The pattern of last year is now repeating, thanks to the snowfall reported in the last blog post followed by a couple of freeze thaw cycles and now settled weather for a few days.
The Droites and the Jorasses are in very good condition indeed, with recent ascents of the Shroud on the Jorasses and the North face of the Matterhorn being reported.
October is a wicked month for alpinism and climbing generally în Chamonix. Check it out some time! Or maybe just leave the Guides to enjoy their holidays....
Last year, October was a great month for alpinism with steady settled weather right the way through. The Jorasses in particular got a hammering as folk ran up things like the McIntyre Colton.
I was big walling in the States last year so missed all the fun. I was really looking forward to staying at home, saving some carbon and doing some Alpinism, but winter has arrived early! We have 10cm of fresh here at 1140m, so winter has most definitely arrived. The weather lore experts here all predict a cold spell from now on - lots of myrtilles this autumn, the size of the potatoes in Lavancher (seriously!) - whether it's wishful thinking or based on aeons of tradition, we can all start to get excited about the ski season.
After the last few days which have been quite frantic with some seriously good skiers, I took a few hours off this morning to catch up on admin, but couldn't resist samplimg the sunshine. Luckily one of my neighbours, Philippe (l'incontournable chef de Service Compris) was up for a break from his cooking pots, so we had a quick scoot round Le Tour: once down the Scandy Trap, a Combe des Arolettes, a Combe des Jeurs and a final run down the Posettes Couloir back to Vallorcine (see photo).
Always good to get out for a few hours....
I wouldn't normally post just a snapshot from my webcam, but this mornings sunrise over the Midi is one of the best images I've seen from it, along with some awesome sunsets in the summer when the whole face glows red and orange.
It makes you realise once again that Chamonix really is an amazing place to live, and to never take this place or the way of life that goes with it for granted.
This time last year, with very little snow in the Alps, the UK media was full of reports of global warming, the end of skiing as we know it, and general doom and gloom. Something MUST be done…
Just 12 months later, with a major dump just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and then some minor top-ups, all of a sudden the heat is off and we don’t have to worry any more, right?
It’s true that snow cover is average for the time of year, but personal observation is that it’s really warm. Yesterday, on the 26th January, the freezing level rose to 3000m! To put this into perspective, I was chatting with a Swiss guide at this time last year during that “temporary” crisis period, and he was saying that, when he started guiding 20 years ago, they wouldn’t go on mixed routes in the summer if the freezing level rose above 3000m.
To underscore the speed of this change, I came across one of my earliest photos, taken in 1968, of my two brothers below the Bossons glacier in the Chamonix Valley. Out of curiosity, I went back to try and duplicate the photo and get an idea of the glacial recession in my lifetime so far. To see this photo in full size, click here.
As you can see, the results are pretty impressive. To put some scale on it, the height interval of glacier you can see is about 1500m and the glacier is about 1 km across at its widest. it has shrunk about 150m in width on both sides, and this in just 40 years.
So it’s pretty clear that glacial recession, and therefore global warming, is a reality. Opinion is divided as to whether this is due to human activities or just part of the natural cycle. To help you make up your mind, I would strongly recommend a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth. Even among my guiding clients, there are some who don’t really believe in global warming, and there are some who criticise me for even offering heli-skiing due to its high carbon footprint.
I’m lucky enough to live and work in a beautiful natural environment, yet that very activity is arguably damaging. So I try to live in as sensible a way as possible. I hope, for the sake of mountains and mountaineering, that you do too.
The local paper here in Chamonix, the Dauphiné, announced yesterday that the (in)famous arête at the start of the Vallée Blanche will be equipped with a rope throughout the winter. This crest of snow, with a 1500m drop to Chamonix on the left and a 200m drop to the glacier on the right, has traditionally been protected by a rope at the decision of a group consisting of the lift company, guides and rescue services. In early season when the VB was considered to be too crevassed, the sharp crest with its drops and no rope would act as a natural deterrent to inexperienced piste skiers, up there under the impression that the VB is a piste, despite all the warning notices to the contrary.
When the rope is in place, the VB is accessible to anyone with a head for heights, even if they have no mountain experience at all. The VB is a potentially dangerous glacial ski, and every year skiers fall into crevasses and die, many of their bodies never reappearing. At least two of my guiding colleagues have been down slots but got out due to having ropes, not only with them but also with their co-skiers, and the knowledge of how to use them.
To underline the danger, a young Lithuanian disappeared on Friday, having been warned repeatedly of the risks by lift staff. See the Piste Hors site for further details.
So… should the arête be equipped all year, thus making the VB more accessible to the public, or should there be some sort of control?
My feeling is that the arête acted as a natural filter, and even so in high season, I frequently see skiers on the VB who clearly have no idea of the risk they are undertaking. It can look benign, but you have only to look at the photos of the VB in sparse conditions to see the quantity and size of the slots.
BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!