Sunday, 26 April 2009

Piolet d'Or & and meeting Bonatti

Simon Anthamatten & Ueli Steck Strikes GOLD

The Swiss super alpinist duo strikes a well deserved double header at the new version of the controversial Piolet d'Or. The Spirit of alpinism award was given the Swiss (an the rest of the rescue team) duo for there truly heroic efforts to rescue fellow climber Inaki Ochoa high on Annapurna south face in 2008. I think this is a great signal to the alpine climbing community and the best part of the new Piolet d'Or. Then they along with two other of the six nominated teams received the Piolet d'Or for there first accent of the north face of Tengkapoche 2000 meter M7 WI5 6a/A0. The jury did a "new thing" by awarding all teams meeting the jury's criteria the Piolet d'Or. Of this we can think what we want but Peter Habeler made a point of wanting the Piolet d'Or not to be a competition and therefore he thought it was right to award all three expeditions. To Simon and Ueli I can only say CHAPEAU! Well deserved! And good luck in Alaska Simon.

I was present on night in Courmayeur and one in Chamonix and the Piolet d'Or is a press event and not so much of an spectator event for alpinists unless you are invited as a nominee. The main part of the event was quite lame and too long but it was a good mix of old and new hippies all lead by Doug Scott on the dance floor.

I don't think an event like the Piolet d'Or has any real impact on alpinism as all forms of performance judging in alpinism is kind of crazy. We all climb for different reasons and we all have different goals with our accents. I personally think that St├ęphane Benoist and Patrice Glairon Rappaz accent of the mighty south face of Nuptse was as good as any of the winners but they where dismissed by the jury as they did not go to the summit. Well who gives a fuck about a snow slog to the summit if you are there to do a hard technical route up a huge face. Plus I think it would have been good to promote a great judgement call not pushing for the summit and risking to die or put other at risk by needing assistance.

Any way it was fun to meet some of the best climbers from the past and the present. Meeting Walter Bonatti will be a memory for life as well as talking to Ricardo Cassins son. Cassin was the expedition leader of the 1958 Italian G4 expedition who made the first of only 5 accents of G4 and since I'm heading to G4 this was a truly nice experience.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Shining Mountain her I come!

Gasherbrum IV or G4 is one of the coolest mountains on the planet. It was first climbed in 1958 by the legendary Italian alpinist Walter Bonatti. Since then the true summit has only been reached about 4 or 5 times. I'm not quite sure of the number of accents and different sources say different things but one thing is for sure its a big undertaking and it will not be easy to be the first expedition in the new millennium to set foot on the summit. Several expeditions have been successful in climbing some extremely prominent lines on G4 with out actually reaching the true summit and I think it would be ignorant not to mention the West Face route climbed by Robert Schauer and Wojciech Kurtyka in 1985 (in alpine style) .

I don't know the number of expeditions that have been trying to do new routes or repeat routes on G4 but I think a fair estimate is in excess of 30 expeditions so the hit rate is not that great but that's kind of why its interesting. If we fail we will be in good company, House and Cave are just two who have tried G4 with out any luck so I have no illusions of this being a walk in the park.

The Virgin East Face

We will attempt the unclimbed East Face in alpine style. The East Face is a relatively short face and route will "only" be about 1000 vertical meters of climbing. From pictures it looks like the end of the first third will offer some delicate mixed climbing and possibly quite steep. Then the exit of the face looks thin and steep. The strategy is to climb in teams of three so the leader can climb with a ultra light pack. We will climb from 7000 meters in a ultra light style using only the bare minimum of equipment.

The hard part will be to get well established at the bottom of the face. Its a long slog from about 5000 meters to 7000 meters. So in reality we need a well stocked camp at 7000 meters in order to be at the right spot at the right time. Timing will be every thing. The equation is complex, we have to be at 7000 when the forecast is good, the team is in shape and the face in condition. Obviously quite a lot of room for unexpected events...

This is an international expedition and we will announce the participants as well as our sponsors with in the following weeks.

We will broadcast live dispatches from the expedition and hopefully from the actual summit attempt. This blog will also publish live messages. But the official expedition site will be the main information source.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The himalaya game and the true heroes! & Help Layton Kor!

