A couple of summers ago Hazel and I nabbed a nice little first ascent here in the Chamonix valley. We climbed the front face of the rock spire the Aiguille de Saussure.
It was a bit of a faff to get to, involving some serac threatened traversing (which we did our best to avoid as much as possible), then quite a long abseil to reach the tower.
The tower is on the flank of Mont Blanc du Tacul, and the Aigulle de Saussure summit is 3839m in altitude. Despite the altitude we got warm temperatures on the rock face. I was climbing in just my Driclime windshirt and a base layer. Fortunately this meant a comfortable bivvy, unfortunately the warm temperatures did mean the ice couloir was a stream, check out the video.
It was a great little adventure, a beautiful bivvy, and nice to bag a new route right above Chamonix.
Anyway, with a lot of time on my hands on my recent trip to Patagonia I revisited the footage from the ascent and decided that there was enough half decent stuff to put a short video together.
Here it is:
Climbing with Hazel is always really great fun and I am looking forward to doing some sunny limestone sport climbing with her this spring.
There aren’t many professional climbers out there, and there are even less that are making a real living. A real salary is even harder to come by over here in Europe than it is over in the USA, and it does seem that there are much larger marketing budgets for athletes in the States. But are things changing for professional climbers?
Semi professional climber James McHaffie did mention to me the other week that he hasn’t seen budgets like we are seeing now for climbers since the late 90’s – which is surely a good thing. But we are still not talking about real salaries, we are talking about a few thousand pounds. Still a very useful cash boost for those who want to take time off from work to pursue climbing to a higher level, but not enough to put money away in a retirement plan.
In the more expensive areas of climbing, such as expedition climbing and alpinism, I have noticed that those who excel are those who have managed to gain a huge amount of experience. And how have they funded this experience? Usually through being wealthy.
Perhaps with more money available for ‘professional’ climbers, we may see more of a shift in the social backgrounds of those at the higher end of mountaineering, as we have already seen in rock climbing post war.
Speaking now of staying closer to home, it doesn’t cost a fortune to go cragging on the gritstone, but with brands looking for global appeal, and pushing their marketing via the of course global ‘internet’, will local climbing ever really be exciting enough again to satisfy a cash sponsor? Will hard local cragging be left to the driven and passionate amateurs, whilst the professionals blow their travel budgets on trips to exotic photo destinations?
When I watched Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat go on a road trip to Fontainebleau in the now iconic film The Real Thing, going all the way to France seemed like an exotic luxury that I would never afford to do. These days my Facebook feed is swamped with photos of friends in far flung places.
Have I changed? Undoubtedly! Has climbing also changed? Also undoubtedly!
On a lighter note: my favourite professional climber is Hazel ‘The Pro’ Findlay. I have a fun video of Hazel and I climbing a new route in the Alps – it will be going up on the blog when I have resolved some IT issues.
Until then here is some of the jibber-jabber I have edited out from the real video! 🙂
Back in the spring I was on the fitness train, and it was going well. Arriving in the UK I felt good, climbed a few routes I wanted to do, including a new one at Gogarth. I enjoyed my trip to the UK, but although five weeks of trad climbing in wet weather was fun, it didn’t do much for my fitness.
Since arriving back in France a few weeks ago, I have been coasting along, working a lot, and climbing a bit, but not getting the ‘bit between my teeth’. I think it is good to by cyclic in training/climbing, and after a high point, it’s best to mentally chill out for a while. Okay, that’s enough chilling out, back on the fitness train.
To kick start the lactic acid I nipped to Ceuse for a couple of days with a fun team including Sandra, the golden girls Hazel and Maddy, the elusive Jude and the ever-young Alan. I managed to throw myself off the top of several 8as, which was somewhat telling in terms of endurance. Oh dear! But it was such fun!
The highlight of the weekend in climbing terms was seeing Maddy totally ‘killing it’ and climbing really well.
As my trip to the Himalaya is looming in only 6 weeks, I have a really limited window to achieve a hard rock route this summer, but I think I can up my game slightly, and get something ticked around Chamonix, if all goes according to plan. A five week intensive training mission is about to commence, but I need a project to focus on. Hmm, what to do, what to do?!
I think I will also have time for 1 more weekend trip to climb something fun, so psyche is generally high. Lets Smash! 🙂
It all started with a screech of tyres, RnB pumping out of a stereo, and an exhaust so loud that any nearby seracs were falling like apples from a tree. Quite how her car made it all the way to Chamonix I will never understand, but right on queue, Hazel Findlay landed in town, with a thirst for adventure and a hot-wired Citroen Saxo.
The Findlay-Geldard Route. 600m. Maximum difficulties encountered: E5 Rock, Scottish VI,6 Mixed.
The Aiguille de Saussure is a rock spire above the Glacier des Bossons, on the side of Mont Blanc du Tacul. A triangle of perfect granite, it is easily visible from Les Houches, and piques the interest of many climbers’ eyes.
According to my research, it didn’t have a route up its beautiful orange front face. The original route follows a spiral of weakness, following large cracks and chimneys, and the only other route I could find out about involves some aid climbing and finishes up the original line.
What a cool place to do some new trad climbing!
The upper headwall of the spike itself is quite small, perhaps 200 – 250m in height, but the access is tricky. In wintery conditions it is possible to abseil to a point way below the spike from Mont Blanc du Tacul, which is the normal access for the famous but rarely climbed Afanasieff-Bodin Gully, a front cover route adorning the Snow, Ice and Mixed guidebook.
