Overnight at Haukkakallio

In the spring, my friend Harri mentioned that they are planning to do an overnight climbing/camping trip with his kids (aged 14 and 11, I think). He asked for some suggestions on the place and I gave few, including the Haukkakallio where I had visited with my wife three years ago. Naturally I wanted to go there myself also, and managed to get myself invited to join them too :) We were there at the end of May..

Up to the very last days, the trip plan was not settled, partially due to the very mixed forecast they were giving. Originally we were supposed to do it from Wednesday to Thursday (which is a public holiday in Finland), but eventually, the plan realized for us all go there on Thursday evening. I was coming back on Friday evening and another friend of my friend came for the evening and for the next day. We had schemed a plan to go on the first day to a smaller crag called Huuhkajavuori and camp on a nearby lake. Then go for a full day onto the bigger Haukkakallio.

Huuhakavuori between the rains

Huuhakavuori between the rains

On the drive I experienced I kinds of weather from perfect sunshine to tormenting rain. I arrived first and went to check the crag while waiting. Shortly it started to drip, though, and ended waiting in the car for the others. When they arrived it was clear that it was too wet now to try any climbing and we opted to check out the Haukkakallio in the meantime before deciding anything. I had been there before, but the others were quite impressed by the sheer size of the cliff. It seems to continue forever. After we had had enough of looking around it had cleared up a bit and we decided to go and check if there would be anything climbable at the Huuhkajavuori.

Harri looking for the hold on the tricky (and wet) start of the Bebat

Harri looking for the hold on the tricky (and wet) start of the Bebat

There are two easier sport climbs and one of them, Bebat (5a),  was mostly dry we did setup to climb that. First foot holds were wet, but rest of it was fine. It surprisingly hard moves before the first bolt. Harri toproped it after me and then the kids gave it a try. It proved to be a bit too much for them with the wet holds, but they did not try it for nothing as I was able to grab some nice pictures hanging beside the route. You don’t often get any other than the regular “buttshots” while climbing. After that I also climbed the rather wet Ekotrippi (5b/c). Especially the top parts crux move was quite unnerving as the key pinch holds were dripping wet. Scary, but fun. Then it started raining again and we moved to a nearby lean-to where we spent the evening grilling and hanging around. It was a bit uncertain whether it was allowed to sleep there as there was a sign saying “no camping allowed”, but we kind of did not as we slept on the benches of the lean-to.

It finally cleared towards the evening

It finally cleared towards the evening

Haven't ever really liked the toasted marshmallow, but these were perhaps better than usual. Might be due that these were some genuine American marshmallows.

Haven’t ever really liked the toasted marshmallow, but these were perhaps better than usual. Might be due that these were some genuine American marshmallows.

The next morning we took it leisurously and now the weather seemed to favor as too. After cleaning up our camp we drove to the Haukkakallio and directly went to the furthermost sectors furthermost climbs as we had checked out them previous day and they looked interesting. I started with a trad climb Minisläbi (4/+). Nice little route with few awkward moves. Others toproped it, though, the kids did not really enjoy this “Finnish outdoor climbing” -experience as the grade and the climbing are something quite different you have used to do indoors. Everybody got to the top with more or less trouble. Then I and Harri lead the adjacent sport climb Lippis (5b) which looks like very airy climb indeed, but is not in the end that intimidating. Unless you are not used to thin slab climbing :)

The kids got a brutal lesson about the Finnish rock and the more brutal grades.

The kids got a brutal lesson about the Finnish rock and the more brutal grades.

Harri moving over the airy bit on Lippis. Moves from here were surprisingly easy, but fun.

Harri moving over the airy bit on Lippis. Moves from here were surprisingly easy, but fun.

After these we moved to the Kivikausi sector, which, as the name suggests, is situated atop some huge boulders that have apparently long time ago fallen from the cliff. It is perhaps the most popular sector and no surprise, as it has perhaps the most moderate grade climbs and the place is very open and sunny and you have plenty of big boulders to make as your picnic basecamp :) Then we climbed The Constant Gardener (4/+). I lead and others toproped. This one the kids seemed to even like, even though there were some places that were perhaps a bit too reachy for they shorter reach. Next up was airy sport climb Air Arete (5c), which has a really nasty problem at the very beginning. Fortunately you can clip the first bolt already from the ground :) I managed to onsight it and after the initial difficult moves it is not so difficult as it is exposed. Good training for some alpine stuff :) In the meantime the kids had some lunch, I didn’t bother to cook up anything real and just had the snacks.

The Constant Gardener is easy and  very pleasant trad lead. It goes up the corner in the middle.

The Constant Gardener is easy and very pleasant trad lead. It goes up the corner in the middle.

At this point the Harri’s friend Aki arrived, just in time to watch as Harri took a beating from the Air Arete, failing to get past the first moves. Excellent effort though. Aki wanted to start with someting easy and I took the rope up the Aurinkotuoli (4/-), which I have climbed before. Harri even surprised himself of leading it with the preplaced gear. Kids also had a go with it, though, again the first reachy move proved to be rather hard for them. I also lead the Luomukka (4), which I also had climbed before. Again nice easy route, though it is rather difficult to protect and you kind of end up almost soloing up the whole route.

Me on starting up the hardest part on Gardeners Question Time. The top was very mossy and it was quite difficult the get feet sticking on the wet and gritty crack.

Harri Me on starting up the hardest part on Gardeners Question Time. The top was very mossy and it was quite difficult the get feet sticking on the wet and gritty crack.

After that it was already getting quite late and we had time for a final climb. On the walk back I set my eyes on this one “mossy” trad line, Gardener’s Question Time (4), which was as the name implies in a need of some major cleaning. First I climbed on top of a boulder under the route and from the I needed first to clean up the crack quite a bit just to get any gear in. After that it weren’t much cleaner and I had quite a bit of trouble jamming into the flaring crack with some wet moss inside. I was freaking scared up there, but had decided to go for it. At the top there was a big flake, but that too, as well as the small slopy ledges, were completely filled with grit. I was not far of taking a quite a whipper near the top, but managed to hoist myself up to the anchor unscratched. Fffiuuhh! I was quite relieved to be at the top. On the way down I brushed quite a bit of dirt off, and then Aki had a go with the route top-roping. He also shared my opinion that the route as far more difficult that the grade 4, though, don’t know what holds we could find under the moss if it was properly cleaned.

After the last battle, I was ready to head home. Others remained for another night and day of some climbing. Very good trip as a whole and would like to do it again. That 1,5 days of climbing is quite good amount as you do not get too tired and can keep a relaxed pace in it. Hopefully I do not need to wait again three years to get back there :)

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Nalkkila slab

Last summer I spotted a new crag that had appeared in 27crags.com when browsing for options a day out climbing. It was called Nalkkilan Släbi and it looked very interesting place in deed. People have climbed there actually already years ago, but it was not generally known place. Now it has been properly established with top anchors and with almost 20 routes ready for climbing. Also the access is probably the best you have anywhere in Finland as someone joked “You could probably belay through the car window”, as you can drive you car to almost hit the rock.

Parked in front of the Nalkkila Släbi. You can't really complain for the access, can you?

Parked in front of the Nalkkila Släbi. You can’t really complain for the access, can you?

What makes this place special is that it is really a pure slab climbing crag like they have in Central Europe for example. I do not recall any other – at least established – crag in Finland like this. Yes, some might say that crags  like the head wall of Solvalla is “slab climbing”, but in reality you can’t use much slab climbing techniques there and it is mostly just pulling on tiny crimbs. In Nalkkila, however, you need to pull on nothing – really nothing! On many of the routes you need to smear you feet just on the face, trusting that the small change in the incline of the rock is sufficient to keep you propelling upwards. And for hands you just use the same, trying to find some friction on the irregularities of the smooth rock :) According to the comments it is 50-60 chance (like they say in Finland after a famous quote) that you either like or hate it. Have the slab animal in you or then don’t. I apparently do have that slab animal in me and I absolutely love it.

Me climbing and easy grade 4 trad route. I actually climbed this in running shoes on a later time. Made it more interesting :)

Me climbing and easy grade 4 trad route. I actually climbed this in running shoes on a later time. Made it more interesting :)

I’ve been there now few times and have climbed most of the routes in my operation range – which usually is between 4 and 6a/b – and most of them in onsight. The grades that the routes have been given should not all be taken as a fact, since in my experience the might feel harder or easier as they have been just one persons opinion. Yes, that’s true for pretty much all the routes, but the slab climbing is so unique from the “normal” crag climbing you have, that is really is much dependent of how confident you are this kind of climbing. Also, there might be some nook or bump in the rock that some others have missed and that can really make difference. Sometimes you do need to look for the best option in the sea of non-existing holds.

Me on top of a route called Kissa-asana. Graded 6a, but feels easier.

Harri Lammi Me on top of a route called Kissa-asana. Graded 6a, but feels easier.

Next I think I need try some of the harder problems like the Smooth Operator for which I managed to do all the moves. It has been, though, said to be easier than the initial 7a grade it was given. There is also one 5+ trad route I would like to try. It looks to be pretty thin on the protection and might take in places only micro nuts. Luckily I do now have a set :)

I opened the 2015 outdoor rock season with Harri at Nalkkila in early March. There was still some snow on the ground despite the warm weathers.

Harri Lammi I opened the 2015 outdoor rock season with Harri at Nalkkila in early March. There was still some snow on the ground despite the warm weathers.

Go and try the totally different climbing. Highly recommended.

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A lazy day in Olhava

Another longs past post emerging from the depths of memory.

Last fall I visited the mecca of Finnish climbing – Olhava – for the second as a climber. There were several people going who I know, but I was there with a friend, South African expat, Jason. I’ve been there several times in the long past, but those have been hiking trips. This time I also managed to do my first lead at the place :) We were both a bit tights scheduled having a small kid to attend at home and our trip was going to consist of only one evening and one full day of climbing.

Jason starting the walk-in

Jason starting the walk-in

We got there around 6pm on Friday evening and there was still light for some hours and we geared up after pitching the tent and went for a route. I decided to do my first lead here on a route called Mänty, which is rated around 5, though, I found the one crack part at the top to be perhaps a bit more difficult. I had previously top roped the first easy part of the route. Another thing I missed before getting onto the route was the meaning of the letter “V” in the Finnish climbing topo, which means “difficult to protect”. If I would have happened to check the 27crags.com, it would have read there in plain sight :) No wonder it felt a tad scary while looking the last protection far below.

Looking down and belaying Jason up the Mänty. Another party abseiling down via the middle anchors.

Looking down and belaying Jason up the Mänty. Another party abseiling down via the middle anchors.

After the initial scary lead, the sun started to set and we top roped a combination of Taivaanportti-variaatio and Vekara to the middle anchors. After that it just relaxing around the fire, eating dinner and having a few beers late into the night with few other people who had arrived during the evening.

The next morning we did not have too much of a rush to the wall and had a lazy morning with breakfast and chit-chat. One of our friends, who had arrived just after midnight with a another friend of his, were first to set off for a route. I was initially supposed to go with this former mentioned friend, but schedules changed and we both changed climbing partners. He started on a route Private Dancer, which he had climbed before, but it was not long we heard a yelp and a sound of someone falling onto gear. Next we heard him asking for some bandaid and a boat to pick him off from the route. What had happened was, that a smaller flake on top of a larger flake had started to move when pulled and he had bruised his fingers and ankle in the process. Few people went with a boat to fetch him and back at the camp it was soon apparent that the climbing was over for him and a medical evacuation was called in. We didn’t stay until the rescue personnel came for him as things were pretty stable him having the leg wrapped up. Later we heard that he was actually carried out on stretchers and later still that the leg had actually fractured and required few weeks of total rest with a cast. Not a good way to start your climbing weekend. Now it has, though, fully healed and he’s climbing good as ever.

The Paskantärkeä sector. The routes we climbed are the first one above the water from the right.

The Paskantärkeä sector. The routes we climbed are the first one above the water from the right.

After the morning medical hassle, we set off for another sector – Paskantärkeää – where I had not yet visited. We top roped few routes there: Satumaa, Paskantärkeää and Tulenarkaa. All of them could be very possible leads for future. Then we moved to sector Laatta, where we top roped a route Salama, which I have top roped earlier also. I think I need to try lead it the next time. After these we were lazed out by the nice weather and decided to to call it a day for the climbing. I spent rest of the time before leaving by checking out the routes on the far out sector, which has few very possible trad leads for me. Another reason to go again. Also I was picked some mushrooms which I had seen earlier. Sadly though, most of them were already gone bad or wormy and not much could be used in the end. Then we just packed our gear and did the one hour walk back to the car before the three hour drive back to home.

One of the mushrooms found along the way. Sadly, many, like this, was unedible, despite the good looks.

One of the mushrooms found along the way. Sadly, many, like this, was unedible, despite the good looks.

All in all, we had a wonderful time and trip, despite that we didn’t get that many routes climbed. Olhava in itself is just worth visiting and you can’t be disappointed. Especially when I got my first lead done there.

