Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label Haute Route. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Haute Route. Show all posts

Sunday, 5 January 2014

France Beckons


Happy New Year, everyone, although the next two postings will revert back to last year’s unfinished business.

Sue and I are looking forward to being back in France by this time next week, though we won’t be taking the red rope that connected me to Donovan and Andy back on 9 August 2011.

Can anyone spot the deliberate error in this ‘France’ posting, as we head across the Plateau du Trient, skilfully dodging the crevasses?

PS Nobody entered my France Competition, but I’ve inserted the answers at the foot of the competition posting if anyone is interested in knowing the locations of the 17 pictures.

Postscript, courtesy of Conrad (aka ‘Sir Hugh’)

The comments include reference to ‘Rayner’s Glacier’ which is pictured below:

RaynersGlacier copy

Thursday, 18 August 2011

An Unexpected Visit to the UN

"We've laid on lunch for you" announced Alistair as he picked me up on schedule from the 11.33 at Geneva airport.

The offer was most welcome. Whilst breakfast in the Tannenhof had been more than adequate, I'd scrimped a bit last night, so was getting peckish. I'd enjoyed the scenic journey back to Geneva from Zermatt. The Breithorn was clear again and clung to the horizon for ages on another lovely sunny day, and the white helmet of Mont Blanc had shone like a beacon above the lower heights on the south side of Lake Geneva as we travelled along the lakeside.

It's a five minute journey from the airport to the United Nations buildings in Geneva. A pass had been organised and we lunched with Laurence, Alistair's French wife who works at the UN, and several of her relatives.

Then, whilst Laurence went back to her office to work (difficult, given the stunning views from the windows), Alistair gave me a tour of the site. The UN was originally the League of Nations or Societé des Nations, and the Art Deco architecture of the original 1930s buildings incorporates the 'LN' and 'SN' lettering in its logos on doorways and elsewhere.

The main 'Floor Zero' corridor leads all the way from the original building to newer ones at the other end of the site. Alistair reckons it must be nearly a kilometre in length. It's a bit like a very long hospital corridor!

But the resemblance to a hospital is limited to that corridor. The buildings are spacious and opulent. Several exhibitions, such as Dana Gluckstein's portraits, are on display.

The assembly rooms are magnificent. The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, pictured above, was refurbished at the expense of the Spanish government and sports a magnificent ceiling by Miquel Barcelò.

(I could go on at length, but I won't!)

Thank you Alistair, and Laurence, for your hospitality, it was good to see you, and a great way to conclude the trip before nipping back to Timperley for tea.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Tuesday 16 August 2011 - Ascent of the Wisshorn (2936 metres) from Zermatt

Approx 13 km, 1700 metres ascent, 8 hours.

Thanks for all the comments. Tony, I'm probably with the Alans and Gayle in wishing you well on the Matterhorn. We won't be joining you. I may reprint an article by Los and Sarah about their experience on it, for your edification / amusement.

I make no apology for posting a second picture of the mountain, a mirror image of which Paramount Pictures use in their logo. It has dominated my day. The photo was taken 1000 metres above Zermatt, from Höhbalmen, where the steep path from the Edelweiss hut pops out onto a flat area with fine views of the iconic mountain.

I'd started out at 8.30am after handshakes and goodbyes to my five trekking companions over the past week, who I'll probably never see again. I find such partings a little odd - sad in one way, but parting company enabled me to spend a day entirely on my own terms, stopping more frequently but spending longer on the hill. We will be in touch re photos etc, so it's not the last time we'll be in contact.

They were good company, and whilst at one level I felt I was in the company of men of far greater intellect than mine, on another level I felt as if I was on holiday with people like my children, who are a similar age to The Boys.

I should take this opportunity of wishing Andy well in his attempt in the next day or two to climb Mont Blanc.

I followed Dave's suggestion this morning and took a left turn at GramPi's, heading up the gorge in t-shirt and shorts to Edelweiss hut to enjoy a coffee overlooking the town.

Then up past nutcrackers, wheatears and several other small birds, to the fine viewpoint at Höhbalmen where I lingered a while before descending 350 metres on a fine belvedere path to Trift. This 45 minute section of path was very busy, but all the other paths I used today were virtually deserted.

This west side of the valley is free of ski rubbish and devoid of lifts. But it was noisy, with a helicopter delivering building supplies up and down the valley. Paragliders fluttered in the distance. Marmots played and a raven practised its acrobatics just above me.

I should have taken the route to the Rothornhutte shortly after passing the Trift Hotel, but I followed the signs to Wisshorn. The unsigned route via the path to the R hut would have been better, as it would have avoided the huge number of avalanche barriers I encountered on my ascent from about 2500 metres. Sheep with heavy permed coats were enjoying the shade of the barriers.

