News

Report: 20 January 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 20 January 2023

Finally snow and cold weather to bring a smile to your face! We have about 30cm on the valley floor in Chamonix. It finally looks like winter!

 

Skiing

The higher you go, the better (more normal) the snow cover is. Brilliant piste conditions! Look out for rocks off-piste.

Ski touring will be able to start again. You can skin from the valley floor but on the way down the cover may be a bit thin at the bottom. All the classic itineraries will be getting done: Aiguilles Rouges (Crochue Bérard traverse done today in good conditions), Argentière Glacier, 3 cols, Contamines.

As a reminder, the Fantana Fredda footbridge in the Bérard valley is closed (read the arrété decree).

The descent to Le Tour from the Col du Passon was done today. Beware of the avalanche risk though.

The glaciers are getting better, but snow bridges are still weak.

The Vallée Blanche is still a serious trip!
The aréte is snowy, stakes and a fixed rope are in place. The ‘Z’ bit is being worked on. 
The descent is for the moment reserved for good skiers with good experience in glacial terrain.
Grand Envers and Moyen Envers: quite a few slots and hard-packed snow in places. It's better on the classic side and the slopes of the rognon.
The salle à manger is fine. Lots of sidestepping which can be tricky for those snowboarders who are less technically adept.
You can ski down to Montenvers. The most determined (“débrouillards”) skiers who are not in love with their skis can ski down to the Buvette des Mottets (buvette open this weekend) but you will be scraping your skis on the glacier and on the last few turns before Les Planards.  

Be careful on the flat bit of the Mer de Glace, the central track passes near (1m) to some “moulins” (vertical holes in the ice). The first one is visible, someone fell in the second one this morning.

 

Climbing

The cold will help the ice climbing. There is climbing on the Rive Gauche (Déferlante). The Rive Droite and further down (EMHM) will need more time. The Crémerie must be buiding up but it's under snow at the moment.

The Bérard artificial site is also on standby (not enough ice). Some people cut the water supply and the pipes froze. Result: we have to wait for the end of the cold spell to be able to produce ice.

Gully activity: it will be very cold the next few days up high. We don't have any feedback since the snowfall but before there was climbing in the Chéré Couloir, Pellisier (very good conditions), Gabarou-Albinoni (good but no more: a lot of snow on the approach slopes; several belays not found on the descent for abseiling). Goulotte: good but not incredible either (brittle ice, thin in places), Modica-Noury (looks thin but doable), Pinocchio (no more info), a few teams on the Super Couloir (very dry at the bottom, the rest of the route looks nice), Lafaille (looks thin in places). The rimaye on Valeria is tricky, quite a lot of snow in the gully and little ice, not great.

The N face of the Tour Ronde has also been climbed (rimaye crossable, then straight up, hard nevé (squeaky snow- neige couic) all the way.

 

Snowshoeing

The return of the snow means snowshoeing is back, either on the marked itineraries at the bottom of the valley or at altitude with access by the ski lifts.

The most experienced can escape outside these marked routes (Chalets de Chailloux, Refuge de Loriaz...etc). 

 

 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 

 

 

Report: 06 January 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 06 January 2023
 
Happy new year to the young and young at heart!
 
Where do we start...
 
Skiing
 
The snow cover is not great, especially below 1,800/2,000m where there is practically no snow. It's better up high but it's still not enough to make up for the damage done last summer. Although things are gradually getting better, the North faces remain rather dry and the glaciers are still tricky.

The ski areas are waiting with impatience for possible snowfalls expected next week. A good number of the slopes in the valley are however well and truly open, like the Aiguille du Midi and the Montenvers train. Even more than usual, you need to ski carefully on the pistes (low snow cover, bumps, ice patches) and off-piste (rocks).


Ski Touring
 
We are also crossing our fingers for ski touring because low snow cover lower down limits activity and you have to use the ski lifts (or carry!)
 