This is the approach Hazel and I first checked out, but unfortunately it was under constant stonefall, and the gully was dry in its lower half (we were kind of expecting this). Our plan changed, and we climbed the side of Mont Blanc du Tacul and abseiled in from the very top of the gully to reach the breche between the mountain and the Aiguille de Saussure. From there we abseiled down the rock spike itself to reach the ledge system below the headwall. Game on.
We chose a line up the centre of the front face, following our noses as we climbed, and not necessarily taking the easiest way, but climbing what we thought looked like the best pitches. Hazel made a couple of good leads, one being a poorly protected face-climbing pitch, the other a loose chimney/offwidth pitch. I opted for a perfect hand crack! 😉
Once on top, a short abseil lands you in the breche, which gives reasonably comfortable options for bivvy sites. It was essential for us to bivvy here, as the gully was in a dangerous condition anytime after noon, so we bedded down until 5am to get the upper ice at least semi-frozen.
The first pitch to get in the gully proper proved a little problematic, as all the ice had melted out of what would have been a great 85 degree ice pitch, leaving some thin and loose mixed climbing instead – meaning an engaging breakfast for me. Once in the gully proper, a few hundred metres of Scottish 4 and then 2/3 led us virtually to the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul.
So, in short: a fun new route in the Mont Blanc Range (you don’t get those everyday!) with some tricky free climbing, and some nice ice romping.
Getting the gully in better condition would probably mean freezing hands on the rock, so we think we struck a good compromise.
Also it is entirely possible that the face has been climbed before, but we are 99% sure that the line we took would be new, as we followed fun features to give exciting technical free climbing, as opposed to the very easiest way.
—————————————- Horace-Bénédict de Saussure
We assume the peak is named after the famous Alpinist, who made the third ascent of Mont Blanc. You can read more about him on Wikipedia. Here he is below:
Saturday and Sunday of climbing instruction and coaching, with a lecture and slideshow by Jack, Hazel and James on the Saturday night.
The weekend course is split in to different topics, and the group will move between the three coaches engaging in multiple different sessions per day.
Topics covered include:
Gear for trad and gear for harder trad. Looking at individual’s gear/rock shoes, double ropes, rack choice, general gear placement. More advanced coaching on specialist kit, racking systems, pre-placing, advanced techniques.
Intro to self rescue. Escaping the system. Assisted hoists. Basic rescue techniques. The essential skills that every climber should have, but who actually practices them?
Crack Climbing Masterclass. Hand, foot and finger jamming. Offwidths, chimneys and other horror-shows. Trad climbing often involves a lot of these techniques, which are often overlooked.
Mental Aspects of General Climbing and of Trad. Falling off, when and how to do it, and when not to do it! Real danger vs perceived danger.
Physical training for climbing and specifically for trad. How to use walls, sport climbing, bouldering and trad routes to improve your climbing. How to set realistic and useful goals, asses your performance and write your own training schedule.
Final De-Brief. Discussion with one of the coaches on your own individual goals and areas to work on. Formulate a tailored plan to advance your climbing after the weekend.
NB: Food and accommodation (and if required an entrance fee to a local climbing wall), are not included in the weekend. The climbers and coaches will meet in Llanberis, North Wales in the morning, travel to local climbing venues for the day’s sessions, and return to Llanberis in the evenings. The slideshow on the Saturday night will be held locally to Llanberis, and it is most likely that the coaches will be going for a local pub dinner if you would care to join us!
So, it seems the ski season is finally drawing to a close, well for me at least. I have dug out my rock shoes, booked a physio appointment, and girded my slightly snowy loins in preparation for the coming rock season.
A shoulder injury has kept me on the bench since last October, and I am hoping to come back to climbing next week in Catalunya, Spain. I have had a few days out on the rock (literally just a few) in the last couple of weeks and have managed to get back up to a reasonable standard pretty quick, so here’s to some 8th grade routes in Spain.
However the last few weeks have been really great in the mountains too, with a work trip to Cogne to hook up with Tim Emmett for some ice climbing being a lot of fun, ending in us simul-climbing a classic icefall after the photos and general work stuff had finished.
“I promise I won’t fall off mate!”
It was really motivating to hang out with Tim, and also the group of Guides working on this event, and gain some psyche for big projects.
Here’s a video I made of Tim whilst on the event:
Also resident in Chamonix was Hazel ‘The Pro’ Findlay. Hazel, being a professional climber, has some alpine ambitions and took it upon herself to improve her skiing so that she can access some mountain lines more easily. Needless to say within just a few days she was ‘totally killing it’ and could only be described as ‘the best skier on the mountain’.
Hazel and I did do some ski/ice combinations, but work, weather and psyche prevented us from getting a high mountain route done this time round. Perhaps later in the season.
Also on the ice front, I had a photo-shoot to do with legendary photographer Jon Griffith, which was done in minus 20 conditions, but still a lot of fun. Actually it was the first time I had put a rope on for about 4 months due to the shoulder, so I was bricking it!
Photos from the Ice Shoot:
And a couple of rock climbing photos from the recent warmer weather:
Wish me luck in Spain, can I climb an 8b after only 6 days back on the rock? We shall see!! 🙂