That was after a pleasant lunch stop overlooking Zermatt and with a fine view across the valley to the route of the Europaweg path, an idea that had not even been conceived at the time my map was published.

Once up the Wisshorn, the views were breathtaking, with no break in a 360 degree mountain panorama. As good as any views on the entire trip.

Today's weather was, in contrast to yesterday's, perfect. Blue skies, apart from a persistent afternoon cloud on the east face of the Matterhorn, made for very pleasant walking in t-shirt and shorts. It was a good move to gain height in the cool of the morning.

The 1300 metre descent to Zermatt was easy enough and took less than two and a half hours despite many stops. These were mainly to record some of the wonderful flowers that graced the path. I won't go into details now, but it was good to see a selection of orchids for the first time on this trip, including some very fragrant ones. There should be a slide show in due course.

It was good to reach the shade of the pines at around 2000 metres, though the path steepened as it descended through the woods.

It was hot in Zermatt when I got back soon after 4.30. I collected the gear not needed for today's walk from the expensive but luxurious Aristella Hotel and moved in to my 'cheap' (£47 B+B) room at the Tannenhof that I've used before.

Until now (luckily) our meals, apart from lunches, have been paid for by Jagged Globe. A wander around town revealed a cost of around £30-40 for a meal with a drink. For example, £20 for a basic pizza or rosti. So I spent a small amount in the Co-op on a fruity picnic and popped into GramPi's for a couple of beers (£8 for 66cl) where I wrote most of this whilst eating an ash tray full of peanuts.

It's an early start tomorrow - the 7.39 train takes about four hours to reach Geneva, where I hope to spend a few hours with cousin Alistair, who has recently set up home there, before returning to sunny Manchester for a shave.

And no nose bleeds on this trip! That's a blessing...

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The Matterhorn

From the centre of Zermatt - 8.30am this morning. It has made an appearance at last!

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Monday, 15 August 2011

Monday 15 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Jagged Globe's Encore - Ascent of the Breithorn (4164 metres)

Approx 4 km, 450 metres ascent, 2.5 hours, SF98 (£82)

My first Alpine 4000er. Sounds good, perhaps, but this was the easiest, and most expensive, day of the trip.

Jagged Globe sign off this course with the offer of taking participants up the Breithorn. Although the weather this morning was iffy - mizzly with no view of the Matterhorn since before we arrived in Zermatt yesterday afternoon - four of us took up the offer, leaving Michael and Tony to relax in the fleshpots of Zermatt.

We knew the cablecar would be expensive. £82! Ouch! Everything is expensive here. For example, a book about La Haute Route is SF79 and a 1:25000 map of the Zermatt area is SF25. Neither have been purchased. I'm relying on my 1:50000 Mischabel map, revised in 1968 and purchased by me for a trip in 1984 when the SF5.50 price tag probably equated to a couple of quid.

But we couldn't have achieved our objective today without using the cablecar system that whisked us up from 1600 metres in Zermatt to over 3700 metres at the top station on Kleine Matterhorn.

The five of us roped up as one unit, with Dave leading and me in my usual position at the back. Crampons were fastened and ice axes readied. Then we left the 190 metre tunnel that passes through the mountain from the top station.

Today's views were limited. I did my best with the camera but there's a limit to what can be achieved snap wise in a cloud. The picture taken on the summit, featuring, from left to right, Don, Grant, Andy, and Dave could be anywhere, I suppose.

But it was a 4000er, and very satisfying to be there. The route started off fairly level (even downhill!) and soft, but the gradient gradually steepened. Being acclimatised we swept past numerous 'ropes' toiling up the 400 or so metre ascent, pausing occasionally to snap snatched glimpses of distant mountains and trying to capture the ambience on film, with countless trails of connected ants winding their ways up and down the steep snow slopes.

There were no rocky gullies to shimmy or knock rocks down today, and we reached the busy summit - a large snowy platform - in an hour and twenty minutes. The weather looked ok, and standing on the summit was certainly not unpleasant, so we waited for fifteen minutes or so to see if it would clear. It wouldn't. So after Don had constructed Breithorn Bob (a Snowman) we came down and enjoyed coffees etc in the 'Restaurant At The End Of The Tunnel'.

A crowded cablecar full of arrogant children from some country or other's national elite training scheme took us a little way down before we could transfer to our own little 'bubble' car for the long flight back through the cloud that was trying its best to hide the vast amounts of ski paraphanalia that desecrate the mountain slopes above Zermatt.

Dave wandered off, his job complete for the time being, and the rest of us enjoyed a sunny afternoon in Zermatt. I visited the Matterhorn Museum for a couple of hours. Exhibits range from Edward Whymper's broken rope to some fascinating displays about a new 'space age' mountain hut on nearby Monte Rosa.