The marked valley itineraries are not practicable (except for the Charamillon itinerary, which is a lot shorter than normal). Outings are possible mainly around Lac Blanc (Col des Dards, Col du Belvédère) and back. Portage is needed in the Bérard valley or from the Col de Montets. Another very popular area is the Col des Rachasses from the Herse or Bochard lifts. The descent by the old “Point de vue” Piste is in fairly good nick (the direct exit by the couloir onto the glacier isnt good at the moment). Further on (Glacier du Rognon), is okay but beware of crevasses. Trips to the Col du Tour Noir and the Col du Passon and back are feasible (not enough snow to consider going down Le Tour). Two "tricky” bits on the left bank of the Argentière glacier on the way back (classic bit between the slabs and the glacier, okay for good skiers).
 
For the time being, the descent of the Vallée Blanche is only suitable for good ski-mountaineers returning from a climbing route. The arête is not equipped with ropes. The snow is good up to the salle à manger (watch out for slots, the snow is quite good up to the Géant seracs and then hard/crusty snow) by the classic route. The salle à manger is quite easy (the higher track is better). Then it gets complicated and you need to walk for between 45 min and 1 hour to reach the grotto. The ratio of skiing + pleasure / danger + walking is not really optimal so for skiing it’s better to wait for more snow.  
 
 
Climbing

There has been a bit of gully activity (there were a few slots in the high mountains between the heavy snowfalls): Some teams on Petit Viking without more information. Pépite, Frendo-Ravanel in good ice conditions. Gullies on the N face of the Aiguille du Midi (Vent du Dragon etc) too dry. Chéré OK. Pellissier very good. Gabarrou-Albinoni and Modica-Noury probably OK. Pas d'Agonie done but no info (the III looked filled in). Valeria, Lafaille, Filo d'Ariana, you will have to go and see and tell us!

Déferlante is probably the only water ice in the valley (let's add Mini Couloir as well) but beware of overcrowding. There is ice in the Cogne area as well.  
 
 
Hiking

Even if the media has highlighted the lack of snow, there is still some and unlike some massifs, you can't hike everywhere. Practically none of the classic summer hikes (lakes, balconies etc) are practicable!

Hikes that are currently possible if you are properly equipped are:

- The Charousse Alpage.
- The “Petit Balcons” paths (North and South).
- The "Buvettes" (Floria, Chapeau, Dard/Cerro/Chalet du glacier des Bossons) .
- The Chailloux Chalets (Last part snowy).
- The Chalets Loriaz (refuge open) by the forest road (last part snowy) from Vallorcine.
- Lac Vert via Les Trois Gouilles and the Ayères Chalets from Servoz.
 
 
Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is also limited because of the poor snow cover...in short, it's either too much or not enough... !!!!
 
The following are currently possible:

- Autannes near the Col de Balme
- The Raverettaz and the Index at Flégère
- A circuit round la Charme, Petit Prarion and Bellevue at Les Houches
 
 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 
 
 

Andrew Wilkinson

We are saddened to have recently learned of the untimely death of Andrew ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson on 11 September.  He was admitted to the Club as a member of the ACG in March 2021.

Report: 09 December 2022

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 09 December 2022

It is snowing in the valley!

At the beginning of the afternoon, there was between 30 and 40 cm of fresh snow at 2,000m. There was a lot of wind high up.

 

Ski Areas

It is now the turn of La Flégère to open up (partially) its ski area continuously from tomorrow (Saturday 10 December).

Lognan - Les Grands Montets will also be open this weekend and then continuously from Thursday 15 (there is a road closure near La Poya on the hill between Chamonix and Argentière on 12, 13 and 14 December from 9am to 1pm).

The rest of the ski areas (Les Houches, Brévent, Balme) and the Aiguille du Midi will open next weekend.

Be careful off-piste: Risk of avalanche & rocks (early season snow cover).

This snowfall and the opening of Flégère will really launch the ski touring season! Be careful not to get caught out at the beginning of the season.

 

Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing

The snowshoeing season is about to begin. The marked itineraries of the Flégère domain are closed for the moment!

Snow cover is still insufficient for the marked snowshoeing routes at the bottom of the valley (https://www.chamonix.com/activites/randonnees/itineraires-de-randonnees-en-raquettes) which can be done with good mountain boots and poles.

The cross-country ski trails in Chamonix will also be partially open tomorrow!

Climbing

Climbing has started on the left bank (rive gauche) of the Argentière basin (see the cahier de courses on the La Chamoniarde website for more details).

