….of Monch, mice and men

As we broke trail we could hear and see small avalanches all around the face and surrounding gullies.. yeah we needed a new plan!

A good lesson to learn is that plans are only good until you try and implement them. Staying flexible, spotting the need to change and being able to pivot your plan quickly, effectively and without the restrictions of “but” is the nirvana of agility but harder to do in reality.

Our plan for the Jungfrau region in Switzerland alpine Bernese Oberland had been , when hatched way back in Oct 2016 for us to summit the Eiger. Me via a the Mittellegi Ridge , but for 2 of the team (Davy and Steve) to tackle a harder line towards the North face.

From the outset there was a flaw in the plan… timing..

May is neither Winter when rock is cold and icy but more solid, less likely to avalanche you or shower rocks upon your head , or Summer when a lot of the route is dry rock without the added complications snow can bring. But May had been chosen and so AirBnB was scoured, families agreements were sought for a “pass” and flights booked.

We set off Saturday May 6th, a flight from Glasgow to London, then onto Zurich before 3 trains and a total of 16hrs travelling from urbanity to Alpine splendour… only slightly blighted by rain and low cloud meaning we couldn’t actually see the mountain we aimed to climb despite having lodging basically at the foot of it in the small yet busy town of Grindelwald.

Steve Wakeford (director, filmmaker and “star” of Magnetic Mountains) had agreed to join us to make 2 teams of 2, and had travelled overland by van from Chamonix. Seeing a chance to spend some valuable down time also away from the film his family (Menna and Fi) joined  us for a few days.

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The Eiger Nordwand .. hiding. Grindlewald below. (Photo my own)

By the time we arrived Steve and I had already switched our original plan to the Monch (4107m) – based on the obvious buildup of snow remaining on the  ridge, plastered in  white right up to and beyond the Mittellegi hut. So on Sunday we headed up the Jungfraujoch railway to Eigergletcher (Eiger Glacier) station for a reconnoitre at the Nollen route, on the NW of the mountain.

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Heading for a look at the Nollen route  (Photo by Alan McIntosh)

This 1440m route offered a long day of  steep snow and ice climbing, preceded by a rock ascent up to the hut.  No easy day out and despite my increased physical preparedness over the previous weeks I was aware it would be a challenge but an exceptional route and very attractive for it. A hike in deep snow to overlook the route however made it clear we would need alternative plans. The lower sections, which we had hoped would be clear and  slabby rock were covered in loose snow. As we broke trail we could hear and see small avalanches all around the face and surrounding gullies.. yeah we needed a new plan!

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Steve overlooking the original route from Eigergletcher (photo my own)

While we planned, Davy and Steve Dunne were also checking out their proposed routes and had headed up to the lower slopes of the Eiger for a look-see. Trying to find a route on the Eiger normally would be hard, in thick mist and snow its becomes almost impossible. Battling snowy rock, spin-drift, rain, hail and low blinding cloud they decided finally to retreat – a sensible decision – but not after tucking into some grub to help the push!

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Steve Dunne “enjoying” the weather on the Eiger (Photo by Davy Wright)

Back at our chalet we had maps and guidebooks out on the kitchen table, 3D views of the region on Google earth to play with, and after also consulting a local guide it was decided to take the more regular SE ridge on the Monch from the Moenchsjoch hut. This was to be a less “spectacular” route than the Nollen but still me first 4000’er and still a superb mountain.

This is where the flexible bit has to come in.

It’s a balance as much as a battle. Of head over heart and head has to win.

There is no point sticking doggedly to a plan just for its own sake. The conditions clearly were unfavourable, we wouldn’t have been able to make the route  except by sheer battling hour after hour and in all likely hood it would have got dangerous. “Spectacular” is one thing. Coming back is another.

The best laid plans…..

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Planning .. planning…planning (Photo my own)

Finally a weather window!

New plan set we headed up the famous Jungfrau railway, past Kleine Schiedegg feeling the deep and heavy history of the place, memories from every Eiger tale I’d read, every documentary I’d watched (even the ones with Clint Eastwood #EigerSanction ) flowing into my mind. Then it’s up past the Stollenloch window and finally to the Jungfraujoch and the battle through the throngs of tourists out onto the glacier to set off up to the hut.

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The weather breaks and the Eiger is revealed, NF on the right. (Photo my own). Too much snow for the route we planned originally.

Arriving at the hut you settle into the business of.. well… chilling. It’s an art just sitting around; head sore, willing your body to acclimatise while trying not to get bored.  For Steve Dune though an upset stomach and growing illness was beginning to creep in.. He may be a machine when it comes to fitness and strong as the proverbial ox but he’s still human and bacteria is like Superman.. only one can be the winner.

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Steve Wakeford and the art of Hut Chilling (photo my own)

The best laid plans….

As the sun began to set it was time to eat so out came the stoves, snow being melted for water and our very kindly provided) FirePot meals slowly rehydrating to give us much-needed calories as well as it has to be said a lot of flavour for something you boil in the bag!

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Prepping dinner. (Photo by Steve Wakeford) (Provison for our climb were kindly provided by OutdoorFood)

Then it’s time to prep for a swift morning exit –  putting only the absolutely necessary  kit in your pack, everything else in a box to leave at the hut .. every 100g saved is a god send in time and effort at 4000m and the to bed.  I’d already invested in the lighest 19g biners had packed my light shell, brought only 1 technical axe and ditched almost al my rack leaving only the kit I absolutely needed . Light is right as they say!