Our intrepid guide has a day off tomorrow before his next assignment, and his family is in town. He and Sophie still found time to join us for a beer and say cheerio before the rest of us tucked into our final evening meal at the expense of Jagged Globe. The Aristella Hotel provided that (excellent food btw), though a spate of rich Japanese tourists has filled all their rooms, leaving the six of us in some rather nice apartments nearby, and Dave (if he wasn't with his family) in a room near the station that Jagged Globe rent for the season.

A 'pub crawl' with The Boys culminated with a walk around town. Window shopping - the only sort of shopping we can afford. There's a bottle of champagne for SF600; the cowbells are cheaper, but fortunately for my five single companions who aspire to purchase them for their loved ones they are still outside the budget for presents.

So ends the Haute Route Trek.

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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunday 14 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 7 - Cabane de Bertol to Zermatt

Approx 18 km, 500 metres ascent, 9.5 hours. (We earned our beer today!)

It was dark at 4.15 when we rose to the glare of head torches in a confined space. It can be hard to keep control over one's possessions in such places, especially when the space outside comprises a thin verandah with a metal grid and a drafty patio where choughs and snow finches search for scraps.

Sleeping in the huts is fine, Shirley, you get used to it. This trip's mountaineering huts are a little different to those we stayed in recently in the Maritime Alps, and they vary from region to region. Maybe I'll write a bit more about them one day. The piglet was alone but happy btw, and I'll contact you about walks when I'm back.

Alan, you have to remember we just walked up the equivalent of The Ben yesterday, not back down. Our wallets were of course much lighter for today's walk!

After a good breakfast and a South African faff, we were all roped up (yes, before leaving the mountain hut!) and ready to go by 5.30am.

Unfortunately a small party in front of us were blocking the stairs. It was dark. Headtorches were needed. The stairs were steep. Actually, they were near vertical ladder rungs. That's how you get to and from this hut. This morning we eventually found our way down the eastern ladders, at the foot of which we donned crampons in preparation for the next 3-4 hours.

The big group of 28 had (unluckily for Dave as their Swiss German guides didn't understand hut etiquette) risen at 3.30 and left well before us. Their head torches could be seen bobbing along the Miné glacier, gradually being extinguished as daylight strengthened.

We were soon able to douse our own lights, and the faffers from the ladders were passed. This nearly backfired on us as etiquette demands that if you pass someone on a crevassed glacier you don't immediately stop in front of them. Not even to admire a spectacular sunrise in which the overtaken party shows no interest! So we hastened along, taking photos whilst walking, until we had established a gap big enough to enable us to pause for our whole group to extract their cameras.

Sunrise from a high glacier certainly makes the early rising worthwhile. Moonset was also impressive this morning.

It took us a couple of hours to rise 450 metres or so to a 2650 metre col just below Tête Blanche. We managed to overtake the ridiculously large group, as they had diverted to a minor summit. This would pay dividends later.

The Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens filled our view to the east. Magnificent. As was the view north, pictured above as we descended Stochjigletscher, towards a plethora of peaks.

This last, seriously crevassed, glacier proved quite tricky to get off. Dave zigzagged down efficiently but I have some way to go before being able to front point down hard steep ice with any degree of confidence.

Then we spent an hour or so on rocky paths that tested our freedom from vertigo. This was perhaps the trickiest section of the whole route and included a 20 metre descent down a gully whilst hanging on to a rope.

Then we endured (I enjoyed) a cairned but pathless route across a 'field' full of big boulders.

Lunch was taken at a grassy spot (we hadn't seen grass for nearly 24 hours) at 11.30, just below a mountain hut that some of the other groups would be using.

After that good paths led down to Zermatt by 3pm, via a perfectly positioned coffee shop, in the shadow of a now cloud laden Matterhorn, though spots of rain came to nothing. The town is full. Our hotel is full. So much so that we've been 'annexed' into a couple of nice apartments. There are various festivities on the go, including a 'Folklore Festival'.

Beer/wine and a good meal has taken its toll, so we are all pretty sleepy. More on Zermatt and anything else I may have missed tomorrow, perhaps...

All good fun, but quite a stressful day for Dave, our Mountain Guide:
• Rudely woken at 3.30am
• Faffing groups blocking our departure
• I stood on his hand on the ladder section
• His rope slew to a halt just after overtaking another group on a glacier
• Someone South African dislodged a rock that just missed him
• He had to coax us down over tricky terrain
• His 'rope' wasn't very good at staying tight
• His feet are sore
• He's tired...

So that's it. We've completed one of many variants of the Haute Route. But there may be more to come...


