Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Saturday 13 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 6 - Arolla to Cabane de Bertol (3311 metres)

Approx 6 km, 1300 metres ascent, 5 hours.

Last night we enjoyed an excellent meal, but those enjoying a 'wee dram' paid SF9 - about £8 for the privilege. That's nothing compared with our home tonight, where there is no running water and mineral water costs SF10 for 1.5 litres. A small beer costs SF 5, so this evening will not be the most alcoholic (or anything much else for that matter) of our lives!

Today was perfect weather for the short walk to Bertol, quite a high Alpine mountain hut. A bit like walking up Ben Nevis from Glen Nevis in distance and ascent, so not a big day. However, as you slowly rise from Arolla and round the corner of the dog-leg route up to the hut, the splendour of the multitude of Alpine summits in view increases with nearly every step. The final section is a climb up ladders over a buttress (going round the buttress would expose you to dangerous rockfall), then across a snowfield, where Dave is pictured above - leading us towards the near vertical ladders that run up to Cabane de Bertol.

Dave had told us that the outside toilets, which are accessed via a walkway of steel mesh suspended above a huge void, had a reputation for being the worst loos in the Alps. I'm sure I've heard such stories from John Howarth on his winter Haute Route trips with Mark Seaton, but luckily for us they appear to have been refurbished since Dave (and John) was last here.

The Cabane is heaving with people - the downside of being on a popular Alpine route in mid August, but everyone seems relaxed apart from the guide who wants all 28 of his party to be fed in the first sitting. He won - we are in the second sitting anyway, so don't really care. We'll have to go to our dormitory whilst 'first sitting' takes place. The hut is full. Our sleeping quarters are in a half spherical basement, so the individual places on a huge mattress taper towards the feet, for which there isn't much room. I'm on 'window duty' again.

Shirley, thanks for your comments. We encountered a 'piglet' today on the path up from Arolla - she seemed very perky and probably got up to around 3000 metres. She was admired by 'The Boys' who entertained themselves on today's long ascent with a series of bad jokes, rugby songs, and risque comments on the Swiss totties passing in both directions.

Breakfast tomorrow is at 4.30, but there's no need to set an alarm as the dormitory will be a hive of congested activity in the dark.

Should be fun!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, 12 August 2011

Friday 12 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 5 - Cabane des Vignettes to Arolla via Pigne d'Arolla (3796 metres)

Approx 9 km, 650 metres ascent, 6 hours.

We were in bed early last night. I resisted the effect of the beer and wine until about 3am, when, in a bed a little apart from the others - I had bagged the single bed in a room for seven - I discovered a pile of Crocs. Apparently my 'instant sleep in a mountain hut' had proved a little noisy for my companions....

Elsewhere, in a room for guides only, the Swiss guide had moved out after Dave's arrival, leaving our leader (who perhaps is a little noisy at night) with the window bunk - the prime position in a mountain hut as it gives the owner of that position control over the heating, or more importantly the cooling, of the dormitory.

Michael, Anthony and Grant planned to have a lie in today, so it was a bit of a surprise for them when the dormitory lighting automatically burst into life at 4.45am! If you want breakfast here you have to take it at 5am. It's a climbing hut, not safely accessible without Alpine skills.

With the three tired South Africans left rooted to their beds, Dave's rope was somewhat empty. So we left it behind and he fronted the red rope team, today, confusingly, using the green rope.

We just avoided the need for headlights in preparing for a 6 o'clock start for the 650 metre ascent of Pigne d'Arolla. Starting efficiently just before a large party of potential incompetents, we were soon alone on the stiff ice, witnessing a wonderful red sunrise.

The downside of that redness was the presence of clouds that have tried to shield the sun from us for most of the day.

