Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Day 9: An amazing day out, -26C and the summit of Aiguille du Midi.

Well it seems that my regular sleeping pattern is back big time, another short 5 hours or so of sleep before getting up at 7am for breakfast. I'm actually beginning to get used to eating in the morning though, maybe I should try and keep it up since it is the most important meal of the day so I'm regularly told. Breakfast of champions today, cornflakes topped with coco pops and then 3, yes 3 croissants and yet another 3 cups of tea. I'm sure some people won't believe I managed to eat that much at such an early hour.

Lynette and I decided that as it was her day off and the weather was absolutely perfect, that we would hang out and head up to the top of Aiguille du Midi for some good views, good chat and a way to pass some time. So once we knew the top was open, we hit the street for a 10 minute walk to reach the cable car. It looked like quite a large queue but it moved so fast and before we knew it, we were at the very front of the first car watching as we were wizzed so quickly up to the first station at 2354m. What a difference in the temperature already. After taking in the view and grabbing a few price pictures, we head off to the next cable car that would traverse Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North Face of the Midi to 3800m. Overall you have an altitude gain of over 2700m in 20 minutes... impressive stuff.

We then headed off for the summit and upon reaching the 3842m that is the top of the midi, the recorded temperature in the pretty strong 120km/h wind was -26C and in Lynette's words; was a trifle fresh. Within a few seconds of having my gloves off to capture the outstanding views, my fingers were freezing cold and my toes, even in my mountaineering boots with 2 pairs of socks could feel it. My phone camera decided that it was too cold to continue working and I was sure I got a little bit of brain freeze. As you can imagine we didn't stay n the summit for too long before we retreated and headed back down to the museum of elite alpinists. It was certainly nice to get some feeling back in my fingers as I basked in the videos and info of all the amazing feats of mountaineering of the past and present. It's amazing to be surrounded by it all, it really does inspire and motivate me to work hard and push the limits of my dreams. Never giving up is the right mentality.

What a fantastic day out I had, not just for the summit of the Midi but for the amazing company that is Lynette, she truly is an awesome person and someone that I am so glad I met in such an amazing place.

For my very last night in Chamonix, I had dinner with the guys again, enjoyed their stories of their day and then randomly bumped into Dave, one of the guys I met in one the ice in Cogne. It really is a small world at times. We all had a drink in the bar and then Simon joined us and after the hotel bar was closed, some of the staff, Dave, Simon and myself all went out into Chamonix Sud to have a drink in a bar called the Jekyll where we drank some beer, played a game that would never be permitted in a central Scotland bar... You hammer a nail into a tree trunk and the loser (the last one to get the nail all the way in) buys the shots. Genius really. I'm so glad I had a week of ice climbing to prepare for this game, my precision was so good that I managed to kick some serious butt... Something to be proud of I reckon. What a great place! Chris, the owner was just brilliant. Good music choices, everyone knows how much that impresses me. So we got our dancing on before finally having to leave 2am. Thank goodness I packed earlier otherwise I'd have to get up super early in the morning.

I definitely had a wonderful time this whole trip and tonight was just a perfect finish. Good memories and new friends to cherish for a long time. I look forward to the day where we meet again.

S xx

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Day 8: Rest day, future planning and meeting new friends

Today is the 1st rest day I've had and you would think I'd be taking advantage of a long lie in bed, lots of sleep and a big hearty breakfast but instead, I had about 5 hours sleep, got up at 7am and ate a bowl of cereal and croissants (my favourite thing in the world) before washing that down with about 4 cups of tea. You would also think that I would be loving being able to not do much and just chill out but those closest to me will know that after about 2 hours (maximum probably) of having nothing to do, I tend to get a little restless and bored. I like the fact that I always want to be doing something active, I don't think it's a bad thing at all.

The weather here in Chamonix isn't the best today so I won't be doing anything touristy that requires a good view to make good use of it. Instead I decided to spend some time reading and writing and then I began going over some plans for my next adventures. Lots of investigating and pricing of trips, training and equipment. There is so much I want to do and then there is even more that I have to do in order to allow me to fulfil my future dreams.

It's always a difficult thing to decide what is next on the cards, lots of questions can be asked at this time: What should I do first? What comes next? How do I arrange that? How much will it cost? What training is involved? How much time do I have to dedicate to that? The list of questions is endless really. I don't know how other people go about making sure these questions are answered but for me I usually find it best to write things down and just work through it, kind of like a to do list of questions. But that's just me. So today I took some time to write some stuff down and give me a new list of things to answer.

After a few hours of sitting around, I had to get out. So I out on my waterproof jacket and off I went to wander in the light snow around Chamonix Centre. Not heading anywhere in particular, I just strolled and looked in some shop windows before I bumped into Ben. We decided to go for a drink to pass some time and I got to enjoy one of my favourite drinks, desperados and watch some rugby in a little pub somewhere off the main beaten track. We had a spot of lunch and then went back to the hotel as Ben had to leave for home, hope all goes safely there. So here I was again back at the hotel, just relaxing with a cuppa watching some rugby before I decided to go get showered and ready for dinner. I arranged to meet up with Simon again for a few drinks after dinner. It's always nice to have an evening plan in a new place. Beats sitting watching YouTube videos alone in the room haha.