It is still too early for the artificial site of Bérard. This year, a reservation system will be put in place, we will tell you more when it is operational!

 

 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 

 

 

Gabriel Loppé Exhibition Planned at Fort Bard

Gabriel Loppé Exhibition Planned at Fort Bard

An exhibition on the life and works of Gabriel Loppé is set to open at Ford Bard in the Aosta Valley, Italy on 17 December 2022. The exhibition, which is curated by the Alpine Club's Keeper of Pictures William J. Mitchell and Anne Friang of Amis de Gabriel Loppé is titled 'Gabriel Loppé, painter, climber and traveller'. 

The Glacier and the Dent du Géant
Oil on paper, 45 x 60 cm, dated: August 1881
(Collection Amis du Vieux Chamonix)


Loppé, an Alpine Club member from the age of 39, was one of the first artists to bring back representations of the high mountains to the public, regularly painting the view from the summit of Mont Blanc. He considered himself to be a chronicler of his time and later branched out into photography, earning fame with his photograph of lighning striking the Eiffel Tower. As the exhibition title suggests, he was a prolific traveller, visiting much of Western Europe at the dawn of the 20th Century. 

This new exhibition brings together more than 90 of Loppé's paintings, drawings and photographs, exhibiting them alongside a selection of his climbing equipment which is shown here publicly for the very first time.

Crevasses on the Mer de Glace below the Grands Charmoz
Canvas 100 x 78 cm, dated 19.09.1885
(Collection Amis du Vieux Chamonix)

 

'Gabriel Loppé, painter, climber and traveller' is open daily until 14 January 2024, with entry costing €8.00 (€7.00 for concessions) and includes access to the Alpine Museum. Further details can be found on the Fort Bard website.  

 

 

 

Report: 02 December 2022

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 02 December 2022

 

Winter is certainly here but it’s being a bit shy. 

 

Snow cover is relatively good above 2,000m. There are still a lot of rocks at this altitude, especially in our massif. 

Ski touring is possible around Le Tour and the Col de Balme. You can just about ski from the car park. Follow the 4WD track up to Charamillon: watch out for rocks and especially for people who are going up.   

Some activity on the Bel Oiseau and probably elsewhere too. You will have to carry skis for a bit. 

 

The Grands Montets is opening partially from tomorrow (forfait 31€ for the Bochard lift). The run is not pisted and it is artificial snow. So definitely for good skiers and just for this weekend (03 - 04 Dec). Information for the weekend 10 - 11 December will follow depending on snow cover. Complete opening will be from 15 December. 

The snow cover is thin and there are still a lot of rocks.   Off-piste skiing very much not advised. For those who are skinning into the Argentière basin watch out for crevasses on the Rognon glacier and on the Argentière glacier. There’s not enough snow for the classic descent from the Col du Passon down to Le Tour. 

 

Outings (mainly on ski) from the Helbronner are possible but you will need solid glacier experience. Remember that the ladders leading down to the to the Toule glacier are no longer accessible. The Rébuffat goulotte is very (too) dry. The Gervasutti couloir and the Voie Normale on the Tour Ronde could be considered. 

 

No info concerning the gullies in other sectors. Chardonnet (Albert 1er access by the moraine or the Col du Passon but not from Charamillon and the summer path); Argentière (Petit Viking...), Plan de l'Aiguille etc. Please send us any information if you do go. 

No ice in the valley yet (except in your drinks). If you do go to the rive gauche of Argentière (Déferlante etc) let us know how you get on. 

  

It’s still a bit early to get out on snowshoes and a bit late for a lot of the main footpaths except below 1,600m (chalet du Chapeau, buvette de la Floria, Cerro). If you’re well-equipped (good boots, poles, micro crampons) and you’re experienced it’s possible to get to the chalets de Chailloux and Loriaz (snow shoes will be useful higher up). 

 

Unfortunately there is not enough snow for the Nordic ski tracks to open. The planned opening date of 03 December has been pushed back. The opening date will be announced when conditions improve. 

 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 

 

 

Robert Langford

We are saddened to learn from his son of the death on Sunday of Robert Langford who joined the club in 1960 and was a member of the ACG from 1963.