Bed of course being a pallet in a dorm – comfortable yes, but inevitably sleep is never perfect with people coming, going (to the outside toilet requires putting clothes back on) and of course the snoring! (remember your earplugs folks).

Alarm gets you up at 4am for a 5am start. Pulling gear on, harness legs twisted, climbing gear clinking, rucksack opened, closed, opened again .. fuzzy head not helping one bit, boiling more snow and water for food (any meal at 4am is hard but you need to eat for energy) and heading out the door into the moonlight.

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Alan heading out of the hut  (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Sadly at this point Steve Dunne made the only sensible but very difficult  call that his worsening illness from the previous 2 days meant he simply couldn’t join us so it was a team of 3 that headed out and toward the base of the route, just a hint of sun behind the jagged horizon, the moon bright and high lighting our path.

From here we started up the route , Steve Wakeford taking first lead, swinging with Davy Wright . As I was in the middle of the rope I was resigned to following and aiming mostly just to keep up and climb well. I was envious of not being able to lead but was in a luxurious position to enjoy the route.

As we reached the first good belay stance the sun lit up the East side of the face , warming us a little and certainly opening up a stunning scene for us to climb in.  The alpine light is unique. So bright it burns but clean and pure, energizing like no other. Its at times like these that you remember why you train hard, travel far and push your self so far.

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Davy Wright leading off (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Up we went , the ridge first of all fairly wide, a few scrambling point on the rocky outcrops and bands then up and up eventually onto the narrow snow ridge that led to the summit. One or two scrambling and rock moves needed to make it fun but nothing difficult.

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Alan heading up the ridge (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

We reached the summit in a little over three hours, legs and lungs naging at points in the rarefied air, taking our time on the final very narrow sections, watching kicked snow spin and speed down the face back to the glacier far below, acutely aware that concentration was key, tripping could be disastrous but exhilarated at the situation.

Short video of the approach ridge (slightly distorted by GoPro)

The feeling of that exposure, in that surrounding and at that height is a rare one… it’s what attracts us back again and again, the tiredness and trepidation soon forgotten once back at the base.

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Alan on the summit approach (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Summit!

A short steep and narrow section of what looks ;ike a cornice, precariously hanging in space and we are there.

We hug we cheer we bump fists, grins as wide as the horizon , camera’s out and GoPro’s running !

My first 4000m summit in the bag! And an amazing team of friends to do it with!

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The team at the summit (L-R Davy, Alan, Steve W) (Photo by Davy Wright)

And all too soon it’s time to get back down though – so carefully , carefully off we go.. reversing our route.. taking the steep down steps with care, the route almost as long in descent until finally we abseil a jumble of steep rock then downclimb steep snow ramp to arrive suddenly back on more expansive terra firma.

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Alan (L) and Davy (R) prepare to abseil (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

While for Davy and I it was time to grab our hut gear and march out to meet up with Steve Dunne, our other Steve (Wakeford) grabbed his ski’s and (incredibly) set off on a 52Km ski & skin odyssey back down to a neighbouring valley to meet Menna and head home. #kudos #Machine

Once reunited, for us it was down on the train, a stop at Kleine Scheidegg for coffee and LOTS of water , tales of mountains interjected with awestruck gazing at the Eiger Nordwand (North face) .. still looming indomitably above us. Enticing Steve and Davy to climb… and they will return to do so I know.

For us now after reaching the valley is was about beer and whisky! ….and a reflection on plans. All 3 of us had come out to “get something done ” and that we had.

Whether  hiking, running, reconnoitering, mapping, planning or climbing – all of it is part of the adventure and doing it together, with all the banter and beers that come with it is what mattered.

We went as friends, we climbed as friends and we came home as friends – that is goal no 1, 2 and 3 in my book!

And the lesson reinforced?

Stay loose, make a plan.. but be ready to change it!

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Photo credits mainly to Steve Wakeford, Steve enjoying his Firepot meal and Summit team credit to Davy Wright, GoPro footage , the above relaxed rucksack and photo’s around Eigergletcher by myself.

 

 

 

Around Glenshee

after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

A tour of 4 munros, from Glenshee as an “active rest” day ahead of the upcoming Swiss Alps climbing trip.

Munro’s “bagged” Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach

Total Distance 19.2Km

With 2 weeks to go until we head off to Grindlewald and alpine adventure around the Eiger and Monch range I took up the offer of a cottage rented out by a friend  just south of  Glenshee, on the edge of the Cairngorms.

A chance to get away from the city, have some us time and also get in some new hills was just too good to pass up – so after work we jumped in the car and headed north from Glasgow, to the very small village of Enochdhu about 2 hours north (unless of course.. like us, you miss a turning and end up in the Spittal of Glenshee lol and then it’s more like 3 hours..).

We arrive, just as the light starts to fade, that beautiful low lying, clean spring sun cutting through the trees now blooming along the winding roads , already feeling the release that only the mountains and wilderness can give you.

We drop our bags and bones into comfy seats and grab a glass of wine.

