It's been a funny old summer so far. It started wet, very wet, and rain in the Peak means climbing at Raven Tor. Maybe it was a blessing, as I went sport climbing way more than normal and actually got stronger. Brilliant, classic routes got ticked such as 'Obscene Gesture' (7c), 'Body Machine' (7c) and the not so classic 'The Green Alternative' (7c+). My first of the grade but, if you know it, I'm not sure it classes as a route. It's so short it would be a low ball boulder problem in Hueco! Either way this set me up well for trips to Wales. With ticks of more mega routes such as 'Hunger' (E5 6a), 'Rat Race' (E3 5c), 'Syringe' (E4 6a), 'True Grip' (E5 6a), 'Rimsky Korsakov' (E4/5 6a) and lots of other classics.
With confidence high we finally decided to get on the classic hard limestone of the Peak. Rediscovering from the dust 'The Golden Mile' (E5 6b) and the mighty 'Behemoth' (E5 6b). At the time of writing, has won the battle over Dave and I with some spectacular air time (it was wet, honest guv!). We will return to the fight soon.
The main aim of the summer was the Alps. Dreams of the' Walker Spur' and other high peaks were completely destroyed by constant rain and snow during what turned out to be one of the worst seasons ever. It was, as Dad's always called it, "good beer drinking weather!". All that said, we went anyway. As Rich and I arrived in Chamonix the sun was blazing and it was HOT! Too hot, but this was all due to change the next afternoon. Thirty minutes in Cham and we had packed our kit and got the last Montenvers train heading for the Envers hut. The following day the forecast was good for the morning but as standard rain was due for the afternoon.
We woke early and headed straight for the classic crack climb 'Pedro Polar' (6b+). This proved to be amazing crack and slab climbing on perfect granite with a tricky crux pitch sporting only one bolt feeling somewhere near E3 5c. We finished the route off nice and early before midday and, with cloud building, we headed down.
James and Rich on the glorious cracklines of Pedro Polar
Back in the Valley with rain falling we meet up with friends from home Adam Brown and Tom Le Fanu (Le Fan-what???). Beers were drunk and we decided to look at the well named 'Un-named 7B roof crack' the next day. We had hoped this may stay dry in the pouring rain that arrived, and it did. This crag is more famous for the awesome 8a+ offwidth of 'Thai Boxing' which Adam optimistically decided to have a go at, but came down saying "it will go with more big cams!". Hmmm? We will never know.
Both cracks are now trad as the bolts have been stripped and were just about dry in the rain. After a few attempts I managed to use some grit training, lank and lack of technique to gibber my way to the top of the 7b crack. Not a bad way to spend a wet day. More beer and bad weather forecasts meant more steep sheltered crags. This time we spent another wet day at the sport crag of Bionassy. Again, fun but we didn't drive to Chamonix for this!
That night we see hope in the forecast, a (semi) decent day was coming. We discussed, what dries quick and what do we really want to climb? 'État Du Choc', or as we named it 'Attack the Shark' was first on the list. This route is situated round on the Swiss side, reached from the Champex chair lift, and is on the most stunning Yosemite style granite I've seen in the Chamonix area, the spire of 'Petit Clocher du Portalet'. We caught the first chair up and walked up in brilliant sunshine and pitched our tent on a great spot high above the glacier. By the time we finally got to the route it was already the afternoon and cloud was rolling in. We made a couple of mistakes, the first being not bringing a topo as it looked like a straight crack system.
The first couple of entry pitches where uninspiring but they led to the incredible cracks. Awesome hand and fist cracks led to a belay on a scary booming chockstone. Above this was the 7a offwidth which the route was famous for. Setting off fully laden with cams, but soon my heart sank, it was wet! I tried to carry on and ended up fully in the back trying to squeeze up. After some struggle I realized I would never get out. Sliding down a little I found it was climbable in more classic arm bar and fighting way. Arriving exhausted and bloody at the belay, but without a topo I'd gone too far and some faff started. Rich finally fought his way up and led on up the next pitch.
This proved to be my favorite pitch of the trip, a steep jamming crack on the left and an offwidth on the right to shove my feet in. However, with my belay in the wrong place Rich had no idea where to belay and climbed into the wrong (very wet) groove. After some more faff he found the correct belay and I followed up, enjoying every metre. On the ledge thick mist and cloud surrounded us, with rain forecast we made the sensible yet gutting decision to head down as everyone else on the spire had bailed hours ago, it would not be a good place to be in a storm! A pitch and a half away from glory we descended but, frustratingly, it didn't rain until late into the night. Damn, we could have done it!
