Monday, 31 December 2012

The best way to spend New Years Eve...

Is to go skiing! Obviously.

After the long drive from Lancashire to Cham, the ski season is now truly underway. Keen to ease into it, Sophie, Tom, Sharon and I went to Les Houches yesterday and had a good afternoon ripping the pistes and finding the odd powder stash. Sharon and I finished the day with a quick skin up the Prarion peak, which may not have provided great skiing, but it always provides a fantastic view.

About to reach the summit of the Prarion

Today (New Year's Eve), we added Tristan to the team and went to Brevent. The pistes were lovely but very crowded and as ever the answer was to put a bit of effort in and do some uphill. In our case the effort was pretty minimal, as we skinned up to the Col Cornu and then the Col de la Gliere, a grand total of about 30 minutes. From there we skied some absolutely fantastic powder, which was so good that we went for a second lap. 

Tristan about to drop in

Sharon and Tristan loving it

Tristan. He's taken I'm afraid, ladies.

Sharon arriving at the col for a second lap.

The weather is looking pretty shoddy tomorrow, but I suspect that nobody would have been getting out early anyway after tonight's frivolities. About 20cm of snow is forecast for the afternoon/evening so hopefully the rest of the week will be epic. Stay posted for updates!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mountain World Ltd.

I'm now back in UK for the Christmas period, and already missing the Chamonix powder! Winter is still young though, so I'm sure there will be plenty more snow to come. 

This is just a quick note to publicise the company I've helped to start and have been quietly working on for a few months - Mountain World Ltd. We create and run expeditions, and have a few trips in the pipeline for the next year or 2, but the first one which is fully organised and ready to go is a trip to climb 4 peaks in Bolivia, finishing with the highest mountain in the Country (Sajama - 6542m). 

The trip is going to be from the 28th July to 18th August 2013, and costs £2950.00 (land only). Full details of the trip can be found here. I went to Bolivia a few years back (report from that trip here) and was blown away by the scenery, the quality of the peaks and the Country itself, and I've been really keen to get back ever since. Why not come along?! The website is, and the best way to get in touch about the trip is via

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, and check back for reports of epic powder days come the New Year. 

Monday, 10 December 2012


With almost continuous heavy snowfall over the last week, finding powder has been easier than avoiding it! 

Jack and I began the powder fest with a day of skiing from the Montenvers train, and were not disappointed. I'd never skied down from the train station and a bit of traversing and walking is required, but the terrain is great and the powder was bottomless. A good day by any measure. I took out my new headcam too, so there will be a video coming soon. 

Chamonix - not rubbish.

The weekend came around with lots of resorts in the region beginning to open, and we decided to leave it until the last minute to choose a destination. After much umming and ahhing (and waiting for Compagnie du Mont Blanc to update their website with lift status, grr) Sharon and I opted to walk about 3 minutes and go to Les Houches. Although not blessed with great terrain, Les Houches is very scenic and doesn't get tracked out quickly, and we had yet another excellent day in the company of Sam and Tristan. As it turned out the Montenvers never opened, and the Grand Montets opened, but only the telepherique was running and not the lower chairlift, so I'd imagine the queues were MASSIVE!

You know it's truly winter when only a fry up is good enough at breakfast time. 

Me in the powder at Les Houches. Photos Sharon Wray.

Next up was a day which started in Courmayeur and ended at Grand Montets. We headed over to Italy with high hopes of the top lifts opening, and providing us with miles of untracked snow, but they never opened and we bailed at lunchtime. The morning had provided some incredible snow, but the really good lines ended with some pretty horrific shuffling through trees, bushes and rocks, so we decided to leave it until there is a bit more snow over there. The terrain at Courmayeur is just so good though, and I can't wait until the lower sections have filled in enough.

After lunch we went to Grand Montets and skied a nice run down from the mid station. Not much at GM has been open and it showed in that the bottom section of the mountain (usually a bit of a "secret" area) was so tracked. Still, the snow quality was really good at all altitudes, so it should be great when they get a bit more open up there.