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Festival roundup

Again it has been too long since the last post and this summary the trip to Chamonix and Chamonix Mountain Festival is months late. Better later or never or something. The second time in the mecca of alpine climbing did bring some joyful moments, but also left me wanting some more. I had high hopes for my bit over week in the valley, but I did not accomplish many of the things I had on my wishlist basically for two reasons: the weather and I was not fit enough. I did get to do climbing on seven days out of eight, which certainly is way more than some people have to had to settle. And of course it is none other to blame than I if I lack the stamina needed to do those things. Still I had hoped that could have pushed my limits a bit more that I got now. And now for the very lengthy account of the week :)

Friday (pre-event)

That’s enough ranting for that. So, at the end of June I boarded the plane with again plenty of too many gear (had to even leave few things behind which I had thought of taking). Three hours later I found myself waiting for the transport to Chamonix. By coincident, there was a guy named John going to the same place in Argentière – the UCPA hostel – as I was. He then proved to be no other that the John Ellison, the man behind the Climbers Against Cancer organization (did also explain the CAC t-shirt he was wearing). In the end we even shared the same room in the UCPA. We both were hungry as hell, and went straight to the center to grab some food.

John Ellison and our quite hefty pizzas.

John Ellison and our quite hefty pizzas.

Me and John posing in front of the Aiguille de Midi base station.

Me and John posing in front of the Aiguille de Midi base station.

After the very hearty meal, we headed to check out the Midi base station and the assumed location of the gear fest, which should start the following day. After walking around a while and checking some shops (I bought some new topos) and wondering all the fuss that was going on around the main square, we headed back to Argentière for some rest. Of course we had a few beer with the few people that were there. In fact only in addition to myself there were only Michael (from US) and Julian (from Kenya) –  the”Kenyans” as they were later labeled – attending the actual festival. And just to clarify only one of them was really Kenyan, but they both worked guiding in Kenya for the African Ascents.

You can see Midi and Mont Blanc from the UCPA Argentière windows

You can see Midi and Mont Blanc from the UCPA Argentière windows

Saturday (pre-event)

Early in the morning I gathered my gear and headed for the nearby Argentière railway station. It was so early that the busses did not run that often and it was better to go with a train. My first in Chamonix btw. I had booked a Black Diamond Experience beforehand, since I weren’t sure if I could hook up with anyone for the first day.

Nicely in time I got to the meeting point – which we had scouted the previous day – and found the Black Diamond guys just getting their stuff out of the car. I was told to bring “personal alpine gear” which in my mind could have been anything from rock shoes and harness to full set complete with axes and screws. In the end I would have managed with just with boots and cloths basically, since they would have had axes, helmets, harnesses and such for testing. I took Stinger crampons, Venom ice axe and Couloir harness for testing. I had a little worry about my lift pass as we were supposed to meet 7:30 am at midi, but they festival organizers were able to the get the tickets only some time after 8am. In the end there was quite plenty of time to get the tickets, since we did not leave in too rush.

The conditions were quite a bit more snowy than two years ago making much of the climbing a lot easier

The conditions were quite a bit more snowy than two years ago making much of the climbing a lot easier

Initially there were supposed to be more people, but perhaps the deteriorating weather did scare few people off. Lucky for us, as we got now the guides on 1:1 ratio – pure luxury for the price! I was set to go with a french guide called Patrick Pessi. The incoming bad weather also dictated that we could not do any lengthy excursion and we set off to climb the Cosmique Arete – the same I climb two years earlier, but now in totally different snow conditions.

Patrick Pessi and myself after the first part having a short break

Patrick Pessi and myself after the first part having a short break

At 9:30am we were already at the base of the climb and started immediately up the ridge. Less than two hour later we were already at the viewing platform at the end of the route. This time, though, there were no tourists to cheer us up, as it was under renovations and out of bounds for all except climbers. The route itself was much more easier now than the previous time, thanks to the better snow coverage instead of just ice rocks. In addition to the different conditions, we did a little variation to the route by first climbing past the abseils on the Vallée Blache side and also skipping the crux section at the end by doing some tricky drytool/mixed climbing on the same side and topped right next to the ladders going up to the viewing platform. With these differences the route seemed almost like whole new route to me. I felt pretty good other than on the final snow climb to the top, where my thighs were burning like hell. Had to rest few times. We descended pretty much right away after taking a few pictures around. This perhaps was not decision, which came obvious later on.

The final rock pitch before snow romp straight to the final ladders. This is the detour around the normal routes crux and the icy chimney on North side,

The final rock pitch before snow romp straight to the final ladders. This is the detour around the normal routes crux and the icy chimney on North side,

After the climb I spent some time around the city and in the evening it was again time for a round of beers before bedtime.

Sunday

Sunday was the first official day of the festival, but not very nice one on weather wise. Rain continued, but I had got in touch with Gus Morton – the man behind Fun Alps – with the help of our lovely host Martina. I had thought before the trip that the Via Corda Alpina might be something fun to do in rain. Apparently Gus had similar ideas and the plan was set.

The initial easy pitches and Gus doing moves on the more moist than average climbing day.

The initial easy pitches and Gus doing moves on the more moist than average climbing day.

In the morning Gus picked me and my gear up (I had to take everything with me since we had to move to the other UCPA facility in the Chamonix center) and drove to the route approach. He had not done the route in years, but we did find the start quite easily despite the constant rain. The route consists mostly of easy scrambling, walking and few pitches of where proper climbing is required, all very easy still, though. That is if it would not be raining :) Nonetheless we soloed the first five-six “pitches”, until we encountered first difficult enough moves to not to do them in trail running shoes on wet rock (as a side note I can recommend to take a bit stiffer shoes on the route get a bit more purchase). After a while we needed to un-rope again for a short section of walking. This way it continued up to the top. There was one particularly tricky section to do as it was so wet and I managed to slip take a fall. We were roped up, though, and it was more like a 3m slide down the slabby rock. The last bits of the route require also some route finding as there are several paths crisscrossing in the forest and we did get a bit lost for a while.

The old hut in the distance, I heard that back in the day, you could have basically walk directly over there. That's how much the glacier has receded from those days.

The old hut in the distance, I heard that back in the day, you could have basically walk directly over there. That’s how much the glacier has receded from those days.

Coiling up the rope. This time for the very last time of the day.

Coiling up the rope. This time for the very last time of the day.

Three hours and some 550m vertical later we were at the Les Mottets hut which is the end of the route. Unfortunately the hut was closed and we headed pretty much straight back down to the car. All the clothes and gear was soaked wet, though, the rain had stopped for a while. Gus dropped me to the Chamonix UCPA and where I got my room after a little wait and got my gear drying. There weren’t much else to do than to wait for the dinner and relax as the weather was so crap.

The hut was closed so no drinks for us

The hut was closed so no drinks for us

Monday

The next day the cloudy and foggy weather continued, though, there was promise of better weather coming in. I had made plans to climb with Ilze – a bit older Canadian lady – on the Aiguilles Rouge. I had set my eyes on Cocher-Cochon and perhaps do the Clochetons traverse afterward. Sadly, the weather was all misty and fogged on this side of the valley and we ended up waiting the whole morning for the skies to clear. In the meantime we visited the top of the Le Brèvent via cable car to pass time and look at the scenery.

Cloudy on Aiguilles Rouge, more sun on the Envers side

Cloudy on Aiguilles Rouge, more sun on the Envers side

The first pitches of the route. Previous party on the second pitch.

The first pitches of the route. Previous party on the second pitch.

When the weather improved, it was obvious that it was way too late to start a like Cocher-Cochon and we then opted for an easier Hôtel California, which seemed to be the choice of couple of other rope parties as well. The route is 10 pitches of max 5a (though I’d say the crux pitch is more like 5b and airy) with few walks between the towers. We climbed with alternating leads, though, I got to lead all the trickier bits. The route was quite alpine with nice exposure and spaced out protection (you might want to bring some nuts/cams for extra protection). By change I managed to get the crux pitch feel even more scary as it should as I managed to miss one bolt and had a quite a runner when I finally got clipped in :) Now thinking, I could have put a few pro in to make it a little less intimidating.

On top of the scary pitch. Elza just starting up.

On top of the scary pitch. Elza just starting up.

There weren’t any great mishaps or anything. Mostly just fun climbing, though, in places still a bit wet and muddy. Most of the route is relatively long angled and not too strenuous, except the last pitch which requires some more power to pass the overhang. I actually was too tired to do it on first go and had to rest a bit on the ropes. From the top it was easy walking back to the Planpraz lift station and back to the city.

The our initially planned Cocher-Cochon, would have started somewhere around there.

The our initially planned Cocher-Cochon, would have started somewhere around there.

In the evening we had a lecture on mountain safety and first response, which got a very nice audience. Later on we had the dinner and time for a few beers.

Tuesday

For Tuesday the weather forecast had been a really good one and many people went for the high routes – us included. I joined again forces with Ilze – also didn’t have too many options – and we set our eyes on the Contamine-Grisolle on the Tacul triangle. It is a moderate snow/ice/mixed route and one of the easiest on the triangle. I hadn’t really done this long snow/ice route before, so this seemed like a good start :)

The Mont Blanc du Tacul. The Tacul Triangle is in the center and Pointe Lachenal is the small bump on the left side. The normal route up Tacul goes up the righthand snow slop, following closely the edge of the shadow. Our route - Contamine-Grisolle - starts left of the triangle, then goes up the snow "spike" pointin to the center and then pretty much straight up the rock and snow bands.

The Mont Blanc du Tacul. The Tacul Triangle is in the center and Pointe Lachenal is the small bump on the left side. The normal route up Tacul goes up the righthand snow slop, following closely the edge of the shadow. Our route – Contamine-Grisolle – starts left of the triangle, then goes up the snow “spike” pointin to the center and then pretty much straight up the rock and snow bands.

Looking up the route from the bottom. There was one more rope team already on the route on top of the one you can see.

Looking up the route from the bottom. There was one more rope team already on the route on top of the one you can see.

We went up on the Midi with the perhaps second lift and after gearing up we walked to the base of the route across the Vallèe Blanche. There were already at least two other ropes on the route while we started up around 10am. The first part of the route was not really that difficult, though, one section was quite ice and a bit scary to cross and at one point the party above loosened some snow which caused a small avalanche to run down – luckily bypassing us. About halfway through the initial snow ramp, we were joined by guided party. I talked to the guide on belays, while waiting for Ilze to climb up or join me on the belay. Have to say she was rather slow, though, I can not say I was too fast either. Also the guide asked how we had planned to go down and continued to say that the normal Tacul route looked “absolute murder”. Nice. Just the idea we had had. Then he said that they were going to abseil down the Goulotte Chéré, which somewhat became our plan then. Only problem was that we had only one 70m rope, which should work in a pinch. We would have to do some more abseils just then.

Looking down from the first belay point. It was not that foggy there, instead pretty perfect sunshine still, but my phone lens had just fogged up from the sweat in my pocket :)

Looking down from the first belay point. It was not that foggy there, instead pretty perfect sunshine still, but my phone lens had just fogged up from the sweat in my pocket :) For the same reason there isn’t many pictures to show from the route.

End of the ramp there was the crux section, with 60-65 degree ice and a short mixed step. At the belay right after, there was one of the two English ropes still and they gave me good beta on the move. The next pitch was the first mixed section, which I climbed with mixture of using the axes and my hands on the rocks. The guide with the clients took a detour around the corner which apparently is slightly easier, but harder to find. From here the route continued on about 40 degree snow where we alternated the leads again. Again the worst problem for me was my thighs, which were really burning on the steady snow romp. The steeper ground were actually better. Near the end of the second snow field, we bump into the “Kenyans” who had been cruising up a different route and were crossing our route. At this point the time, the descend and weather looked to be turning on the wrong side and we asked the “Kenyans” if we could join forces and abseil down together, which they agreed to our relief. They were also quite late anyway. At the end of the snow field there was still one more steeper mixed section with some 60 degree ice and there was quite a cluster-fuck forming up. There was Ilze, the guide with the two clients and still the other English rope party. All the ropes were pretty messed up and it took quite a long time to unravel the section of climbers. After Ilze got the belay I followed as fast as I could with by exhausted thighs. The section was actually quite tricky in the end. The English rope parties decided to abseil down the route, which would have been a good option for us too if we would have had the double ropes.

Preparing for the very long hours of rappels. Julian on the left, Ilse on the right.

Preparing for the very long hours of rappels. Julian on the left, Ilze on the right. The clouds start to roll in now.

Once at the top, I continued straight up the easy climbing on rocks to the top of the triangle. Over here the Michael saw the big serac fall that washed the bottom snow field we had climbed, but we only saw the results of it. Would not have wanted to be there right now. The “Kenyans” got up there about the same time and we started the surprisingly tiring  walk up the upper snowfields and across to the top of the Goulotte Chéré. The guided party was halfway done with their abseil. At this point the time was almost 3:30pm so it had taken us a bit over 5 hours hours on the way up. Naturally this meant we were way too late now. The more experienced “Kenyans” started to setup our abseil (I was pretty fine with that :)) and then we were off. Julian went first, me second, then Ilze and last Michael who was the most experienced being a mountain rescue guide in the US. The abseil went pretty fine, though, it took a long time since we did only short abseils since the belays were hard to spot in the deteriorating visibility. Also on the first abseil Ilze managed to kick an rock loose, which missed me a bit too close since I could hear it whirl past my head. Luckily it didn’t hit. Also Julian dropped one of his glove near the bottom, which unfortunately rolled into a crevasse and was not recovered. Once down the clouds had rolled in and the visibility was pretty much nothing. It had taken us almost 3 hours to abseil down and it was quite clear that the last cable cars had already gone. We would have to either go to the Midi station for a bivi or then head for the Cosmique hut for then night. We chose the latter.