McLovinMountains.com regular guest mountain guide, Andy Mallinson, and his better half Liz were our very welcoming hosts and as we planned the next day we had a great nattter about anything and everything . For Andy it was a rare weekend off and a chance just to get out on the hills with friends and enjoy a walk.

The cottage itself (River Cottage) is beautiful and I highly recommend a stay if you can get a booking , a full review will be on the blog ASAP.

Anyway after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

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That morning we headed into Glenshee, dropped Andy;s car off, drive mine a couple of miles further and started to head up the hill. Our plan was the 4 munro’s of Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach all linked with a fairly easy undulating plateau taking the full round back to Andy’s car to 12 miles/19km.

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I’ll let the pictures do the talking but its a beautiful walk, amazing views and frankly a pretty easy way to bag 4 Munros’ (it felt like cheating). Although relatively long its not steep at any point and with the 3 of us cheating away and setting a fair pace we were done and back to the car in a little over 6 and half hours, including stops for a bite to eat out the biting arctic wind in the shelter cairns on 2 of the summits.

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It was a great way to get out, see the hills , get great exercise but still somehow felt rested and recovered after a week of work and heavy gym training.

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Arriving back at the car we had a sneak look at the newly under development interpretation area being installed including  a beautifully designed arching wooden bench that seems to mimic the line of the mountains, contour lined designed walkway and plinths ready to take viewing information. Looking down Glenshee it will be stunning once finished.

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From there it was  as top at the local community shop for coffee and cake , and to pick up a nice whisky and local gin for that evening spent in the company of Liz and her other guest Ben, a walker from Germany who was doing the Cateran trail.

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Thanks again to Andy and Liz and as I sit here with 1 week to go to the alps I thank you , dear reader for staying with me on the journey and I look forward to sharing our Alpine Exploits to come!

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Getting the blues

All of it supporting the motto I live and coach by which is “you have to leave your comfort zone , because outside of it is where the magic happens”.

You might remember, if you follow my blog that Sam (Mrs McLovinMountains) and I recently learned to ski and had headed out a month or so ago to Les houches nr. Chamonix for a few days  of slipping and sliding.

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We headed back this week after the lack of Scottish winter climbing or skiing options drove me back to the web and Air BnB in desperation and desire get back on it.

This time we left the comfortable familiarity if Les Houches to join friends Menna and Steve in the more extensive slopes of Contamines. With many more runs, longer pistes and steeper, more challenging blues we certainly had to “face the fear and do it anyway” .

Tough? yes, scary ? At times hell yeah but overall  fun , exciting and it certainly pushed our skills up !

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Followed by a days incredible and invigorating climbing on Cosmiques aréte (see  “Friends in high places“) then a day back in Les Houches bombing around easy greens at speed and the more pedestrian and shorter blues with ease it turned out to be a great example of Type 2 fun.. the type that can be scary at the time but afterwards you look back on as awesome and rewarding. (As opposed to type 1 – simple.pleasures like sex, good food or the cinema or the terror and never doing it again of Type 3)

One fundamental lesson that climbing and mountaineering have taught me is to progress, to really grow – to live really you need to do things that stress you (just a little), frighten you (just a little) and challenge your norms, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual.

If you have ever learned to drive you will know that feeling. In the beginning its all new and scary but son it becomes the new normal. We don’t learn and grow as people by repeating the things we already know and are utterly confident and comfortable with – or we’d all still be wearing nappies, eating rusk and living with our parents.

I don’t expect to be on the reds any time too soon, but I know I will at some point and  the smiles say it all.

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All of it supporting the motto I live (and coach) by which is “you have to leave your comfort zone , because outside of it is where the magic happens“.

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Already I feel my motivation for climbing, training & challenging myself returning. Trepidation about the Mitt ridge has turned to excitement, planning now taking over in my mind rather than doubt.

Onward and upwards , the pendulum back squarely where it belongs.

Friends in high places

Sitting in the sun – still in big boots, climbing gear and shades, sipping coffee at a cafe in the main street among the tourist is something you only really get to enjoy in Chamonix

 

After a superb week recently in Chamonix Les Houches “perfecting” our new ski skills (see Les Houches. – A beginners. guide to skiing in the Alps) we had returned to work and the house renovations back in Scotland with a serious pang of sadness which of course is not unusual when leaving an incredible and exciting place like the Alps.

Within 2 weeks I was back on line and we had booked a long weekend to return this time to continue our skiing improvement but also, importantly for me to try and get a climb in with my planned partner for the Mitellegi Ridge, Steve Wakeford.

Steve had, I’m very glad to say, agreed to join us to form 2 teams of 2 for the route on the Eiger meaning Steve Dunne and Davy could be more flexible on their route plans as they have another objective in mind (more of that to come) and that I had a strong climbing partner, who is also someone I could enjoy the time with as well (not always an easy combination to find).

You may recognise Steve’s name if you are aware (and if not, why the hell not??) of the upcoming film Magnetic Mountains which at the same time  manages to centre around Steve’s climbing accident in the alps his road to recovery, the subject of risk and the questions of why we do it and is also – beautifully – shot/ produced by Steve and his partner and producer/film maker/climber and super mum Menna Pritchard.

