May and early june is the time for guides to go on holiday, and for this guide it's rock climbing rather than the beach. Just back from a 2 day hit in Orco on the south side of the Gran Paradiso. It's my first time to visit this valley, fabled for its granite, and came away very impressed. It's been great to do some UK style adventure climbing, complete with nuts and cams, get a bit scared running it out from self placed pro (a rare experience in continental Europe), and then have the opportunity after climbing to eat great pasta and drink even better coffee.
The climbing in Orco is the closest I've been to Yosemite style granite, but possibly even rougher, and the jamming scars on my hands after 5 months in ski gloves are testament to that. Can't wait to get back there to do some of the longer routes.
It's very strange, but the quietest time of the year in Chamonix is also one of the best. I was up doing some alpinism from the Helbronner lift last week, and conditions were just great.
The south facing rock was all dry - it's no coincidence that the Catherine Destivelle film was shot on the Grand Capucin at this time of year. I spoke to a French guide who had just done the North face of the Tour Ronde and reckoned the conditions were great for both climbing and skiing. The face had been skied the day before (if 55 degree stuff is your cup of tea!). Not only that, but the weather in the valley is great for rock climbing too. All the crags are dry, so loads of quality rock is ready to be sampled.
The downsides? No huts apart from the Cosmiques are open, and the only uplift is the Midi and the Montenvers railway on the Cham side, and Hlebronner over in Italy. But if long approach walks an unguarded huts are your thing, then there are endless possibilities. Even if not, there's still loads to do from day hits from the Midi.
Well - it's all over. Winter that is. The Fat Lady is singing, and the youths of Chamonix have been attempting to ski across the swimming pool at the Grands Montets end of season party.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to make this such a great season: skiers, climbers, hotel staff and hut guardians, lifties, the Eagles, the Ski Club of GB.
See you all in 2010, if not before!