Generally everywhere needs a bit more base, but things are looking good considering that we're still only 10 days into December.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Snow - LOADS!

Winter seemed to be getting off to a bit of a slow start, but that all changed earlier this week when we got some major dumps of snow. As ever this caused chaos on the roads of Cham, but it has also meant that the ski season has well and truly started.

There was almost enough snow for a ski tour at the weekend, but not quite enough. Plenty for sledging though...

Today Jack, Heather, Bjarne and I went to check out Courmayeur and were rewarded with ridiculously deep powder. There were only 4 lifts open, all of them in the main bowl of the resort, but when the snow is that good and there are so few people about, 4 lifts is plenty. I'll let the photos doing the talking.

Off up to Montenvers for an explore tomorrow. Tom said it was awesome today, so it should be a good day.

I think Grand Montets is going to open this weekend, and some of the other lifts in Courmayeur were running although not open, so I suspect there will be a lot more terrain available there pretty soon. Slowly but surely, winter 2012/3 is getting underway. Let's hope it's a big 'un!

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Although the lifts aren't open here in Cham just yet, the various resorts of the Alps are slowly starting to open up as the snow line comes down lower and lower.

Keen to get out on the planks for a weekend, Sharon and I headed over to Cervinia, just above Aosta, and had 2 amazing days zooming around the pistes. There wasn't much good off piste, but with the groomed runs having perfect snow and with coverage all the way to the village, it didn't seem to matter.

We got awesome sunsets both days

Picnic lunch - the choice of winter champions

Final run all the way to the Valley

Courmayeur opened today (Saturday) and Jack reported good powder which became slushy at lunch but unfortunately I missed out due to moving house. Anyone who has done this will understand my pain, but we are now into the new place and keen to get skiing ASAP. 

Reports (of neck deep powder, no doubt) to follow...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Col Grand St Bernard and Pain de Sucre N face

It might be late November, and snow seems thin on the ground here in Cham, but the last couple of days have proved that there is already good skiing out there if you're willing to put the effort in.

On Wednesday Emma, Matt and I decided to go and have a look at the area around the Monastery at the Col Grand St Bernard, above Bourg St. Pierre. Parking up at the now derelict Super St Bernard ski area, we skinned up for about 1hr 45, and were soon scoffing soup, bread and superb cheese at the monastery (for 3 Euro each I might add! A real treat for those of us used to the extortionate prices charged in most huts). We had talked about carrying on and doing something else from the Monastery but opted for eating and drinking before simply skiing back down the snow covered road back to the car. 

There's plenty of history up at the Col

Emma and Matt skiing away from the Monastery

I thought I'd put this photo on for those odd people who prefer ice climbing to skiing - I'm guessing this sort of things floats their boat.

"We're all individuals"....."I'm not!!!"

Although we didn't do any touring past the Monastery, it was obvious that there was a lot more snow over there than there is in Cham, and with my appetite whet I decided to head back over today (Friday) for a solo mission to climb and ski the Pain de Sucre N face. The Pain de Sucre is not a well known peak, and at 2900m it isn't a very big one either, but it looks amazing from the Col Grand St Bernard, and the N face seemed a good bet for powder even 2 weeks after snowfall.

The skin up to the Monastery was pretty quick, and then I followed the road down the other side and into Italy, before hanging a right up into the bowl below Mont Fourchon. 

Looking across towards my destination - the Pain de Sucre is the obvious pointy peak in the middle of the photo.

Close up of the peak, showing my route up and down. 

There was a skin track for about the first half of the way up, but after that I was breaking trail through deep powder. That would be a pain normally, but it meant that I'd soon be skiing down the same powder, so I was pretty happy. 

The final ridge to the summit had to be tackled on foot, and with me up to my waist in snow it was tough but well worth it for the incredible view and the knowledge that I had an amazing ski to come. 

