Category Archives: Alpine Climbing

Aiguille de Chardonnet

After a full month’s hiatus in Hawaii with my two kids, Anya and Kevin, Ton and I climbed the Aiguille de Chardonet in what seemed to be one of the finest days this summer. The weather has been mostly cold and wet, breaking many records for precipitation.

We left the Trient Hut at 3:00 AM under a half moon and crystal clear skies. There was not a breath of wind, making the sub-zero temperature feel mild. Walking across the Trient Plateu towards the Col Superior de Tour on a soft bed of 10cm of consolidated snow was magical. The lights twinkled in the valley below while the stars tried their best to illuminate our path with the moon. Passing through the shadow of the west facing col, we used headlamps again. I’ve never seen conditions so good for mid-summer. The 20cm of fresh snow was forgiving, offering good traction on the 30 degree slope. We still haven’t put on crampons!. Headlamps off again in the moonlight, we see 4 other parties ahead of us, having left from the Albert Première Hut. An hour later, we gain the “Boss” as the sun comes over the horizon. I feel the energy in me surge as this magical moment quickly passes. Gaining the ridge proper, the real technical climbing begins. Our pace slows with the harder moves on snow covered rock. With 4 parties ahead, we are forced to wait at each tough section. We gain the summit at high noon exactly, so happy to be outside and on top on this splendid day.

The descent involves short roping down sustained slopes, then 3 rappels of 30 meters to arrive onto the glacier. Zigzagging between crevasses and overhangs, the route finally “let’s up” on the flat Tour Glacier at 3100 meters. flat  Conditions were excellent for all the snowy parts but challenging on the rock sections.

Chardonnet -A short video clip of us going up onto the Boss. It may take a minute or two to load depending on your connection.

Arete de Salion and Grand Cornier

Autumn is in the air with snow forecasted to 1800 meters Wednesday. I feel lucky to have squeezed in two superb alpine climbs this past week with Jason and Joe. ISM asked me to take this week for them, and I was super happy to work for this long time guide’s office.

The first route we did was the Arete de Salion, running up the west side of this big ridge, separating the Arolla valley from the Ferpecle basin in the Val d’Herens. Danielle has made the private Tsa hut quite cosy, giving one the feeling of being lodged in her own home. We left the hut at a leisurely 7:30AM to allow the rock to warm a little before touching it with our bare hands. What followed, was one of the finest climbs I have done, high on an alpine ridge, in these Pennine Alps. One normally “short-ropes” long sections of easy scrambling. But on this Arete de Salion, we climbed and climbed and climbed on great rock. I “pitched out” almost every 30 meters with my 37 meter long rope. Placing a few nuts and cams helped secure any of the moderate moves, with a handful of well placed bolts helping me “French Free” the most difficult moves. The bonus of this wonderful climb was the walk right off the top, onto a flat glacier, eventually leading to the Berthol hut, and another woman guardian’s touch to a homey atmosphere and great lasagna!

Our second route was the South Ridge on the Grand Cornier. We decided to traverse this not-quite-4000er. Packing a few edibles from the valley floor, we climbed 5 hours to the supremely isolated Bivouac de Dent Blanche at the foot of the monster Dent Blanche. What a fine evening we had, all alone in a high col, surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains around. We set off at 6:30AM the next morning, greeted with fresh surface hoar on all the westerly facing rocks on the ridge! Foot placement after fine inspection was a great idea to keep from slipping off. Half way along this 1 kilometer, alpine ridge, the sun was finally warming nooks and crannies, allowing us the fine moves to the dihedral on the fore summit. Finishing off the north ridge, we descended through perfectly white snow, still coated with last night’s surface hoar, down to the immense Moiry Hut. Yvan, with whom I finished my guide’s courses, is the guardian of this mountain hotel, catering to the heavy day traffic this hut sees, with his wife and two kids, home schooled by his wife Lidia. What fantastic views this hut has onto the wild Moiry Glacier.

A leisurely start the next day, took us over the Col de Couronne and down to Forclaz, where Ramond was nice enough to give me a lift back to my car at Ferpecle. Merci Ramond, for the lift, your awesome croute au fromage, and good stories of climbing with friends on the Douves Blanches.

The Matterhorn

I guided 16 year old Mattie to the top of the Matterhorn Thursday. It was an amazing day despite the normal high season crowds. Mattie did an incredible job pushing herself hard to get to the top of this most spectacular peak in a day. And most importantly, she performed very well on the descent, safely down climbing the tricky sections and sustaining the power and energy needed to get back to the hut. Though the Matterhorn is “only” rated AD III, making it to the top of this steep peak is not an easy task. One must be sure footed, able to transition quickly from scrambling to climbing, and have the endurance to keep moving quickly for 8-10 hours.

We climbed the Hornli Route. Conditions were almost perfect. Because of the snowfall on Monday, there was more snow on the lower rocks than I would like. We put our crampons on just below the shoulder, which is quite normal. I believe the ideal time of year to climb this peak is early (June) or late (September) season. The main reason is to avoid the large number of other climbers on this popular route, which is becoming a real danger. This year, the Hornli Hut can accommodate fewer climbers. The plan is to close the hut next year for the construction of the new hut. But to imagine there will be a new hut, able to accommodate even more climbers in the future, makes me think that some system will be required to limit the number of climbers on this peak each day.

Climbing the Matterhorn is a dream of many budding alpinists. With proper training, it is well within the reach of many. For those coming from afar, it is popular to combine the Matterhorn with the Eiger and Mont Blanc, to do what has become known as the Alpine Trilogy. These three popular routes see far more traffic than any other mountains in the Alps. But in the off-season, they are super fun climbs, when you may even find yourself alone on the mountain.

Summer has arrived in the Alps

After an incredibly cool and wet spring, summer has arrived to these Alps. For the first time this year, steady daytime temperatures at 1500 meters are above 20 degrees. It warms the soul to see the look on everyone’s face and feel the relaxed attitude as people sit outside socializing in the evening. Verbier is filling again with people as the Music Festival gets into full swing.

After a 2 week rock climbing trip to the sea, I’ve had the opportunity to do some guiding on a few alpine routes and hikes. Vadim and I climbed the north face of the Tour Ronde between Chamonix and Courmeyeur before spending some time in Zermatt and Grindelwald. Then I did a mini Haute Route with the Summers over 3 days, alpine trecking from Mauvoisin to Chanrion, over the Pigne d’Arolla and down to Arolla. The conditions on the high glaciers are better then I have ever seen them in the 30+ years I have been here. Snow remains low on the glaciers and above 3000 meters, the skiing is still excellent!

I will be in Verbier all summer offering introductory climbing camps to people of all ages, leading people on a number of Alpine Hikes around this and neighboring valleys, and of course guiding on the 4000ers. Please contact me for detailed information.