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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Saturday 13 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 6 - Arolla to Cabane de Bertol (3311 metres)

Approx 6 km, 1300 metres ascent, 5 hours.

Last night we enjoyed an excellent meal, but those enjoying a 'wee dram' paid SF9 - about £8 for the privilege. That's nothing compared with our home tonight, where there is no running water and mineral water costs SF10 for 1.5 litres. A small beer costs SF 5, so this evening will not be the most alcoholic (or anything much else for that matter) of our lives!

Today was perfect weather for the short walk to Bertol, quite a high Alpine mountain hut. A bit like walking up Ben Nevis from Glen Nevis in distance and ascent, so not a big day. However, as you slowly rise from Arolla and round the corner of the dog-leg route up to the hut, the splendour of the multitude of Alpine summits in view increases with nearly every step. The final section is a climb up ladders over a buttress (going round the buttress would expose you to dangerous rockfall), then across a snowfield, where Dave is pictured above - leading us towards the near vertical ladders that run up to Cabane de Bertol.

Dave had told us that the outside toilets, which are accessed via a walkway of steel mesh suspended above a huge void, had a reputation for being the worst loos in the Alps. I'm sure I've heard such stories from John Howarth on his winter Haute Route trips with Mark Seaton, but luckily for us they appear to have been refurbished since Dave (and John) was last here.

The Cabane is heaving with people - the downside of being on a popular Alpine route in mid August, but everyone seems relaxed apart from the guide who wants all 28 of his party to be fed in the first sitting. He won - we are in the second sitting anyway, so don't really care. We'll have to go to our dormitory whilst 'first sitting' takes place. The hut is full. Our sleeping quarters are in a half spherical basement, so the individual places on a huge mattress taper towards the feet, for which there isn't much room. I'm on 'window duty' again.

Shirley, thanks for your comments. We encountered a 'piglet' today on the path up from Arolla - she seemed very perky and probably got up to around 3000 metres. She was admired by 'The Boys' who entertained themselves on today's long ascent with a series of bad jokes, rugby songs, and risque comments on the Swiss totties passing in both directions.

Breakfast tomorrow is at 4.30, but there's no need to set an alarm as the dormitory will be a hive of congested activity in the dark.

Should be fun!

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Friday, 12 August 2011

Friday 12 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 5 - Cabane des Vignettes to Arolla via Pigne d'Arolla (3796 metres)

Approx 9 km, 650 metres ascent, 6 hours.

We were in bed early last night. I resisted the effect of the beer and wine until about 3am, when, in a bed a little apart from the others - I had bagged the single bed in a room for seven - I discovered a pile of Crocs. Apparently my 'instant sleep in a mountain hut' had proved a little noisy for my companions....

Elsewhere, in a room for guides only, the Swiss guide had moved out after Dave's arrival, leaving our leader (who perhaps is a little noisy at night) with the window bunk - the prime position in a mountain hut as it gives the owner of that position control over the heating, or more importantly the cooling, of the dormitory.

Michael, Anthony and Grant planned to have a lie in today, so it was a bit of a surprise for them when the dormitory lighting automatically burst into life at 4.45am! If you want breakfast here you have to take it at 5am. It's a climbing hut, not safely accessible without Alpine skills.

With the three tired South Africans left rooted to their beds, Dave's rope was somewhat empty. So we left it behind and he fronted the red rope team, today, confusingly, using the green rope.

We just avoided the need for headlights in preparing for a 6 o'clock start for the 650 metre ascent of Pigne d'Arolla. Starting efficiently just before a large party of potential incompetents, we were soon alone on the stiff ice, witnessing a wonderful red sunrise.

The downside of that redness was the presence of clouds that have tried to shield the sun from us for most of the day.

We made pleasing progress across a snowfield then up a rocky section, climbed surprisingly easily in crampons, to a crevassed snow slope leading to the 3796 metre summit of Pigne d'Arolla. As we climbed, a mountain vista gradually extended before us, with the Matterhorn prominent and the Bernese Oberland enticing us from a distance. There were of course innumerable other local peaks in view.

We reached the summit at 7.55 - in just under two hours. Dave had told us it could take three hours. We are his quickest clients. High cloud infused a greyness to the views, and the sun was doused with mini rainbows.

A group of three had arrived before us and kindly took photos which will follow - the blogging camera (this phone) wasn't handy, and Dave kept telling us to keep away from the edge of the massive cornice. Most had four layers on up here - there was a cool breeze - but my t-shirt and Vapour Rise smock were perfectly adequate, aided of course by those Sealskinz gloves that work brilliantly in dry conditions warmer than minus 20C.