One of the abseils down the Goulotte Chèrè. This is one of the topmost pitches which are not usually not climbed.

One of the abseils down the Goulotte Chèrè. This is one of the topmost pitches which are not usually not climbed.

We walked over the Vallee Blanchè to the slopes that lead to the hut. We got there quite easily despite the poor visibility, since there were lot of tracks on the snow. It was pretty though going to get to the hut those last meters. Luckily there was room for us and with  65 euros we got evening meal, bed and breakfast the next morning. In the end the epic that was building did not quite happen, much thanks to Michael and Julian who were kind enough to stay back and abseil with us back down. Otherwise it would have taken us certainly much more time to get to the bottom again.

There certainly was few things to learn. First of all, we should have started earlier and faster. Now it was quite late we actually started climbing. Secondly I should have been better acclimatized. A factor that mostly was shown as the pain in my thighs. I could have prevented that at least somewhat, if I had stayed on Saturday longer in the high up, instead of heading back down immediately. Well… you learn from the mistakes, right?

Wednesday

The next morning we woke up pretty early and after lazy breakfast it was time to pack things up again and head for the Midi station and with lift back to the valley. During the evening it had started to snow and it continued until morning. When we got to see the Tacul again after the clouds had lifted, we could see that there was substantially more snow now on the face. We had anyway decided to skip climbing that day :)

This is how the Tacul looked like the next morning as looked from the Cosmique Hut. Quite a bit of snow came down during the night.

This is how the Tacul looked like the next morning as looked from the Cosmique Hut. Quite a bit of snow came down during the night.

The walk up the ridge leading to the station did feel quite hard still on the legs, though it took only about 45 min to reach it. Then the first lift to the valley and some rest.

Though it rained most of the day, on the afternoon I visited the Alpine Museum which contains loads of artifacts and information on the history of alpine climbing both in Chamonix and elsewhere. Sadly, most of the texts were in French, but it is still worthwhile to visit as the artifacts are quite fascinating. Rest of the day went by wandering in shops or sitting in a cafe till it was time for dinner and few pints there after.

Thursday

For Thursday the forecast predicted perhaps the best weather of the week. Certainly one you should not miss. For the day I had made plans to go climbing with Norwegian Knut, who is around his fifties and has climbed for around forty years! Though, there had been few pauses in between. Still, very experienced guy, who also seemed to be doing thing the “old way”. Our plan was to do the traverse of the Point Lachenal, the ridge up to the Refuge Cosmiques and finally the Cosmique Ridge.

The Pointe Lachenal. You can see almost the entire route which starts on the left up the snow slope, then over the rocky ridge where you abseil down and traverse to the sadle. After crossing it you would climb up the rock face to the top. The rock face had some traffic jam and we decided to go around on the on this side of the hill.

The Pointe Lachenal. You can see almost the entire route which starts on the left up the snow slope, then over the rocky ridge where you abseil down and traverse to the sadle. After crossing it you would climb up the rock face to the top. The rock face had some traffic jam and we decided to go around on the on this side of the hill.

We started early enough to have a relaxed day. Around 9:30am we were at the start of the Point Lachenal traverse and two hours later we were at the top of the route, only the easy walk down left. We though had a little break there as we enjoyed the good weather. The route had few people on it and there was a little traffic jams forming up. We actually did not do the final rock/mixed climb to the top, but instead traversed around from the right.

Me on the saddle between the rocky bits. You can see the traffic jam in the back.

Me on the saddle between the rocky bits. You can see the traffic jam in the back.

The serac fall debris from the fall Michael saw two days before.

The serac fall debris from the fall Michael saw two days before.

On the way to the ridge Arête Laurence (or Lolo) leading to the Cosmique hut, we could checkout the debris of the serac fall two days earlier. The biggest piece was around a car size. Crossing the Valleè Blanche took another half an hour and we continued up the ridge following the guided party who had been going around the same pace. The ridge only takes around half an hour  and there is really only one step you might need to rope up, if you are sure with your feet on the exposed parts. Again a refreshing break on the hut terrace with a sip of fizzy drink.

The rest of our days routes. The first part up to the Cosmique Hut in the center has apparenlty some name, but I do not remember it. From the hut starts the Cosmique Ridge all the way to the Aiguille du Midi station at the top.

The rest of our days routes. The first part up to the Cosmique Hut in the center has apparenlty some name, but I do not remember it. From the hut starts the Cosmique Ridge all the way to the Aiguille du Midi station at the top.

Some of the pre-Cosmique ridge was quite narrow and had some exprosure. Very nicely packed all kinds of terrain in a short outing.

Some of the pre-Cosmique ridge was quite narrow and had some exprosure. Very nicely packed all kinds of terrain in a short outing.

Being energized again, we walk through the hut and crossed the col to the start of the Cosmique Ridge. We started around 1:20pm and soloed up the first half of the route until the abseils. At one point I took, though, foolish route where the steps had already melted quite a bit in the sun. Luckily the steps were steep. After the abseils we switched leads the rest of the route. Knut who had not done the route before got to do the awkward step after the abseils and also the crux pitch which was crowded as usual. I on the other hand got to lead the final icy couloir up to the top. It was actually my first time to climb it since on the first time,  we went too far on the North face and climbed a quite exposed variation and on the second time – the previous Saturday – we did a variation on the South face. It was quite interesting and I might have wanted to have an ice screw with me instead of just nuts :) Anyway we topped around 4pm and readied to get down. We actually had to wait for our lift cabin almost an hour, but the weather was perfect so it did not matter. We also stopped on the way middle station for a mandatory beer (it is cheaper there :)) and almost missed the last lifts down while doing so.

Knut waiting for his turn to climb up the crux section.

Knut waiting for his turn to climb up the crux section.

The final icy chimney up to the ridge. This I had never climbed before despite having climbed the Cosmique Ridge twice before. Icy, but fun.

The final icy chimney up to the ridge. This I had never climbed before despite having climbed the Cosmique Ridge twice before. Icy, but fun.

Got to have that beer after such a nice day out.

Got to have that beer after such a nice day out.

In the evening we were supposed to have a talk about mindfulness and climbing, but in the end we only got a round of free drinks since the person who supposed to do the talking was still stuck doing the Dru traverse.

Friday

For Friday the weather again looked a bit of a coin toss and few people opted to go to the Montenvers for some slab climbing in the morning. I joined and paired again with Ilze. We didn’t take it too early and took the train up to Montenvers around 10am. Then it is a short walk and down climb of couple of steep steel ladders to the bottom of the walls. Earlier times the Mer de Glace glacier has been much, much thicker and apparently the receding ice has brought these rocks into light. Don’t know for sure though.

These ladders you need to descend to get to the bottom of the routes.

These ladders you need to descend to get to the bottom of the routes.

Our route - Les Palais des Glaces - going straight up

Our route – Le Palais des Glaces – going straight up

Anyway we opted to climb a three pitch Le Palais des Glaces which is around 5a in difficulty. I lead the route all the way and Ilze followed. On the way the wind pickup quite a bit and it created perhaps the most fun element into the climb – trying not to be blown of the wall :) In truth, it weren’t that bad, but still pretty stiff wind. There was some hassle in the abseil down as Ilze got the ropes tangled on the second abseil and I had to go fix the mess. Didn’t help that the weather was rapidly declining and we got the first few drops of water while we packed the gear out. Two South African ladies from the festival had first gone for a bit more difficult line, but it had apparently missed some belay bolts or something and they changed to the same route also. Together we then got still pretty dry to the station and not too long off we were back in Chamonix.

It was a bit windy up there. The orientation of my hair gives some indication.

It was a bit windy up there. The orientation of my hair gives some indication.

For me it was lunch time and I tried again the pizza place we found two years ago. It was good, but perhaps the Irish place other side of the town is even better. Fully nourished, I persuaded Ilze to go to the Gaillands for a few quick rock climb. The buses didn’t fancy us and we ended up walking all the way to the crag. Not as long as you might think really. We climbed couple of routes on the Forestiers section, easy routes only. Though, have to say that there was probably the only 4c route I have done where you need to overcome a small roof, despite having good holds to pull.

Pizza and beer for lunch. Perfect.

Pizza and beer for lunch. Perfect.

On the way back it was pretty much the same thing with the buses, but that gave a good excuse to stop for an afternoon pint at a bar on the way.  Then we had to actually rush a little to get in time for the dinner, so that we could eat before the evening picture show. There we had quite a bunch of pictures from the festival participants doing various routes around Chamonix.

Saturday

For Saturday there was something totally different as few of the organizers were planning to visit this ice cave near Annecy. In the morning there was two cars full of us, including two of the organizers, but none of us had never been in the cave before. What we had was a general idea and a rough hand drawn map of the place. Plus a GPS coordinates of some sort. A bit of exploring to come.

The boulder which blocked the road. It had apparently fallen just moments before we had arrived.

The boulder which blocked the road. It had apparently fallen just moments before we had arrived.

The approach walk started from Chalet de l’Anglette which was at the end of a small mountain road. The drive was otherwise pretty straightforward except that on the way up we encountered a big boulder right in the middle of the road. Our other car, a four-wheel drive, managed to go around it, but our other had to be parked down the road. A bit later, though, there came a tractor which had apparently called to pull that big boulder out of the way. Apparently the boulder had just landed there right before we came! Would not have wanted to be on the way of that.

The road to the ice cave wandered through meadows filled with cows. And cow dung :)

The road to the ice cave wandered through meadows filled with cows. And cow dung :)

From the Chalet, we walked about an hour through meadows and forests until we came onto a odd rocky area. We crossed that and found eventually the steep entrance gully into the cave. Our initial plan had been to abseil down from an opening on the caves roof, but we decided that it was waste of time to go and try to find it still. The entrance through this way was also quite exciting. You had to either dip your boots into the icy water or drytool few meters around the puddle. There were, though, logs and fixed ropes in place, but they did not help all the way.

Some of our group figuring outhow to get past that short section of cold water. Not all of them had waterproof shoes which made it a bit more complicated.

Some of our group figuring outhow to get past that short section of cold water. Not all of them had waterproof shoes which made it a bit more complicated.

After that you come into the first main chamber and see the hole in the roof where one could abseil down. On the walls you could also spot some bolts and quick draws hanging as there were few drytooling routes going around the roof. After goofing around for a awhile we setup an abseil point (to a convient bolt anchor someone has put up) to abseil down deeper to the cave. First you do about 10-15 meter vertical abseil down to a small chamber. From there you need to abseil, crawl or down climb along the sloping icy tunnel too narrow to stand and really sit up straight. Then you enter the true attraction of the cave – an hollow concave which has floors, walls and roof covered in hard ancient ice. It was pitch dark there, but we had brought plenty of head torches to lighten up the space.

Most of the time we spent just looking around, but we did setup a top rope on top of one easy ice wall which apparently is the place most of the other setup the ropes too. Everybody got to do a lap or two on the wall, which was fun, but got quite soon pretty boring though. Apparently people have also climbed the ice on the roof too since there are quite a few abalakovs paled into the ice for clip in. None of us was crafty enough to climb overhanging ice in a dark cave :)

Finally there was some use for the smallest ice screws :)

Finally there was some use for the smallest ice screws :)

The going back, then, became another challenge. The first part along the narrow tunnel was easiest to just solo climb up since that way you had the most space to do your things. Then there was a bit of a thing to tackle. The second part was surmounting a about 10 meter high ice wall which was partially overhanging. Knut was there first and as being a true old school chap to the bone, decided to prussik it up. After some struggling he did get to the top, though, being quite soaked as there were few small streams of water pouring down. He then worked a top rope for us and I chose to go second and really climb the wall. This was perhaps the most exhilarating thing of the day, since it was super fun to climb it. It certainly was hard, but really, really fun too. While being partially overhanging, you got to do some resting by stemming across a corner which helped a lot. Then everybody climbed up one by one, few climbing more as other being more “dragged” up. Few people also dropped their tools couple of times and had to do the climbing multiple times :)

Our pulley system to bring those up who did have the skills or strength do climb the whole overhannging section.

Our pulley system to bring those up who did have the skills or strength do climb the whole overhannging section.

After we got everyone up, we gathered our things and scrambled the slippery exit gully up into the sun. Another hours walk and we where back at the cars and soon driving towards Chamonix and dinner. For the last evening there were no particular program, except few pints at a pub.

Sunday

The last day of the trip did not have any pre-planned program and I decided to utilize my still valid lift pass and visit the very top of the Aiguille du Midi station. So, half past noon, after standing in two separate queues with Japanese tourists, I was standing in the Step in to the Void at the highest level accessible in the station. You couldn’t spend too much time in there, but they did have a nice service to have staff to take pictures of you in the glass cubicle. A great thing that you weren’t forced to buy some pricey pictures taken by some “professional” photographer.

Stepping Into The Void

Stepping Into The Void

The view from the top viewing platform of the Aiguille du Midi towards the Aiguille du Plan. The traverse route follows the ridge statring in from mid foreground.

The view from the top viewing platform of the Aiguille du Midi towards the Aiguille du Plan. The traverse route follows the ridge statring in from mid foreground.

Rest of the day I spent around the town and buying some cheese to bring home and had that excellent Savoyard Croûte which I had on the previous trip also. Super good and give you just the energy you need after a day in the mountains. There are different versions available and I took a vegetarian version of it.

The Croûte. Om-nom-nom....

The Croûte. Om-nom-nom….

After lunch I spent my last drink coupons at the UCPA and waited for my ride to the airport to arrive. Off to airport and off to Finland again.

To summarize the trip a bit, it was a bit contradictory as a whole. I got do the some great things, though, not exactly all the ones I had in my mind. Some because of the weather and some for other reasons like not being perhaps fit as I should have been. And would I go again on this kidn of festival? It depends…. if I would have a partner to go along, then why not. It could be just me, but I am not perhaps that kind of person who goes around asking for people to climb with me. I rather pre-plan it and go with people I know beforehand. Also, as for Chamonix Mountain Festival, it looks like moot point as it does not seem to be organized for at least for the present year. I really hope they would be able continue on it on the next.

For the future, I kind of figured out that I should either do like four consecutive days of climbing and be off or then stay for two weeks or so. After the first few days I was a bit mentally dipping, but the good feeling for climbing came back a bit after a day or two. On the last day I escorted off my other roommate as he went for a photo walk on the Midi Plan traverse, I would have so much have wanted to go along as I felt again that I could really cruise it and also it is supposed to be really superb climb and I really would like to do it one day. But I also really liked the idea of getting back home to my family. The mountains will be there. If not forever, then at least for my lifetime.

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Chamonix Mountain Festival

My last year’s alp trip went bonkers for reasons told. This year will be hopefully different. Fingers crossed that there won’t be any unforeseen issues rising just before the D-day :)

My previous trips rope mate – Lauri – has other intentions set. As well as does Markus, my Swiss friend and Nepal tent mate and who I was supposed to go last year. So I was left with two choices: find someone else to go with or go on my own. Quite fast I started to incline on the latter one, but I wouldn’t like to go solo on nothing else but the easiest routes or snow plods.

Mont Blanc scenery. End of Cosmiques arete in the foreground and in the back from left Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc and Dôme du Goûter

Mont Blanc scenery. End of Cosmiques arete in the foreground and in the back from left Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc and Dôme du Goûter

I had set my eyes already last year for two quite interesting events held right in the heart of Chamonix. First would be Alpine Academy organised by Arcteryx and for second there is Chamonix Mountain Festival which is “organised by mountaineers for mountaineers”.

The Alpine Academy is run for the second time this year and it actually ended week ago. The event has three days of various activities or “clinics” available for different levels ranging from total beginner to advanced climbers. Activities have something from all the aspects of alpine activities. You can choose climbs from acclimatization to multi-pitch rock climbs or long alpine excursions. Or then you can choose one of the non-climbing sessions like mountain photographing, overnight bivy or crevasse rescue courses. All these are individually priced so you can freely choose what you want to do on each day. The “clinics” are followed with evening program. Apparently the Alpine Academy has gained quite a good reputation as the clinics seem to sell out pretty soon after the registration opens. All the clinics for this year were sold out well in advance. The only way to then to attend those would have been to win a competition they ran which would have got you flights, clinics and gear for you AND you friend. Not too shabby price, isn’t it? Quite obviously I did not win :)

I’m sure the the event would have been of great fun and I was looking for it, but at the time I was choosing out, most of the clinics were already sold out. Also being just for three days it is a both good and bad. Three days is quite short time to get into alpine stuff, but it is also short enough to hop in for just a extended weekend. For me it was a bit of a minus this year as I was going to go solo and do not know how easy it is to find people to climb with from Chamonix outside events like this. If interested, you can check their show-off videos from previous years.

As mentioned, last year I also had my eyes on another event: Chamonix Mountain Festival. I’m not 100% sure about what exactly is the organizing party behind it, but I’ve understood that they are a bunch of mountaineers who just started to run this event for fun. The event sound quite intereasting: a week of climbing with a very reasonable price. For me the price was actually one of the key points that caught my eye. For the price around 500€ (around because it is bit different whether you pay in one chunk or in two) you get lodging in UCPA in center of Chamonix, ski passes for the week, breakfast, dinner, packed lunch, free snacks and gear to test from sponsors and different evening events. It does sound quite interesting, doesn’t it? There isn’t organized guidance as such, but there are few places to book on some guide tours by some sponsored athletes.

Personally I do not know anyone who would have participated this event before, but somehow the whole thing seemed quite appealing to me. After some considering I booked a place for myself and then the flights to settle the deal. One reason was that I should be able to find people to climb with relative ease during the whole week and also not having that “clinics” based stuff, I could perhaps concentrate on the routes and climbs I’m interested with. If I’m able to find a buddy to do those, that is.

After I had signed up they have posted quite a few new sponsors and things they’ll have during the event which definitely has not decreased the value. Later on I also heard that one of my other climbing buddies is going to Chamonix around the same time aiming to climb the Mont Blanc via the Royal Traverse route. Could be that I have some day to climb with them also.

It will be seen how the festival turns out to be, was it a good choice or not. I’ll certainly will share my experiences later on. Now it is only a few days left until I’m leaving. I’ll be flying in already on Friday morning and arriving in Chamonix at around noon. I’m trying to get to do something already on Friday, but with who and what, I do not know if anything. The festival starts on Saturday now, which actually is one day earlier than they had initially programmed. Don’t know what is the thing with that. Anyway I’ll try to hit the hills latest on Saturday, though I would need to find someone to go along before that. If I still have time I’ll post a few routes I would like to try out, but there is actually quite a lot happening this week and don’t know if I can squeeze another post in. You’ll need to read about about what I had really done then.

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Back in the game

It has passed more than a year from my last post. Too long, yes, and much have happened in the time between.

Last spring I was very much looking forward for my second alpine trip in early July with my Swiss tent buddy I had in Nepal. I was in quite nice shape, had ran my fastest one hour jog ever and had gotten really back into climbing practice after my surgery in December. But things don’t always happen as planned. Instead of five days of alpine air and fun outings, this happened.

Our boy looking at his best

Our boy looking at his best

Not that this guy was not planned, but he was just some five weeks and a bit more too hesitant to emerge into this world. All the plan I had was thrown out of the window and replaced with endless changing of diapers. Oh… did I mention that we had also bought a new apartment which we got two days this fellows early exit? And that the renovations for kitchen, bathroom and most of the floors started on the week after?

Our things stuffed into our new living room. Basically the place that got least of renovation mess.

Our things stuffed into our new living room. Basically the place that got least of renovation mess.

It was not gloomy after all. Yes, I missed the long waited trip and I had to work a bit longer days shuffling between our new home and our temporary one, switching smoothly from saws and hammers to cradling and poop. I was tired from all of that, but it really WAS worth it. Also the insurance company reimbursed my flight tickets, so I was not that affected money wise. Except that the new apartment and renovations did it’s best to tip the scales to the other end.

Me waiting to be rescued. Dont worry, it is part of a course to be in predicament.

Me waiting to be rescued. Don’t worry, it is part of a course to be in predicament.

But despite me having my hands full of different kinds of chores, I did manage to get some climbing stuff done too. First of all, I had signed on to a climbing instructor training earlier in the spring. It was not REAL climbing instructor course, but the first level of training in the Finnish Climbing Associations (SKIL) training pool. I was to become “Köysitoiminnanohjaaja” or roughly rope activity guide in English. Which then I did, after all. The training consisted of two two-day modules and an exam. Both of the modules had first an indoor day and then an outdoor day. The first module was basically just about basic rope management and belay techniques and some tips and tricks on what to do in when a problem occurs. The second module dived more into the problem scenarios and rescuing. Some of the stuff was quite familiar for me, but some were totally new. We also took some time to to cover basic things when working with different kinds of groups like kids, bachelor groups or disabled people. According to the rules set by SKILL you can not take the exam no sooner than after two months you have completed the second module. I was supposed to take the exam already in June, but unfortunately that was cancelled due to lack of participants. Then I had to opt for the next one held in September. For me this was a bit bad, since I had so much do with all the renovations and such towards the fall. Also I became increasingly busier with my actual work, so I did not have that much time to spare for practicing then. I wonder if I managed to squeeze in more than one weekends worth of time for that.

The rescue scenario demonstration

Mikko Nieminen The rescue scenario demonstration

Most of the course was pretty laidback. Especially with a nice weather like this.

Mikko Nieminen Most of the course was pretty laidback. Especially with a nice weather like this.

In the end, I did pass the exam, but with some remarks on few things . Luckily I did not have to do any extra work as that could have been the case if you’d screw up, but not that critically. First we had a written exam, which apparently you could not fail, as it was more to put shame on you if you didn’t know the stuff. I did get good points on that though. Next we needed to gear up and do couple of knots and such. Got it otherwise perfect, but my prusik cords knot ends were a wee bit too short. Passed nonetheless. If you’d fail here, you would not have been allowed to continue to the outdoor part. Like said, for the second part we went to a local cliff, the same we had used for the modules, to do some tests. We were divided into two groups which did different tasks at the same time. Basically we had four different scenarios and you had to do two of them. My groups first tasks was to create a top rope anchor to bolts just over lip of the cliff with single rope, while the other group was creating a system for group abseiling activity. These of course had to be done safely. The second task for me was to do a rescue of person who had abseiled half way down and had twisted his or her leg. For me everything started of nicely and it looked like a smooth sail, all to the point where I realised I had made some big ass fuck up. It was the same damn mistake I had done when practicing. What I had done was that I had attached my belay device (or abseil device this time) directly to my belay loop as I would do when abseiling myself normally. I should have attached it to the end of this special rescue sling too give more room to operate. I did managed to manoeuvre us out of that mess, but it pretty damn close it would have escalated to major fuck up. It was a good example of how tiny mistakes can escalate into critical situations in just few moments. I was a bit lucky there and the instructors were nice enough to give me some hints (so much easier to se the situation when not in it) which I managed to turn into actions. I was initially thinking that “why weren’t I in that other group”, later I thought it was better this way. That is because the second scenario for the other team was to escape the belay when belaying a top rope climber. I’m pretty sure that I would have nailed that for sure, but then I would have missed this excellent learning opportunity I got. We did not got the feedback from our tasks until we were back at the office. It was a bit tormenting to wait there for your turn and the results whether you passed or not when you now you did some mistakes. Eventually it was my turn for the feedback which was very constructive and on the spot. The course was then concluded and I received my freshly laminated card to certify skills.

My laminated KTO certificate card

My laminated KTO certificate card

The next step would be to apply for the Sport Climbing Instructor course after which I would be able to held basics courses for climbing. That one actually have some climbing skill requirements which I SHOULD be able to pass already. To apply, you should be able to lead on-sight UIAA 5 (french 4c) and when finishing the course UIAA 6 (french 5c). Those among many other skills. After that would come the Rock Climbing Instructor course which is the first internationally recognised certification. For that the requirements are higher for both skills and experience and I doubt I will ever go through that fully. My initial plan was to apply for the Sport Climbing Instructor course already this year, but there has quite a bit of things going on which have been prioritised. Haven’t yet even fully decided whether I will attend at any rate. We’ll see. If nothing else, I should do the exam day of this KTO course again within the next five years to keep it valid for another five years.

Me climbing some easy route with some alpine feel

Niklas Karlsson Me climbing some easy route with some alpine feel

On top of this course stuff and other things, I did managed to get few climbing days in also. Though, was there more than just three or four days I got to climb on real rock leading and all. My outdoor bouldering season weren’t much more active despite I did got my new bouldering pad in summer and managed to do few sessions with it. No major bouldering breakthroughs though, but I managed to nail few problems I hadn’t dared to top without a pad earlier. Being now a proper family and all also did have its toll on indoor climbing. Most of the times I changed ropes to bouldering caves as it is just so much faster to work out a pump when bouldering.

To compensate a bit the lack of climbing opportunities, I’ve tried to some power training in a bit more than before. I also think has had some effect since I’ve been able to do some boulder routes which have had required more about on the core and also on the pure power. During the spring I’ve got somewhat more meters on rope the I got during the previous fall and now I’ve been able to climb most of the 6b/+ routes I’ve tried on one go and even a few 6c routes which pars the personal best ever. So either the power training has paid out or I’ve developed some better technique while not climbing :) Which ever is the case it feels like I’d be in perhaps the best condition ever. Perhaps I should start leading a bit harder routes than the 5b/c.

At the top of my first ice lead

At the top of my first ice lead

My last winter season went totally bonkers as I spent all the short season recuperating from the surgery. So, my brand new ice screws and double ropes remained idle on the shelf. This year, however, brought some relief to the itch that only ice tools could help. Sadly the local “man made” ice wall could open only very late in the season, because of the warm weather and it left quite a short time to do any ice climbing. The natural ice falls were not really in any better shape and I could not take time to those beefier falls in the north, so I had to work with what we had. Also I missed few opportunities as I was ill. In the end I got some half a dozen ice climbing days in and though there weren’t that many meters in total, I got my first ice lead done. Just as the cold season arrived late and suddenly, the spring did it’s best also to end short the winter season. Almost within days all the ice that had accumulated during the cold, melted rapidly away into an unclimbable slosh. It was quite fun though to toprope-solo that kind of molting ice as it was very fun and scary at the same time since you could not stop thinking whether the wall of soft icy snow would loose with this strike or kick. Toprope-solo was another new thing for me and I’m sure I’ll be doing more of that in the future. Works especially well on ice.

The mushy "ice" of Pirunkallio at the end of season. Would you lead that? ;)

The mushy “ice” of Pirunkallio at the end of season. Would you lead that? ;)

That somewhat summarises my past year in absence. Summer climbing season is still kind starting for me as I’ve been is it three times outside climbing with ropes. Hopefully the June will bring more days for that and would really wish to generate time from somewhere to visit the Olhava or Haukkakallio this summer again. I do have some abroad plans for this summer, more of that later. Nothing major, don’t worry :) Just some fun time in the alps for a bit over a week.

At the anchors of a tricky 5c at Kauhala

Aleksi Mehtonen At the anchors of a tricky 5c at Kauhala

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It’s a fixed, yes!

Two weeks ago I had my fourth physiotherapy session. The ankle is still stiffer than the non-operated one, but it has improved all the time. This time, though, my physician surprised me by bidding me farewell with: “Go jogging, boy”.

My last session was a bit over a month ago and the plan was to do a little jogging there on the threadmill, but it seemed that the ankle had not improved in a way the physician thought. I have practised ashtanga yoga for a few years now and my joint are a bit more flexible than average. This factor did give the appearance of a super fast recovery, but it proved to differ. The recovery was normal, though, but it was too soon for jogging then. Needless to say, I was a bit put back with this and my dreams of getting back to the walls soon shattered.

Then now, a month later, I went to the session with not much of hopes. We talked the normal stuff and he twisted and turned my leg and tested the movement of the joints. We tried the knee-to-wall test which had jumped from last times 13,5cm to 16,5cm. For comparison, the measurement on my “good” leg was initially tested to be 19,5cm. Just to give some perspective on this figure, the normal measurement is 10-12cm. Furthermore, on the initial test my “bad” leg was measured to be 10,5cm, which actually is within the normal range. The therapist wondered if it is benefitical to have such a joint flexibility, but such a hobbies of mine – climbing and ashtanga yoga – that’s what were aiming for then.

We did a few more tests – which showed a good progress – and he then twisted and tried my leg to see how it moves. Then I was surprised that we walked to the “training hall” and he told me to jog a few times back and forth the short matress. Didn’t really know that I was ready for that. Even more I was surprised when he told me to step on the threadmill and start jogging up to almost to a running pace. Didn’t feel any pain, though, which was nice to notice. The jogging was filmed and I was then shown it on a screen with in depth analysis on my stepping. Apparently – and not surprisingly really – I had an over pronation on my feet, but otherwise the jogging was just fine. This meant that there’s no stopping for me to start jogging again with increasing pace. Woohoo!

Since that I haven’t been jogging yet, though, but I have been climbing once. It was quite fine, toproping from easy 4 to a tricky and slopey 6b (just managed to do the moves). The leg felt a bit sore some days afterwards, but otherwise it was fine. Recently we have also moved out from our flat, which has ment a LOT of carrying heavy loads. Initially it felt just ok, but later on I the ankle seemed to get more sore and up to a point that in the morning stiffness it buckled under a little when pressured. Not good. When I got going after breakfast it soon got better as it warmed up on the way. Better. Today I also got to wear the specially made insoles for the first time. During the previous session the physician took moulds of my feet for precision made insoles. Hopefully those will get my feet going even faster.

Dispite the setback of the last few days, I can really see some light in the horizon, and have some hopes for good climbing season still to come. The only climbing session I’ve had showed that all the bare muscle training I have done during the summer have not gone totally in vain, as the climbing felt very strong, though, all my stamina has gone down the drain. Just a couple of climbs with the self-belaying lines and I was completely out of it. A lot of stamina training is in order during the following weeks as I am trying to manage do squeeze in a short alpine trip during early July in mids of all the fuss that is going on. The fast closing due date of my wifes pregnancy and moving in to our new apartment about the time of my trip does make a good mess, but I’ll try to wheel around all this in a shapely manner. It does need a lot of work, though, which requires time that seems not to be an endless resource.

Today I did my first lead, indoors though, since the operation. A meger 5a, but one has to start somewhere!

Just to recap (and remind) for myself (and others) how this all injury, surgery and healing has gone, here are a few pictures on a timeline to wrap this whole thing.

Amelie @ Kräkinniemi

Perttu Ollila Amelie @ Kräkinniemi. The line I tried is the right hand side crack. I took to fall from much lower height than the climber here is.

27.08.2011: It all started then. I took lead fall at Kräkinniemi, Kustavi when climbing Amelie (5).

My air cast

My air cast just after I got home from the health center.

28.08.2011: I got my leg bandaged and put into an AirCast shell. The home for my leg for the next three weeks. Luckily I could take off for sleeping and washing.

My feet after the first day in Rome

My feet after the first day in Rome and 5 days after the fall

03.09.2011: The feet few days after the fall. A bit of swelling here and there.

On crutches at Colosseum

Me skipping away with crutches outside the Colosseum

03.09.2011: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Our vacation in Rome turned into a battle with cobble stones on crutches.

Me on top of Mera Peak

Me on top of Mera Peak. On the bground you can see from left to right mountains like Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Khanteka left of me and to the right Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse, Baruntse

10.10.-14.11.2011: Later I was in Nepal trying to climb Mera Peak (6476m) and Baruntse (7129m). I got on Mera Peak, but had to bail on Baruntse due fever and flu. The injured leg showed no real hindrance, except the lack of training during the last weeks.

The original India chappals. The only way to walk when in India.

The original India chappals. The only way to walk when in India.

Dec 2011: After a two weeks of walking on these the ankle didn’t feel too good. Went to see a doctor again, which said it could be a bruise in the bone. Nothing could be done to speed the healing. I didn’t opt for the MRI to confirm as I might have had to pay it myself.

Spring 2012: The ankle was somewhat improving, but very slowly, if any. Could climb alright, but could do only light jogging.

The Cathedral Peak seen from near the Orange Peel Gap. On the way up we couldn't see a thing.

The Cathedral Peak seen from near the Orange Peel Gap. On the way up we couldn’t see a thing.

May 2012: On our trip to South Africa we went hiking some hills and the loose ground and 1600m uphill and downhill made my leg almost unbearably sore. I decided that I would go to see the doctor again once we got back to home.

08.06.2012: Went to see a company doctor which looked that the company insurance would cover the MRI if prescribed by an specialized doctor.

14.06.2012: The orthopedician sent me to the MRI.

20.06.2012: The MRI. First time in my life.

MRI of my ankle

MRI of my ankle. The cartilage should be smooth and the whie area below that is swollen bone contution.

05.07.2012: Got the results from the MRI. A broken cartilage and tendon. Will need a surgery. I was forwarded to a surgeon specialized in feet surgery.

On the ridge towards Mont Blanc

And the other side. Mont Blanc du Tacul with the clounds, Mont Maudit just behind my helmet and Mont Blanc is the snow top in the far distance. On hour in on the ridge and three and a half to go :)

23.08.-01.09.2012: A trip to Chamonix. Had a wonderful week of climbing with my friend. Got to do climbing on 6 days out of 7. Only the walking on melting glacier snow did make the ankle sore and it was pretty stiff and akward to walk on the following day. Didn’t affect the actual climbing at all.

05.09.2012: It was decided to do and an anesthetic test on the ankle and inject some cortisone into it. I went for a run after the shot and it was fine for the 1,5 hour run.

01.10.2012: Check up with the doctor. The leg showed some improvement, I could jog just fine, but it weren’t “perfect”. Very annoying situation. The decicion was to wait a few weeks.

29.10.2012: The ankle was bad again. The surgery was booked to be in December.

Me coming down from the last lead

Ilkka Å. Me coming down from the last lead

06.-09.12.2012: A climbing trip to Siurana, Spain. The last thing to do before the surgery. Had wonderful time, though, we did not climb as hard as we had hoped. Still, a very good trip.

After surgery waiting to be picked up. Not one of my best pictures. Not the worst one either, though.

After surgery waiting to be picked up. Not one of my best pictures. Not the worst one either, though.

10.10.2012: The surgery. First time ever. I was very, very nervous about the operation. The whole thing was in real a very pleasent experience, if you can say that of an operation. I got crutches, five weeks of sick leave and a bunch of painkillers.

Wraps off. The bandages are covering the wounds, but you can see some of the bruises developing there.

Wraps off. The bandages are covering the wounds, but you can see some of the bruises developing there.

17.12.2012: Removed the wraps for the first time. Took some extra padding off.

Stitches on!

Stitches on!

Stitches off!

Stitches off!

21.12.2012: Got the stiches off. The nurse said that it had healed pretty good.

Three weeks after the operation

Three weeks after the operation

28.12.2012: Walked for the first time to the local supermarket. Took about ~40mins instead of the normal ten :)

31.12.2012: Ditched the second crutch.

03.01.2013: Walked first time to the local mall without crutches.

Four weeks after the operation

Four weeks after the operation

14.01.2013: After operation checkup. Everything was looking fine.

16.01.2013: The first physiotherapy session. The knee-to-wall measurement was 10,5cm.

06.02.2013: The second physiotherapy session. The knee-to-wall measurement was 12,5cm

Nine weeks after the operation

Nine weeks after the operation

04.03.2013: The third physiotherapy session. The knee-to-wall measurement was 13,5cm. We were supposed initially to try jogging this time, but it was too early for that :(

08.04.2013: The fourth – and currently final – physiotherapy session. We did now the jogging test and others too. Everything looked fine. The knee-to-wall measurement was 16,5cm. I was given permission to start jogging and similar things with causion.

13.04.2013: First climbing session. It has to start somewhere.

Four and a half months after the operation and still have the nice scar

Four and a half months after the operation and still have the nice scar

24.04.2013: First lead (5a) since the operation. Progress it is.

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Pocket muscles? What pocket muscles?

So, back home again from the warm and sunny Spain. Well.. it was sunny alright, but with the temperatures floating around +5 and having to scrape the car windscreen on the last morning from frost, I would not call it too warm. Nonetheless, for climbing the weather was pretty much perfect… good friction and sun. If I would have to be picky about something, then the days could have been longer and the stone a wee bit warmer. The first evening I was really struggling on a route just because my hands were so freaking freezing, but then again when we climbed in the sun, it was nice and warm.

Briefly, our trip schedule was to fly early on Thursday morning to Barcelona, take the rental car and drive straight to Siurana, spend the next four days climbing there and then drive back to the airport for a late Sunday evening flight back home. And that’s pretty much how it went. Our inward flight departed at 6:10am, so we had an early start for the day. We got to the flight alright, though, and in no time we were already picking up the car the Sixt office at Barcelona airport. With no delay we stuffed our bags in and drove off. The stuff really needed shoving as we had rented the cheapest (and the smallest) car we could get and got a Smart Fortwo. We got our bags in, though, and we only needed to transport them from one place to another. It took about three hours for us to drive there, but that included a grocery stop, a very dissappointing stop at the closed Burger King and a few short stops to look at the cliffs on the way.

Trusty Smart Fortwo

Trustworthy Smart Fortwo. We could fit all our gear in it, barely, very barely.

Soon after noon we managed to check in at Siurana Camping, where we had booked a small bungalow for us. We had a fridge and a gas stove there, but no shower or toilets. The price was quite ok (36€ per night), though in places like Montserrat or Lleida you can get a bed&breakfast for a bit over fifty euro. Here, though, you can walk pretty much to any of the fifty odd sectors in less than half-an-hour and the closest ones are a just a few minutes away. We had eaten a brief lunch while driving, so we didn’t waste too much time but headed straight to the rocks. We bought a guide book for the Tarragona crags, but sadly they did not have the new Siurana guidebook which has been, and apparently still is, out of stock. We fond out though that the closest sectors were just a few minute’s walk away over the hilltop and they would have plenty of climbing for us too. Quite a few sectors here are really sensible to visit only if you climb 7a or harder. We don’t, so we had to pick our places.

My friend climbing the Mi Primera con Muñón

My friend climbing the Mi Primera con Muñón – Can Marges de Baix

The first time approaches are always a bit tricky and it wasn’t too smooth a ride this time either. Or any other time, for that matter. Finally we got to the sector Can Marges de Baix, which is the last sector reached from the castle parking lot. We started quite cautiously with routes graded IV+ (250 Ptas.) and V (Mi Primera con Muñón). They were, how would I put it… easy. The second one was, though, a bit more “adventurous” or “alpine” as it wandered around the side of the small face. Then we went to the sector proper as these two were 10-20m off from the main wall. Here I lead a Ay Candemor (V) which wasn’t that difficult, but it was now completely in the shade and the sun was starting already to dip in and my hands were totally freezing on the rock. I literally had to shake them on the wall to get some blood circulating. Finally we climbed Tahona (V+) which was more on the sunny side and wasn’t that ice-cold. It had a cruxy section right at the beginning with an overhanging bulge. Again fun climbing and a nice end for the day. Even though we had heard that at 6pm it would be completely dark, we were caught a bit by surprise with the nightfall, as it wasn’t no later than 5:50pm when we left the crag and started walking. We did however a small detour to have a look at the village and were quite happy to find out that the walk out to the parking lot was no more than 10 mins. Now in complete darkness we took a brief tour around the tiny village and walked the same 10 mins back to the camping site and our bungalow.

Some hippy at Siurana village in the evening

Ilkka Å. Some hippy at Siurana village in the evening

The rest of the evening went by drinking a few beers, having some dinner at the camping site restaurant (I got vegetarian lasagna for 6€ and a spanish omelet for 4€, gulped down with sangria at 8€) and then retiring at the bungalow. A nice first day at Siurana.

Still a good day a head in front of the bungalow

Ilkka Å. Still a good day a head in front of the bungalow

Already lost when parking

Ilkka Å. Already lost when parking, just don’t know it yet. Notice the “lunch bag”.

Our target for the second day was to get early on to the crag and climb throughout the day with some packed lunch. Ok… it didn’t start that well, though, as we got up quite late (9am), had a long breakfast and it was no earlier than 11am when we were finally ready to head off. So, we got ourselves going, but that was not the end of our difficulties. The drive to the crag parking (we has decided to go for another sector which was a bit further away) was a bit obscure and by the time we found some kind of a spot, we weren’t too sure if this was the right one or not. We knew anyway that we would have to get lower down. So we walked on a smaller dirt road until it forked off to a marked walking trail (there are quite a few of them around Siurana) and headed further down. At this point we saw some bolts here and there and thought that this must be about the right place and continued on. Eventually, we ended up following a few local guys to a crag which, after all, was not the one we were looking for. Luckily, though, they had the newer topo guide which has all the sectors in it and what more, they knew where we were. A bit of orienteering and we were finally on our way to our chosen crag, Grau dels Masets – Esquerra. At the time we got there it was already way past noon and we could kiss goodbye for an early start. Also the crag was quite full of local families climbing and most of the easier routes were taken. We had find out the previous evening that Thursday had been a public holiday also here in Spain (December 6th is the Independence Day of Finland and thus a public holiday) and that was the reason why there were so many families on vacation here. Also the following Saturday was going to be a public holiday and they had warned us at the camping site that everything in the town would be closed.

Time to look for the scenery

Ilkka Å. More time to look for the scenery when you’re lost

Yep... still not our crag

Ilkka Å. Yep… still not our crag… too steep.

Finally at the crag we started off with perhaps the worst IV+ (Danielpunk) we had ever climbed, but not much else was available at the time. After that, another, longer 18m, IV+ (Arbres) was free and we climbed that. Then we went on for the adjacent Primera (V+ 30m) which was way better than the last two. Next to us was a nice looking route (Black 6b, 30m), but it was busy all the time. Because of the hassle on the way in, it was already lunch time after these and with the same effort we moved to the next sector called Grau dels Masets – Camí. We ate the baguette and cheese we had taken for lunch and started to look for some more routes. Not too surprisingly, the same bunch of spanyards that had been racketing next to us at the previous sectors, was naturally here too. The most interesting one of them was a person they referred as Taco, who looked like he was smoking pot all the time and doing quite efficiently some magical no-hands belaying – luckily for all – with a Gri-gri. No surprise if there is an accident every now and then. We now focused our eyes on Baronia del Cabacés (6a, 15m), a route which has big pockets and a bulge to pass in the mid section. I again started the lead, but my on-sight was ruined at the bulge when I was too pumped and afraid to clip-in the bolt above the bulge. I dogged it to the top, though, and my friend did a nice flash of it. I also redpointed it afterwards, but overcoming the bulge was as thin as it had been the first time. Managed to do it though. Again the darkness started to creep in and the last climb of the day was El Trinxant (V+, 20m).

Having the lunch was the best moment of the day so far

Having lunch was the best moment of the day so far. Luckily there was still two more, and better, routes to climb with stomach full.

Me climbing Capritxo V+

Me climbing Capritxo V+ at Can Marges de Dalt

On our third day the schedule was the same as earlier. We did not have much for breakfast anymore so we ate what we got and grabbed a spanish omelet to-go from the camping site restaurant. For a 4€ it is a bargain. You get a hefty potato-filled omelet pinned between a half-a-baguette. That should hold the hunger away for a moment. We decided to head back again to the crags we had visited on our first day, but now to to the upper one called Can Marges de Dalt. There are few V/V+ routes and then couple of 6a/6b routes. It was now my friend’s turn to on-sight the routes as I had done it for the past two days. We started off with Capritxo, a nice 22m V+ route with first a slabby section of darker rock and then a steeper section of reddish rock. It was a really nice route actually and my friend did a very nice job on-sighting it as it was a bit tricky in parts. The first part was all rubbly and pocketed rock and the top-most section was steep and bouldery, totally different from bottom past. Here again we were accompanied by a few noisy “family groups” and we eventually climbed toproping just some variations of the same route and then the adjacent 6a climb, Spit de Boira, again toproping. After these we moved down the path towards the parking lot and looked for more climbing from the sectors on the way.

Few others climbing too

Can Marges de Dalt – a few others climbing too. The five year old (honestly) is climbing a 6a there. Perhaps with a little help, though.

I'm king of the mountain

Ilkka Å. I’m the king of the mountain. Really, just taking a look at the rock formations they have there. There is an aid route going directly over that long roof.

For the afternoon, we ended up to a sector called Ca la Isabel, which is about halfway to the parking lot. There wasn’t much for us to climb there, as it was mostly 7a and above, but there was one V+ route and next to that a 6b running very close to each other. So, we chose to climb the Faraday (V+, 15m) and my friend seemed to really struggle on the corner section of if. When I climbed it in my turn, I didn’t find it that hard, but on-sighting is always on-sighting. We decided to change the anchor to the adjacent El Dit del Gegant (6b 15m) and toprope that. The problem was that I had not for some reason taken with me an ATC and only had my Mammut Smart with me. I could not abseil down with that, so the only option was that my friend would second the route up to the ledge and then lower me down before abseiling himself. But I could not belay from the top with my Smart, not in “alpine style” that is, and the anchor was too low to do it regularly. So we had a little problem. My friend then yelled to me that “couldn’t I do some kind of alpine-thingy or something” and that I actually could. It then flashed to me that I could use the Münter-hitch to belay him while seconding. I’ve never had used it for that and that’s why it didn’t occur to me right awat. Luckily I do know how to do it and how to use it; now it saved us a good fifteen minutes of fussing with other options. Smoothly up he came and smoothly we both then got down. You’d never could have thought that a Münter-hitch might come in handy while purely sportclimbing. But it did. After the anchor-related episode we toproped the route. From the bottom going over the roof looked the most trickiest part, but it actually proved to be quite easy, really good jugs to pull on. The trickiest section was the lower smoother part, where you really had to pull on those crimps and trust your feet. My friend “toprope flashed” the route nicely, but I had tremendous trouble with the first couple of moves. At the beginning there was another roof to overcome and the moves from the lip of it to the proper face were quite tough for me. After a few tries when I got the first moves and then the rest went easily. Well… not “easily”, as I really had to push it during the smooth lower section, but I did not want to try it again from the bottom, so I just ground my teeth and pulled on the small stuff I found. My friend was confident that it was “lead material”, but for me it might have needed a few more toprope doggings to trust my moves.

Bigger boys leading

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Bigger boys leading

The Boys Don't Cry 7c+ is a bit airy at the top

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – The Boys Don’t Cry 7c+ is a bit airy at the top

The third day was not that phenomenal as this 6b remained our last climb of the day and we headed off at the same time as other people that had been on the crag. There were a few “a bit” better climbers doing some nice sends for grades around 7c and it was quite exciting to look at them literally jump over the topmost roofs. Our skills and strength is still a few climbs away from those. Three days done, one day to go.

That dog tried to snatch our lunch sandwiches

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – That dog tried to snatch our lunch sandwiches. Bad dog. Bad, bad, bad.

Belaying sure is fun

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Belaying sure is fun

As climbing gives you the muscle

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Climbing gives you the muscle

We had to spend a few moments undecided about where to spend the last day. We also reverse calculated from our flight time that we should be in the car and rolling at 3.30pm if we would want to have any dinner on the way out. We had been throwing options like the crag we had visited on the first or second day (there were still quite a few routes in our range to do there) or if we should go to the sectors near the main parking lot and on the sunny side (which would mean them being warm early on), and one option was even to diss Siurana altogether and to go to Arboli which would be conveniently 30-45 minutes drive away towards the airport. Also we had looked at the first sectors you see when you drive in (L’Herbolari and Siuranella Sud/Est) and also the interesting red rocks below them. We actually took a better look at them on the way out and they looked really, really interesting. They had a lot of large grooves and holes in them and the rock is red througout. It didn’t look like as sharply pocketed as in other sectors, but instead these were round and smooth and some of the bumps were big enough to climb in (!) so I’m not sure they can be called pockets anymore. Somewhere on the interweb I saw a term called hueco, so maybe that’s it then. Eventually we decided not go to any of the above mentioned sectors, but we called in the dark horse instead, sector El Ditot. We had spotted this from a German website topoguide.de which is an independent site whose owners climb routes and give them grades opinions, stars and a whole lot of more. They have a Siurana leaflet which does not work as an independent guidebook, BUT it has grade opinions and ratings for a lot of routes on different sectors. We had browsed it through earlier, but sadly only now we really took a good look at it. Finally we found from the last page the sector El Ditot which had many three star routes at 6a/+ which sounded pretty perfect. The only problem was that we did not know where this sector was as it did not appear in our guidebook. We decided to go to the camping site restaurant for breakfast and take a look at the older Siurana guidebook they had, if it would be there. Well… wasn’t, but lo and behold, in came a Spanish couple who had the new Siurana guidebook with them. We politely asked them if we could borrow it and browsed it though. We were then quite stunned to find out that the El Ditot sector was the exact same one where we ended on our second day by accident. We took some pictures of the guidebook for reference and then it was settled. We then ate the hefty spanish omelet-baguette breakfast and took one more for the go.

At the last morning our car was a bit frosty

The last morning our car was a bit frosty

When you see the Darth Vader, you are at El Ditot

Ilkka Å. When you see the Darth Vader, you are at El Ditot

As we had been at the crag once before, it was quite easy to get there. The only difference was that we now knew how to get to the right, and much closer, parking lot. Approach to the crag was really just a breeze. We were the first ones on the sector as it had been quite freezing in the morning… all the roofs in a frost and the windows in our car were almost frozen solid. No wonder none of the locals were up before us :) Truthfully, we weren’t that early there either and starting the first route at 11am we had just scant four hours to climb. We didn’t want to waste much time and soon my friend was going steadily up his first on-sight of the day, Els Fenicis (6a, 18m), a nice quite sustained route with an interesting top. The second one, Delirium (6a, 25m), had a pretty nice layback-flake start which spoiled my friends on-sight attempt. I managed to flash it, though, but my friend told me that I cheated as I skipped mostly the layback stuff by just stepping up and reaching for the good jug above :) In my defence I have to mention that my friend is taller than I am 😉 The route was quite tricky to navigate and you easily could have wandered off the to adjacent route as my friend did by first clipping the bolt on the route we just had climbed, but then unclipped it and re-clipped it to the correct bolt. I did not have such a trouble as I had the quickdraws already on the wall. The rest of the route was not that hard, but there were few demanding moves. The third route, Faktoria (6a+, 25m), looked the trickiest of the bunch. After a few meters there was a nasty looking bulge you had to cross. My friend was again on-sighting it and had to go back-and-forth a couple of times until he managed to pass it. In the end he managed on-sight it very nicely. I, on the other hand, took the only fall of our trip at the bulge. Not long, maybe just a 2m or so, and nicely in air, so no harm done. I managed to pass on the second try, but I decided to just dog it and not start from the ground again. Eventually it was just pulling on good holds and nothing more. The route had quite a few thinner moves on the top section and was thus quite sustained. I managed to do it then without more falls.

Me coming down from the last lead

Ilkka Å. El Ditot – Me coming down from the last lead Faktoria 6a+

Again the clock was ticking against us and we only had time for a quick toproping session.  We had watched a Spanish group had been leading and toproping a route Pitxuti 4 (6b, 25m) which looked quite interesting. The spanyards had a toprope already rigged there and we ask to borrow it and got permission. My friend did it first and then I. Both got it “toprope flashed”, so it probably would have been totally lead material. Shame we did not have the time for it. The route had first a diagonal easier section. Then it started up a slab by some ledges you had to mantel. At first glance and from down below it looked quite blank, but there actually was quite a few holds there. Also the route did not go directly up the slab, but a bit on the edge of it. I think the 6b grade is quite valid, but it certainly was easier than the 6b we did the previous evening. As this last one, all the routes we did on this last day were quite superb. So, it definitely was worth looking and following the topoguide.de recommendations. Too bad we did not find this out sooner so that we could have skipped all the crappy climbs and just do three star routes as today. Well… there is always next time and when that time comes, you can be sure that I will check the topoguide.de recommendations with more focus.

Me climbing the Delirium 6a

Sergio González El Ditot – Me climbing the Delirium 6a

Then the climbs were over and we only had the drive to the airport left. Our plan was to stop at a restaurant in a small town on the way in and have something to eat. When we got there it was fortunately too late and the kitchen was closed. It really looked like a place where you would have gotten your money’s worth of food. They even had a titty calendar on wall :) But no can do. The same thing in a pizza emporter next door. It seemed like 3pm is closing time for everything here on a Sunday. We then tried to go to a Burger King which had been closed when we came. Well… it was open but I’m a vegetarian and they did not have really nothing to serve for me. Ok.. fries and onion rings only, but I passed. Eventually we ended up eating crappy food in a crappy place at a local shopping outlet area. Perhaps we should have just waited until we got to the airport. Again… next time we know better. If you are leaving on Sunday, 3pm is too late get food. The rest of the drive was ok, though, we took a small detour and drove the same toll road all the way to Barcelona and not the seaside highway. For some reason it was cheaper by the tolls despite the longer route. At the airport we had plenty of time and we spent the remaining slack time by drinking the few last beers we had and eating some olives there at the airport benches. Boarding came, boarding went and our Spanish adventure was over.

We landed at Helsinki-Vantaa at around 2:15am early Monday morning and in just 12 hours I would be in the surgeon’s chair having my ankle finally operated. But that’s another story and I have pictures to prove it 😉 … Maybe in the next post.

 

So, what does that title have to do with all this, you might ask. A very valid question and I will answer you. Well… on our third day of climbing at Siurana, I began to feel my left arm being quite pumped. But not like you would normally have it, totally wiped out and unable to do nothing with it. Not like that. My arm was sore, yes, but it was sore in quite a distictive place, perhaps five centimeters above my elbow on the inner side of the arm. I squeezed my hand and shaked it and tried to figure out what was going on as the rest of the arm was just fine. The same repeated on the final day… or it actually had not fully recovered from the previous day at all. I had, though, perhaps figured out what or where the problems was. I happened to try out the fingers by pushing them straight while giving some resistance. It did not take many moments for me to find that the exact same spot that was sore, was actually connected to my “middle two” fingers, that is the middle and ring finger. When we then started to think about this around our evening beers, we remembered that in all the videos where you see some top climbers send some tough routes, what are they using there? Yes… pumping up the pockets using their monstrous two-finger grip. If you don’t remember then just look at Iker Pou climb the Action Directe, Nit de Bruixes or Demencia Senil which is nothing else expect pockets. Sorry I couldn’t find any good videos from Siurana. So, there you have it: the pocket muscle.

Pocket muscles in use

Ilkka Å. Pocket muscles in use

If you think about it, it is not just two-finger pockets where you use these muscles. It is also when the pocket is big enough for all of your fingers, but it is actually just the middle two that take most of the strain. Just try it out, find a ring or hole somewhere, pull it and you’ll see. So, why this is of any importance? Probably most people know about it already, but I didn’t. But now I know. And I also know what muscles to train before I go to limestone walls again. The pocket muscles. The sad part is, that neither the usual indoor climbing walls nor the Finnish rock quality does support this. I just recently noticed that my local indoor crag got a new set of holds which have a couple of nice two finger pockets. Ok… there have been some pocket holds earlier too, but not many and I haven’t really paid attention to them before. The problem still remains: how to train the “pocket muscles” indoors with just a few odd pocket holds here and there? If anyone knows a good answer, I’ll take it. So far the best we have come up with is to climb easy routes with huge jugs by using just your middle two fingers. Stupid? Yes, but efficient? Yes… I think 😉

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Touched for the very first time by Chamonix – Part 2

So, our week of climbing continued. So far it had been three days of excellent climbing and there was more to come, though, the weather did look a bit iffy towards the end of the week.

Climbing Day 4

The next day we were picked up in the morning and we drove over (or under) to the Italian side. From there we took a lift to the Helbronner station or to Torino hut, which ever you prefer as they are right next to each other. The all the areas up there and on the way was one big construction yard. This is because they are building a new lift and a new station called Pointe Helbronner and which should be ready at sometime in the future. There will also be a tunnel which will give direct access from the station to the refugio, bit like something they have at Midi station.

But we weren’t there to just check up on the construction progress. Our goal was to do a new classic, a traverse of the Aiguille d’Entrèves. We did it from South-West to North-East and it is rated something between PD and AD-, but if you compare this to the Cosmiques Ridge which is also rated PD by the guidebook, this is definetly much easier. First we had about an hour of walking to the base of the ridge on a rolling glacier. Few crevasses here and there, but the path use well worn and easy to follow. Before heading up to the ridge we packed the crampons away as the ridge was totally bare from snow. For a change Lauri was taking the lead and I had a nice relaxing day of just following the rope. The difference in the mental and physical taxing between leading and following is quite huge. At least for me it was quite a relaxed day out.

Mont Blanc du Tacul from Aiguille d'Entrèves

Mont Blanc du Tacul seen from the Aiguille d’Entrèves. You can see the Midi station and the Cosmiques ridge in the far back.

The is mostly easy scrambling kind stuff, but there was few trickier places. There was one akward chimney you had to downclimb and near the summit there was the crux, a two move slip up a smooth face with a crack. That section had some aid in it, though, if you would need it. The few trickier bits, and the fact that there were quite a few groups on the route, made some queues. We did not mind the waiting as we could spend all that time learning a lot of small tricks on belays and between them. The Aiguille d’Entrèves has a double summit which are separated by a short ridge. After those the ridge descend quite steeply onto a flatter section which you follow all the way to the point where you descend to the glacier again. The last bits of downclimbing were quite tricky, especially with the crampons we had put on already. Following was actually a bit more scarier as you did not have the belay from above anymore. We did manage to get safely back down to the glacier. When there, we headed directly back towards the Helbronner and the lifts back down. On the way quite near the station we met two other Finnish guys who had been thinking of doing some ice routes on the Tacul, but the all of those were in quite bad condition. We wished them luck and took the lift down.

Traffic jam before the crux of the d'Entrèves traverse

Traffic jam before the crux of the d’Entrèves traverse

The mandatory summit shot

The mandatory summit shot. Tour Ronde and Mont Blanc du Tacul in the background and helmet tilted as usual.

We packed ourselves again into the van and drove back to the Chamonix. A dinner, some baguette and cheese and a lot of sleep.

Check the video of the traverse from tvmountain.com though we did not have that much of snow on the route and neither we did arrive there with skis.

Climbing Day 5

For Wednesday the forecast had predicted a bit unstable weather starting from the afternoon. This stormy weather was supposed to last for few days which didn’t sound so nice in climbing wise. The morning though was shady, but ok in mid elevations and we aimed for a route starting from Plan du l’Aiguille. This time either we did not got for the actual Arêre des Papillons, but on a route on its flank. This was named in the same theme as Les Lepidoptères which translates to lepidopterans which is a common word for all butterflies, moths and such. There are two versions of this climb (I’ve heard): a bolted version and then the mostly trad original version. We took the original route which has a maximum grade of 5b, though, most of the route is just 4b/c. The crux section is a short overhang which you kind of swing over, otherwise it is slabby cracks and small ledges.

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons. The Les Lepidoptères goes diagonically up the right edge of the lighter grey face area.

So, we started by getting a téléférique up to the Aiguille du Plan station. From there it was about 45min to 1 hour approach first trough some rocky grass fields and later through bouldery path and up a easy chimney to a higher ledge where the route actually starts. You might want to use a rope for the chimney part. We had taken the big big boots and axes for the descent if there would have been some snow on the way, but it was all bare. We dumped all the excess gear at the bottom of the route and started climbing. The route starts first with crack next to a pillar and continues on a slab and then again on some cracks with odd ledge here and there. The first three pitches follows this same line until it reaches a moves on ten or so meters to the right through some bouldes onto belay ledge. So far I had been focusing on speed, which is essential in alpine climbs, and that meant very few gear placed. I believe the fewest I had was just two pieces on almost a full rope length pitch. Easy ground yes, but still there would have been quite big drops if one would have slipped.

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

From there started the crux pitch. First there was a bit trickier crack and then the overhang crux. This far Al, our guide, had been soloing all the way :), but now he tied into the rope. The crux moves we could protect with a piton and a threaded sling. Getting over the overhang wasn’t actually kind of an overhang at all as you basically first inched your feet as high as possible while having them on spread wide on either side. Then you just kind of rolled over the spiky bulge that was there until you reached a good jug and pulled yourself up. From there the rest of the pitch and the final pitch up to the ridge above was quite low angle and easy going. Lauri lead the final pitch and got do his first trad leads of his life.

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

That was the end of the actual route, but we continued up the two final pitches of the Arêre des Papillons up to the face of the Aiguille du Peigne. The first pitch first a traverse on the side of the ridge and then a bit scary move or two up a quite thin crack back to the ridge. The finger jam I managed to do there was quite painful and it didn’t help that I had very gear placed before the move. Then the ridge was easier again filled with large flakes and spikes. At the end we abseiled down the Papillons gully and the Voie Normale of Peigne, but climbed a again an easy pitch back to the ridge and the top of the Les Lepidoptères. Once there we remembered to take the mandatory summit pictures, though we were not on any summit, and started the abseil back down the route. The weather started to looked worse by every minute and we had not too much time to loose. It took first four abseils to get back to our stashed gear and then another one to the path below. This last abseil saved us the scramble and downclimb of the approach chimney and detour. We didn’t actually have in the end any slack on the walk back as it started to rain more and wind took up the closer we got the lift station. As we got there, the personnel was calling everybody to hurry up as the storm was fast approaching and the lifts might not run much longer. You can’t run them in high winds.

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Despite the detoriating weather we got nicely back to the valley. We stayed in the valley for a pizza dinner, shopped some late evening snacks and wine and took the bus back to Les Bossons. On the way back, though, we took the bus just to the Les Bossons village itself and thought of walking from there. The bus that ran next to our lodge didn’t go that often in the evening. Otherwise it would have been just fine, but it was pouring with rain and on top of that we managed to first get ourselves a bit lost and had to back-track our steps and just follow the main road. We were wet and the baguette was wet, but still edible. Shower, clothes drying up and some wine and cheese. It wasn’t so bad after all in the end.

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style. This place was by far the best pizza place in the town.

Check the video of Les Lepidoptères from tvmountain.com.

Climbing Day 6

Al had told us that he would send a text in the morning what we’ll after he had got the latest forecast. The start was postponed first until nine and though he did arrive, we still had to skip the morning as it was still raining all over the place as we spoke. He said he would come back an noon and we would then do something. One idea was an ice cave somewhere nearby, but it had to be seen. We took a lift to the center for a morning stroll. We tried to find just a café where they would serve croissants, but we actually ended up eating a second breakfast in true hobbit style. This 6,90e French breakfast included some tea, baguette, croissant, juice, butter and jam. Not sure whether there was also something else, but it was way better deal than just having the croissant and tea for 5,50e. Rest of the morning we spent in various gear shops they had there and even bought a few postcards to be sent back home.

Prussikin on a tree branch

Prussikin on a tree branch. Some of the hardest move we did on the whole trip :)

At noon we were back again waiting with our packs as Al curved into the yard. We would not go to the ice cave as it could be too dangerous in heavy rain, but would go to local crag to do some crevasse rescue simulation. We ended up prussikin in various ways up a rope setup on tree branch and later on doing some rescuing on the actual wall. It was good stuff eventhough we did not get to climb much more than that tree branch. After the late start the training took pretty much the rest of the day and it was time for early dinner in the town and back to the lodge to relax the rest of the evening.

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta. For future reference… don’t eat pasta in a pizza place. It is crap. The wine was ok, though, and cheap.

Climbing Day 7

When we looked out of the window in the Friday morning it didn’t look too good. We did have some hopes for a climb still, though, as Al had sent a text message in the morning about an 9am pickup. When he showed up, he said that the weather is as bad as it looks, but surprisingly down the valley on the Italian side it looks just fine. So, we drove again through the Mont Blanc tunnel and continued then about an hour down the valley past Aosta and down to the castle of Bard where we turned to hillside and to a small village or Albarda. Here were some nice multipitch routes tucked in between the chestnut trees. Nearby there are some “bigger” crags, but many of the routes in those are quite hard. Our chose route was called Dr. Jimmy and had 9 bolted pitches of maximum of 5b+ in grade. It would continue for another two pitches with a short crux of 6a, but Al told that it is missing some bolts now and it is not that great climbing anyways and you would need to abseil down those same to pitches to the descend path. The last kilometer or so of driving was on some small and steep roads and if someone goes there for the first time, enough time should be spared for the drive in and also for the approach walk which was also had a quite discreet start.

Al had climbed it earlier had knew way, which was quite helpful for finding it. We devided the leading so that I lead most of the pitches and Lauri did three of the easier ones. The first pitch had a steeper start and then a easy ledge hopping to the belay. Lauri led the next one, which nice and easy slabby and a bit grassy pitch. The third was again mine and it started with an 15m traverse to the left and then some tricky moves up the face and then followed some cracks and holes up to a belay. The pitch was easier near the end, but it still quite a hard work as there was a horrendous rope drag because of the initial traverse. Furthermore, just about 5 meters short of the anchor they yelled from below that the rope is running out. We had the full 50m of rope in the system and still 5 meters to go. Well.. they asked if I’m good for a few minutes and they took of the belay and moved few meters closer. After this shuffling I got to the anchor just fine. We should have had a 60m rope or better yet, we should have done a short traverse pitch first and then start directly up the rest of it.

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy. From left to right: Lauri, Al and Me.

After the rope-issue pitch it was Lauris turn again to lead. It was again mostly easy, but had a quite a few tricky moves in between. That was perhaps the hardest pitch he had ever lead. The next was again for me as it was dubbed as one of the harder ones in the route. Otherwise it was pretty straightforward going except the small roof you had to climb over, or actually hop onto from the side, and the steeper section right after it. Then there was a short walking section and again a harder pitch. This was by grade the crux pitch, though, Al had said that the last pitch was also quite hard despite the easier grade. The hardest part was the couple of first moves as you had to pull yourself onto a ledge up a vertical wall, but there was a good jug to help you out. The rest was cracks and flakes with lot of good holds, altough it was quite steep. At this point the wind started to really pickup and it was quite hard to communicate from the top to the bottom. Again we had a small walk and the Lauri did a short traverse pitch to the acrossa the bottom of the final face. I took again the lead for the last two pitches. The first was good going up a big crack and then a traverse to a big bowl and the anchor. We took the usual summit pictures there and we all three cramped into a pose up there in the middle of the face. Then the final pitch. I lead this one too and Al was not wrong saying it is quite hard. First it was few moves up a crack and some flakes, but then it shifted into a crimpy and steep and I could barely keep off laughing when I saw that monopocket there in the middle of it all. The ever increasing wind did not help in this quiten delicate section and Lauri told me that they had been laughing about my trousers flapping in the wind while I tried to hold my balance during the gusts. We did get to the top, though, and did not waste much time before wrapping thing up and heading back to the car. The sky around us looked like it would start pouring in any monent.

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy. There are some hard routes on that big wall on the right.

Check a video of the Dr. Jimmy from Youtube.

With all the climbs now in our bag, we drove back to the Chamonix and our lodge, though it took a good while longer in this direction as there was the normal Friday evening traffic jam in the tunnel. At the lodge it was time for the celebration beers and in the meanwhile Al gave us some tips what to do next. It was all great though I’m not sure how much I still remember of it all as there was much of possible things he suggested we could try next. We shook hands, farewelled each other off and after a refreshing shower we headed to the nearby restaurant for dinner. We had already decided that we would eat fondue on the last evening and that we did. Big bowl of melted cheese was just what our bodies needed after a week of climbing. Stomach full we retired back to the lodge we had some wine stashed and celebrated all the accomplisments we had done during the week.

Happily munching the fondue

Happily munching the fondue. Om-nom-nom…

The next morning I had a transfer back to Geneve where I took a train to Paris where I would meet my wife, but that is another story. Lauri spent another night in Chamonix before heading home. In the end I can only say that the trip was very succesful and we got to climb loads of stuff, more than we had hoped for. As it was the first time in the Chamonix, the mecca of climbing, it did not at least diminsh the thirst to go there again. I already have, actually, the next climbing trip booked, but not any alpine stuff this time, but just a lot of sport climbing. So, I’ll go with another friend for few into Spain and somewher in the Montserrat, Siurana, Terradets zone, but haven’t decided which one yet. So, there will be some more climbing to be done!

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Touched for the very first time by Chamonix – Part 1

I have lost my virginity. For Chamonix. For the other things… maybe someday 😀

I spent the last week of August in Chamonix to do some climbing. We had booked a course from Alpine Guides with my friend Lauri, but had also some time for climbing to do on our own. My trip did not start there, however, as I first visited my friend Markus in Basel. I flew in on Thurday morning and I spent a nice day and a half there with him and his extended family. I also got to experience a real Basel activity: floating on the river Rhine. Basically, you take a special waterproof bag sold (or rented) for that purpose called a “fish”, strip your clothes, stash them into the bag and jump into the water. The river has quite a strong current and you do not need to swim much at all. The area where you can float safely is not very long and when you’re finished you climb off the water. Floating was a very fun thing to do and I would recommend it for anyone going there.

On top of the Basel Minster with Markus

On top of Basel Minster with Markus

Snack lunch at the train

Snack lunch at the train. Mmmm… Swiss cheese :)

On Friday afternoon I took a train to Gevena airport where I met Lauri. We had booked a shuttle bus to take us to our bed & breakfast in Chamonix. We didn’t arrive there until 10 pm when there wasn’t much else for us to do than find a place to eat. A restaurant down the street had just closed the kitchen, but we managed to get some food from a camping site restaurant nearby. Cheesy pasta and a beer was all we needed for that evening. After we got nourished it was soon sleepy-sleepy time, as we would have an early start the next morning to do some climbing.

Lauri enjoying the first cold bite

Lauri enjoying the first cold bite

Climbing day 1

Early morning wake up was followed with a limited, but sufficient breakfast. The breakfast consisted of different kinds of cereal and müsli, juice, milk, tea and coffee, ham and cheese, toast and, the best of all, fresh baguette. It is unreal how good a freshly baked real french baguette can taste. Well nourished we packed our packs with rock gear and headed off to Chamonix center. We stopped quickly at the tourist office to check the weather forecast and it looked all good for the day. Confident about the good weather we took a bus to the Flégère téléphérique.

Over there we bought a multipass for a week as we figured it would be the best option if we would use the lifts even a few times. Then we took the next lift up and continued with a chairlift all the way to Index station. From there it was only a 5 minute walk to the base of our chosen climb: Voie Brunat-Perroux on the Aiguille L’Index. It is a seven pitch climb with grades ranging from 4c to 5b if you do not do the last short 6a variation at the end.

Aiguille L'Index South Face

Aiguille L’Index South Face. The Voie Brunat-Perroux route starts at the very bottom unlike other routes (they start at the ledge in the middle) and goes pretty much straight up the center of the face.

We had to look for the start of the route for a few minutes, but from there it was pretty straightforward. The first two pitches got us to the ledge and from there the route continued a few meters to the side. It was pretty easy to follow still and the difficult bits were quite short. There was just a few trickier moves on the first and third pitches from the ledge. But the last pitch to the ridge was another thing. I climbed here and there and could not really see where the route goes and eventually ended up traversing quite a bit and then having a huge runout until I reached the belay I thought was the correct one. From there it was just a few easy moves and we were at the top. Hooray!

At the top of the Aiguille L'Index

At the top of the Aiguille L’Index

We took the mandatory summit shots and started the traverse on the summit ridge to the abseil point. There were quite a few anchors to choose from and we chose the biggest one. For a while few pondered on which side we should abseil as the route description did not clearly say that. We chose the northern side as it looked a bit more appealing. Once we got happily down and started pulling the ropes down we saw that something was wrong. The ropes were stuck. For a few moments we tried to tug and pull them in different directions, but with no luck. Eventually I ended up half climbing, half prussiking all the way back to the anchor and moved the knots nearer to the cliff edge. I abseiled down again and just then realized how futile my efforts had been as the ropes did not budge at all. There was just too much friction on the ropes. Luckily there was a guide with a client who reached the top after us and they released our ropes. We had used the wrong anchor to abseil on that side. What an embarassing moment, but we were sure we weren’t the first ones to make the mistake. When we finally had our ropes with us, we headed quickly back down to the lifts and down to the valley. If nothing else, at least I got one of the most scariest experience I’ve ever had when I was hanging 30 meters in the air held by just two tiny cords :) I tried, I learned and do not want do that again if I can avoid it.

Dinner with local food

A real local food: wine, potatoes, mushrooms, and loads of cheese topped with an egg. Yummy, yummy.

Because of these little incidents we had, the trip took a little longer than expected and we just quickly had pints of celebration beers for the succesful ascent and headed back to the B&B. A quick dinner at the nearby restaurant and off to sleep.

Climbing day 2

For Sunday we had big plans. We woke up early and had a brief breakfast before hitting the bus to the city center. We then walk to the Aiguille di Midi lift, where there were some 20-30 people queing in. We got the second lift up and quite soon we were gearing up at almost at 3800m high. As soon as we were ready we headed off from the “alpinist exit” and on to the narrow snowy ridge that leads to the Vallee Blance. Our goal for the day was a super classic Arête des Cosmiques that starts from the northern edge of the valley and continues all the way to the Aiguille du Midi lift station. The approach along the ridge was a bit scary, but the rest of it was just walking on the glacier.

On the Cosmiques Ridge

One hour into the Cosmiques Ridge. Vallee Blanche down there with a few tiny tents, Aiguille du Dru is the pointy thing at the left, Italy on the background and Aiguille d’Entrèves on the far right. We did a traverse there later during the week.

On the ridge towards Mont Blanc

And the other side. Mont Blanc du Tacul with the clouds, Mont Maudit just behind my helmet and Mont Blanc is the snow top in the far distance. One hour in on the ridge and three and a half to go :)

With no delay at the bottom of the route, we started up at the same speed. The first part of the route was relatively easy with a few more physical moves here and there. After a bit more than an hour we reached the abseil points. So far we had basically only seen one guide with a client who passed us and some other people further up the route. So, we were basically all on ourselfs there. We absailed down the fifty odd meters there was. Right around the corner we encountered one more difficult spot, a chimney where you were supposed to step over the corner to the right. It was not difficult, but having that 400m of air beneath you, it does make things a bit more interesting. After that there was a slippery couloir up, then some rocky downclimbing and finally we walked the snowy section to the crux. We had to wait a bit for the previous party to clear the spot, and were delayed a bit more as Lauri managed to drop one of his gloves into between the rocks. It took a good ten minutes and some hooking with the ice axe (the only spot we really used those) to get the glove back. Finally he managed to grab it and I was able to continue to the crux. I started up the crack and used pretty much everything there was, the newly chopped crampon pockets too. I was feeling pretty tired here, but managed to pull it through. The elevation must have taken some toll as we had come up almost three kilometers from the valley.

After the crux belay, we had thought it would be just an easy walk up to the top, but we were a bit surprised to find quite a few tricky spots still. Being tired and on the most exposed section of the route the going was slow and we used a lot more ad hoc belays from rock spikes. At the very end there were a couple of quite physical moves and then we were at the top of the ridge. An easy walk to the viewing platform and we were done. At the viewing platform there were dozens of tourists taking pictures of the views and also of us. We took a few summit shots and then had the mandatory top beer before we took the lift back down.

Back again at the Midi station

Back at the Midi station. Tired, but happy. The last bits of the ridge can be seen below and most of the Tres Monts (Tacul, Maudit, Blanc) route at the back.

Cosmique ridge from the Midi viewing platform

Cosmique ridge from the Midi viewing platform. The large rock block in the is the Grande Gendarme which has one of the highest 8a climbs on it. The route goes around that from behind, comes to the ridge just to dip down again behind the ridge to the crux. After the crux the route comes to this side of the ridge on that small ledge down the steep edge and follows some ledges and chimneys to the top of the ridge. The Midi station and its viewing platform is just outside the picture to the left.

You can see about the whole route being climbed in these Youtube videos. A total of nine of them.

When we got back down to the valley we were tired, hungry and burned in the sun as neither of us hadn’t remembered to apply sunscreen for the day. We had asked for a dinner in the lodge so we headed straight back to the B&B. In the evening we also met our guide, Al Powell, who told us about the week’s program.

 Climbing day 3

Monday was our first day with a guide. Our plan was to climb Chapelle de la Glière, a longer climb on the Aiguille Rouge near the L’Index we had climbed earlier. Wake up was about the same time as previous days and after breakfast at 8am Al came to pick us up for the day’s work. We drove to the Index lifts and headed straight up. From the top it was about a half an hour walk to the base of the climb. We saw a couple of groups on the route, some on the right track and some wandering a bit off the route.

Chappelle de la Glière ridge

Chappelle de la Glière ridge. The route goes up to the ridge on that one shadowy corner and then basically follows it all the way to the church-like rock formation higher up.

The first pitch of the route was surprisingly difficult. It was graded 5a, but was quite a physical half-layback corner with pretty polished rock. I would not have been too comfortable with leading that, and luckily I didn’t have to :) The second pitch was a bit easier, on the same corner up to the ridge above. On the ridge there was an easy section, though sparsely protected, to a belay. Next was a tricky corner again in two shortish pitches on to a ridge. We simul-walked the easy ridge and then climbed again an easy short pitch to a belay. Next was the apparently famous razor-edge, though I did not see why the fuzz about it. It was more complicated to do those couple of tricky moves first up the smooth slabby crack and then onto the razor-ridge itself.

The slabby cracks just under the razor edge

The slabby cracks just under the razor edge and Al climbing

Then it was one easy pitch to a large terrace and then more walking or scrambling to the bottom of the chapel itself. The pitch over the chappel started with a few airy moves, but there were good holds if you looked around a bit. A couple of moves more and a traverse on the roof of the chappel to the bottom of the bell tower or Clocher. There are two ways to the top and we chose the easier one. This, too had a few balancy moves until a peg and then crimpy stuff to the edge and over. The more difficult one would have taken a more direct line apparently with some thin moves. Now we were on the top of the Chappelle and we took some summit pictures and abseiled off to the back side on to a good picnic spot.

Al leading the pitch to the top of the chappel

Al leading the pitch to the top of the chappel. Good holds and just an odd more or two, but very, very airy.

On top of the chappel bell tower

On top of the chappel bell tower

A few groups had had a snack break here, but we just shuffled our gear up and darted towards the lifts. The path was a relatively easy one to follow, but there were a few bits of down scrambling here and there. Mostly, it was walking ground, though, and us being roped up was a bit unnecessary until the path went down into the Col D’Index, the same loose gully we had descended earlier. We downclimbed into the gully and continued directly to the lifts and back to the valley. Our first guided day was now at its end. After a late pizza lunch we headed back to our B&B to get ready for the next day’s adventures.

Check out the video of the Chappelle de la Glière climb from tvmoutain.com.

Desperados - a tequila flavored beer

Desperados – a tequila flavored beer. We drank these while waiting for a bus after the Chappelle. Tasted horrible. Don’t drink it.

This was the first part of our week. I’ll try to wrap up the rest, too, shortly in “Part 2″ with more climbs to come.

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