Monday, 22 October 2012

Alpine Adenture

Have you been to the alps this summer, or are you planning some winter alpine adventure this coming season?  In this issue of the blog we have a fantastic report from Kamil Jutkiewicz on his recent trip to climb Mont Blanc.  But first some news from the wall. 

Over the last couple of weeks at the Westway we have busy getting ready for the launch of some special sessions.  The first is our new Wednesday morning ladies climbing session.  This is due to start this week with our lady climbers being welcomed with some free tea, coffee and of course biscuits.  Naturally we had to test out these facilities last week to check that they worked.  A few extra routes went down due to free flowing cups of tea that morning.   I will be making sure I am having a climb this coming Wednesday morning and snatching a sneaky Hobnob or two.

The next session we are launching soon is the Westway’s new climbing exercise class, Bouldercise.  This is a bouldering based fitness session that will be running on Thursday evenings at 19:00.  This class will last for 90 minutes and will use our bouldering wall and training area to give you a major workout that will be sure to improve your grade.

Last week we welcomed home Kamil Jutkiewicz, who has recently returned from one of his characteristic mountaineering trips.  Kamil used to work at the Westway as a duty manager and was always going off on trips to climb in the Alps.  This autumn Kamil was joined by his two friends Jan and Iwona on a trip to Chamonix to climb the highest summit in Western Europe, Mont Blanc.  Their plan was to climb the Mont Blanc traverse.  This route starts in the Valley Blanche and leads to the Mont Blanc du Tacul then on to the Mont Moudit to finish on the Mont Blanc summit.
Kamil was kind enough to write us a report of this amazing trip.
A week of Mountains

Kamil Jutkiewicz

‘On day one we arrived in Chamonix in the early afternoon.  We headed to the camp site and quickly set up our tents which would be our base over the next week.  Once set, up we made a b-line for the guide office to get the weather forecast and the report on the conditions up high in the mountains.  It is the standard tradition that in the event of a bad conditions report that you immediately visit all the climbing shops of Chamonix.  The weather when we arrived was clear and sunny but any mountaineer will tell you this, is no guarantee of good conditions up high over the coming week.’ 

‘Once in the guide office the news wasn’t good.  Over the coming 7 days the weather was changeable, with strong winds and rain expected.  In the Valley Blanche the wind was blowing up to 100kph.  Furthermore due to the avalanche earlier in the year that claimed the lives of 8 climbers on Mount Moudit, the route had seen very little traffic.  This could lead to problems with navigation due to a lack of a well-trodden track.  After much discussion it was decided that we would ascend Mont Blanc via the Gouter route, which was previously set as our decent route.  The wind on the Gouter route was blowing at around 80kph which we could deal with and since there was much more traffic on the route, navigation would be simpler.  It was not the route we wanted to do but it did mean we wouldn’t be stuck in the valley, gear shopping.  With the plan set the three of us began the process of acclimatising and went for a short walk into the mountains to the Chalet Flora. '

The garden of the Chalet Flora

'From here we drank in the amazing view down into the valley.  We all thought of the adventures that were in store for us over the next seven days as we gazed on the Aiguille du Dru, Aiguille du Grepon, Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc.’

Panorama of the Mont Blanc massive

‘On the second day we continued to try and acclimatise to altitude.  The summit of Mont Blanc is at an altitude of just over 4800 meters. Attempting to climb to this altitude without first acclimatising can lead to some terrible effects of altitude sickness.  Nausea, headaches and disorientation can leave you vulnerable to costly mistakes when high in the mountains. '
Sunrise over the Argentiere Glacier

'Prior to our ascent of Mont Blanc we selected a number of lower targets to allow our bodies to adjust to effects of altitude.  Our first of these targets was the Refuge Lognan. This involved hiking up to  the Argentiere Glacier and then climbing down to the refuge where we spent the night before returning to the valley the next day.’