After 15 minutes on the summit - probably my highest in the Alps - we headed back down at a pace just a little too hot for Donovan, but it still only took an hour and twenty minutes to regain the comfort of Cabane des Vignettes for a welcome pot of tea and a jolly welcome from the three lazy South Africans.

On the way down we met two unroped Brits about to negotiate the dangerous crevasses. Dave had words with them and they paused to (we hope) fumble with a rope. To say that Dave was not impressed is an understatement - like most professional guides he is very safety conscious.

The two and a half hour walk down to Arolla was easy and uneventful, with our missing 'rope' now restored and an enjoyable romp down the steep Glace de Piece all the way to its receding snout. Today's picture shows various group members at the foot of the snout, with the glacier appearing as a thin thread of white behind them.

So it was that by 1pm we were scoffing burgers and chips (me) and various other delights in Arolla's village square, washed down of course with 'pression'.

Hotel Mont Collon is our home for the night. Jagged Globe's flag flies outside - they are the hotel's best summer customer. It has a ballroom and a library, and lots of wood panelled rooms. Sound travels. It seems to me like a valley version of the Berliner Hutte near Mahrhofen, minus the b*****g Swedes.

We are now clean, with freshly washed clothes, resupplied with lunches from the poorly stocked shop, saturated with Macedonian dance music from Skopje (there's an ongoing performance in the village), and awaiting '(more) beer o'clock' which today has been designated as 7pm.

It really is a hard life, Gibson! And thank you everyone else for your entertaining comments.

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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Thursday 11 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 4 - Cabane de Chanrion to Cabane des Vignettes (3157 metres)

Approx 11 km, 850 metres ascent, 6 hours.

A 5.45am 'wake up' saw to it that we were breakfasting by about 6am and on the path by soon after 7am. We weren't complaining, it was another beautiful morning.

A short descent from the cabane on a fine mountain path led us round a bluff and onto the boulder field leading to the Glacier d'Otemma, a long affair that we spent the rest of the morning (5 hours) slowly ascending from around 2300 to 3150 metres.

As the lower reaches of the glacier were 'dry' there was no need for ropework, or even crampons, until we reached the dizzy height of about 2850 metres.

We did however cross a massive crevasse down which the rocks we threw took over two seconds to 'bounce'. We took care not to slip - we have just two 25 metre lengths of rope.

The glacier was bereft of the wildlife seen on the mountain path - no sign of the choughs, wheatears, black redstarts, saxifrages, houseleeks and kidney vetches that had graced that path.

The day had a distinctly Himalayan feel to it as we trudged up the vast glacier with peaks arrayed all around us under a vermillion sky.

We were alone, our South African faff champions having granted the Swiss trio a half hour start. The other visitors to the cabane would all be leaving by trekking paths; perhaps there's a 'Tour de Grand Combin'.

Eventually we reached a crevassed area that required us to rope up for an hour or so. Today's image shows us negotiating small crevasses on the final pull to the col, from where we gained first sight of our home for the night. It's a big refuge, and fills up with Haute Route skiers in March and April. It's quiet tonight, with just 40 visitors enjoying the recently refurbished quarters.

A short snow slope, followed by a rocky knife edge ridge, brought us to Vignettes at 1pm. Time for lunch! Beers all round (enjoy a second beer today, Alan).

Rosti was then enjoyed by everyone. "You'll never manage all that" exclaimed the guardian, after producing a huge pile of rosti. "Oh yes we can" we replied, assiduously demonstrating our assertion.

There is to be no marmot chasing this afternoon - Cabane des Vignettes is perched on a rock face that requires alpine skills to venture any further than the old helipad some 15 metres away. Luckily there's a phone signal on the edge of that helipad.

It's burningly hot out there, and also on the verandah below the toilets, which are chemical, so that option is both hot and smelly.

However, the rosti and beer has seduced most of our party into an afternoon nap in our dormitory.

I think I'll join them!

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Wednesday 10 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 3 - Champex to Cabane de Chanrion via Mauvoisin

Approx 9 km, 600 metres ascent, 4 hours.

It was a leisurely start this morning from the pleasant Swiss village with its pretty lake that I walked around last night.

Having crossed from France to Switzerland at yesterday's high point, the rest of the trek will be 'Swiss', where the Euro currently has parity with the Swiss Franc. Not long ago you could get two SF to a Euro, so things are very expensive here. I don't think I'll be buying too many hot chocolates, Alan, and I think there may be some 'watery surprises' to come!

I've still got plenty of Mr Sainsbury's nuts and chocolate, so didn't need to join the rest of the team's raid on the local boulangerie before setting off this morning. Big breakfasts and filling dinners make a small snack more than sufficient for me at lunch time as the distances travelled are much shorter, with less ascent, than I'm used to.

