Category Archives: Alpine Climbing

Piz Badile North Face Cassin Route

The weather has been fabulous! It has been hot, hot, hot. With a week free to go climbing with my friend and fellow guide Mike Powers, we chose the Cassin route on the Piz Badile. Temperatures in the valley were 30+ degrees, so this looked to be a perfect window to climb a north face. The route was beautiful! Though the hut seemed ridiculously expensive compared with camping in the Val de Mello on the other side, we enjoyed our afternoon on the terrace of the Sasc Furä, gazing at the north face and surfing the internet!!! There looked to be around 5 other groups heading up, plus a few others bivying above the hut. Most groups would be climbing the North Ridge.

We left the hut at 4:15 and arrived at the foot of the face at 6AM. I had a few good topos of the climb. Marcel Dettling had given me a pdf of a drawing he made. It proved to be quite accurate. Though we were quite surprised at the scramble up to the ridge. This would have slowed me down had I been roped up with a client. After down climbing, rappelling, then traversing to the base of the route, the first pitch started with good climbing right away. We opted for the Rebuffat Dihedral. A bit of layback on small foot holds got us to 2 pitches of cruisey climbing. Then some delicate climbing below Cassin’s first bivy got us off route. Some nice person had fixed a rope to get climbers back on route. I can’t imagine this will remain in place much longer though. It was looking a bit frayed. So stay left like the topo says. Duh!

Climbing to the “Noon Ledge” was again quite easy. But here starts some steep climbing with the hardest moves at 6a. The rock is marvelous and varied. It makes for sundry climbing , always asking for different movements and preparation. There were many opportunities to place friends and rocks.

A 70 meter pitch got us to 2 pitches of chimneys, the first of which I found super awkward!!! Lucky Mike got this lead. 🙂 We hit the ridge after a couple of fine pitches. 12:00 high noon. Then we moved together to reach the summit. 5 hours later found us back at our tent in the Val di Mello enjoying cold beer and pizza!

Frendo Spur

Looking up from Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi, Vadim asks, “Is there a route up there we can do together Hans?” Of course I immediately thought about the Frendo Spur, number 62 in the “100 best of” by Gaston Rébuffat. Anyone out there collecting points from this classic guide to the Mont Blanc Group? Without even looking at it beforehand, I realized we did 3 this week- 23, 42, and 62!

We took the second lift of the morning from Chamonix, arriving at the mid station of Plan de l’Aiguille at 7AM. From here, it’s about 45 minutes to the base of the route. The neve steepens, and one wants to traverse right to stay out of the line of fire from the seracs above, to the left of the Frendo spur. There was still good, hard snow on the two initial ramps, allowing us rapid progress up. At some point, as the second ramp steepens, one goes right, up some steep blocks and chimneys over something called the râteau de chévre. I never did find it, instead settling on the excellent Hawaiian Variant. A couple of moves on hands and knees near the end of this fine variant, and we were in the sun on the other side of the spur. From here, we climbed quickly together on super mellow terrain. It was fun to scramble rapidly up, gaining lots of height with each step. When the rock steepend, we scooted left again and found more good scrambling and a few nice moves of 3+ – 4. The key passage at the tiny col was a quite obvious dihedral blocked by a little overhang on its left. Three pitons allowed us to French Free this is fine style. Then we pitched out 4-6 rope lengths on super nice rock. A super hard aid move to get over a silly block, of which no guide book ever mentioned, got us on a line to get around even further left and within view of the final snow and ice pitches. Putting crampons on again, we climbed together up the steep knife ridge. As it steepened and the ice became more apparent under the snow, I slapped in a screw and started running out pitches again. The ice was superb! It felt like the finest icy desert to an already fine meal of rock. My Nomics were happy to sink their teeth into some alpine ice after months sleeping under Anya’s bed.

We stepped over the top, into another world. Climbers all over the place, heading up to the Midi lift, heading down to the Cosmique hut, people talking, carabiners clinking, full-on sun… and the lift to take us back down to Chamonix for beer and a Chinese meal! And all this just to save on the lift pass from the mid-station to the top!!!

The Grand Jorasses

Descending into in the Larch forests filling the valley floor, I’m aware of the dwindling roar of the cascading waters from the Freney and Brouillard glaciers and conscious of the birds, the trickling water and soft sounds of my feet on the pine needles of the forest bed. Spending a few days high in these hills, and sleeping in these friendly Italian huts, provides one with such a fine feeling of alpine environments. It’s not until you return to the valley floor that you become fully conscience of the sights and sounds that have been with you.

Vadim is back with more intriguing stories of Moscow, Russia, and trips to South America and more. He is so interested in peoples of other cultures, how they prepare their food, the plants they use, and how they cope with different situations. It’s a luxury for me to spend time with him.

We climbed the Ottoz route on the Aiguille Croux from the Refugio Menzino, a 13 pitch, pure rock route, to get acclimatized for our 4000er, the Grand Jorasses. With a maximum move of 6a, this route has an alpine feel to it, yet with only and hour and a half approach from the hut. Armando, the guardian,  is super nice, and has great tips for doing many great climbs from here, including some of the wild routes to the top of the Mont Blanc.

Conditions on the Jorasses were excellent. The huge area of seracs, which discourages many from heading this way, did not look too menacing. And I’d spotted a line from our previous outing that took us left of the main group of seracs. We climbed to the unguarded hut of Bocalatte in three hours the first day. What a pleasure it was to be completely alone in this part of the Alps. While climbers are scrambling all over themselves on the popular routes, we were all alone in this hut. A tiny MSR stove and a bit of pasta kept us satisfied, eating our dinner looking over the glacial ice tumbling down beneath our feet.

We got going the next day at a leisurely 5 AM, with dawn fully cracked. The snow on the glacier was nicely crampon-able, and the rock on the Rocher du Reposoir was warm and dry. A few moves of 3+ got us up and over towards flatter terrain and then onto a snowy ridge. A little serac blocked our traverse to the second rock rib descending from the Whymper, so I was happy to have my “piolet traction” to help me up this little vertical step. The rest of the route to the top was real straight forward. It was magnificent to look own into France, with all her glaciers winding away. Thanks for the trip Vadim!

Jungfrau and Rothorn warm ups

Wanting to complete our plans after traversing the Drus last year, Vadim has returned to climb the Grands Jorasses. But the 50+ cenitmeters of fresh snow and high winds, have put an end to that.

We had a few nice climbs at mid elevations, then a couple nice peaks- the Jungfrau above Grindelwald, and the Rothorn, above Zermatt. Both were in great shape, which was a pleasant surprise. It snowed the day we arrived at the Rothorn Hut. But by the next day, most of it had melted from the rocks on the SW ridge, yet stayed put where we needed to crampon. The rock climbing above 4000 meters was on perfect granite!

Today we climbed above Verbier on the Pierre Avoi. 8 pitches of fine limestone has given us the desire for more fun in the hills.

The weather is forecasted to hold for the next 2 days, then turn cooler. High winds are forecasted from Thursday. Not many pictures…