Friday, February 18, 2011

Training in the Alps

I have just returned from Chamonix, a cushy basecamp on the border of France, Italy and Switzerland.  I was training in this beautiful part of the world for this year's exciting climbs. This was the best winter since 2005 for ice climbing in the Chamonix/Trient/Cogne area. For the last  two weeks there was nothing but sunny days. Last week felt more like Summer than Winter.  Just last Saturday, Paul and I went rock climbing and people were wearing t-shirts at the local crag. Unbelievable! My training consisted mostly of snow, ice and mixed climbs. All the mixed climbs took place at the Mont Blanc massif. Some of the Ice climbing clinics took place in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Italy. It was great to be trained once again by my mountaineering Grand Master, Paul Farmer.

I started by climbing the Cosmiques on the Aiguille Du Midi. This route is, mostly, rated III AD, 4a, 4b. (at 3,731 meters) -- Most of this training was designed to focus on chimneys, vertical slab climbing, ice and  mixed terrain at altitude. The crux of this climb is the 5m vertical slab rated 4c. The climb is not so technically difficult as it is awkward, there are many exposed sections looking down the NW face and the cosmiques couloir.

Our other significant training was on the Aiguille  Verte (4,122 meters).  Henri Isselin describes this mountain as "perfectly proportioned... majestic bearing... the most beautiful of the beautiful... queen of the mountains... fascinating beauty... " -- OK! You get the point. The approach is done from the Grands Montets, after traversing the upper Glacier des Rognons we started our ascent of the steep-sided NE ridge. From the summit, where we ate our lunch,  we had the most awesome view of the Glacier de Argientere on our right and of the Drus right behind us.  The training here was also about mixed terrain climbing at altitude, ice and slabs. Some more awkward moves, as I traversed from one arrete to another and rappelled down some Plus Dificile rock. Again, lots of slab climbing on exposed faces.

Our snow training was done on the Glacier des Rognons overlooking the Glacier de Argentiere. Breathtaking... both the view and the work out!

Ice Climbing Training
Most of our ice climbing training took place in Italy, at the National Park Gran Paradiso and at the upper Argentiere in France.

Valmiana is listed on the topo as 110m, we actually stopped a little short of 5 pitches using a 60 meter rope! So the topo is not very reliable. L1 is mostly 80 degrees, L2 between 35 and 55 degrees, L3 is a consistent 70 degrees, L4 60/70 degrees. This climb is a perfect practice for anyone trying to attempt Lhotse. It reminded me of the gully below the upper coloir above C4 on Lhotse and the ice and rock conditions there last year, even the occasional rock fall. Valmiana is highly prone to avalanches, so Paul let me lead the higher pitches...

At Mur du Bar, Trient, I had worked on the A Boire! This was the most beautiful frozen waterfall on the Glacier de Trient last year, 100m -- L1 40m, 80 degrees and L2 60m of mostly 70 degrees, rappelled on abalakovs.

Over at Col des Montets, I cleared Initiatique, 50m of 50 to 75 degrees, and La colonne (the column), 50m. La colonne is one of the most popular climbs both for its striking beauty and calf challenge. Yeah, it burns!

Cascade de Lillaz (alt. 1,650m) the technical grade and type of ice depends on whether you take the right or left side, 250m long, a four to five pitches climb. 50 to 85 degrees. This climb was a good practice for a climb where you need to be committed since it's long and lots of fragile ice.  

Chandelle de Lillaz, 10m -- great practice for vertical climb. On the left side of Cascade de Lillaz. We did this just for fun (according to Paul), it was a lot of work for me.