I have managed to postpone my Latok permit to 2010 and a few tears are dripping down but at the same time I like to extend my best wishes to Colin Haley and his friends how are heading out to Latok this summer. I think there is at least one other expedition going to try the North Ridge of Latok this year. That will put the number of expeditions to Latok in excess of 30 since the 1978 Lowe expedition. Thats quite a big number for one unsolved problem and we have to remember that some big names have tried both once and twice. I think the North ridge Latok its the greatest unsolved problem in Himalaya and its no small task to try this line in alpine style. Expeditions to smaller peaks don't attract the media attention modern "explorers" get who scale Everest with private sherpas and O2 not to mention guides. The true heroes of Himalaya are the guys who go out and do there thing with small budgets on hard routes. I'm thinking of guys like Mick Fowler, Steve House, Valeri Bababnov, Simone Moro and a hole bunch of other guys who not only manage to set up benchmark routes but who also contribute to the community by sharing their knowledge and experiences with out any self promoting agenda. The generosity and the spirit some of some of today's world leading climbers makes me think of how the climbing community in general was in the 80th and mid 90th before the indoor generation started to swamp the crags and changing the essence of "crag" climbing. Before it was a "sport" when it was some thing we did in order to prepare for the real thing. I miss that but most of all I get scared when I follow the worlds leading website for sport climbing and some blogs. The lack of historic perspective is an effective blinder but it has and will continue to dilute the the meaning of being a climber.

Help Layton Kor!

Layton Kor is undergoing some complicated medical attention and is in need of help to fund his medical expenses. Stewart M Green, or is helping out by selling some fantastic prints signed by Layton for 50 usd a pop. Please all of you get one and help a legendary climber.

Brian Shelton at Front Range Climbing Company at + 1 719-650-1026 can take your credit card info or email on

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Robert Jasper drama and M7 in Olympus Mons Evo...

Speed is safety!

A quick raid in Chamonix harvested a new experience that was kind of not so cool. I was in Chamonix over the weekend getting some altitude for this weeks project. We stayed at the lovely Cosmique hut and as always it was a true pleasure thanks to Arnaoud and Laurance. Saturday morning I was off to the Chere Gully with my wife who was about to do her first ever goulotte. She has tried Ice climbing a few times but this was her initiation ceremony as an aspiring alpinist. The choice between a 05 or 07 am breakfast seemed like a no brainier wit 20 minutes to walk to the bergchround and an anticipated 3h route up and down 6 pitches of easy climbing and some instructions of how to do it on the "big hill".

When I show up at the breakfast at 7 am sharp and look across the glacier I can see 4 headlamps already over bergchrund they left after the 5 am one... Shit its time to hit the road before the first cable car hits the Midi and the folks start to pour out in masses. We arrive at bergchrund at 8.30 after a not so fast hut exit and to my surprise the 4 guys have only managed to start on the first pitch from the initial snow field. Obviously in no hurry (the 4 guys) I thanked higher powers as I pass them on my first pitch. I some times wonder why people bother to bring 60 meter ropes when they insist on using every single fixed belay no matter if there is only 20 meters between them. Any way we cruise up and are soon joined by a guide and his client and we all have a nice time away from the crowd that has now grown to about 10 teams under us all struggling to figure out witch Ice Line is theirs and who's rope to cross and untangle... Rapping off I try to tell my wife this is NOT how it is supposed to be on an alpine route. Where did the adventure go and remoteness go? Well I have to blame my self for the stupidity of bringing a beginner to such a mess. Any way we had a good day but the fun had yet to begin. Back at the deck at the hut we watch the circus in the gully and and no one was coming down. At this point most of the teams had spent way over 8h on 6 pitches. The dinner is served at 7pm there was still plenty of action and finally at 8.30 pm the last team was back in the hut having a late dinner.

