CHAMONIX WINTER MEET 2020
CHAMONIX, March 5th-15th 2020
Following on from the success of the summer meet in the Valais Region of Switzerland in 2019 the 10 young alpinists met for 11 days in Chamonix in March 2020.
One of the goals of this meet was to progress our technical winter alpinism; a safe, knowledgeable and high standard of alpine climbing
We were very lucky to have superb guidance and encouragement from some very experienced mentors.
With great excitement and anticipation we met on the morning of the first day, it was good to catch up with the group and share our psyche for the week. Although, we had all checked the forecast and things weren’t looking favourable for climbing - there seemed to be a pattern of one day of snow, followed by two days of sun, then one day of ok weather, and repeat. Not ideal! Listening to the mountains, and doing what conditions dictated was going to be the most fruitful. We started off with a pertinent day of avalanche awareness and discussions around snowpack, using and interpreting weather and avalanche forecasts, and of course getting out there on the skis and applying our knowledge and equipment in a safe scenario. These sessions were lead by British Mountain Guides Calum Muskett and Dave Sharpe.
We all met up again that evening to reflect on the day and plan for the next, we also had the privilege of a talk from Victor Saunders, the President of the Alpine Club, on risk in the mountains.
With the fresh snow from the previous day some opted to ski and a few went to climb some ice and mixed in the Rive Gauche of the Argentiere Glacier. Listening to the mountains and conditions, making the most of opportunities to work on our weaknesses, or develop skills that could be applied to bigger objectives. That evening we were treated to an inspirational talk on expedition climbing from Will Harris.
One more day of sunshine we were keen to get some climbing done, but with still a considerable quantity of snow around, the venue and routes had to be choosen carefully. A few teams went through the tunnel and caught the skyway lift up, with our sights on some mixed climbing on the Grand Flambeau. The short approach from the lift and option of abseiling off made this an attractive option with current snow conditions. The sun was shining but the Beast wind was blowing, a cold, bitterly cold, north-easterly, blowing straight onto the crag. We split into three teams all climbing a couple of pitches, to the top of the steep terrain, before calling it. The combination of steep choss, and cold wind was a good challenge. If we can climb questionable rock in those conditions, then we can hopefully cruise solid granite in friendly weather!
We met again that evening to see what everyone had been up to and discuss plans for the next few days. We were all keen for bigger objectives but had to be mindful of the amount of snow that had fallen and what conditions have been like this winter season. A lot of big routes above 3,000m were quite dry, and probably now a bit snowy too! One advantage of all this snow was that it was possible to ski all the way down to town, reducing any time pressure to finish a day route in time to catch the last Montenvers train down. With this in mind a few teams set plans for routes on the East face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. The Aiguille du Midi lift was busy, but we all managed to get a fairly early bin up. For some of us remembering or refining our skiing with a heavy climbing pack on was as much of a challenge as the climbing, especially at the end of the day in the fading light.
A few more days of mediocre weather followed, some went through to Cogne in Italy for the day to climb some water ice.We all met again one evening for a bit of banter, a few drinks and to listen Dave Sharpe give a superb presentation about a couple of expeditions he had been on, one to Alaska and one to India.
After some more precipitation, route choices were again limited, and largely defined by what could be safely approached and descended from. A team had a reccy of the Argentiere Basin, which showed some promise but also a lot of snow! A group of us decided to make the most of a good 36 hour forecast and head up to the Godfrey Perroux Hut mid-morning ready for an early start the next day. Our mid-morning departure was delayed until mid afternoon because of a very busy Midi lift. We sunbathed in the warm Chamonix, it felt a bit like a dose of summer. The ‘hut’ is more like a wooden shed, perched on the edge of a small rocky outcrop.
We all laughed at Tom bringing a ‘light and fast’ Alpinists meal; an Avocado and half a pizza for dinner. He did pack a bluetooth speaker though. However Joe really brought the party with the love shack playlist, and a second rucksack just for food and water! Pastries, mixed nuts and dried fruit, Mars bars and Pomme Puree. We ate well! With 10 of us in the wooden shack, it was warm and like sardines in a tin a bit tight for space. The 5am alarm felt early, some food and bags packed, we were skiing with head torches and arriving at the transition (skins on) at first light. Enjoying sunrise whilst gearing up at the base of the routes.
The wind was gradually picking up throughout the day, with clouds rolling in, and snow starting to fall by 16:00. The day began to gradually feel more and more Scottish as the weather closed in. Challenging and time consuming ski descents were made in poor visibility and deteriorating conditions, a rising isotherm meant rain below 2000m.
Some of the team took advantage of a rest day from the mountains to meet at a local crag and have a session on rope work and crevasse rescue lead by Dave Sharpe.
Friday was a rest day for most with the fairly big day out that people had and the overnight snow, there was 50cm at 2700m! That evening Tom Livingstone gave a brilliant presentation about some of his Alpine Expeditions and we had the final team gathering for the meet. With some of the team members leaving over the weekend and the impending Coronavirus restrictions, it was good to get together and reflect on the meet and plan for the future. There was a lot of shared psyche for where we are going with this group and bigger objectives and expeditions in the near future.
The weekend gave two more days of good weather, however again preceded by Thursday night's large amount of snow, big objectives (again) needed careful consideration. Some teams climbed routes on Pointes Lachenal, a few went skiing, and a pair made an attempt on Dru Couloir Direct but struggled with some very dry conditions high up.
Connor and myself, keen for some more technical icey mixed climbing, made an ascent of Tentation on Pointes Lachenal, abseiling off after the difficulties and before crossing too many of the “rubble ledges' (we maybe should have stopped one pitch earlier!). Eliminating any time pressure we planned to stay Saturday night in the Godfrey Perroux shack again. Upon returning to the shack after climbing I picked up an email from Mont-Blanc Natural Resort saying all lifts would be closed tomorrow, the place to ourselves! But, we would have to ski and walk all the way down to town. We opted not to climb on Sunday, thinking it would be more sensible to get down from the mountains safely and in good time. The solitary ski down the Vallee Blanche, on a scorching sunny Sunday, was superb but also very strange. The mountains would have some time to rest for a while. We weren’t sure what Chamonix would be like on our return, France was going into lockdown, the scale of the Coronavirus pandemic now becoming more real to us all.
Despite challenging conditions the whole team climbed routes of a standard where they were able to progress, develop and learn skills. Sharing knowledge across the team, and learning a huge amount from the mentors, we made the most of the 11 days we had doing whatever the mountains would dictate.
Routes climbed included:
Supercouloir, Scotch on the Rocks, Pinocchio on the East face of Mont Blanc du Tacul
Dru Couloir Direct (not to top), Petit Dru.
Tentation, Pellissier gully, Hit Machine, Star Academixte on Pointes Lachenal
Mixed routes on Grand Flambeau
Deferlante, Home Wet Home etc on Rive Gauche
Pepite on Petite Grands Montets
Ice routes in Cogne
Glacier Ronde and ENSA couloir (ski descents) - Aiguille du Midi and Brevent
Huge thanks to the Mentors:
Thanks for the insightful and inspiring presentations:
Thanks for organising the meet:
Tom Livingstone and Ian Parnell
Thanks for the support from:
The Alpine Club
I’m sure there will be some more personal stories from the meet by the team on the Blog soon.
Meet report written by Callum Johnson.