Why Do Mountain Rescues Occur?

A recent Swiss study looked at the reasons behind the many rescues that take place every year in the Alps. Jeremy Windsor lays out the key findings and what they tell us about safety in the mountains.

 

A man in red uniform stands on a snowy summit, waving in a recue helicopter.Photo: Kevin Schmid

In the 12 years between 2009 and 2020, the Swiss Alpine Club Registry documented a total of 4,687 high altitude emergencies that required a rescue. Given that the vast majority took place in the months of July and August, that averaged out at no fewer than 7 emergencies per day.

What do you think was the commonest reason for a rescue? Injury? Illness? It was neither. The most common cause of a high altitude emergency was being stranded - 42% of those who contacted the Swiss mountain rescue services between 2009 and 2020 were unable to reach a place of safety and, as a result, requested help.

Were they injured or ill? No, the vast majority were unharmed. The most common reason for getting stranded was exhaustion (60%). In a small number of cases, the weather made a contribution, with fresh snow, thunderstorms and fog all being mentioned in reports.

More than half (55%) of those stranded were located on mountains over 4,000m. The two most common peaks were the Matterhorn (21%) and Piz Bernina (13%).

The second most common reason for contacting the Swiss mountain rescue services was following a fall (29%). However it's not clear from the study what injuries were sustained. High altitude emergencies were also triggered by rockslide (6%), crevasse (4%) and avalanche (1%). Unfortunately, the exact pattern of injury was not available for these groups either.

Illness accounted for 8% of high altitude emergencies. Whilst details of the exact nature of these illnesses were sparse, earlier research suggests that a number of different conditions would have likely been responsible. These would include - high altitude illness, acute infection and exacerbations of chronic disease. 

Photo: Marco Meyer

What should we make of these results? The author of the study, Benedikt Gasser, argues that they need to be seen in a wider context. In the years before the Covid pandemic, the number of people visiting the Swiss Alps had been increasing. However, high altitude emergencies increased at a slower rate than the increase in visitors. During the same time, the number of deaths had fallen. Seen together, the author strikes a note of optimism, suggesting that the proportion of mountaineers who get stranded or die in the Swiss Alps is actually falling. This may be true, but from the results it’s also clear that there are a significant number of mountaineers out there who are choosing routes that are not appropriate for their levels of fitness, skill or experience. As a result, they're becoming stranded at high altitude and placing themselves and members of the rescue services at considerable risk. It’s also important to note that while the proportion of climbers requiring a rescue may be falling, in absolute numbers callouts are increasing, meaning more risk for rescuers.

Here’s John Ellerton, AC member and President of the International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) with the final word:

At a forensic level, the Swiss Alpine Club Registry has some limitations - colleagues that work in the system acknowledge that this is not a full picture of mountaineering accidents in the Alps. However, this does not detract from the large numbers of ’stranded’, ‘crag fast’, ‘lost’ or ‘exhausted’ clients that impact upon organised mountain rescue teams in many parts of the world. Ask Keswick and Wasdale MRT’s about Scafell Pike and the ‘3 Peaks Challenge’! It would be interesting if evidence from 'honey pots' could show that 'stranded' is a new or increasing problem fuelled by a reduction in the experience, skills or resilience of clientele rather than an increase in the absolute number of participants. 

In the UK, regional reports show that the categories  ‘lost/disorientated, missing or reports of shouts’ account for 22% of incidents with a further 8% being triggered by those who are ‘benighted or crag fast’. Certainly, an increase in rescue requests in some areas is something that organisations are trying to address. For example, Adventure Smart in the UK gives out simple messages with the aim of reducing the number of avoidable callouts.  In addition, modern technology is increasingly used to guide the ‘stranded’ down without deploying a rescue team to the hill."

 

 

Jeremy Windsor is a healthcare professional, AC member and part of the team behind the Mountain Medeicine Blog.

 

 

 

Report: 25 November 2022

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 25 November 2022

There hasn’t been much activity in the past week, so our conditions report is going to be short! 

 

Uplift

The only two uplifts that are in operation in this shoulder season are the Montenvers train and the Skyway.