We had wondered if we could finish it off the next day, but the weather decided other wise. It was a long night in a tiny tent when you're both 6'4 and it pours with rain. We packed up in the morning between more showers. Down in the valley we found WiFi and food so we could decide what to do next. The mixed forecast made it hard to commit to anything. Then Rich got a bad case of UFO (Unjustified F*%#£%$ Optimism).
He stated "Right lads, if we drive RIGHT NOW we can be in Andermatt by 6pm (3.5 hours away), then walk into the Salbit before night fall for the West Ridge the next day before the rain". This seemed unlikely, the West Ridge is 33 pitches, 1000m of granite long and it was raining today and due to storm the next afternoon. However, you can't say no to that level of psyche, so 45 mins after getting down we drove off to the incredible granite towers of The Salbit in Switzerland.
The drive took more like 4.5 hours, it rained a lot, but we carried on with plan A and made it to the bivi hut under a cloud covered and drizzly 'Westgrat' just before dark. We awoke at 4.30am and set off under a starry sky with a trad 6b (E2 5c?) pitch for breakfast by headtorch, yummy. We were off. Rich and I led off first and Adam and Tom followed. Even though they were stronger they described us as "fast, but simple!".
The climbing was great and the first tower went well, just before the second tower we were overtaken by 2 fast Germans moving together. This reassured me, they must have seen a good forecast, so I asked them. One of them said "NO! the forecast is very bad, storms by 4pm, maybe 2!". They simply decided to go really fast to avoid the storms, this didn't settle my nerves especially as cloud was building. It wasn't until around pitch 20 that I relaxed a little as it cleared and didn't look like rain at all, we dropped the pace and started to enjoy it.
Rich on Westgrat of Salbitschijen
Pitch after pitch of pure class with climbing maybe up to E2. There were loads of great cracks and abseils off all the towers to start the next. On pitch 29 or 30 the huge bulk of granite of the West ridge turns to an arete sharper than 'Archangel'. You layback it with 500 metres of exposure either side and the bolt disappearing below, breath taking. We arrive at the spikey summit (only room for one at a time) at 4.30pm with the sun shining. Mega. All there was to do was to write the normal comment in the summit log book, "Good, but not as good as Stoney" and head to the hut for a well deserved pint!!
After the beer it was a long slog to the van and finally the rain arrived, later than forecast. Awesome, well done Rich for the optimism to risk it, and get the tick of the holiday!
We headed back to Chamonix as Tom had to head home, what a great way to end his trip. The forecast was poor again and with a big tick under our belt we did the obvious thing, get drunk! Us Northerners can't climb 8a, but we definitely out-drank the London team!
After a couple of days of hangovers and poor weather there was a slight break. We headed to the Aiguille de Blaitière where Adam had teamed up with the unstoppable Ginger Ben. A lot of the routes were wet, with a poor guide book we climbed the only line that looked dry. I still don't know what it was but it was great!. As we abbed down into mist we could see Adam and Ben heading up the last few pitches of the incredible 'L'Eau Rance D'Arabie' (6b+). When we reached the bottom it seemed the rest of the climbers in Chamonix had followed their path (as it was one of the only dry routes). We decided to get involved too and did the first 3 pitches, awesome climbing and another fun day.
Unknown route on the Aiguille de Blaitiere in Chamonix
Adam Brown l'eau rance d'arabie in Chamonix
Again the running theme of rain continued. The next dry day was the day we had to start driving home. We decided on the brilliant and accessible Brévent. This turned out to be a sociable crag, climbing with Ben and Rich and meeting loads of others. We climbed the classic trad corner of 'Ex Libris' (6b) to start, then moving onto the tricky but amazing corner/crack climb of 'Premier de Corvée' 7a?).
This was the final route of the holiday and one of my favorite. The semi bolted route definitely needs some trad gear and feels around E4. The first pitch is an awesome finger crack/face climbing 7a pitch. Then the next few are steep corner cracks at 6c+ with a final amazing crack up the obvious head wall. What a way to end the trip, as soon as we finished we began the hideous journey back to Sheffield with traffic jams and exploding tyres!
Everyone in the UK had been telling us about the incredible weather while we had been away. However we bought the rain back with us, sorry everyone!. It was a great trip but as normal very frustrating. The weather and the big mountain ticks still keep me up at night!
But returning home to the peak is always great. I got back to business by ticking the classic 'Tales of Yankee Power' (E5 6a) at High Tor. Not quite the Walker Spur but not bad!