Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scotland: round 2

I came back from the BMC winter meet with a huge smile on my face and it didn't take much effort to persuade Karin to come along for three more days of climbing in the end of February.

We arrived late in Aviemore and started off by climbing Magic Crack the following day. It was very iced up but brilliant. This was Karin’s first Scottish climb and she definitely shared my enthusiasm.

Karin on Magic Crack

When we climbed Slenderhead in Stob Coire nan Lochan during the BMC meet, Ian, Will and I had been ogling a steep corner on the opposite side of SC gully. It looked like a great line and I really wanted to get a closer look. So, on our second day we went back up and managed to climb it (after putting up a big fight). 

Pitch 1

The first pitch starts in a left facing corner. Technical and sustained climbing (not great protection) leads to a system of cracks. Climb these to a ledge and move right into another left facing corner. The second pitch  climbs the corner, which is still sustained but has better protection. The third pitch climbs 10 more meters of steep terrain followed by 10m of easier climbing (the pitch looked straight forward so I changed to a warmer pair of gloves, which was a big mistake as I got incredibly pumped and was very close to falling off). The third pitch ends on a big slanting ledge. After this one can either follow easy ground to the top or add a short pitch (existing routes?). We choose to abseil off from here as we had dropped a substantial amount of gear down the gully (all found luckily). Karin was also getting hypothermic (due to me being very slow) and refrained from climbing the third pitch.

The grade (IX,9) has been speculated on the web but since this was only my sixth Scottish climb I don’t really think that I'm qualified to give it a grade. All I can say is that it felt a lot harder than the grade VIII’s that I’ve climbed (Slenderhead, Crazy Eyes and Godfather). So, maybe IX but I’d prefer to wait for someone more experienced to give it a repeat. For a route name we decided on "Eggäschpili", which means something like corner games in Karin's local Swiss dialect (Canton of Uri).

Some links about the new climb:

The climb takes the steep wall on the left hand side of the gully

Karin about to start pitch 2

The hike up to Stob Coire nan Lochan

The hike up to Stob Coire nan Lochan

On Saturday morning my arms were still cramping as I picked up my backpack and started the hike up to the Ben. Will had suggested that we try Centurion but it felt like a better idea to use the legs rather than the arms. So, after chatting with some locals at the CIC hut we headed up Tower ridge and had another great day out.

Somewhere in a white out on Tower ridge

Content after a big meal on our last night

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Ice climbing" demonstrations in Sochi

When I registered for my first ice climbing world cup competition in Saas-Fee three years ago, it was mostly because Nikolay had been told me that ice climbing might become a demonstration sport during the olympic games in Sochi. I ended up having a great time in Saas-Fee and have participated every year since then.

So, it was with a great deal of excitement that I finally headed to Sochi in the beginning of February. It was clear that it was not going to be a competition. The idea was to have WC athletes demonstrate the sport to the spectators, but also to let them try easier routes. The high temperatures (close to +20C) made ice climbing quite a challenge, but the Russian organizers had done a great job. We had a 15 meter high refrigerated ice wall and a very challenging dry-tooling structure.

The demonstrations were a great success. We had thousands of people try ice climbing and many more watching as we monkeyed around on the artificial structure. On a personal level it was an incredibly enriching experience to learn about Russian culture, but particularly to meet all the other competitors in a relaxed environment working towards a common goal.

The stay was made even better thanks to my generous and warm-hearted hosts Luisa and Sergei. I cannot thank you enough for your incredible hospitality.

Sergei showing me the OlympicPark

Dry tooling in the Olympic Park

Dry tooling in the Olympic Park

Enjoying lunch at the Swiss house with Masa (Japan) and Markus (Germany)

Medal ceremony

Monday, February 24, 2014

BMC international winter climbing meet

The first week of February I went to the BMC international winter climbing meet in Scotland. I've always dreamed of going to Scotland but never booked a trip due to the unpredictable conditions. Scottish winter climbing largely exceeded my expectations and I'm hoping to go back for more soon.

The first half of the week I was teamed up with Ian Parnell. I can't think of any better person to give an introduction to Scottish winter climbing. On Monday we climbed Inclination and the following day Slenderhead, both in Glen Coe.

Ian on Inclination

Seconding the first pitch of Slenderhead. Photo Ian Parnell

Second pitch of Slenderhead. Photo Ian Parnell


Third pitch of Slenderhead . Photo Ian Parnell

For the second half of the week I was climbing with Will Sim, who I knew well from before, but had never climbed with. We had a blast as well. On Thursday we went to the far east wall at Beinn Eighe and were both attracted to a large roof crack. We gave it a go and it went easier than expected but not without action. I placed two hexes at the beginning of the roof and stretched as far as I could to the right. Just as I reached a mediocre hold my left axe and feet popped and I swung out hanging from only my right arm. One of the hexes fell out and the next couple of meters to the next piece of gear felt very committing. Will quickly dispatched the third pitch which offered nice and varied climbing. We named the route Crazy Eyes. It was still early when we finished so we made use of the good weather by doing a buddy solo of West Buttress.

Pitch 2 on Crazy Eyes. Photo Will Sim

Pitch 2 on Crazy Eyes . Photo Will Sim
Will "in" pitch 3 on Crazy Eyes

Will higher on pitch 3 on Crazy Eyes

On our last climbing day we went to Beinn Bhan to repeat a route called the Godfather. Apparently it has quite a reputation and history but I was luckily unaware of that.  The climbing went like a charm and despite a late start we were almost back in time for dinner in Aviemore.