Skiing

Since our last report, there have been two snowy spells, and there is now a base of around 50/60 cm of snow at 2,000m and 80cm to 1m at 2,500 m. Below 2,000m the snow cover is thin and has crusted over after the rain snow limit went up on Wednesday night into Thursday. In the last two days, there has been a thaw and the possibility of skiing from the valley floor is rapidly disappearing. 

Amongst the places you can dust off the skis are: around the col de Balme, Mont Joly, Flaine, Grandes Platières ....

 

Walking

As far as walking goes, we are certainly between seasons. You’ll need good boots and poles to use the footpaths up to 1,600/1,800 m: the petits balcons paths and the buvettes  (Floria, Chapeau, Cerro, Dard, Chalets de Chailloux). Above that it’s still a bit early to get out on snowshoes. 

 

We don’t have any more information on trips into the high mountains than in our previous report

 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 

 

 

2022 Piolet d'Or Award Videos

2022 Piolet d'Or Award Videos

As has become customary, a number of videos detailing the routes and individuals to have received the Piolet d'Or have been released for the 2022 recipients. The videos are available on the YouTube channel of Bertrand Delapierre and are also included below.

 

2022 Winner: Moonwalk Traverse - Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll

 

2022 Winner: The North-West Face of Saraghrar Northwest (7,300m) - Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili and Giorgi Tepnadze

 

Special Jury Award: South-East ridge of Annapurna III (7,555m) - Nikita Balabanov, Mikhail Fomin and Viacheslav Polezhaiko

 

Lifetime Achievement Award: Silvo Karo

 

 

 

'A Line Above the Sky' | Review

'A Line Above the Sky' | Review

Joint winner of the 2022 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and Grand Prize winner in the 2023 Banff Mountain Book Competition, 'A Line Above the Sky' by Helen Mort is an exploration of mountains and motherhood, entwining Mort's own experiences with the tragic story of British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves. It is also, as Terry Gifford discovers in this review from the 2022 Alpine Journal (on sale now via Cordee), an unsparing work that is unafraid to take risks with its subject matter.

A Line Above the Sky

Helen Mort

Ebury Press, 2022, 268pp, £17

 

Remember Messner’s definition of mountaineering? ‘If no risk has been taken, no climbing has taken place.’ Remember Robert Burton on danger and what he calls ‘a bitter jest’ in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)? ‘A bitter jest, a slander, a calumny, pierceth deeper than any loss, danger, bodily pain or injury whatsoever’. Helen Mort is the victim of at least two ‘bitter jests’, but she is also a risk taker. Halfway through this reflective memoir she catches herself ‘taking liberties with a story that isn’t mine to tell [...] I have no right to narrate this, embellish it, just as I have no right to delve into Alison Hargreaves’s innermost life.’ In this book Mort is intimate and unsparing in examining her experience of pregnancy, giving birth and the first years of motherhood as a climber and fell runner fascinated by the experience of Alison Hargreaves who sits on her shoulder throughout as her ‘ghost companion’. It is a risky writing project. We know that Alison’s story, and that of her son Tom, did not end well. But Mort is up for the challenge: ‘If there is no risk in my writing, no fear, there is no pleasure. I have to make myself feel uncomfortable, take chances in the way a mountaineer does, calculating and recalculating, pitching their frail body against the wind. In risk, we feel most alive.’

There have been other books by women on climbing, the outdoors and motherhood, perhaps most notably Lilace Mellin Guignard’s When Everything Beyond the Walls is Wild (2019), but none so frank, so visceral and so layered in meanings. Teased at school as a 10 year old for being fat – the first bitter jest – Mort turned herself into an athlete. ‘All my life I’d wanted to be a line,’ she writes, giving the book’s title one of its meanings. The others are in a life as a writer of lines, a climber, a runner and ‘underlining the desires of others’. ‘Then there is the line of the pregnancy test’ and the renunciation of lines, together with individuality. With her pink-cropped hair, Mort is uneasy at first in joining NCT classes with the other expectant mums: ‘I did not feel like a mother. I barely felt like a woman.’ But after their babies were born they ‘began to know each other as women as well as mothers.’ She writes: ‘Together, we formed a shield.’ The result of this new-found female kinship is a desire, when Alfie is a year old, to climb with a woman, something Mort had barely done before. The return to leading on Stanage with Anna Fleming as the only women climbing together that day is a reminder of how pioneering this can still feel at a personal level, for all our assumptions about progress.