We made pleasing progress across a snowfield then up a rocky section, climbed surprisingly easily in crampons, to a crevassed snow slope leading to the 3796 metre summit of Pigne d'Arolla. As we climbed, a mountain vista gradually extended before us, with the Matterhorn prominent and the Bernese Oberland enticing us from a distance. There were of course innumerable other local peaks in view.

We reached the summit at 7.55 - in just under two hours. Dave had told us it could take three hours. We are his quickest clients. High cloud infused a greyness to the views, and the sun was doused with mini rainbows.

A group of three had arrived before us and kindly took photos which will follow - the blogging camera (this phone) wasn't handy, and Dave kept telling us to keep away from the edge of the massive cornice. Most had four layers on up here - there was a cool breeze - but my t-shirt and Vapour Rise smock were perfectly adequate, aided of course by those Sealskinz gloves that work brilliantly in dry conditions warmer than minus 20C.

After 15 minutes on the summit - probably my highest in the Alps - we headed back down at a pace just a little too hot for Donovan, but it still only took an hour and twenty minutes to regain the comfort of Cabane des Vignettes for a welcome pot of tea and a jolly welcome from the three lazy South Africans.

On the way down we met two unroped Brits about to negotiate the dangerous crevasses. Dave had words with them and they paused to (we hope) fumble with a rope. To say that Dave was not impressed is an understatement - like most professional guides he is very safety conscious.

The two and a half hour walk down to Arolla was easy and uneventful, with our missing 'rope' now restored and an enjoyable romp down the steep Glace de Piece all the way to its receding snout. Today's picture shows various group members at the foot of the snout, with the glacier appearing as a thin thread of white behind them.

So it was that by 1pm we were scoffing burgers and chips (me) and various other delights in Arolla's village square, washed down of course with 'pression'.

Hotel Mont Collon is our home for the night. Jagged Globe's flag flies outside - they are the hotel's best summer customer. It has a ballroom and a library, and lots of wood panelled rooms. Sound travels. It seems to me like a valley version of the Berliner Hutte near Mahrhofen, minus the b*****g Swedes.

We are now clean, with freshly washed clothes, resupplied with lunches from the poorly stocked shop, saturated with Macedonian dance music from Skopje (there's an ongoing performance in the village), and awaiting '(more) beer o'clock' which today has been designated as 7pm.

It really is a hard life, Gibson! And thank you everyone else for your entertaining comments.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Thursday 11 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 4 - Cabane de Chanrion to Cabane des Vignettes (3157 metres)

Approx 11 km, 850 metres ascent, 6 hours.

A 5.45am 'wake up' saw to it that we were breakfasting by about 6am and on the path by soon after 7am. We weren't complaining, it was another beautiful morning.

A short descent from the cabane on a fine mountain path led us round a bluff and onto the boulder field leading to the Glacier d'Otemma, a long affair that we spent the rest of the morning (5 hours) slowly ascending from around 2300 to 3150 metres.

As the lower reaches of the glacier were 'dry' there was no need for ropework, or even crampons, until we reached the dizzy height of about 2850 metres.

We did however cross a massive crevasse down which the rocks we threw took over two seconds to 'bounce'. We took care not to slip - we have just two 25 metre lengths of rope.

The glacier was bereft of the wildlife seen on the mountain path - no sign of the choughs, wheatears, black redstarts, saxifrages, houseleeks and kidney vetches that had graced that path.

The day had a distinctly Himalayan feel to it as we trudged up the vast glacier with peaks arrayed all around us under a vermillion sky.

We were alone, our South African faff champions having granted the Swiss trio a half hour start. The other visitors to the cabane would all be leaving by trekking paths; perhaps there's a 'Tour de Grand Combin'.

Eventually we reached a crevassed area that required us to rope up for an hour or so. Today's image shows us negotiating small crevasses on the final pull to the col, from where we gained first sight of our home for the night. It's a big refuge, and fills up with Haute Route skiers in March and April. It's quiet tonight, with just 40 visitors enjoying the recently refurbished quarters.