Looking across to the Mont Blanc Massif

I'm loving the panoramic setting on my new camera.


The ski down was indeed amazing, with light, fluffy powder for about 500m of vertical. Given that it's the third week in November and hasn't snowed for a fortnight, that felt pretty good but I was far too busy to take photos, so you'll have to take my word for it. It was so good to be skiing again, and even more so because of the quality of snow I found. The line itself is great too, with a short pitch of steepish snow just near the top, and then lots of sheltered little powder filled gullies.

There is a huge amount of really interesting looking skiing in the area around the Pain de Sucre, so I've no doubt I'll be back before the lifts open in Cham in mid December. 

In summary - skiing rocks.

Back in the happy place

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


After 7 weeks away, I'm now back in Cham and loving every second of it. The snow hasn't really arrived yet but it feels like winter, with the temperature low and a heavy frost on the ground until the middle of the day. Climbing conditions look superb in the hills right now, but with the Montenvers train being the only lift open, access is going to be tough. That said, there are plenty of options for those willing to walk (things have to be pretty good for me to be in that category) so I'll be looking to get out ASAP. In the meantime I have a little plan for some skiing tomorrow...

The last 7 weeks have been pretty frantic, and there is a report on my trip to Nepal here, and I'll be adding a report soon about the Wilderness First Responder course that I did last week. For anyone interested it is a superb course (and one I should have done a long time ago), so email me if you have any questions about it.

In the meantime, here's a few gratuitous mountain shots from Nepal -

Annapurna S face

Tent Peak base camp after a dump of fresh snow

Our high point on Tent Peak - it's not the summit but the view made up for it

Langtang Lirung at sunset

Chris Rounds just below the summit of Naya Kanga

Sunset over Langtang and Shishapangma

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Perrons de Vallorcine traverse

With snow down to around 1600m and only one good day forecast, John Vincent and I were scratching our heads for an objective on Friday and eventually decided to go for a look at the Perrons de Vallorcine traverse. The Perrons are the peaks immediately left of the Emosson Dam (as you look at it from Vallorcine), just over the Swiss border, and the traverse of them is pretty steady but (according to Matt and Gary) absolutely amazing, with easy scrambling in a fantastic position. We weren't sure that the route would be dry, but with no other ideas of what to do with the day, we took a chance and went for a look. 

From the Emosson dam we were pleased to see that the route was dry, although it did look an awful long way away! The walk in is indeed pretty long but it didn't help that we completely missed the key path and ended up scrambling for 2 hours up a combination of heather, steep grass and broken rock. You can't win them all.

Looking up at the Pointe du Van from the Emosson Dam

Eventually we found ourselves on the ridge below the Pointe du Van, and were soon on top and looking at the Perrons traverse. (The guidebook describes an approach which takes you around the Pointe du Van but if you go over it you theoretically get more scrambling and less walking. It does rather depend on finding the path though...) As Matt had mentioned, the traverse looks pretty long and difficult from the start, and when John asked whether I'd brought a headtorch, I wasn't sure if he was joking. I'd been assured though that looks are deceiving, and that every section looks like it's going to be death defying and then turns out to be easy.

Reaching the top of the Grand Perron is pretty steady, and a few abseils then lead down to the foot of the Pointe Vouilloz. Matt and Gary had apparently soloed every inch of the route (save for the abseils), but unfortunately the initial section on the Vouilloz is on the N face, and was covered in snow when we got there, so we had to use some time roping up and then climbing some low angled but slippery slabs, before rejoining the ridge and following more easy terrain to the summit.

Me on the easy scrambling on the Grand Perron

John heading for the Grand Perron

Me enjoying some warm rock climbing on the N face of the Pointe Vouilloz. Photo John Vincent.

COLD HANDS!!! Photo John Vincent.

John emerging back into the sun, with the Grand Perron behind. 