Of course, the Alison Hargreaves narrative inevitably leads towards the death of her son, Tom and here the parallel ‘ghosting’ story might get uncomfortable. Mort recounts watching reports of Tom’s disappearance and search efforts hourly through the night whilst breastfeeding three-month-old Alfie. Her emotional investment is clear. Later, while Alfie is safe at pre-school, there is a knock at the door. ‘I could not shake the instinct that something must have happened to him.’ In fact, it is an acquaintance calling to warn her that her face has been superimposed on a body on a porn site – the second bitter jest and the ultimate crossing of the line of her own body. In writing about this Mort ‘takes back control.’ Women, she says, have always been judged by the world by more than their subjective selves, as in the duality of mother-climber in Alison Hargreaves’ case. Mort’s conclusion to this book is to reflect upon the multiple roles of the women who came before her, her present friends and, as poet and novelist, her fictional characters: ‘If women are always to be doubled, surveyor and surveyed, then let us be multiple. Let us stand so close that we seem to merge together, the dead and the living, the real and the fictional.’

In the final lines of the book Mort sees, with her eyes closed, a mother and son climbing on Stanage in the winter sun. A male reviewer might be forgiven for seeing, with his eyes closed, other lines above the sky, yet to be written. But that would not diminish his appreciation of this extraordinary revelation of what is also ordinary. The book belies its teasing assertion that to find meaning in climbing is to find meaning in life. Clearly it is not true for Mort to say that, ‘You love it precisely because it means nothing.’ Any reader will come away from this book profoundly enriched by the knowledge of why the opposite is the case.

 

 

 

Brian Hall and Helen Mort Win 2022 Boardman Tasker Prize

Brian Hall and Helen Mort Win 2022 Boardman Tasker Prize

On the evening of Friday 18 November, the jury of the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature announced Alpine Club member Brian Hall and poet Helen Mort as joint winners of the 2022 competition. Brian was awarded for his autobiographical work 'High Risk' and Helen for her exploration of motherhood and the mountains 'A Line Above the Sky'. 

A graphicshowing the Boardman Tasker logo and the covers of the two winning books.

Also among the shortlisted nominees were Keiran Cunningham for 'Climbing the Walls', Anna Fleming for 'Time on Rock', Robert Charles Lee for 'Through Dangerous Doors' and AC member Paul Pritchard for 'The Mountain Path'.

'A Line Above the Sky' was reviewed by Terry Gifford in the 2022 Alpine Journal and is available to read here.

 

 

 

Report: 18 November 2022

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 18 November 2022

 

Hi everyone, we’re back again!

Not that we were away on holiday (well, a little bit) or that we had a thousand and one other things to do (yes, a little bit too) but between the lack of activity, the lack of information available (think about giving us some!), the parade of disruptions...etc In short, we didn't have the time!

 

Overview

It looks like winter is on the way, let's just hope it's not just a false alarm. November was quite unsettled and it snowed well in the high mountains! Lower down, the water tables and rivers have been restored to health!

Last night saw 25-30cm deposited at 1,900m and more than 40cm above 2,200m. To get off to a good start, there was a fair amount of wind with snow drifts of 80 cm at 2,100m. The ground is white up to 1,400m.

As a result, we will have to get back to good habits: consider the risk of avalanche in the preparation of outings and take rescue equipment (and consider training!)

Webcams are a good idea to give you an overview of the conditions: https://www.chamoniarde.com/montagne/meteo-avalanches-webcams


In the Valley

It's the off season in the valley until the start of the winter season.

The Flégère gondola is open until the evening of Sunday 20 November. The Montenvers train will then take over.

In Italy, the Skyway is open for the season.

All the refuges are currently closed.

 

Higher Up

Regarding conditions in the high mountains, we have very little information because potential windows have been infrequent and brief and activity has been sparse. 