A short snow slope, followed by a rocky knife edge ridge, brought us to Vignettes at 1pm. Time for lunch! Beers all round (enjoy a second beer today, Alan).

Rosti was then enjoyed by everyone. "You'll never manage all that" exclaimed the guardian, after producing a huge pile of rosti. "Oh yes we can" we replied, assiduously demonstrating our assertion.

There is to be no marmot chasing this afternoon - Cabane des Vignettes is perched on a rock face that requires alpine skills to venture any further than the old helipad some 15 metres away. Luckily there's a phone signal on the edge of that helipad.

It's burningly hot out there, and also on the verandah below the toilets, which are chemical, so that option is both hot and smelly.

However, the rosti and beer has seduced most of our party into an afternoon nap in our dormitory.

I think I'll join them!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday 10 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 3 - Champex to Cabane de Chanrion via Mauvoisin

Approx 9 km, 600 metres ascent, 4 hours.

It was a leisurely start this morning from the pleasant Swiss village with its pretty lake that I walked around last night.

Having crossed from France to Switzerland at yesterday's high point, the rest of the trek will be 'Swiss', where the Euro currently has parity with the Swiss Franc. Not long ago you could get two SF to a Euro, so things are very expensive here. I don't think I'll be buying too many hot chocolates, Alan, and I think there may be some 'watery surprises' to come!

I've still got plenty of Mr Sainsbury's nuts and chocolate, so didn't need to join the rest of the team's raid on the local boulangerie before setting off this morning. Big breakfasts and filling dinners make a small snack more than sufficient for me at lunch time as the distances travelled are much shorter, with less ascent, than I'm used to.

If you come on this trip, bring a good book to read - you'll have lots of free time.

The taxi to Mauvoisin arrived at 9.30am, after I'd had a chance to catch up with Sue and her 'Caernarfon Adventure', and deposited us at the dam an hour later.

This is not (and was never intended to be) a 'purist' traverse of the Pennine Alps.

'Sastrugi' = the wind blown remnants of fresh snow that lies on a frozen surface. Winter visitors of the British mountains will be familiar with it. We crossed many bands of sastrugi on yesterday's glacier crossings. Here it can conceal crevasses, so needs to be crossed with care - it's best to zigzag across the hard ice of the glacier wherever practicable. We didn't have any incidents yesterday, but one of the other 'Haute Routers', a Swiss doctor, did apparently sink in up to her armpits!

So far as we are aware the Swiss couple and their guide are the only others whose itinerary coincides approximately with ours. Jagged Globe deliberately gives this trip a slow start so as to avoid a weekly bottleneck - there may be a large clutch of people a day ahead of us on a similar route.

After being disgorged from the taxi, we admired the views of Lac du Mauvoisin, before setting off at 10.45 along the fine mountain path to Cabane de Chanrion.

The weather is much better today, with bright sunshine and a pleasantly cool breeze. Shorts and t-shirt were soon deployed by me, but others retained two layers and long trousers to combat the breeze and sunburn.

We managed the 8-9 km stroll in around 4 hours, including the best part of an hour's break in a lovely meadow of field gentians, where we disturbed a flock of snow finches and enjoyed a spectacular view of the 4000 metre high ridge of the Grand Combin massif.

The Cabane was reached shortly after dipping down a steep aided path to cross the Brency Torrent. It was foaming with meltwater. Luckily there was a bridge.

After reaching the Cabane at 14.45, 'beer o'clock' was today brought forward to 15.00. I thought of 'Poor Alan' back in the UK, who would probably enjoy raising a glass to another successfully short day, but there is no phone signal here by which to stimulate the process. He may even have enjoyed watching marmots play in view of the cabane. (Thanks for your comments, Alan, I think you'd enjoy this trip!)

I won't describe the South African contingent's plans for dealing with a marmot, but the words 'slit stomach' and 'full of hot coals' were overheard.