Back on steady terrain, but still on the chilly N face.

From the top of the Grand Perron, there are a couple of very exposed abseils, and the key is to go from the first bolted belay down to the next bolted belay, and skip out the crappy tat around a block which is about 10m down the first abseil. The supposed "crux" of the route is climbing up to the Ifala, the final peak on the ridge. Once again the N side was snowy and so we had to rope up briefly to regain the ridge, but I think that slightly steeper nature of the rock made it easier than the earlier slabs on the Grand Perron. Once back on the ridge of the Ifala there is some easy but exposed scrambling to the summit, et voila!

Me on the final summit ridge. Photo John Vincent.

On top of the Ifala, looking back at the traverse.

Despite getting hopelessly lost on the approach, we were on the summit less than 5.5 hours after leaving the car, which seemed ridiculous when we got to the Pointe du Van as the route just looks so unlikely. It makes a nice change for things to look much harder than they turn out to be, and even after finishing the route it seems amazing that you could have covered the ground so fast.

Unfortunately the descent is a bit of a grind, and it took us nearly 2 hours despite going constantly and not making any route finding errors, but with the amazing views and with a great route in the bag it doesn't seem too much of a chore.

The route has amazing views from start to finish.

Looking up at the traverse from the walk out.

Overall this is a fantastic route, particularly in autumn when the trees are brown, the high mountains often out of condition, and the cable cars shutting down. It looks impossible from below, and even when you're on the route, but it is always pretty easy and takes in some great scrambling in an unbelievably exposed position, with great views in all directions. I leave for Nepal on Tuesday, and if this is last thing I do this summer then I'll be happy. Thanks John for a great day and thanks to Matt and Gary for the beta. A good topo can be found here -  - so there are no excuses left for anyone not to do this route!

The Emosson Lake late in the day.

Unfortunately this is going to be another post with a sad finish, as more bad news has come out of Nepal in the last couple of days. I didn't know anyone in the plane crash, but a couple of the people killed were raising money for Bolton Lads and Girls Club, a great cause and one I've had a slight involvement with as I went to school in Bolton and earlier this year led a trip to Morocco where everyone was raising money for the club. I know a few people who are heavily involved in fundraising for the club, and I'm thinking of them today. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Saas Fee skiing, Passy Via Ferrata & sad news from Nepal

The weather here in Cham is frankly awful right now, with heavy rain bouncing down outside and no sign of a let up. However, the end of last week was pretty good, and Tom and I went over to Saas Fee to once again make the most of the free lift passes. Unfortunately the summer skiing isn't included, but we were aiming for 4000ers anyway, so it was no great problem. 

It turned out that there was a lot more snow in Cham than in Saas, so we didn't find much great skiing and did plenty of walking in ski boots, but had a good time and scoped out some ideas for next winter...

Me skiing off the top of the Allallinhorn. Photo Tom Grant

The weekend saw more unsettled weather, so Sharon and I shot out during a clear spell to go do the Passy Via Ferrata. I'd never done a via ferrata but thought it was fun, and well worth knowing about if there's a few hours spare and you need some exercise. 

Sharon on the Passy Via Ferrata

The dreaded foehn wind is said to be arriving this week, which as ever will bring warm temperatures to all altitudes and make everything pretty unpredictable and unsettled. Bugger. It looks like tomorrow and Wednesday could be OK though so let's see.

Finishing on a sad note, it seems that Cham has probably lost 2 great skiers over in Nepal, with the disappearance of Remy Lecluse and Greg Costa. I didn't know either of them but had chatted to Remy before and found him a really personable and friendly guy, and he was without doubt one of the most accomplished skiers in Chamonix, which is saying something. The news from Nepal, plus the death of Stephane Brosse in May means that it's been a bad year for french extreme skiing, with 2 of it's greatest names being lost in the space of 6 months. Skiing will carry on regardless but the sport, and Cham, will be poorer for this news.