We've probably never finished telling you this, but you'll have to be wary of crevasses even more than usual at the beginning of the season. As you all know, the glaciers were very open this summer. The snow bridges will/are gradually forming again (snowfall, wind) but there is work to do, especially to make them strong enough. Some bad glaciers should be avoided until conditions improve. Elsewhere, it is recommended to be wary and systematically rope up on the way up. Some of the rimayes are likely to be nasty! 

Skis or snowshoes are now necessary if you are up high. 

A few gullies were climbed before the Aiguille du Midi closed (Chéré, Gabarrou-Albinoni). It remains to be seen how things have evolved since then and until the reopening. As a reminder, the North side of the Aiguille du Midi (Mallory/Frendo) is closed by municipal decree until Sunday 20 November.

Around the Punta Helbronner, a bit of activity on the Marbrées or Tour Ronde traverse (report on our “cahier de course” by the way, many thanks for the feedback!). No information about the mixed routes of the Grand Flambeau or the gullies of the Combe Maudite.

Some exploration on the Chardonnet but the approach by the glacier is very complex.

 

Skiing, Hiking & Snowshoeing

Lower down, we cant get skis on yet. If you are chomping at the bit, you can get a few turns below the Index by hiking up from Flégère but you'll need to be gentle as there is no base. 

It's not possible to hike at altitude (lakes etc). You can nevertheless go for a few steps in the snow to enjoy the scenery at an altitude of no more than 1,600-1,800m: chalets at Chailloux, the petits balcons paths, the Floria/Cerro/Chapeau buvettes. Remember to be properly equipped: good shoes, poles, warm clothes.

And it's still a bit early for snowshoes!

 

Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.

 

 

 

 

Mountain Stability in the Mont Blanc Massif - Summer 2022

Mountain Stability in the Mont Blanc Massif -  Summer 2022

What follows is a summary of a discussion/Q&A that was organised by IFMGA guide Martin Elias on behalf of Chamonix Experience in early August 2022.

It was presented by Ludovic Ravanel, geomorphologist, IFMGA guide and instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinisme, the French national centre for mountaineering in Chamonix.

The interpretation of his words and their translation from French are by British Mountain Guide Andy Perkins. He accepts no responsibility for injury or death that may occur when following this advice. You are reminded that mountain conditions are, by their nature, changeable and that climbing is an activity with inherent risks to the participant.

 

A climber stands on a slab of granite, gesturing towards a face. In the background, tracks in the snow of a glacier are clear.

 

The Situation

The mountains around Mont Blanc changed very little in the previous six to seven thousand years but are now changing very rapidly. The alpine areas are warming two or three times faster than the rest of the world on average.

Inspection of images of the Mont Blanc Massif show very little change to snow cover from the end of the last mini ice age (c.1850) until around 1980. In the last 20 – 30 years, the rate of change has been significant. The effect of climate change on the mountains was noted in 2003, when the Goûter hut was closed due to rockfall in the Grand Couloir. In 2005, a large part of the Bonatti Pillar on the Drus collapsed.

It was around this time that investigation into the link between permafrost and rock collapses was started. A relationship was suspected in research from the ‘70s through to the ‘90s, but now there is a firm statistical link between the two.

Specifically, we are concerned by areas above 2,300-2,500m on north aspects, and above 3,300- 3,500m on south aspects. This is where we know there is permafrost thanks to an increasing number of temperature gauges (now over 100 in the Mont Blanc Massif). With this “heat map”, it is possible to correlate permafrost and increased rockfall activity.

You might think that rockfall/collapse would only increase once the temperature of the rock goes above 0°C, but in fact it becomes a concern from about -3°C.

Alongside melting of permafrost, the loss of thickness of glacial ice is an important contributor to geological instability. The rock underneath the ice expands due to there being less weight of ice on it (known as post glacial decompression). This is what is happening at the base of the south face of the Midi, for example.

In 2015, the Goûter was also closed for the same reason as in 2003, and since then there have been heatwaves in four of the six summers that followed (as well as the ongoing one).

The big difference in 2022 is that:

  1. It was a low snow winter.
  2. May was very warm.
  3. The first heatwave was in June. As a consequence, the warming of the rock started earlier and penetrated deeper into the rock. By mid-July, the internal temperatures of the rock on north aspects were the same as they would normally be at the end of August, so we are 4 – 6 weeks in advance of what happened previously.

