn't the only reason we are finishing the trip on a high.  My highlight of the trip was climbing the Matterhorn (4478m), my highest peak to date, via its North Face, the Schmidt Route (TD+).  An iconic mountain which has called out to me ever since I had set eyes on it and it was great to climb it.

Murdoch and Tony set for 5 hours of walking
Our success on this mountain was due to a failure on the Grande Jorasses where Tony, Murdoch and I walked for 5 hours from the Montenvers train station to our bivi site.  After 40 minutes of digging to make a suitable site we scoped out the base of our objective, the Demaison/Gousseault (ED2) and then settled down for a cold, unsettled sleep.  Unfortunately everything didn't go to plan and after 3 pitches we decided to call it a day as time had disappeared before our tired and heavy eyes.  We didn't want to be pushed for time to say the least.

Team shot at 8.30 at the Hornli Hut (Photo:Tony's camera)
So another failure on the Grande Jorasses for me.  It seems when I fail on this mountain, I have success elsewhere.  Last time I failed here on the Croz Spur I ended up climbing the Eiger North Face.  This time success on the the Matterhorn.
Murdoch (right) and I somewhere on the route (Photo: Tony)
On arriving in Zermatt we took the ski lifts up and made the 3 hour walk to the Hornli Hut from Trockener Steg station.  On arrival to the Hornli Hut we realised that we would not have the face or the summit to ourselves, it was the weekend after all.  Infact there were about 12 other teams, that's over 24 climbers!  Not a pleasant number to be involved with.  So we decided to just get going after a rest and some food.  We left in darkness just before 20.30.  Conditions were perfect, not a breath of wind and not another climber out of bed.  We initially soloed until we got too the first tricky bit.  From there Tony led the first section, I led the middle section and Murdoch took us to the Zmutt Ridge.
Murdoch climbing to my belay before he takes over to the Zmutt Ridge
We each only belayed once, when we ran out of gear, just moving together on our single rope, placing gear now and again.  After 7 hours of climbing we found ourselves at the top in darkness with only the surrounding glow from the street lights 2km away.
Happy on the summit (my camera, 8th attempt)
It was perfect, we didn't get clogged up in other peoples ropes, we didn't get hit by ice and we had all the time in the world.  We did want sunrise on the summit but unfortunately we were 3 hours early so we decided to make our way down.  A friend had said 'don't underestimate the descent'.  He was right.  It was long, very long,  Especially after climbing the 1100m route after no sleep and in the dark.
Murdoch and Tony happy to be at the Solvay Hut

Murdoch not quite keeping his eyelides open in the Solvay hut
We ate and drank and then off we went.  The descent was a bit off a blur for all of us, lack of sleep made for a slow and careful descent to the Solvay Hut at 4003m.  We arrived at the hut at sunrise and squeezed inside and made a well needed brew.
Tony and I just about staying awake
Forcing our eyelids open, we knew we couldn't wait around, so after burning our lips and tongues on the boiling tea, we looked as lively as we could and continued down to the Hornli Hut where we had stashed our sleeping kit and some water.  With a spring in our stride, or maybe a fatigue limp, we made our way down to the lift and onto Zermatt for a milkshake and back to our apartment for pizza and beers.  Over all its been a great trip, a usual Alpine trip for me, some failures, some successes, some good weather and some bad, good partners, good food and needing a rest when I get home.  Bring on winter (not in the next couple of days though)!

Murdoch and I descending the Hornli Ridge (Photo: Tony)
Packing up after a successful ascent (not our tents) (Photo: Tony)