If you come on this trip, bring a good book to read - you'll have lots of free time.

The taxi to Mauvoisin arrived at 9.30am, after I'd had a chance to catch up with Sue and her 'Caernarfon Adventure', and deposited us at the dam an hour later.

This is not (and was never intended to be) a 'purist' traverse of the Pennine Alps.

'Sastrugi' = the wind blown remnants of fresh snow that lies on a frozen surface. Winter visitors of the British mountains will be familiar with it. We crossed many bands of sastrugi on yesterday's glacier crossings. Here it can conceal crevasses, so needs to be crossed with care - it's best to zigzag across the hard ice of the glacier wherever practicable. We didn't have any incidents yesterday, but one of the other 'Haute Routers', a Swiss doctor, did apparently sink in up to her armpits!

So far as we are aware the Swiss couple and their guide are the only others whose itinerary coincides approximately with ours. Jagged Globe deliberately gives this trip a slow start so as to avoid a weekly bottleneck - there may be a large clutch of people a day ahead of us on a similar route.

After being disgorged from the taxi, we admired the views of Lac du Mauvoisin, before setting off at 10.45 along the fine mountain path to Cabane de Chanrion.

The weather is much better today, with bright sunshine and a pleasantly cool breeze. Shorts and t-shirt were soon deployed by me, but others retained two layers and long trousers to combat the breeze and sunburn.

We managed the 8-9 km stroll in around 4 hours, including the best part of an hour's break in a lovely meadow of field gentians, where we disturbed a flock of snow finches and enjoyed a spectacular view of the 4000 metre high ridge of the Grand Combin massif.

The Cabane was reached shortly after dipping down a steep aided path to cross the Brency Torrent. It was foaming with meltwater. Luckily there was a bridge.

After reaching the Cabane at 14.45, 'beer o'clock' was today brought forward to 15.00. I thought of 'Poor Alan' back in the UK, who would probably enjoy raising a glass to another successfully short day, but there is no phone signal here by which to stimulate the process. He may even have enjoyed watching marmots play in view of the cabane. (Thanks for your comments, Alan, I think you'd enjoy this trip!)

I won't describe the South African contingent's plans for dealing with a marmot, but the words 'slit stomach' and 'full of hot coals' were overheard.

As the afternoon progressed, the cabane, which probably houses over 100 visitors, gradually filled up with a wide assortment of folk, climbers, trekkers, families and even a couple of mountain bikers.

I wandered off through fields of edelweiss and high meadows strewn with lakelets and a plethora of other flowers, before returning for a good meal and a sociable evening in the vibrant cabane.

Today's image was taken just a few minutes walk away from the cabane.

Enjoy a beer, Alan, when you spot this. Maybe even two, as by the time we next get a signal it'll probably be tomorrow's 'beer o'clock'!

PS Price of one litre of water here is SF/€8. Tap water is 'non potable' (not drinkable); we are drinking it. A large beer is SF7.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 2 - Refuge Albert Premier to Champex (Gite Plein Air)

Approx 11 km, 600 metres ascent, 8 hours.

We got an early night last night, due to today's 'Alpine Start' - breakfast at 5am, leave at 6am. The weather was dry, but cloudy above about 3500 metres.

Soon after starting out, beyond a rocky section, the glacier was reached. We have two 'ropes'. Dave leads the first rope, with Tony, Grant and Michael, whilst I bring up the rear with Andy and Donovan, on the Red Rope.

Soon after we started cramponing up the glacier we turned to admire the sun rising over the Aiguilles Rouges, back across the Chamonix valley. A miscellany of 'ropes' no doubt paused to do the same. There were lots of people on the Glacier du Tour this morning.

Many groups were heading up local summits by way of training for an ascent of Mont Blanc later in the week. Our first objective, Col superior du Tour, at around 3300 metres, coincided with theirs. Magnificent views across the Plateau du Trient greeted us after the easy rock scramble to the col. Here we left the 'ascendeurs' and followed 'Dangerous' Dave's tracks across the glacier.

In fact, Dave's glacier skills meant that the most danger we were in was from tripping up on our own crampons as we turned our attention to the wonderful vistas displayed before us.

Today's picture shows Donovan and Andy on the plateau, with our entry col over to the right.

More care was needed as we entered a crevassed area on the Glacier d'Orny below the Cabane du Trient - perched on a rocky spur at 3170 metres, overlooking the plateau. That refuge was originally our planned destination for tonight, but Dave had wisely judged that day to be too short - we would have reached the Cabane at around 10.30am.

So we continued on to exit the glacier at 10am, after four hours of being roped up, beside a mountain path leading to Cabane d'Orny.