Steve and Menna are quite simply an awesome duo! Lovely, friendly, driven, considered and just downright good fun (as well as incredible parents to the mighty little pocket rocket Fi!)  and with them having just returned from a  business trip to Oz we were keen to hook up, go climbing and just hang out. You may also remember from previous blogs that it was Steve and Menna who first got Sam and I onto ski’s and they made sure to check on our progress and give us some more valuable “coaching” – spending a day in Contamines showing us some more fun and challenging Blue runs and getting our skills up even more!

 

Anyway enough of all that , onto the climbing!

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The first snow ramp

Cosmiques Aréte is a classic alpine route, rated at a relatively easy AD grade its a must for all budding alpinists and a route that had so far escaped me so when Steve suggested it I was in! Conscious that Steve would naturally want to find out if I knew one end of a crampon from another I will admit i was keen to impress. I needn’t have worried.

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Are there any better views?

Not only was the climbing well within my capability, the situation and exposure stunning but Steve was the coolest guy on a route ever. Recognising I was yet to acclimatize he didn’t rush but we moved efficiently him leading the route he had climbed once before, overtaking 1 team and catching a second (who seemed to be climbing, pitch style with two ropes.. hence taking an age 😦 )

At no point did i feel anything but enjoyment , no pressure and hopefully showed that I could at least be trusted to belay safely 😀

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The crux slab, its a lot easier that it looks

After leaving the midi station via the steep snow aréte (overtaking the skiers heading down to Vallee Blanche ) and around the base of the aguille on your right hand, the route starts with a scramble up some snow and broken ground before  the first of 2 abseils. After dropping down and moving around the side of the ridge on the right , great exposure here, you reach the first steep gully before continuing to overcome some slabby rocks, another drop down and narrow exposed snow traverse brings  you to the 8m crux slab before  a turn on the left to finally at the slightly awkward exit chimney (some clever axe positioning means solid movement to get you started left )  – up and it leads to the final narrow snow ridge and off up the ladder to the midi terrace.

All in all the route offers a great mix of climbing and some incredible situations.

After a few short hours of breathtaking views and good fun climbing we popped out of the last chimney and onto the exit ridge to see Sam and Menna waiting for us at the Midi terrace, together with some surprised looking tourists, amazed and slightly bemused to see these two guys climbing up the rickety steel ladder and over the barrier, off the mountain. No autograph requests but certainly a few snaps being taken 😉

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The iconic pillar on the Cosmiques ridge
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Standard “summit” pose , taken by Sam on the terrace

Here’s a short vid of the first sections, coming down the Midi snow aréte and onto the start of the route

Now it was down to Cham and for a coffee (ok ….and some cake) and to meet up with another friend based there, Charley Radcliffe who had just returned from what looked like an incredible off piste ski trip to Bulgaria.

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Steve taking it all in on the final ridge

Sitting in the sun – still in big boots, climbing gear and shades, sipping coffee at a cafe in the main street among the tourist is something you only really get to enjoy in Chamonix – truly the home of all thing mountain sports. We caught up, hearing stories of deep powder and cool fun, discussing a new coffee brewing team who had set up in Cham (it needs a good coffee place!) and peoples plans for the year before parting ways (me heading off to buy new gloves after losing one en route) agreeing to see Steve and Menna for dinner later that evening.

Be the end of the night we were all talking ten to the dozen, beer and curry going down well and plans well under way for the route in May. Steve inquisitive as always, taking a real interest in everyone and continuing to impress in me just how solid a guy he is, and positive climbing partner he will be.

An incredible day, with incredible people who get to live high in the mountains while we have to wrap up our transient days in the alps , jump back on a plane and head back to the 9 to 5 – but having friends in high places helps me feel constantly connected to the mountains and having such good friends in high places leaves me feeling very blessed indeed. The pendulum is in a good place.

And yes Steve, I am hitting the gym and working on my crevasse rescue skills dude 😉 Don’t worry!

Magnetic Mountains will preview later this year and I encourage everyone of you get on board, it will be a truly unique film in many ways. I personally can’t wait to see it!

For more information on Cosmiques Aréte and other classic alpine routes i recommend you check out Rockfax (you may even see a pic of Sam and I in it, not to mention Steve on the front cover on the Cosmiques)

And finally, just for a little fun, see if you can spot me on this last section of the climb, just before the exit Chimney, let me know in the comments box if you find wally 😉

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A winter week in The Alps

We geared up and managed a couple of great pitches, taking our indoor ice wall practice outdoor and it paid off.

Feb, 2016

Day 1 arrive in Chamonix  via Geneva,

Best way to Chamonix is via Geneva, approx. 2 hour flight from the UK , then hire one of the many transfer buses (before you land as you can’t book at Geneva) for a 1.5hr hop to Chamonix (I’ve used Alpybus each time and they seem very good). You can either pay in advance or pay the driver but if you opt for the latter make sure and take Euros with you as Geneva ATM’s do not give out Euros to non-Swiss residents. Rough costs is 55 Euros each way.

Accommodation wise there is lots to choose from but Winter (November – May) is ski seasons so prices tend to be higher than Summer (June – October) . Options include Air BnB or you can opt for one of the hotels. We chose Hotel Alpina this time (booked via Booking.com) and it was almost center of town so has easy access to everything and even a local ski hire company connected for discounts. A room in winter can cost £30 a night of you Air BnB or £100 a night upwards for a hotel.

Cham is a vibrant town so if you are staying centrally be ready for the odd late night music disturbance or “Happy” reveler in the streets but it’s not too bad – you can always join in!

The town is small and you can easily walk around it end to end. Outdoor shops are abundant and there are a great spectrum of bars and places to eat. We can highly recommend Big Horn in Cham Sud – a new arrival (but great!),  Moo Bar  and a lunch time favorite  Boccalatte and , other favorites for drink and buzz are Elevation and Bistro du Sport (climbing/skiing videos on a loop) – I highly recommend Mt Blanc beer , especially the Vert (green one) with added Genepi!

Check-in done first thing to do is check weather and avalanche forecast for the next day – one way is via the Chamonix app available for Android and iOS , or check your hotel lobby for postings. The Chamonix Website and apps include webcams, lift times (needed if you plan to go up the mountain) and ski information. Access to the Vallee Blanche area for hiking/climbing is via the Aiguille du Midi lift and with a top station and restaurant at 3842m elevation it’s a great place to start your acclimatization and get some awesome views!

 

Day 2 Weather reports and what to do

With a day on our own before we were linking up with oir guide for a few days climbing we took one look at the weather and decided to stay in the valley and maybe take in some local sights. Sam (my wife and climbing partner) needed new boots so we took the opportunity to hire a car (Europcar in Chamonix, opposite the station,  is very good but go in person , the website is not up to date ) and head to a nearby town called Sallanches to visit the outdoor “mega store Vieux Campeur.

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Prices are a bit cheaper than UK and Chamonix town and the range can be bigger so it’s a god idea if you need kit and can drive.  The outdoor stores in Cham do stay open until about 7.30 pm though so last minute gabs are easy. Never worry about not having gear with you, you can buy everything in Cham!

From there we parked in Sallanches lovely town centre and had a walk around for a bit before grabbing a late lunch and then heading back to Chamonix to relax and prep for the next day

Day 3 Ice Climbing in Cogne– Ice is fickle so our guide James Thacker had a personal challenge finding us routes that were in condition and accesable given the bad weather in Chamonix Valley. The answer was Cogne on the Italian side of Mt Blanc so off through the tunnel we headed (Carry your passport at all times as border guards are on high alert these days). If you want good routes and  no crowds get up early so at 6am we are grabbing coffee and pastry in a bakery before arriving at Valnontey valley to access Patri a WI3/4 graded route. The walk in was beautiful, deep snow making it inevitably comical at times but at last we reach the route base (avoiding protected nesting areas marked by signs).

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We geared up and managed a couple of great pitches, taking our indoor ice wall practice outdoor and it paid off. Bullet hard ice and amazing views made for a super days climbing. Patri splits at the top to Patri a droite (right) and Patri a gauche (Left) so plenty options. Bolted belay points makes abbing off simple once finished. A great intro to WI (Water Ice) climbing.

Day over it’s the walk back out, drive back to Chamonix and a beer and sleep ready for the next days climbing!

 

Beautiful walk in and out

 

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Topping out of the first pitch of Patri


 

Day 4 Ice climbing in Lillaz valley,

Today was more ice. Given the desire for a shorter (non-Scottish!) walk in we initially headed for the left of Lillaz Valley where a cascading waterfall freezes to form a superb multi-pitch route almost 10 minutes from the car. Sadly the rising temperatures has rendered it unclimbable for now so we turned around and headed across the valley to Lillaz Gully. After a steep push up the hill we arrived at a stunning twisting, narrow gully full of cascade ice and snow pitches. Steeper and a bit tougher than Patri it made for amazing climbing into the afternoon. The full route runs to around 8 pitches however time means we only did a few before backing off, just as some small avalanches were starting as well as darker clouds creeping up the valley. As we reached the car the first rain drops started so we timed it well.

Picture below of James starting off on pitch 1 of Lillaz Gully (WI4), looking back down the gully

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Day 5 Snow shoeing around Les Houches, Le Prarion

Our climbing objectives pretty much done and continuing tough weather meant we opted for a more “relaxing” day next. A great way to see the Chamonix Valley are and have a real alpine experience (if you don’t ski) is to snow shoe (or Raquette as the French call it) !

Hiring snow shoes is very cheap (think 7 euros a day) so we grabbed a pair each and headed to the next village of Les Houches to hit the snow shoe trails. There are raquette trails all over the valley and we grabbed a pass at Les Houches for a day (around 24 euros) and headed up the ski lift to head off. The falling snow, trees and thick ground covering meant we entered a world of quiet, white enchantment – think Narnia without the weird animals. Walking in such thick snow is almost impossible but the snow shoes make it easy and you can cover  a lot of ground pretty fast. It was superb, great fun and on our way to the summit of Le Prarion (1860m) we stopped to practice some avalanche search skills. Learning how to use a transceiver , getting a shovel and probe out and ready in under a minute –  and some guidance on types of snow pack formation, temperature gradients, and crystal formations  (Alp’s vs Scotland) as well as basic but essential rescue tips.

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A highlight of the day was a top on descent at an amazing little find called Les Vielles Luge  , just off the piste it’s a tiny but amazing restaurant. Its somehow manages to pack lots of skiers in to a tiny place but in comfort, the staff are brilliant , the atmosphere very friendly and the food and drinks delicious (think hot chocolate with rum and strawberry cheesecake as well as traditional fare). Small, wooden and with mountain paraphernalia round the walls it was a great respite from walking.

 

 

Approaching Les Vielles Luge

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The alpine interior

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After eating and drinking our fill it was time to get the snow shoes back on and head off down the mountain to finish our day.

Day 6 Skiing for beginners at Les Houches,

It was out last day so we had to make it count.

One benefit of social media is making new friends and we have now forced some great friendships in Chamonix with some amazing ad at ti e inspirational people. Two of which Steve and Menna were kind enough to offer to teach us to ski. As I’m slightly older than 25 learning to hurtle down a slope at high speed on 2 planks was daunting but it was well overdue and if I plan to gain entry to more challenging climbs skiing would be essential so off we went.

A quick stop into the ski hire shop at Hotel Alpine saw us fitted out in boots, skis, poles an a helmet for less than 30 euros! Steve picked us up at 8.30 and we headed to Les Houches once more and up the ski lift (a day pass is around 45 euros) .Steve is a superb skier and mountaineer while Menna has recently learned so we had benefit of experience and someone who remembers what it’s like to learn, and under their expert tutelage and  after a few tumbles, scary turns and frustration at 4 year olds flying past us we soon managed to enjoy ourselves. By the end of the day we were getting more confident, the ski lift operators even coached us each time we clambered on!

Les Houcehes offers all garded of run as well as nursery slopes so is ideal for beginners an more experuecend skiers alike! The mountain backdrops prvide a stunning atmoshpere and we had a truly excelelnt day. Late afternoon we decided it was time to head off so while Sam and I jumped back on the ski lift Steve and Menna opted for a more direct route, with Steve taking the black run directly under the lift so we could watch him in awe!

Ski lesons now booked for more! If you want to find out more about Steves incredible story look out for the forthcoming film Magentic Mountains http://www.magneticmountains.com/

 

The planks, Sam and I looking the part

 

What a backdrop!

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Alan McIntosh is an aspiring mountaineer who together with his wife now travels to climb and hike across Scotland and Europe and has recently competed the Big Hex Mountain challenge where he and his team set the official and current time record. For more info contact him on Instagram @Coachmacca or see his tweets at @McLovinTheMountains.

 

E.O.F.T 16/17 – review

If somehow you don’t know what EOFT is then let me educate you

 

If somehow you don’t know what EOFT is then let me educate you

The European Outdoor Film Tour is a travelling film fest showcasing frankly the most awe inspiring, heart -warming, adrenaline charging, tear jerking outdoor adventure movies on the planet!


From extreme Kayaking to Big face climbing via Mountain Biking, steep skiing and wing-suiting you are granted the keys to audio visual nirvana for any outdoor enthusiast.

Having made it to 2 previous EOFT’s but missing the last one I spotted a poster for this years so grabbed 2 tickets for the Glasgow showing last night at the great venue of the Old Fruit Market in Glasgow’s Merchant City.

Joining the around three hundred other like-minded souls Sam and I took our seats and settled down in a sell out house to enjoy what was to come. EOFT’s key sponsors are Mammut (I really want that giant inflatable Mammoth!), Gore-TEX and Ellis Brigham but a raft of names support this brilliant festival of all things adventure.

Rather than wax on about it, and try to convince you that its an event not to be missed , let me take you through what was on offer and you can make your own mind up!

Please note all pictures that follow are copyright of the filmakers but I thought it best to show you how glorious the scenes can be.

 

 

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First up was Locked In by Directors Bryan Smith and David Pearson and follows a team of 4 of the world best Kayakers as they attempt to ride the length of the Beriman river in Papua New Guinea to reach the Solomon Sea. Think super steep drops, claustrophobia inducting tight canyons and some of the gnarliest rapids anywhere on earth! More than a Kayak route to tackle this run means a full on expedition over 48km and 13 gorges. Filmed both from action cams on the team and from the air it’s a stunning and exciting visual treat for anyone even if you prefer high mountains to wet feet. Plenty of moments of both rad rapid running and more than a few  “that was close!” moments to keep you glued to the screen

 

 

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Then onto a story of a German mountain biker who finds peace and slowing of time only when going fast, very fast on some of the most extreme and exposed terrain you can imagine. In search of the Flow as Harald Philip explains it is what drives him to push the comfort zone enough to expand it, but not to burst it. Directed by Christian Schmidt and Joachim Hellinger this short films follows Harald as he finds downhill lines across varying extreme landscapes including routes normally reserved for via ferrata hikers on the edge of some serious big drops and super fast downhills along routes that he will take time to go and clear even if he rides them only once year. Heart in mouth moments balanced with intriguing personal insight into what drives us to take risks.

 

 

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After that we head to a more introspective look at BASE jumping life and brotherlike friendship lost in the carefully directed and very personally narrated When we were Knights. Directed by Anson Fogel and taking the form of a spoken letter that was never opened we hear from Matt Blank himself about the friend and constant companion in climbing and wingsuit he has lost. Ian Flanders died doing what they both loved but does that make it any less tragic? Matt talk from the heart in equal measures of open love for his best friend and of the hole in life his loss has created. Beautifully filmed and perfectly delivered. A story you simply can’t turn away from.