Pitch 4/5 on the Godfather. Photo Will Sim

Will on the corner pitch (6) of the Godfather

A big thanks to Becky and Nick at the BMC for the organization and to Ian and Will for being such great hosts and climbing partners.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back to the Canadian Rockies

Having just defended my PhD I went back to Canada in December 2013 for a well deserved vacation together with Karin. We were both injured at the start of the trip and actually contemplated going back home. Things got better though and we ended up having an amazing time.

Flight cancelled in Geneva

Roger's Pass

Weeping wall

Christmas picture on the Weeping wall

Karin rappelling Unicorn

Unicorn seen from Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk
Scottish style climbing around Jasper

The sauna at Rampart Creek

Mount Wilson

The three sisters

A cold day on our way to the recital hall

Fearful Symmetry
Rainbow Serpent
Karin on the first pitch of Whiteman falls
Redman Soars

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pakistan 2013

It's been a while since my last post and I have a lot of catching up to do. So, here a very short recap of my trip to Pakistan last summer.

We had actually been preparing for a trip to the Chinese Karakorum for the past two years but got denied a permit in the last minute. So, with little time to come up with a backup plan I met up with Anton Karnoup, Jesse Mease and Bruce Normand in Skardu, Pakistan in June 2013.

Fortunately we were able to get a permit to the Choktoi glacier within only a couple of days, and off we were. The four day walk up to base camp didn't end up being very pleasant as I had caught some kind of disease. It was  probably one of my worst experiences I've had in the mountains. I pushed through the walks with the help of medication and just collapsed and slept when arriving at camp in the evening. I was slightly worried since my gums were swelling up and a strange wound started to grow on my nose. Luckily, I started feeling better the day we arrived at base camp.

With the good weather persisting, we decided to acclimatize on a nice looking peak at the north side of the Sim La that we thought was unclimbed (we later found out that it had been climbed in 2009 by Colin Haley and Maxime Turgeon and was called Baintha Kabata). The four of us climbed snow, ice and neve to the summit which we measured to approximately 6250 meters. 

Baintha Kabata is the pointy summit on the left hand side

The descent to basecamp the following day was done in bad weather that persisted for several days. With the next good weather we crossed over to the Nobande Sobande glacier and established camp at 4800 meters. The next day we climbed arduous but technically easy terrain on snow, ice and mixed to the summit of Bobisghir Peak (6414m) which offered a magnificent view. We though the mountain to be unclimbed but back in civilization we learned that it had been climbed via another route in 1986 (SE Ridge) by a Japanese team.

Bobisghir Peak (center)

A long period of bad weather followed. With the last good weather window a larger objective was attempted but abandoned due to dangerous avalanche conditions. After this I had no more motivation for climbing, but Jesse and Anton attempted a granite spire close to base camp, while Bruce soloed a peak in the same cirque as Baintha Kabata. The peak was named Hrta (horse in Balti) Peak and measured to 6300m.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Epic TV interview

An interview with Epic TV about the ski descents on Pilatus and Dent Favre.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Grand Muveran west face ski descent

Seb wrote this text (which I translated to English) about our ski descent last Saturday:

Grand Muveran west face 1600m, 5.2/5.3 E4

The Grand Muveran Journey – Sébastien de Sainte Marie
As the name suggests, the Grand Muveran is big, but also a very complex mountain. Gilles Bornet had to make several trips up to the col des Pauvres to scout out a skiable path through the massive west face. Last summer he even went up and climbed the grassy exit ramp using ice axes.

1st Attempt, 2nd January: Traversing the west face
Gilles and I make a first attempt, but due to bad snow conditions and a thick fog we traverse the west face and exit on to the Frête de Saille.

2nd Attempt, 16th February: Snow plodding
Following a big snowfall we try again, and our team is reinforced by Wim Pasquier. After 7 hours of breaking trail up waist deep snow we’ve made good progress, but are tired. The sun is strong and is increasingly becoming a matter of concern. At 15:00, so close to the top we decide that it is too dangerous to continue. The ski descent is marvelous but we have to be very careful of snow purging from the rock walls above.
Back at the restaurant we are told that we have been observed in the face. A week later Wim receives a phone call from someone urgently asking for information about our attempt.

3rd Attempt, 2nd March: The big surprise
Wim unfortunately cannot join, but we invite Olov Isaksson to come along. This time we decide to climb the north face and hope to drop in on the right branch of the top Y-couloir. The 2000 meter climb turns out to be more arduous than expected, but at 11:30 we have found the entry and start skiing.
After a while we get a big surprise—ski tracks! Someone has used our old tracks up the face and has followed our exact itinerary. The tracks continue up the left branch. Somewhat astonished we continue the descent, but the conditions have greatly deteriorated compared to last time. We carefully continue in “survival ski mode”. We have a bad feeling about the exposed exit ramp and decide to avoid it by doing a rappel down to the ground. While setting up the ropes the ramp gets bombarded with ice and rocks—intuition was right.

Down on the ground I’m happy about the great adventure the three of us have had, but I’m disappointed that we’ve skied this beautiful face in such bad conditions. In the end, it was still a great and memorable day in the mountains and I’m happy to have spent it in the company of two good friends.

Pictures at: