Saturday, 28 February 2009

Alpine grading time for innovation?

Alpine grading is an open game and frankly that's good. Alpine climbing is not so much about grading as it is about an experience and the intimate friendship you form when you are out there for days in an exposed environment as a team. When scouting for a suitable alpine route the first priority is to find a route that suites the current conditions. And not just the conditions effecting the route but also the decent. When that choice is made its time to get in to the details of the potential route and this is when grading becomes interesting to some extent. But this is when it gets slightly complicated. The traditional French alpine grades give an overall difficulty grade to a route, taking into consideration the length, difficulty, exposure and commitment-level (e.g. how hard it may be to retreat). These are, in increasing order:

F:facile (easy)
PD: peu difficile (not very difficult)
AD: assez difficile (fairly difficult)
D: difficile (difficult)
TD: très difficile (very difficult)
ED1/2/3/4: extrêmement difficile (extremely difficult)
ABO: Abominablement difficile (Abominable) (Extremely difficult as well as being dangerous)
Often a + or a − is placed after the grade to indicate if a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g. a climb slightly harder than "PD+" might be "AD−"). (source wikipedia)

This is giving you a general direction and a indication of what you will encounter on your accent. This system is how ever becoming less relevant as most modern routes are graded in 3 steps. 1st the serious grading in roman letter. Then the Ice grading indicating the level of technical difficulty with the symbol (WI). Then the M factor and this is where I think some innovation could be interesting to contemplate. The M grade is the grade for the mixed climbing and there exist two forms of M grading. The "sport" one and the alpine. In my experience the difference is huge between how a mixed section is grade on an alpine route and who it will match the grading on this not so new but still developing M sport routes equipped with bolts and belays etc. Given the almost non existing correlation between M alpine grading and M sport grading I think its all slightly confusing.

I would like to see a system for alpine mixed grading more like the British E grading system for alpine routes. Adding a factor indicating how serious the M climbing is just like on Trad climbing. Ignoring the E grading debate since all alpine climbing is on sight I think it would make huge sense to grade mixed alpine routes adding the E factor.

So it would look like this: V, WI 5, E5/M5.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

It did not quite all go to plan

The plan was to climb the Boivin route (ED1 or VI, WI5+ M6) on Dome de Niege des Ecrins 4015. Its an impressive North/NW face, kind of cool. If it would be located in Chamonix it would be one of the "must" do routes for any aspiring alpinist. How ever the Ecrins is not Chamonix so you need to do quite an approach in order to reach the bottom of the wall. The approach from the winter parking is about 7 hours of skinning and make sure you have boots that don't fuck up your feet with massive blister, it kind of damps the joy of going out on the hill.

First of all we started way to late so lots of the trick skinning was done in the light of a head torch. The second mistake was to drop the tent on the way in. It all got quite late and after 4 hours of rest we set off on this majestic goulotte. Its a "real" version of the super couloir in Chamonix with the difference that there is no bolted belays and its much more of a serious undertaking not to mention its a lot steeper and more exposed climbing involved. Sadly we did not manage to top out this super route but hey there is still a few weeks left of the UIAA winter and now it looks like the roads will clear so who know I might go back.

Back home with a bit of a frost nip on the thumb and some massive blisters on each foot recovery will be spent planning this springs Himalaya event.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Le Rateau 3809m North Face

On an off Chance that I might get some mixed alpine climbing done on altitude and on a north face I convinced my friend Tom that we should have a go at the rarley climbed north face of Le Rateau in the La Grave area. The alpine climbing off the beaten tracks of Chamonix is truly real alpinism. You encounter few if any fixed belays, no fixed gear on the crux pitches, no litter so you actually need route finding skills. But best is the fact that you are alone braking your own trail and doing all the work. This gives you the sensation of adventure witch is nice for a change. Le Rateau is a huge rocky north face with few good winter lines. The rock is steep and the quality is crap on most parts. The few mixed lines allowing winter accents are usually dry or totally no existing but if you are going to wait around for good conditions you might as well start building a stamp collection.

We set off with some 10 year old beta from a friend who works for the rescue service and it was not entirely clear. The route start off with a 150 meter travers and then up a solid 60 meter ultra thin ice goulotte that is about 85 to 90 and yesterday the ice was about 5 to 9 cm thick or better thin... We found some ok protection in the lose rock. After that there is some nice Neve cruising and up to the head wall. The upper part of the rout offer some ice in grooves but mostly M3 to M5 on a frozen card house built out of scary blocks. The "nicest" part is the decent that was a serious undertaking with all the unconsolidated snow. All in all it was a great route of about 600 meters plus the travers and the decent that proved to offer some interesting climbing... The route is grades TD+, in modern terms id say the route is V WI5 M5. I think the route is like a short version of the Droiets. We climbed the route in 4h.

Climbers and Photo: David Falt and Tom Stewart

Thursday, 19 February 2009

North Face Mixed part one

Yesterday I was out on the hill on altitude. FINALY and got some climbing done. We started off on a "impossible" line and had to back down after some scary unprotected M6+ climbing. In better nick it should have been ice but the crisp rock was not great for drytoling or climbing free... Luck for us two "rapps" down and we could start a line with more ice on and top out a nice grade V 500 meter route. All in all we got plenty of climbing done for a short day.

Backing off sucks and is bad for moral but good for life so that's part of the game. It was as you can see on the photos plenty of spindrift and it was quite a Scottish experience. Tomorrow its back up and on with a more serious undertaking. I hope it will blow less and be good conditions as we are opting for a super light strategy. If its hard it will for sure be one hell of a cold night close to 4000 meter. Well more about that when I'm back down in the comfort of a warm house...

Photo: DavidFalt
Climber Tom Stewart

Monday, 9 February 2009

Simone and Denis toped out Makalu!!!!!

To day Himalaya history was written when Simone Moro and Denis Urubko reached the summit of Makalu tha last 8000 meter peak in Nepal to be climbed in winter. Now there is only the five 8000 meter peaks in Pakistan that remain unclimbed in winter. So lets pray that Don Bowie and his team can summit Broad Peak with in the next few weeks. This is an outstanding performance and few in the world can picture the hardship one must go through in order to pull a accent like this off. Congratulations to you guys and be safe on you decent from your 7700 meter camp.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Makalu with its 8462 meters is the last man standing

To day Simone and Denis reported via sat phone that they have reach their high camp at 7700m. In a few hours from now they will start the summit push. Makau is the only 8000 meter peak in Nepal left to be climbed in Winter. The wind is not as weak as one would like but they sound strong and they reported that they feel well so whit a bit of luck and massive hard work they will top out. Go on guys. Make history. Be safe.

For more info please look at where you have 2 cool audio clips:

Friday, 6 February 2009

Its show down on Makalu and one of the hardest 8000 meter peeks might finally get its first winter accent. Makalu is considered one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb. The mountain is notorious for its steep pitches and knife-edged ridges that are completely open to the elements. The final ascent of the summit pyramid involves technical rock climbing. Makalu is the only Nepalese 8,000 m peak which has yet to be climbed in true winter conditions.

When all of in Europe are still in our warm beds Simone and Denis will start a fight that ended the life of world class climber Jean-Christophe Lafaille. The French mountaineer disappeared on Makalu while trying to make the first winter ascent on or about January 27, 2006.

Simone is a true fighter and he has tried so many times to summit on of the worlds highest peaks that remains unclimbed in winter. The last two winters Simone spent in Pakistan trying to do winter accents but the Himalaya game is tough and unfair. There is no correlation between effort and success. Its harsh odds and few dare challenging such a off the chart venture. I truly admire Simone and Denis who are not only fighting there own demons, wind, exposure and bad odds but what I admire most is that they are braking new ground and setting new standards for what is possible for man to achieve if the termination and commitment is there.

Simone is not only a gifted alpinist but also a generous man not hesitating to help fellow climbers. The other day I shoot him a email asking for a contact in La Sportiva ( one of his sponsors and to my surprise I got and answer in about 30 seconds. The new satellite technology is opening new doors to communicate with sponsors, fans, friends and most important media. To be able to follow this kind of adventure on line is kind of surreal. I was not expecting an answer the same week and certainly not the same minute. But this is for sure a key selling point when approaching sponsors for backing this kind of extreme ventures in to the unknown. The down side of this availability is off course that when drama is unfolding media is hot on the heels of the climbers and those with no summit glory are the fastest to respond to the hungry media wolfs all looking for drama.

I guess thats the price we pay to watch real adventure unfold live. Lets all pry for Simone and Denis and guys please return safely with the summit in the bag.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Riders of the storm

Foto: Falt
Climber: Babanov

Finally some real climbing on some real mountains. Its hard to make plans when you are off to alpine routs as conditions are hard to predict and ambitions and goals easy get spoiled by storms. So lets all pay tribute to the great adventurers of the Himalayas. Chamonix this weekend was not showing it self off from the best side and it was only me and Valery plus a bunch of tourist from Japan who wanted to go up to Midi. It was pretty cold and stormy but a great day on the hill. And my climbing partner is a true super star so it was no effort.

This is just a few of Babanovs achivments:

2008 Broad peak new route : 3000m, VI, WI 5, M6, 90 °, G1 General description of the new route: 2300 m, VI, WI 4, M5, 80°. 2007 Mt. Jannu (7710m) Kumbhakarna, The West Pillar (3000m/VI, WI+4, 80 degrees, M5)Valery Babanov & Sergey Kofanov, Alpine-style First ascent. Nuptse East, South-east pillar, Nepal first accent. Babanov is climbing hard NEW routes on high altitude and that is a few select groupe who manage that. Most people are happy to summit a 8000 meter peak. Babanov wants the same only with out O2 or fixed ropes and via new routs in pure alpine style.

Our plan to do one of the harder routes on Tacule was spoiled by lack of visibility and high winds. No one else was up and no one was skiing down on Valle Blanc. It nice to be treated to onliness in Chamonix in February a true luxury experience. We where Abseiling off the bridge and down to the Profit route on the NW Face of Midi. We did a slight new variation on the start and found some nice dry parts as well as some good Ice. A short and not to hard rout but great fun in "iffy" conditions and much better than hanging out in the wally.

Well as you understand it was a nice day and some future plans where made lets just hope we have better conditions in the Alps so some hard routes can be done and I can see some true action.