Posts tagged Switzerland
Haute Route Success

It felt like Scottish winter fizzled out like a match in the wind, desperately trying to hold on but really not fully delivering the goods. In what has been a tragic winter with the loss of several climbers over the season, the dawn of Spring has been a welcome sight.

I took the direct line to the Alps and after a couple of warm up ski days, I met my clients for the next 7 days. On the cards was the famous Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route and I was working for Alpine Guides.

Warm up day with Mont Blanc behind

Warm up day with Mont Blanc behind

The first comments from the clients were regarding my photo on the Alpine Guides website. They thought I was too young…perhaps I should change it to a more rugged look?

With a 7 day itinerary, to complete a five day trip meant we had a shake down day at the start. And given that we had members from the USA, Australia and the UK meant there could be all sorts of problems with kit etc. So a tour in the Aiguille Rouge meant we could have a nice ski, answer any questions and allow the clients to know that I’m not as young as I look!

On the summit of Pigne d’Arolla, for some, the high point of the trip with a breathtaking view of the Alps.

On the summit of Pigne d’Arolla, for some, the high point of the trip with a breathtaking view of the Alps.

We were very fortunate on our traverse, we had fantastic weather throughout. Unfortunately our ski day into Zermatt beckoned foul weather so we knew we had a specific time window. We were unable to delay and make use of our 7th day because that was even worse! We needed to leave early, be efficient and have quick transitions. I think it was an 8+ transition day (transition - changing between skiing down hill to skinning or climbing uphill). We did it by the skin on our teeth! We got too our final transition (downhill all the way) and the cloud enveloped around us, leaving us with a rather precarious ski down through the glacier which homed huge crevasses. A huge relief for the whole team as we made it through in poor visibility.

Beers, burgers and cheers in Zermatt. We did it!

Our final day we had some nice powder skiing around Chamonix and was a great finish to the trip. Looking forward to more next year.

Alpine part 2 (and 3 - 6)...when will the season end?

This winter, what a season!  April has started and here in the Alps, it doesn't look like it's slowing down...or warming up as we would expect or hope for.  Even back at home it is looking to be a superb season and with no signs of slowing down either.

Since my last post there has been quite a lot going on.  In February I jetted off to Aurland in Norway working for Moran Mountain.  I had some of my regular clients along and working alongside some great friends made for a brilliant trip.  Ice climbing is always good fun.

Skiing in the Alps has been close to non stop.  Im just back from two hut to hut tours where we found some great snow but some rotten weather sometimes.  Before that, I was observing guides with their clients, helping out and trying to learn as much as possible from them.

Rock climbing season doesn't seem that far away so I have managed to squeeze in a couple of cragging sessions in after skiing...to hopefully remind myself of how to do it!

The winter season is very close to the end for me.  My final winter challenge is to pass my ski test.  This is a 6 day assessment based in the Alps.  Hopefully, the next time I post, I will be back in the UK with a big smile on my face.  Results on the 20th April.

After that I will be back in the UK working my socks off before I go into the final stage of becoming a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide.

Here are a few pictures...but in no particular order!

Tom topping out on a brilliant WI4

Day off with Donald.  Always an adventure.  Unfortunately we DNF this route.

Katya making her way up to join me on the first ascent of this route

Natcho bring some colour to yet another first ascent

A super WI5 with the strong Irish youth Neil

The WI5, mega route

A spot of leading for Neil (the youth)

Natcho and Neil organising themselves whilst leading Dambusters WI3

Natcho on the sharp end

Dream team from Alpine Guides.  Just before we set of on the Silvretta tour

The hut is this way....honest

More like it...

Good snow, good skiers, good times

Lori contemplating where to go next

Deserted ski resort in Val Stura in Italy

Neil pausing to take it all in

The team join me ready for the freshies on descent

Another day, another blank canvass

Great snow

Freshies, an overused but relevant word this season.

We found a hidden bunker...took some digging to get in

Filling the gaps

They were arguing about who gets to go next...there was plenty for everyone

a snowpack evaluation session

When the bed bugs hit!

Powder in Italy

More powder in the 'magic woods'

Vallee Blanche team

Skiing down to Italy with my mentor Andy Nelson

The client get to lead

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 horrendous...so 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



























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!
Is it winter yet?
Damn right it is!  Just looking out the window is enough evidence to suggest we are fully embraced in my favourite season of them all.  It seems like a silly question for mid January but as I have no winter routes under my belt so far it feels like winter hasn't even started yet.  A result of poor weather and condition's have meant I haven't been out climbing but also because I have been focussing on the next phase of inductions for the British Mountain Guides scheme.  Over the last two week I have been in the Alps working on improving my skiing technique, proving that I can ski at the required standard and then followed up with a 5 day avalanche course.
Guess the mountain game
We started of at a brilliant resort in Leysin in Switzerland for a 3 day ski technique course ran by Alex and Ivan.  These two guys are something else on ski's.  Its hard to describe how good they are but imagine skiing down as fast as you can, then look ahead and you will see Alex skiing backwards giving you tips on your technique as he weaves through the crowds on the piste...one one ski as well!  That is what 30+ years on skis will do for you.  He is also a coach for the Swiss ski teams.  We were in good hands.
Ivan strapping his boot up for an intense warm up!
Our group has 12 members, all of different abilities and backgrounds, some climbers, some instructors and some pro skiers.  Everyone was picking up good tips and knowledge off Alex and Ivan no matter what their ability.

After the 3 days in Leysin, I went to Samoens in France with Calum for two days skiing.  Unfortunately it was raining at all levels so we just did one day skiing and then had a late start and headed over to La Grave for the rest of the trip.
Who knows how to ski?
Our first day in La Grave was the Ski Induction.  A one day assessment of our skiing ability to make sure we haven't falsified our logbooks and that we are a suitable standard for the scheme.  Phew, we all passed and can continue onto the next stage of the scheme.

Misty conditions at La Grave
After we all passed our assessment we then went on and started a 5 day EAS avalanche course run by Mark Diggins (Top Man at SAIS), Bruce Goodlad (BMG Training officer), Nick Parks (BMG) and Peirre (Local Guide).  A collected wealth of experience and expertise meant we had a very informative course and we all took a great deal away from it.  I always believe it is worth doing as many avalanche courses as possible.
Digging snow profiles
Its getting cold, lets go!
Not only were we digging snow profiles and writing avalanche reports, we were also looking at safe travel through the mountains with groups and on skis.  So during the week we went on two mini ski tours looking at route choice, hazard identification and group management amongst many other topics.
Hands up for breaking trail? 
A safe place to be
A bit Scottish today
Le Meije.  A beautiful summit.  Cant wait to come back and climb it,
 So all in all, a great couple of weeks in the Alps but to be honest I am really glad to be back in Scotland.  The snow is here, routes are in conditions and I have a few days off before work really kicks in.  More pics HERE. 

One another note, I am very sad to hear two local climbers who I knew lost their lives in the mountains of Glencoe yesterday.  Thoughts and prayers go out to their families at this very tough time.  Rest in peace Simon and Joe, two very enthusiastic young lads.