Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Europe - Part 2 - More Highlights from Chamonix

My week in Chamonix consisted of many more days of climbing from sport cragging to alpine routes! One of the highlights included an ascent of the Frendo Spur on the Augille du Midi with my friend Todd Passey, aka "The Toddfather."

The line ascends the buttress just to the left of the center one

Todd is super mountain-man/mountian-guide and I climbed as fast as could as he lead the way.

It was a super awesome and classic line. The rock is solid and clean and there are many steep 5.8/5.9 sections interspersed between lower 5th class sections.

Photo Todd Passey

After the rock section, the route traverses on this very narrow snow arete to the base of the final 700 feet of alpine ice up to AI 3/4.

Heading towards the very exposed snow arete

Towards the end of the ice pitches, the route parallels the rock buttress making it possible to place rock gear.

One of the final pitches

In typical Europe style, the route tops out right near the tram deck, making for an easy descent. Except this time, the tram remained stuck mid-air for about 45 minutes. Not so fun when you are starving!

On the next sunny day, I climbed the classic South Face of the Augille du midi. I teamed up with Nick Pope and we climbed the standard route, aka the Ray-Bouffat with some variations at the finish.


Its about 7 pitches of amazing golden granite up to 5.10a. The rock was a little polished and there is a mix of face and crack climbing where you are either clipping old pins or placing gear.

The second pitch

Nick enjoying the amazing alpine granite, despite the snow!

Again, the descent was about as easy as it gets; 1 rappel to the tram deck. This time the tram didn't get stuck!

Rappelling down to the throngs of tourists

On our final day in Chamonix, Jonathon and I headed to the L'Arve Valley, about a 20 minute drive south from Chamonix. We climbed an 8 pitch route called Indian Jones on the large limestone buttress of La Maladiere. The cliff is severely overhanging and most of routes go at 7a or harder, but Indian Jones is a moderate 6b+ for most of the way. The route is accessed by doing about 5 overhanging, double rope rappels. That might have been the most exciting part!

Extreme rappelling. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

It was super classic and steep line but with pretty good holds and edges. There were some techy face moves through traverses and a funky limestone chimney that Jonathon got stuck in! It was bolted well at the cruxes but otherwise they were a little sparse and there was the potential to take a 30 footer. Fortunately, that didn't happen! It was a great way to end the trip!

Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Following pitch 3. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Jonathon and my shadow about mid-way up the route

Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

The famous limestone chimney. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Finishing the final pitch. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gear Review: Petzl Hirundos Harness

The hirundos harness is my new, favorite all-around harness. It is both very light weight (280 grams, size M) and versatile. I have used it for sport climbing, trad climbing and alpine climbing and have not been disappointed in it. Since it is so light weight, it fits easily in a pack and doesn’t add too much additional weight to heavy loads. This was especially nice on a recent trip to the Bugaboos in Canada where heavy packs are the norm for the brutal approach. It also dries very quickly since it is made of lightweight mesh material, which is also nice for snowy alpine routes.

The harness has two gear loops that are large and stiff enough for the heavy racks associated with trad and alpine rock climbing. The belay loop is super skinny but just as strong as a thicker belay loop. A small piece of improvement would be to add a skinny haul loop to the back of the harness.

The leg loops are not adjustable but are designed with stretchy material so that they do not add any bulk to the harness. This is especially nice feature for the athletic movements associated with steep sport climbing. The harness ‘double-backs’ automatically. I did notice that the leg loops are sized a little smaller than other harnesses and I had to order a bigger size than I have with other brands. Although it fits women fairly well, it would be nice to see a women’s model in bright pink or purple! I would not necessarily recommend this harness for routes or climbs that require a lot of hanging in the harness, as it is not very comfortable. But aside from that this is my go-to harness for everything else. It has worked great on alpine routes in the French Alps, to trad climbs at Index, WA to sport climbs in Italy!