Thursday, 31 January 2013

Day 6: The big thaw, Cascate di Lillaz, conquering fears and Village du Cogne

Another 8 hours sleep last night, I could get used to this. I'm starting to enjoy the extra sleep that I normally live without. Too bad I'll never manage to keep it up when I get home. I arrive at breakfast this morning to find out there has been a bit of a thaw during the night and it's set to be sunny and a lot warmer today which means any route that gets direct sunlight is going to deteriorate pretty quickly. So we decide to head back to Cascate di Lillaz again where we started on Monday as it has quick access from the road but that we would do the top 3 pitches first before the sun comes out before doing the bottom pitches if we have time.

So we head out to the route and walk up to our 1st pitch which was a relatively low angled climb of about 50m in length but to start we had to walk over a frozen pool, not my idea of fun that's for sure especially when you can hear all the water rushing underneath your feet. The climb itself was so nice and I found it quite easy. Definitely a nice warm up pitch.

Our 2nd pitch was slightly more of a challenge for me as we had a pool of water on our left at the start of the route. 1: I am not a fan of pools of water, be they small or large, icy or warm and 2: I certainly do not want to fall off an ice route and be plunged into one so this pitch was more about conquering fears for me. The route itself, once I got focused, was lovely. Not steep and not boring, just right and of a good length too at almost 50m again.

The 3rd of our pitches was a little more steep to begin with but just for a short section so just when you started to get the hang of it, it was almost over. A nice challenge and a great way to warm back up after standing in the cold, windy shade at the top of the 2nd pitch. After the initial steep section, you go over onto what could almost be a slab for a few steps. I love that part because you get some excellent rest for your arms and your legs before continuing to the top of the route which had some snow, some thin ice and some mixed climbing again before topping out into the sunshine... What a beautiful finish.

After a little lunch we head back down to the bottom of Cascate di Lillaz and Andy sets up a top rope for us to have a wee play on some more ice before the sun hits the bottom and it starts to melt. We each do a pretty strenuous route up the middle of the ice before the sun comes out. We then decided to head into the Village du Cogne for some coffee and a spot of lunch. We totally deserve it this week, we've worked hard.

The village is such a lovely, quaint little place. Very quiet, you could almost be forgiven for thinking it has been abandoned. I guess their season is in the summer when the apartments will mostly be occupied. It's a shame it doesn't get more traffic in winter because what a beautiful place it is. However, on the other side of that, it's probably best because then the ice routes aren't stacked with hundreds of people. It's a dilemma really.

After lunch, we head back to the hotel. We have a little more time to spare today so I decided to pack my bag, shower and then go chill in the bar where I treated myself to another cup of the worlds best hot chocolate. It's so good. It's like a melted chocolate bar in a cup with cream on top. I love it. I was then treated to some free champagne curtesy of some French people who had just arrived that afternoon. Quite sweet really and it was just lovely to relax with a few people. After yet another massive dinner which is impossible for me to finish, I stayed in the bar for a while and talked to a few people then eventually gave up and went to bed. Tiredness is just so dominant these days.

S xx

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Day 5: Lillaz Gulley, feeling old and the best hot chocolate in the world

Woke up today after another mega 8 hours sleep feeling stiff and sore; especially my back; and a little groggy. I'm not sure 8 hours sleep is a good thing for me, especially when I'm so used to living on 4, maybe I have to get used to it so more early nights perhaps? I can hear a few people laughing as they read that. I met Ben and Andy for breakfast and we decided that today we would head to Andy's favourite, typically Scottish, route; Lillaz gully; for a mega 5 pitch route with an uphill snowy slope to start and a downhill walk off the top. No problem I thought.

We got to the car park and upon seeing the walk in I thought holy crap, that's going to be tougher than I thought but I was sure that it would be fine once I got started. So we got our heavy packs on and got going. By the time we got to the steep part, my back was actually beginning to feel okay, thank goodness because what came next would have killed it otherwise. We got about a quarter of the way up the slope and then had to stop and get our crampons on as it was a little slippy. We then slogged our way up the rest of the way to the bottom of the 1st pitch. What a tough start and that's before we even got on the ice.

Pitch 1 was a perfect way to start, a short pitch on a relatively low angle with some mixed climbing at the top. Fairly simple and really fun. Then top out to another slog uphill on another snowy slope.

Pitch 2 was a little more challenging but by then I was starting to feel like I had my ice legs back. I decided to use this pitch as some technique practise. By the end of the pitch, I felt like my footwork was improving as I had to kick a lot less to feel secure... Trust those feet I always say in rock climbing, now it was my turn to do exactly that. Another snowy slope to finish, quite easy to get through those parts though, nothing too technical in that.

Pitch 3 was about getting the axe placement precision that I wanted, less swinging, more confidence in the pretty sharp tools I held in my hands. By halfway through this pitch, I was feeling confident and like I was beginning to master some of the technique I'd be practising until a really high foot move had me catch my crampons in my trousers... Grrrr. Still, I managed the pitch clean again and the trousers will repair easily I'm sure. At least it wasn't my calf muscle I pierced.

Pitch 4 was a slightly more tricky number, more mixed climbing and more snowy slopes to finish... It's becoming a regular feature now. Just as well the adrenaline is keeping me going really. Lots of hooking my axes behind rocks and bridging my feet on the rock. Crampons on rock do make a funny noise, nothing pleasant in that scratchy sound. It's more like a fearful sound especially trying to get out of a typical Siobhann wide bridge position, if it was rock climbing I'd had broken a few of my knee rules on this pitch. A very pleasant pitch but I do think its the most scared I've been on ice yet. I'm sure forgetting to unclip and then having to down climb, hang off a really high axe placement with a totally pumped arm whilst I fight with an Ice screw didn't help. I managed to get it all sorted just in time to get a rest on my other arm which saved me from burning out and falling. I've not fallen yet and that's the way I want to keep it... Onsight all the way, even through yet another snowy slope finish up to the last pitch of the day.

The last pitch was definitely difficult. The weeks adventures still fresh on our muscles, tiredness was beginning to kick in and there was so much more mixed climbing to be done this pitch. I'm sure gracefulness went right out the window during my climb but I made it with a giant smile on my face to the difficult part, I had to rock climb with crampons on and gloves that gave me no advantage, Still it was amazing. I then got some good tree hooking action on with my axes... What a great buzz that was. I made it to the top alive.

Last thing to do was to get off the mountain. So we made our way down, steady pace at first, on a high from our achievement and then when the steps got really high and the days climbing took its toll, the pace slowed. The calves, the thighs and the back began to hurt and every step started to become a chore. Thankfully, we made it to the bottom without incident and then we had a lovely flat walk to the van. Never a more pleasant feeling than that.

Off to the hotel we went and after a very hot shower, a massive dinner and a few cups of tea, I felt alive and ready to tackle another day... After some of the best hot chocolate in the world, sleep and tiger balm of course.

S xx

Day 4: Pista per pedoni e Cascatisti, 5 pitch Patri and the intro to ice bruising.

Got up this morning feeling a little stiff but nothing a stretch and a walk to some ice won't cure. Met everyone at breakfast and we decided that we would go climb a 5 pitch route called Patri which would also involve a little abseiling from the top. No problem I thought, that sounds like a brilliant way to end the day.

Off we set, Ben and I with our 20 tonne backpacks and Andy looking as chilled as always, on our 1 hour "gentle wander" to the bottom of the 1st pitch along the pista per pedoni e cascatisti. We eventually get to the start of the route and we see for ourselves the magnificence of Patri. It looked amazing. So out of the backpack comes all of the kit and that makes the world of difference to the weight which is basically good because for the 1st 3 pitches we have to carry the packs up with us... Damn is my thought.