Then its lights up and the intermission. As is usual at the EOFT it’s a mad dash for the loo and a beer but also to check out what’s on offer to buy , see who’s around and to stick your ticket in the eagerly anticipated raffle for some shiny new gear.

15 minutes later and the MC is on stage and has invited a young adventurer from the audience to select the lucky recipients of some cool prizes before its back to why we came and part 2 of the films begin! I never win these things…

 

 

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To kick off half 2 it’s a film called La Liste which see’s the “extra terrestrial” steep ski level skills of Swiss youngster Jeremie Heitz aim to take on a list of 15 , north face big alpine faces. At typically 55° and at altitudes and situations that most of us budding alpinists would see as bucket list stuff these are no normal lines. Stunning white peaks, jaw dropping skiing at up to 120km/hr and great filming mean edge of the seat stuff and more than a few “jesus!” moments.

And to think I get nervous on the indoor slope if it’s too icy!

 

 

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David Llama is an incredible climber and has been since childhood. Hi skills are obvious – but does his heritage have a part to play? In Lunag Ri he returns to his father’s homeland of Nepal to revisit roots he’s not sure her truly has and with the legendary Conrad Anker to tackle a beast of a peak – Lunag Ri. Balancing his exploration of what Nepal means to him and the technical challenges of the climb this film by directors Joachim Hellinger and Peter Strauber shows Nepal in all its Himalayan glory and sees Llama and Anker tackle the incredible face that needs them to run the full gauntlet of rock, mixed, ice and big wall climbing.

 

The film at times was a bit uncomfortable to watch as Llama seems to reject his roots as where his skills come from instead feeling its earned, not seeing the culture the way perhaps his father does and at times seeming lost for words on how to describe his feelings – but that’s what makes it so honest. Anker 27 years his senior is no lame duck instead showing yet again why he is one of the most legendary Alpinists alive today – and sees him mentoring the younger Llama from a position of experience –  at one point being very open that he takes less risks now , “unlike these young guys “.

Do they make it?

You’ll need to watch it to find out!

 

 

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Pen-ultimately we move to something a bit different from the typical expedition or big mountain  climbing saga. This time it’s about the real human frailties and realities that we don’t often get to glimpse among the high altitude celebration of alpine achievement. An epic expedition across Myanmar via Planes, Trains, motorbikes, extensive and exhausting jungle trekking and then mountaineering Down to Nothing follows a group led by Hilaree O’Neill as they attempt to first of all reach and then climb and   summit Hkakabo Razi in former Burma. Along with Emily Harrington, filmmaker Renan Ozturk, Cory Richards and Mark Jenkins we see them deal with gear movement, lack of logistic resources, dwindling resources and fracturous pressures that lead to very testing times high in the Himalya.

An exploration of what lengths we will go to , well beyond what is “do able” and what happens when we finally hit the wall this film is a glorious journey through amazing landscapes of Myanmar, personal demons and some amazing mountaineering. When you are down to nothing, what do you do?

 

Before we know it we are at the last movie of the night but what a way to finish!

It’s time for Adventures of the Dodo

 

 

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If you don’t know who the reverend Bod Shepton is you’re missing out! This octogenarian explorer and climber is the man you need to know if you fancy some new routes in the very far north of Baffin Island. And who would want to go and find these climbs? A crazy foursome of climbers (Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll , Ben Ditto and the slightly bonkers brothers Olivier and Nicolas Favresse ) who spend as much time jamming , drinking and larking about as they do putting up some astounding routes!

As the group set off across the frozen seas for Baffin on the 30 foot sloop the Dodo Delight Bob is treated to high jinks and late nights before dropping the team off to climb . New routes up some big faces and sea shanties make for a hilarious climbing film like no other and show that Bob is unlike any 80 odd year old Reverend I’ve ever seen! 

To top it off after the film he joined the MC on stage in his trademark “feed the rat” t-shirt , baseball cap and shades to tell us more tales before treating us all to a rendition of the films theme song “ Dodo’s Deleight”.. still stuck in my head!!

 

Think you fancy the EOFT? Yeah. Thought so.

 

Oh, and that raffle? I only bloody won didn’t I and am now gthe proud owner of a pair of very lovely Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 Binoculars! Thanks EOFT!!

For more information on the films and to try and grab some tickets to EOFT showings go to https://www.eoft.eu/

Van life diaries by Shelley McBride

Craving an escape from real Life, but having spent all of our savings on the very real life purchase of bricks and mortar we scrounged Roxy the Van

Craving an escape from real Life, but having spent all of our savings on the very real life purchase of bricks and mortar we scrounged Roxy the Van from our (fabulous and generous) pals Yvonne and Andy and headed north, north, north with dreams of 2 weeks of climbing sunny warm rock and lounging on empty beaches…but in reality prepared for 2 weeks of peeing rain and Atlantic gales…it’s October in Scotland after all.

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16th – Wait on Mike finishing work, and bringing me new socks, load up Roxy and make a long drive from Dundee to Assynt, via a chippie in Aviemore of course. Arrive to moonlight views over Stac Pollaidh herself and enjoy a whisky. Mike realises all the playlists I’ve downloaded are Beyoncé and Bieber based, he’s delighted.