I don't care if people spend hours negotiating some thing that is on there limit but what I seriously question is the judgement this people have when they do this in the company of about 20 others who are as clueless to what they are doing. Not to mention the dangers involved with sharing a route with so many. Speed is safety and stay clear of the crowd should be spread as a mantra at any climbing club seminaries on alpinism and safety. In my opinion its a miracle that PGHM is not having a few pic ups a day in the over crowded goulottes such as this one and Gabarrou Albioni etc.

8000 meter boots at 3800 meters

The weekend had one other fun ingredient. I was for sure the laughing stock of the weekend in my brand new La Sportiva Olympus Mons Evo. I used this acclimatisation to see how the fit of my new high altitude boots work on "real" climbing so we spent Sunday doing the Cosmic Icefall a WI5, 200 meter route. It was super cool as the route was with out Ice and the roof on the final pitch was a bit like Hitler, short and nasty... Its a big roof with a cave under and some thing resembling Ice way left an right. Right in the middle there is a lost arrow size crack that proved to be a excellent fit to my Grivel Matrix Tech. The roof and the wall above goes free at about M7 and is super cool. And the best thing with this exercise was that I got the confidence boost I needed for my future plans in the Olympus Mons Evo. Thanks La Sportiva!

The Robert Jasper drama...

NTK (Norsk Tinder Klubb) has issued a statement according to stating that visiting climbers has to follow local ethics. That's all fin but its bull shit to say that this is a diversion from ethics. In the early 80th the superb Ice rout "The White Stripe" just north of Oslo at Andersnatten was bolted and lots of pegs left. It was even so that if it was to much ice the route was considered in bad condition as the fixed gear was under the ice. Further I can confirm Jaspers claim that both Hemsedal and Rjukan has plenty of routes with bolts.

I know of other alpine and Ice routes in Norway where there are bolts on belays backing up a poor belay. Not to mention some winter big wall routes with bolts to support Portaledge camps and hauling stations.

Its easy to have ethics on the ground watching others move boarders. Its all sounds like the Norwegians who I respect are pissed at a missed opportunity since the historic reason have little real bearing. Once you are up there its likely you place a bolt if it is going to make a exposed accent safer or just to get off. Having a drill is a bit to much but I have had the same idea of bolting a line on Borgahallan in Sweden during the Summer and returning to do it in Winter so I can understand Jasper. I think its a matter of opening up to new ways of climbing. And frankly to bolt belays is not helping the mental challenge that much if you are looking at a 100m fall potential. Lets say you use standard 60m ropes fall off 10 meter before the next bolted belay you are for sure looking at one hell of a screamer....

Then we have the most famous bolt on ice route case in the world. Andy Parkins and Marc Francis Twight put up the route "Beyond Good and Evil" on Pelerins in Chamonix in 1992. The route is a master piece of modern hard mixed and well known for its exposed belays and bad protection. Then in 1999 bolts and other fixed gear was found backing up belays. According to independent sources it was the SUPER STAR J C Lafaille who had done the bolting. J C was not known to be a wimp and I don't know why he did it if he did it. But there was plenty of anger around.

Other examples is when ice routes get bolts so Guides can get off fast and safe... This we will see more of. Also the trend to "free" routes using dry tooling will change alpinism. Route finding is getting easier as scratch marks can be found and cracks will get wider as tools will damage them and they will widen.

I think its the ethics of sport climbing that is sadly rubbing off on alpinism. There will be little real climbing left to do in classic areas in the future that's for sure.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Final preparation

Well its never ever happened before that I opt for a North Face route off the UIAA winter season but in order to get fit for this spring summer I have no other option than to get out there and get on with it. Its still quite allot of winter feeling but hey the days are so long now its a different ball game. The up side is that the climbing just gets more fun as its less of pain and suffering. With the winter ended the weather so to speak. Since March 22nd its been quite bad conditions in the alps but its looking up for the weekend and for next week. Tip... Switzerland looks set to be hit by a raid if the Meteo is King. And then post Easter there might be a short shoot at some thing just as tune up camp. Then it will be all about sport climbing and fore sure one 8a has to go down before end of may. Ops the bike I need to get up and out on my bike. Some one is screaming CARDIO in my ear...

New! Is my visit counter added to day on the first of April... I have about 900 unique visitors according to statistics but this will be a more transparent tool.