The 1st pitch is long, pleasant but tricky until the last couple placements when everything is a bit wet. I get totally soaked but somehow I don't mind. Maybe it's because I'm used to it with the typical Scottish climate. Near the end of the pitch, an Italian gentleman appears so quickly behind me but instead of feeling pressure from him, he totally puts me at ease, makes me smile and helps me get through the crux move at the top. What a lovely guy.

2nd pitch introduces me to the art of ice avoidance, massive pieces come flying at me from above, I get hit on the shins twice and the helmet takes another 2 hits. That's going to hurt in the morning I think.

3rd pitch is a nice short one, very pleasant and with a nice snowy slope to finish. The joyous thing about that is that from now we get to leave our packs at the bottom for the next two pitches as we will abseil from the top. Easy peasy I thought. So we have a bit of lunch, a drink of whatever our flask filler of choice is. It will be no surprise to those who know me that it was Hot blackcurrant for me as always.

Pitch 4 feels so much quicker due to the weight difference when not carrying a pack. It's also a lot easier to look around you and see footholds without being hit on the back of the head with your pack. With some slushy ice and some lovely solid axe placements, this pitch was my favourite of the day. A nice finish on a little ledge kept me safe until I can start the final section.

The final pitch, a very pleasant climb around an ice corner and then up to a thin section of ice through a narrow gully with a little bit of mixed climbing. A very nice climb with a lot of new technique thrown in. Once at the top, the next thing was to get back down, a little short (approx 50m) abseil. Coming down at the start was good until I emerged from the enclosed rock and saw the whole world open up below me. I felt more than a little exposed at that moment but as it was the only way down, there really was not much choice. So I slowly made my way down to the bottom and once on solid ground again, I felt safe. What a fantastic feeling.

All that was left was the long walk back to our accommodation. I won't lie and say that it was as easy as the walk in, it wasn't. Even though it was the same route, it felt twice as long and twice as hard. I can see why people get injured on the descent from big mountain days, the concentration is gone, the footwork is always a little more wobbly but finally, it comes to an end and I'm back in the bar with a cup of tea... Time to celebrate the day and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.

S xx

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Day 3: Mont Blanc tunnel, Cascate Di Lillaz and creation of Team extreme

Woke up to some fantastic snowy scenes in Chamonix today which just cemented our decision to go to Italy to climb instead. A not to early start today, breakfast at 7.30 and meeting in the lounge for the day ahead at 8.30am. We drove into Chamonix centre to pick up a few things first, climbing boots and other necessities like snacks and stuff. Brioche for me... Yum yum. Then off we went in the van, heading for the Mont Blanc tunnel, again another thing I was really excited about getting to do. that's the thing with tunnels though, even ones as awesome as this one, after 5 minutes, it gets a bit boring and you just want to see the other side. Eventually we emerge from the tunnel and were greeted by such an awesome view of the gnarley face of Mont Blanc. It looks as impressive as I imagined it would.

After about 90 minutes driving we arrive in Cogne, kit up and walk on up to Cascate Di Lillaz where we 3, Andy, Ben and I become Cascatisti (ice climbers). We arrive at the base of the climbs and Andy takes up through all the stuff we need to know and gives us some time to practise with one of my favourite tasks in climbing... Traversing. Then we move off to the real climbs and Andy dos the honours by leading the route and setting up a top rope for Ben and I to have a practise on. The 1st climb was a little tricky and a bit scary at parts but its good to get that adrenaline going and before I knew it, I was on the route for a 2nd time, feeling more confident and sure of my placements.

Then we moved on to something a tad more exciting and a lot longer, eventually climbing into the sunshine. At first it was a little tricky with lots of high axe placements but then it became a joy to just be swinging and kicking and hearing the best noise as the axe makes a solid placement 1st time... Thunk.