17th- Awake to views of The Fiddlers nose, and the weather looks ok. Take a wander up Ben More Coigach, and on to the summit of the wonderful Sgurr an Fhidhleir, with utterly fantastic views over the Assynt hills, lots of dramatic autumn light. Afterwards head to the Kylesku Hotel for a beer, then a camp near the bridge with views over the fiord like loch.

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18th – Forecast dubious, but head up Quinaig in promising sunshine, soon hit clag, strong winds and rain picks up. After first summit abandon the ridge for a pie in Lochinver instead, which we munched sitting by the water in glorious sunshine. Sure I hear Mike humming Bieber, he denies this. Drove to Reiff and camped at Port Bhaigh, had a nice pint in the Am Fuaran bar, drooling over the smells from the restaurant. Make Quesadillas in the van and drink Ardmore until we fall asleep. Prefect prep for climbing tomorrow.

19th- Head to the Reiff crags in glorious sunshine. Abseil in to Black Rocks, cry mid route and realise I hate the sea. Get in loads of great routes in the Pinnacle area until the sun goes down, unbelievable sunset over the west coast. Can’t resist pub food smells, scoff langoustines and drink too much beer. Camp at Achnahaird Bay in the pitch black.

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20th- wake up to the most stunningly beautiful sunrise over the Inverpolly hills, take tons of pics whilst having breakfast and picking out Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor and Beag, Quinaig and Suilven. Weather glorious! Head out over the Reiff Peninsula to get out to climbing at the far reaches…guidebook states hour walk in. 2.5hours later arrive at the crag with soggy feet, but eager to climb. Cracking sea cliff climbing with amazing views…total solitude, worth the walk in. Walk out via the coastal route and have a nosy at Spaced Out Rockers On The Road To Oblivion, looks nails. Head back to Ullapool to stock up and camp for the night.

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21st- Lazy morning in Ullapool trying to buy a phone memory card, then worked our way up the north west coast stopping at Laxford Bay for easy slab climbs with great outlook towards Arckle, then onto Ridgeway View Crag near Rhicoinich for some great crack climbing and an amazing sunset with views to Fionavon! Realise never want to go home. Feel high as kites on the amazing weather and great climbing. Mike even asks for Bieber. Camp at Shegra Bay in the dark, fall asleep to crashing waves and have dreams of falling in the sea.

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22nd- Wake up early and watch sunrise over the Shegra cliffs towards Assynt. Walk into the beautiful Sandwood Bay again in bright sunshine and clear skies…wander around, stare at Am Buachaille sea stack for ages and fall asleep on the beach in double down jackets. Head back to Shegra in the afternoon and climb on superb rock and great routes at Second Geo, what a place!! Drive to Durness for the night. Get steaming.

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23rd- feeling tired. Have a rest day gorging at Cocoa Mountain who claim to make the best hot chocolate in the world, and its damn good! Explore Smoo Cave and walk round the coast. Forecast looking good. Head towards Ben Hope and camp at the foot of it. It’s BALTIC! Creepy noises in the night appear to be a T-Rex hunting, Mike informs me it’s the Stags rutting…

24th- Get up Ben Hope, arrive at the summit in 2 hours to thick clag. Put on every garment in our bags and sit down to wait. Perseverance wins and the summit clears to (MORE!) glorious sunshine and extensive views over the north coast, spot Orkney. Decide Ben Loyal looks great and it goes on the wish list. Arriving in the glen its roasting so have a swim* in the waterfall pools by the path Drive through the empty and very remote feeling Sutherland for a pint at the Crask Inn, then on to Kinlochewe for whisky at the Kinlochewe Hotel Bar. Camp up in minus 1 degrees.

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*dunked for 3 seconds then sprung out like a cat falling in the bath.

25th- Sunny sunrise at Loch Maree then climbed all day at Stone Valley crags in howling gales with numb fingers, managed my first HVS! Camped at Gairloch.

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26th- Rain. Cloud. Fog. Meh! Spent the day drinking tea at the Mountain Cafe. Decided to abandon Gairloch and plans for climbing on Slioch, drove to Applecross via the coastal road and witnessed another amazing sunset over Skye. Dinner at the Inn and fantastic whisky I can’t spell.

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27th- Forecast awful. Plans for Rum and Eigg abandoned. Head over Bealach Na Ba in about 5 metres visibility and head back to Fort Bill. Get drunk in Weatherspoon’s.

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28th- Spend the day at Polldubh Crags in Glen Nevis. Climb some steep stuff which i fall off with numb fingers, abandon this for some nice bold and delicate slab routes which I LOVE. Almost fall off again when massive boom shakes the glen, turns out its Typhoon jets being scrambled from Lossiemouth! Leave the glen thoroughly delighted, head back home with a final tiny trifle at the Green Welly.

What a trip!

Things I learned: Van life rocks, I hate the sea..  and Mike does love Bieber (Knew it!).

Shelley McBride and Mike Wilson are a Dundee based couple who have been climbing together for 4 years – in their own words “Lovers of mountains, climbing and other folks dugs. Mikes the one with the beard. Adventuring out of Dundee since 2012”

Shelley is tweetable at @Shelbymcb

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