The hot chocolates were good but at SF6/€6 rather pricey. Anyway, we enjoyed a pleasant sojourn there before continuing for a couple of hours down the excellent mountain path to the Breya chairlift, passing through a band of cloud on the way.

A few spots of rain did little to spoil the walk before we arrived at the chairlift at 13.45, just as it reopened after lunch.

By 2.30 we were down in the pretty village of Champex, where we quickly installed ourselves in the comfortable Gite Plein Air that Sue will remember from our Tour of Mont Blanc in 2000 and others will recall from a Walkers Haute Route trip in 2006.

Plenty of time for a few beers then...

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Monday, 8 August 2011

Monday 8 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 1 - Balme to Refuge Albert Premier

Approx 4 km, 500 metres ascent, 2 hours.

A leisurely start saw us heading off to le Tour for the Balme cablecar.

Kit inspection had comprised of Dave lifting each rucksack and accepting the owner's assurance that he could carry the weight he had loaded. Dave's own pack was by far the lightest. "What have I forgotten?" he worried, rummaging in an attempt to identify items left behind. "Nothing" he concluded - he doesn't carry a camera or much food or many other 'luxuries' that the rest of us deem to be 'essential'. He handed me and Andy the two ropes we will be using for glacier travel. I decided to discard my walking poles on the basis that they will hardly be needed.

The cablecar and chairlift took us up to about 2200 metres, from where a short walk led to this refuge, a popular place with climbers, aspirant 'alpinistes' and day walkers. It was built by the Belgian Alpine Club after the death of King Albert 1, a keen mountaineer, in a climbing accident.

The day was overcast. A rainbow shone brightly across the valley as we started walking. Waterproofs were deployed. We watched as huge house-sized chunks of ice (seracs) detached themselves from the Glacier du Tour. Our objective was reached soon after noon. Whilst the others tucked into their old baguettes, Dave and I splashed out on 'les omelettes complète'. A good choice.

The afternoon ropework training was completed, due to rain and snow outside, in a room in the Refuge. We are now experts at a variety of climbing knots.

Beers will follow shortly. We are currently relaxing up here at 2700 metres, high above Chamonix, with hot chocolates and the view shown above across the massive seracs of the Glacier du Tour. The trek proceeds in earnest tomorrow.

Hopefully the weather is improving.

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Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Aiguille du Midi

After tonight's excellent dinner we assembled outside the hotel for this superb view up to the Aiguille (circa 3800 metres), from our 1100 metre vantage point.


Tomorrow we will be a little higher. But knowing that most of that height will be gained via mechanical aids, and will be compulsorily followed by cold beers, Alan (indeed, both Alans) may be wishing they were here!

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Sunday 7 August 2011 - Skills Training at Grand Montets (3300 metres)

We assembled at the hotel last night. There are six of us on the trip:
Me (Grandad)
Andy, my room mate, who is just embarking on a career as a maths teacher after being an engineer for eight years.
Four friends from around the globe:
Tony - a champion swimmer, and Donovan - a tall metallurgist, have flown all the way from Johannesburg for the trip, whilst Grant has come from Brisbane! Michael has had the shortest journey - from London.

There was no sign of our Jagged Globe leader, so we nipped into Chamonix for some group bonding over 'wonderful cold lagers'. By the time we got back, Dave had come - and gone back home for dinner with his wife. Fair enough. He had left Mara, the JG Chamonix 'Alpine Coordinator' to look after us. And she did. We got a good meal, after which the jet-lagged members of the party disappeared and Andy and I rummaged through our bags, looking for stuff to discard.

This morning Andy and I enjoyed a lie in until 8 o'clock before enjoying what can only really be described as a sumptuous breakfast at Hotel La Chaumiere. Dave was waiting for us after that, and whilst the overnight rain persisted outside we sorted technical kit - boots, crampons, ice axes, climbing harnesses, etc in the basement. I have all that kit, as does Andy, but the others needed to borrow/rent/buy some items, so it was a while before we emerged to a dry world. Luckily the rain had stopped, Mara gave us a lift into Chamonix and then on to Argentière. After hectic shopping (gear/lunches) for the others and a jog up to Balcon du Savoy for me, as I'd forgotten to turn the water off at J+J's apartment yesterday, it was good to jump on the cablecar for the 2000 metre ascent to Grand Montets.

Just below the top station, at a literally breathtaking 3300 metres, a steep patch of snow beckoned. This would be our home for the next 2-3 hours, whilst Dave - who is highly experienced and will be a great guide - put us through our paces by way of an introduction to ice axe, crampon and ropework techniques in a glacial environment. Lunch (pictured) was taken in a relatively sheltered spot by some rocks, with the Dru as a backdrop. It wasn't as cold as I'd expected; for example my Sealskinz gloves were more than adequate, despite a cool wind, so my kit for the trek will be refined later.