The last route of the day was a grade 3 with a walk off the top to finish. I'm last up the route, feeling totally alone and a little unsure, I take my time and work out the most efficient way I can to get around the hard bits, removing the screws as I go and making sure I take advantage of any good rests I can find. Finally I arrive at the top with a giant smile... I survived my first day. love it!!!

A short drive takes up to Valnontey where our accommodation is, hotel la Barme. A charming little place, in a valley about 1700m above sea level. We get our rooms sorted, have a drive in the bar before filling our bellies with a monster dinner which I found impossible to finish. We then decided to have a wee chit chat and relax in the bar but everyone was starting to get really tired. So completely out if character for me, I headed to bed early. Packed my bag for the morning and curled up in my bed. Most people won't believe me when I say this but The last time I saw before I passed out was 10.50pm. I think I passed out shortly after. Probably the earliest I have fell asleep for years without being ill... The sign of a good day and taking in the rest for another one tomorrow. Indeed!

S xx

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Day 2: Chamonix centre, Chamonix Sud, hot chocolate and a change of plans

Exploring solo day for me today. Went to breakfast and got speaking to one of the members of staff, Lynette. She gave me some mountain information and some hints and tips for the area. Lovely girl who made me feel really at home.

I decided to go for a wander around Chamonix Sud to check out the cable cars and costs of ascending Aiguille Du Midi which is directly across from the lodge and to check out whether or not I would have time today to make my journey to the top. I was informed to allow at least 3.30 - 4hours so I decided I would do that on my 1st rest day after my weeks ice adventures. After making my final decision, I walked into Chamonix centre to see some shops and sights and find my way around. After a few hours wandering around, I decided to head back to the lodge to get a bit of rest before meeting the people from the course. About 10 minutes after I returned to the lodge, I bumped into Simon who asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee so of course I had to say yes. We walked back into the centre and went to a place called elevation which is quite popular with skiers and snowboarders coming off the hill and by the taste of the hot chocolate, I could tell why it was liked so much.

Back at the lodge, I met up with Andy, our guide and Ben the only other person on the course for a drink and a chat in the bar before dinner. We got our gear for the week sorted and talked through our plan for the week. The original plan was a few days climbing in Chamonix and a few days in cogne however, the conditions in the French alps this week are not that great and some of the routes are at risk if avalanche so Andy decided that we would just go to cogne and climb there for the entire week. Not a problem for me, I'm happy anywhere.

After dinner we arranged to meet in the morning and we all headed off to pack and get some rest for the day ahead. Tomorrow we head though the Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy and then on to Cogne... How exciting... Bring it on I say.

S xx

It's that time again

Yesterday I began another fantastic and long awaited adventure. I left edinburgh slightly calmer than I expected and flew to Geneva on what was probably my favourite flight ever so far. Everything was just so relaxing, no stress, nothing but me, my music, my book and some Zzzzz's... Loved it. I met the driver Simon at the airport and instantly we just started chatting about climbing, skiing, mountaineering, canyoning... Everything really and before I knew it, I had arrived at my mountain lodge. What a fantastic journey so far. Simon offered me the chance of some more climbing once my Jagged Globe adventure comes to an end and before I have to return home. I might just take him up on that but that's a story for a future date lol

So anyway, I was given my room key, wifi and door code and shown the way to my room and told to enjoy my view. So the first thing I did when I got to my room was look out my window and wow was it is a view or what. I have the room facing Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc and even though it was dark, it was a spectacular sight. Most people who know me will know that what I had to do next was open the window and just breathe in the air... A tad cold but that doesn't matter when it is this good. I settled in as best I could, unpacked and arranged some stuff for the morning, closed the curtains and went to bed

I woke up this morning, after a great nights sleep and jumped out of bed, threw open the curtains and was blinded for a second before seeing the best view I've seen in a long time. I cannot imagine a better way to wake up than to be faced with some beautiful snowy mountains.

So now, I am off to explore a little before heading back to meet everyone from the course at 6pm. You never know, I might just find something very special indeed

Bye for now
S xx