On a slightly less grim note, temperatures on south faces are slightly lower than in previous years.

 

A black and white image of a mountain.

 

There have been 4 major rock collapse events so far in 2022:

  • The Tour Ronde
  • West face of the Dru
  • Aiguille du Tacul
  • Another incident in Italy

[Editor’s Note: Subsequent to this talk, there was a further significant rockfall, this time on the Cosmiques Arête].

In addition, there is very little snow on the glaciers. This means more ice is melting. There has been a 7m loss of thickness on the Mer de Glace and snow bridges are weaker than in the past.

 

Advice

Avoid North Faces Above 2,300m

For example, the north ends of the Marbrées and the Entrèves are suspect, so better to do these out and back from the south ends rather than as complete traverses.

The heat will keep going into these faces even if/when it starts to cool down, and there could be some big rockfalls this autumn.

 

Avoid Ridges

This is because the rock is being heated from both sides.

 

Avoid Couloirs

This is often where there are faults and more instability as a result, plus the debris gets channeled.

 

South Faces Up To 3,300m Generally OK, But Keep An Eye On Stuff Above

Glacial approaches to these faces may well be problematic.

 

Be Alert For Microsigns Of Impending Collapse

These include:

  • Grating noises.
  • Water running down cracks.
  • Cracks getting wider than you remember (e.g. taking a larger size of cam).
  • Gravel in cracks.
  • Fresh rock on ledges.
  • Rumbling noises like an empty stomach.
  • Increased rockfall in general – for example there is rockfall below the Triangle du Tacul for the first time ever, meaning that there is no ice left in certain areas there.

 

Even in the lower areas, there can be a problem with the terrain drying out (aka desiccation), and then a bit of rainfall lubricates it. Hence the recent rockfall on Barberine.

After rockfall has occurred , the hang fire can stick around for a minimum of 10 years. In other words, don’t go to a place where there’s been a recent event in the assumption that it’s now more stable.

There is going to be a big event some time on the Red Pillar of the Blaitière. It might be tomorrow, it might be in 10 years, but there will be one.

 

A bridge on the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix
The Mer de Glace Glacier, Chamonix

 

The Good News

The Aravis is post-glacial, so less issue there (except for desiccation).

Aiguilles Rouges are generally good, though there is overcrowding on the Brevent. Even a short walk of an hour will get you away from many of the crowds.

The Valais is better too, as the strata are generally horizontal so less prone to slippage. One notable exception is the Matterhorn. Purging the Hörnli by removing rock will most likely accelerate penetration of heat into the mountain.

In July 2022, there were lots of “little” rockfalls. In August there are/will be less frequent falls but they will be bigger.

The permafrost will continue to be degraded by:

a) Conduction of heat.
b) Convection by either air in the cracks or (way worse) water. One of the lucky aspects of this summer is that it’s been dry.
    It will be important to keep an eye on the snow-rain limit when the next precipitation cycles come through.
    If it rains above 2,300m, the situation will get quite active.

It’s unlikely that the situation will get any better until there have been a few cold cycles. A heavy snowfall at the start of autumn would be bad, as it would insulate the ground below. The best scenario would be a long, cold, dry period, and then snow after that.

The best period for stability is the end of Spring when the rock is coolest.

The periods when routes come into condition will get shorter. One of the problems with social media is that everyone now knows when things are in, and so there are crowds/queues which lead to their own particular problems.

Alpinists need to be more reactive, and come to the mountains for an experience rather than a specific summit.

Ludovic referred to a need to “deseasonalise” the activity.

 

Structures in the Mountains

  • The suspended pylon between Grands and Petits Flambeaux is becoming an issue.
  • The foundations of the Grands Mulets too. (Access to the toilets is increasingly problematic).
  • The Midi isn’t a problem just yet, but may well be in the future.
  • It’s unlikely the Goûter hut will reopen this summer [Editor’s Note: The Goûter did subsequently re-open].

 

We are indebted to Andy Perkins and the organisers of this talk for allowing us to reproduce these notes. While the exact details may change in future seasons, there are many good principles here that alpinists should take note of as we approach climbing in an era of global warming.