Then, after a welcome hot chocolate at the top café, we descended to Argentière for a beer before returning to La Chaumiere by train, with Dave going home and the other five stopping in Chamonix for more shopping.

Tomorrow morning our packed rucksacks will be emptied in front of Dave, and items deemed unnecessary will fail to make the 'cut' for our trek. That session could be quite entertaining, and I'm sure my gear won't be exempt from the discard pile!

Then we go to le Tour, for a 'Telesiege' to near Col de Balme, from where we start the trek. All very leisurely. So far!

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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Saturday 6 August 2011 - The 'Lull before the Storm'

I've had a lovely day.

After a lie in and a trip to Brioche 'In for croissants to go with my coffee, I took the cablecar up to Planpraz.

Light rain didn't seem to be putting off the paragliders, who land right outside the apartment. So I ignored it (it went away) and enjoyed a flowery walk to Flégere, a couple of hours away. I have to say - whilst there were lots of flowers - they were distinctly more 'seedy' than a month ago in the Maritime Alps.

After lunch in the sunshine with an Irish lad who's doing the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) - he says the paths are fairly quiet and no advance booking was needed to get a bed each night - I continued along the TMB route to Chalet des Chéserys before heading down to bustling Argentière and returning to Chamonix beside l'Arve river.

Six hours and about 17km (10+ miles) with 500 metres ascent in the Scarpa Manta boots was quite enough for today. I'm back at the apartment to gather my pile of kit and head off to join my Jagged Globe group in Hotel La Chaumiere on the other side of town.

It's not raining ... Yet. It feels in more ways than one like the lull before the storm, as I sit drinking coffee in this nice quiet apartment.

The picture was taken this morning from the patio. Aiguille du Midi is out of frame to the right, but the higher parts of Mont Blanc have been in cloud all day.

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Friday, 5 August 2011

Friday 5 August 2011 - Back in Chamonix

Sue and I spent a happy few days here a couple of years ago, when our backpacking plans were foiled by her poorly neck. The photo on the last posting was from that trip.

John and Janet have again kindly allowed me to use their apartment, since I've got here a day early for my Haute Route trip. I've only been here a few minutes and look at the mess!

At under six hours, door to door, the journey took me rather less time than many parts of Scotland require. And that was despite a 'go slow' by ground staff at Manchester, delaying our departure by nearly half an hour.

Geneva was efficient by comparison, and I enjoyed (yes, Enjoyed is the right word) my brief encounter with the luggage carousel. It started up shortly after we emerged from passport control. We waited in anticipation as it clattered around pointlessly for a couple of circuits. Then a lone blue bag appeared at the top of the ramp, before rolling gently down to the carousel. There wasn't another bag in sight. I picked the blue one up and headed for the exit, trying not to look too smug!

Chamexpress soon turned up to whisk me and four others to Chamonix - a door to door service that had me fumbling for the keys to the apartment when I arrived earlier than expected...

Thanks for your comment, Alan - this trip may be 'Very Interesting', I suspect, when the gentle preamble is over.

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The Haute Route

A view towards the Mer de Glace from near la Flegere

I’m off on my travels again.  This time without Sue – she’d love to come but unfortunately her neck problem prevents her from doing so.

She’s a keener climber than me, so would be less out of her comfort zone than me on this trip.  ‘La Haute Route’, or ‘High Level Route’ was conceived in the 19th century by some of the pioneers of mountaineering.  It traces a line from Chamonix to Zermatt, across the Pennine Alps, by linking a number of glacier passes, with the opportunity to visit a few summits on the way.

Early in the 20th century the concept was hijacked as a springtime skiing expedition, and in that form its popularity has grown over the years.

There’s also an easy low level walking route that has become established as one of the classic Alpine ‘hut to hut’ treks.  I’ve done that a couple of times, but have always hankered after following a higher line.

So, courtesy of a Jagged Globe alpine course, I’m getting my wish, albeit not quite in a purist manner (we get a taxi from Champex to the Mauvoisin dam).

The itinerary sounds fairly energetic and sociable, so I won’t want to spend all my free time squinting over my ‘phone, but I’ll try to provide a flavour of the trip as it progresses.

I’m just off to catch the 18.25 to Geneva, so I should reach Chamonix later tonight.  Tomorrow, weather permitting (it’s bad over there at present) I may go up to la Flegere for views across to Mont Blanc and (pictured above) the Mer de Glace, where the following day (subject to an atrocious weather forecast that may result in significant adjustments to the planned trip) we’ll be honing our ice axe, crampon and glacier travel skills before embarking on the high level trek.

Can’t say I’m looking forward to the ‘Alpine starts’!

Bye for now.