I had dinner with the guys on the weekend ice climbing trip and got to hear some great stories and learn a little more about them all and then met simon and his friend for a drink and had a great night with some new friends.

Talking about stories,. Dan (on the ice climbing weekend course) in particular has a great story to tell, he is heading to Everest in March this year and plans to out the first red nose on the summit for comic relief. As it's not really my story to tell, it's best that he tells you himself to please go to www.everestmillion.com to check it out. I do wish him all the best of luck with it and I am sure the whole expedition will be a massive success. I look forward to following all the progress online.

S xx

Friday, 1 February 2013

Day 7: The last day on the ice, E Tutto Relativo and the return of Chamonix

Hotel La Barme, I really love It here. I think the staff are wonderful and some of the people I've met here have been so nice. I love that about the climbing community, it's full of the best people to surround yourself with. If only I could stay longer but I have to say farewell Today. I wish I had gotten everyone's name and that I could keep in touch with certain individuals. I can only hope that we meet again sometime, sooner rather than later I'm sure we will see each other randomly on the ice.

An earlier start today for breakfast, thank goodness I had packed my bag last night as I found it difficult to focus on my mere 7.5 hours sleep... What's happening to me? Over breakfast we discussed the days itinerary and decided to get up and out to the route early to avoid being caught in queues when we have a return to Chamonix afterwards. The weather report stated some light snow and colder temperatures so at least our ice wouldn't disintegrate in the warm sunshine today.

Our route today is the elegantly named E Tutto Relativo. (I just love that name, it rolls off the tongue so beautifully and it's so true) It is going to be a popular route today as a few of the guys in the hotel were on it yesterday and stated that it is in good condition right now (the ice was fat apparently). I looked up some information on the route and was a little nervous about some of the comments about it, especially the 3rd pitch which has scared a few people away in the past. No matter, it's my last day I thought and I'm ready for the challenge, I'll give it my best shot for sure. No point ending the week with a half hearted effort.

Pitch 1 was quite nicely angled, the axe and feet placements were really good and the whole climb just felt really fluid. As I reached the top of the pitch it started to lightly snow, there goes my straight hair I thought. Not that the helmet didn't ruin that anyway.

Pitch 2 begins with a snow slope up to a short section of low angled ice into a little corner, another relatively simple climb, good feet and axe placements with a nice warm up to what looked to be the crux of the route...

Pitch 3, now this was going to be difficult. Standing in my little cave, protected from the snow which was falling heavier now and from seeing the real beast of a climb that was to come, I felt a little nervous about how difficult it looked up close. Andy led the pitch and Ben followed, next it was my turn. I knew from Bens climb that it as going to be a difficult one but I'd give it my best. The beginning of the climb looked difficult as i had to traverse around a bulging bit of ice before even getting to the vertical part, as it turned out this part was really nice and easy. As I removed the 1 ice screw, I eyed up my challenge and bit did it look super steep. I worked my way up as best I could but feeling some pressure from the newly arrived climbers below who, by their shouts of venga, were clearly in a hurry to get out of the heavy snow. About halfway up, struggling with an ice screw, even though I had a solid axe placement, I felt that horrible feeling... with a little girly scream I, off I came and when I finally came to a halt, I was way past where I started on the route. Andy, sensing that I was not loving my big fall, came to the edge to give me some moral support which really really helped me. So, under his instruction, I took advantage of the rest and then I took a deep breath and got back on the route. This time, I felt much more confident and I don't know how, but it felt like a much easier climb. Maybe it was the speed of which I ran up it the 2nd try that made all the difference. When I reached the top, it was heaven and I felt amazing to have completed the route. My last climb was apparently really good too, so a massive thanks to Andy for the moral support, without it I think I could have been beaten by that pitch.

Abseiling back down was just so much fun after such a hard route and so quick which, in all the heavy snow and with how soaked through we all were, was a blessing. We trudged back down the snow slope and back to Village du Cogne for some lunch and well deserved caffeine before our next part of the adventure... The drive back to Chamonix.

Cogne, what a place. If you are an ice climber and haven't been there, you have to work it out and get yourself there. What an amazing charming place. Filled with some great people, lots and lots of routes to choose from. I'm already planning to come back, wish it could be tomorrow but I'm patient and determined so I can wait longer... Just about.

It's good to be back in chamonix though, I do love this place. The hotel la chaumiere is such a lovely place, Nice staff here too.
Andy met with his new ice climbing participants tonight and we all had dinner together. Lovely people, they'll have such a wonderful time. I'm so jealous. I wish I was climbing with them. A week is just not long enough, next year I might just do 2.

S xx

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