As the afternoon progressed, the cabane, which probably houses over 100 visitors, gradually filled up with a wide assortment of folk, climbers, trekkers, families and even a couple of mountain bikers.

I wandered off through fields of edelweiss and high meadows strewn with lakelets and a plethora of other flowers, before returning for a good meal and a sociable evening in the vibrant cabane.

Today's image was taken just a few minutes walk away from the cabane.

Enjoy a beer, Alan, when you spot this. Maybe even two, as by the time we next get a signal it'll probably be tomorrow's 'beer o'clock'!

PS Price of one litre of water here is SF/€8. Tap water is 'non potable' (not drinkable); we are drinking it. A large beer is SF7.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 2 - Refuge Albert Premier to Champex (Gite Plein Air)

Approx 11 km, 600 metres ascent, 8 hours.

We got an early night last night, due to today's 'Alpine Start' - breakfast at 5am, leave at 6am. The weather was dry, but cloudy above about 3500 metres.

Soon after starting out, beyond a rocky section, the glacier was reached. We have two 'ropes'. Dave leads the first rope, with Tony, Grant and Michael, whilst I bring up the rear with Andy and Donovan, on the Red Rope.

Soon after we started cramponing up the glacier we turned to admire the sun rising over the Aiguilles Rouges, back across the Chamonix valley. A miscellany of 'ropes' no doubt paused to do the same. There were lots of people on the Glacier du Tour this morning.

Many groups were heading up local summits by way of training for an ascent of Mont Blanc later in the week. Our first objective, Col superior du Tour, at around 3300 metres, coincided with theirs. Magnificent views across the Plateau du Trient greeted us after the easy rock scramble to the col. Here we left the 'ascendeurs' and followed 'Dangerous' Dave's tracks across the glacier.

In fact, Dave's glacier skills meant that the most danger we were in was from tripping up on our own crampons as we turned our attention to the wonderful vistas displayed before us.

Today's picture shows Donovan and Andy on the plateau, with our entry col over to the right.

More care was needed as we entered a crevassed area on the Glacier d'Orny below the Cabane du Trient - perched on a rocky spur at 3170 metres, overlooking the plateau. That refuge was originally our planned destination for tonight, but Dave had wisely judged that day to be too short - we would have reached the Cabane at around 10.30am.

So we continued on to exit the glacier at 10am, after four hours of being roped up, beside a mountain path leading to Cabane d'Orny.

The hot chocolates were good but at SF6/€6 rather pricey. Anyway, we enjoyed a pleasant sojourn there before continuing for a couple of hours down the excellent mountain path to the Breya chairlift, passing through a band of cloud on the way.

A few spots of rain did little to spoil the walk before we arrived at the chairlift at 13.45, just as it reopened after lunch.

By 2.30 we were down in the pretty village of Champex, where we quickly installed ourselves in the comfortable Gite Plein Air that Sue will remember from our Tour of Mont Blanc in 2000 and others will recall from a Walkers Haute Route trip in 2006.

Plenty of time for a few beers then...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, 8 August 2011

Monday 8 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 1 - Balme to Refuge Albert Premier

Approx 4 km, 500 metres ascent, 2 hours.

A leisurely start saw us heading off to le Tour for the Balme cablecar.

Kit inspection had comprised of Dave lifting each rucksack and accepting the owner's assurance that he could carry the weight he had loaded. Dave's own pack was by far the lightest. "What have I forgotten?" he worried, rummaging in an attempt to identify items left behind. "Nothing" he concluded - he doesn't carry a camera or much food or many other 'luxuries' that the rest of us deem to be 'essential'. He handed me and Andy the two ropes we will be using for glacier travel. I decided to discard my walking poles on the basis that they will hardly be needed.

The cablecar and chairlift took us up to about 2200 metres, from where a short walk led to this refuge, a popular place with climbers, aspirant 'alpinistes' and day walkers. It was built by the Belgian Alpine Club after the death of King Albert 1, a keen mountaineer, in a climbing accident.

The day was overcast. A rainbow shone brightly across the valley as we started walking. Waterproofs were deployed. We watched as huge house-sized chunks of ice (seracs) detached themselves from the Glacier du Tour. Our objective was reached soon after noon. Whilst the others tucked into their old baguettes, Dave and I splashed out on 'les omelettes complète'. A good choice.

The afternoon ropework training was completed, due to rain and snow outside, in a room in the Refuge. We are now experts at a variety of climbing knots.

Beers will follow shortly. We are currently relaxing up here at 2700 metres, high above Chamonix, with hot chocolates and the view shown above across the massive seracs of the Glacier du Tour. The trek proceeds in earnest tomorrow.

Hopefully the weather is improving.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Aiguille du Midi

After tonight's excellent dinner we assembled outside the hotel for this superb view up to the Aiguille (circa 3800 metres), from our 1100 metre vantage point.

Wonderful.

Tomorrow we will be a little higher. But knowing that most of that height will be gained via mechanical aids, and will be compulsorily followed by cold beers, Alan (indeed, both Alans) may be wishing they were here!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday 7 August 2011 - Skills Training at Grand Montets (3300 metres)

We assembled at the hotel last night. There are six of us on the trip:
Me (Grandad)
Andy, my room mate, who is just embarking on a career as a maths teacher after being an engineer for eight years.
Four friends from around the globe:
Tony - a champion swimmer, and Donovan - a tall metallurgist, have flown all the way from Johannesburg for the trip, whilst Grant has come from Brisbane! Michael has had the shortest journey - from London.

There was no sign of our Jagged Globe leader, so we nipped into Chamonix for some group bonding over 'wonderful cold lagers'. By the time we got back, Dave had come - and gone back home for dinner with his wife. Fair enough. He had left Mara, the JG Chamonix 'Alpine Coordinator' to look after us. And she did. We got a good meal, after which the jet-lagged members of the party disappeared and Andy and I rummaged through our bags, looking for stuff to discard.

This morning Andy and I enjoyed a lie in until 8 o'clock before enjoying what can only really be described as a sumptuous breakfast at Hotel La Chaumiere. Dave was waiting for us after that, and whilst the overnight rain persisted outside we sorted technical kit - boots, crampons, ice axes, climbing harnesses, etc in the basement. I have all that kit, as does Andy, but the others needed to borrow/rent/buy some items, so it was a while before we emerged to a dry world. Luckily the rain had stopped, Mara gave us a lift into Chamonix and then on to Argentière. After hectic shopping (gear/lunches) for the others and a jog up to Balcon du Savoy for me, as I'd forgotten to turn the water off at J+J's apartment yesterday, it was good to jump on the cablecar for the 2000 metre ascent to Grand Montets.

Just below the top station, at a literally breathtaking 3300 metres, a steep patch of snow beckoned. This would be our home for the next 2-3 hours, whilst Dave - who is highly experienced and will be a great guide - put us through our paces by way of an introduction to ice axe, crampon and ropework techniques in a glacial environment. Lunch (pictured) was taken in a relatively sheltered spot by some rocks, with the Dru as a backdrop. It wasn't as cold as I'd expected; for example my Sealskinz gloves were more than adequate, despite a cool wind, so my kit for the trek will be refined later.

Then, after a welcome hot chocolate at the top café, we descended to Argentière for a beer before returning to La Chaumiere by train, with Dave going home and the other five stopping in Chamonix for more shopping.

Tomorrow morning our packed rucksacks will be emptied in front of Dave, and items deemed unnecessary will fail to make the 'cut' for our trek. That session could be quite entertaining, and I'm sure my gear won't be exempt from the discard pile!

Then we go to le Tour, for a 'Telesiege' to near Col de Balme, from where we start the trek. All very leisurely. So far!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange