BLOG: Dangerous Snow in the Alps: Avalanche Course: AIARE Level 1

The last three days have seen me studying snow in Chamonix on a AIARE Level One avalanche course run by Liz and Miles Smart of Smart Mountain Guides.

Miles Smart teaching how to dig pits to check the snow pack up at Brevent
Miles Smart teaching how to dig pits to check the snow pack up at Brevent

With a very bad snow pack problem in many parts of the alps this year, it was a great time to go on such an in depth course.

There have been many deaths this winter already in the alps, with huge avalanches being reported in the general media (see this Guardian Report).

Miles finds his layer of facets from December 19th
Miles finds his layer of facets from December 19th – note this block of snow is being held upside down. The large snow crystals on the top of the block are the faceted layer you can see in the video below.

A major part of the problem is a persistent weak layer in the snow pack from back on the 19th of December. You can see us finding this layer in the video below.

I certainly don’t feel qualified to comment further on the current conditions here in Chamonix, as the situation is so complex, but suffice to say the season is not an amazing one for skiing big lines! Stay out of avalanche terrain! Happy skiing.


A Professional Climber?

Justin Roth over on the Stonemind Blog has written a thoughtful piece on being a professional climber.

Interesting stuff:

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! 🙂

Blog: Back from Patagonia and VIDEO: Alex Schweikart – 7b Crack – Couteray

I’ve just got back from a 3 week trip to Patagonia in South America. More pictures, videos and info to come from that trip. Suffice to say we had a great time, but terrible weather!

The last few days back in Chamonix have been excellent, with blue skies and great skiing with Emily.

Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!
Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!

Whilst I was away in Patagonia I had a lot of time to spend on my laptop, but no internet connection. I used my time to work on video filming and editing skills (thanks Matt Pycroft!) and have a couple of short videos to put up on here from old footage and lots of ideas and skills for new videos for this year.

The first of the archive material is German powerhouse Alex Schweikart on a 7b roof crack at Couteray in Vallorcine, France. I shot this in the spring of 2011! If only I knew then what I know now. Anyway, here it is, I hope Alex enjoys it.

Big HELLO! to Alex and Chrissi wherever they may be!

More videos and articles from Patagonia to come soon – ciao.


VIDEO: Solo on the Sea Cliffs! Marmot ‘Hand Picked’ Gogarth Classics

Earlier in the year I was filmed for a video for my main sponsor Marmot. The video is part of a series featuring each of the UK Marmot sponsored climbers, climbing some classic routes in their favourite climbing areas.

In this video I solo the classic Gogarth route ‘A Dream of White Horses’, and the nearby ‘Electric Blue’ at Rhoscolyn.

The day out filming with Ian Burton of Image Impossible was a lot of fun, and I believe the whole series was inspired by the video I did last year of Almscliff in Yorkshire.

It was a lot of fun climbing these routes as they are both so good, and this was one of the least stressful days of climbing filming I have done. I hope you enjoy!

Big thanks to Marmot and Ian Burton!

VIDEO: Classic Gritstone Soloing – The Big E3s at Almscliff

As part of some research for a article I went out to Almscliff in Yorkshire – one of the best gritstone crags from my home area.

The crag is just awesome, with perfect quick drying rock and brilliant routes at all grades. I love it!

Ian Burton from Image Impossible captured some of my soloing on camera, and here is a great little video with some high routes and a bit of crag history. I hope you enjoy it.

VIDEO: Gravediggers E8 6c – Big Falls!

In the summer of 2008 a crew of climbers in North Wales were pretty psyched on On Sight climbing – and here we go for Gravediggers (E8 6c) at first onsight, then ground-up.

It’s a hard and scary route, and taking the fall was pretty gripping, but we got there in the end!

We didn’t actually fall off as many times as it looks in this video, it’s just the way it’s edited… honest. We didn’t top rope or inspect the route in any way, we just inched further up the wall taking big falls on to the dodgy gear. Gripping!

This clip was part of Alastair Lee’s excellent On Sight DVD.

VIDEO: Marmot Tempo Jacket Review

The new Mallorca Rockfax guide has just been released and I got my hands on a copy last week.

I was in Mallorca a couple of years ago on a photo trip with Rockfax and then again last September on a Deep Water soloing trip. Consequently there are quite a few photographs of mine in the guide and also quite a few photos of me – including the cover!

The New 2011 Mallorca Guide – Sport and DWS

The photo is by Mark Glaister and is of me at El Fumat. El Fumat is a huge crag with some single pitch sport routes that, whilst being 35m long, barely tickle the start of the rock. Also just around the corner, a continuation of the crag looks like it would give amazing trad climbing in a stunning setting – up to 5 pitches high and perfect limestone. You heard it here first!

I have just been on another photo-trip, this time to the Costa Blanca, which was a great success and am now back in Chamonix for a few weeks before the BMC International meet in Wales and also a Marmot Athletes meet also in Wales. Then back out to Chamonix for the summer.

The front cover of Mallorca also reminded me of this video review I did of the Marmot Tempo Jacket a couple of years ago – as that’s what I have got on in the photo. How cringy is it watching videos of yourself.

The weather in Chamonix is really warm at the moment, so most people have now switched from winter sports back to rock climbing, which suits me fine. The first couple of weeks back on the rock are always hard after a big lay off, but the fitness is returning – hopefully in time to either climb a new route in Wales or at least clean up some unfinished business on one of my remaining projects. Time will tell.

Right – I’m off bouldering on some granite.