‘On day three we woke to the sound every climber hates.  The sound that is unmistakably water colliding with the taught fabric of a tent.  Emerging from my nylon house it was clear to see that it had rained all night.  Was this it, had the good weather broken and left us with this downpour for the rest of the week?  A quick check of the weather forecast revealed that it would continue to rain all day.  However there was a glimmer of hope with the bad weather looking like it would only be a short spell that would clear up by the next day.   We spent the day walking in and out of gear shops asking each other why west London didn’t have more cool stores like these. In between we could lounge in coffee bars constantly checking the weather report hoping that the bad weather would pass as promised.’
‘Day four began with glorious weather.  Our prayers had been answered and we could continue to climb and acclimatise.  We couldn’t pick just any route though.  What had fallen as rain in the valley had fallen as thick snow high on the mountains.  This fresh dusting would be unconsolidated and would be perilous to climb on.  We devised a plan that would offer some safe climbing but would take us on a rewarding journey.  From Chamonix we took the cable car to the Planpraz .  From there we traversed via the Grand Balcon Sud to Lake Blanc (2353m altitude).  From the lake we descended to Argentiere where we took a bus back to our campsite in Chamonix.’ 
Lac Blanc

‘Day five, this was it, we were finally going to start climbing Mont Blanc.  The plan for the day was to go from Chamonix to Les Houches where we would head onto the Refuge Tete Rousse (3167m altitude).' 

The Refute Tete Rousse among the rocks

'At the Refuge Tete Rousse we would stop and spend the night which would help us better acclimatise.  On the way to the refuge the weather suddenly broke and the final stages of the climb were made in high winds and snow fall.  Reaching the hut was a great relief and we rewarded ourselves with a hot tea.'

The 73 year old Lithuanian Climber

'In these huts you meet mountaineers from all over the world and a great part of being there is hearing their stories.  In the hut this day was a 73 year old Lithuanian climber who came to Chamonix together with his son and friend to climb Mont Blanc.  It was really impressive to meet this old man who as it turned out climbed harder and faster than many of the younger men around that day.’

‘On day six the objective was to reach the Gouter Hut (3817m altitude) where we would rest before the final push to the summit.  On the way to the Gouter Hut the route crosses the Grand Couloir.  This is the most stressful and dangerous part of the route with the risk of rock and ice fall being ever present.'

The scary Grand Couloir

'To minimise the risk we decided we would set off extra early.  The cold temperatures at this time would mean that the loose rock and ice above would be frozen in place.  That was the theory anyway, but it didn’t do much to calm our nerves as we made the journey across the Grand Couloir as quickly as we could.  On the other side of the Couloir we began to climb the pillar on top of which stands the Gouter Hut.'

At the top of the piller, the new Gouter Refuge

'The acsent of this piller was by far the most gruelling part of the whole ascent.  It was only on all fours that progress could be made as we crossed steep ground over thick snow and loose rock.  You had to be constantly vigilant to ensure you remained on route throughout the hard slog.  The moment you step on the platform of the hut is one of the most rewarding feelings in life.' 

Life behind the Gouter Hut

'For me stepping onto the summit of Mont Blanc didn’t give me the same feeling of elation and relief as entering the Gouter Hut.  The weather at the hut was fantasticly clear and we could bask in the rewards of our hard work.  With the hut sheltering us from the wind we could take in the amazing view while enjoying a hot tea.’ 

The amazing view down into Chamonix from the Gouter Hut

‘On summit day most people will wake at 02:00 and after a quick breakfast will head up the mountain.  To avoid the crowds we woke at 01:00 and after quick breakfast of a power bar and cup of tea we headed for the summit.  The weather was bad.  Strong winds wiped up sharp bits of ice and blew them into our faces.  The three of us were bent over double to make progress through such a head wind.  We had 1000 meters of altitude to gain before the summit which the guide book suggested would take us between 5 and 6 hours.  The more we stomped on the higher we got, and the higher we got the stronger and colder the wind blew.'

Sheltering in the Vallot Hut

'Finally at 05:00 we arrived at the Refuge Bivouac Vallot at 4362 meters altitude.  This hut is mealy a tin shed, but out there on the cold route to shelter behind it was a salvation.  In really bad conditions these huts can be real life savers.  A stricken climber caught out in a storm would swap five Chelsea mansions for one of these tiny shacks.  We decided to hold up in the shelter, brew tea and wait for sunrise.  After a few hours, when the sun finally came up, the air temperature began to warm slightly but the strong winds continued to batter the route.’   

‘We finally made the difficult decision to leave the relative warmth of the hut and head on up the route.  I say relative because, although warmer than outside, the temperature in the hut was only 0 degrees. From the Vallot Hut the summit is less than 500 meters altitude gain and should only have taken 2 hours.  However with the strong winds whipping snow into our faces going was tough.  We knuckled down and put one foot in front of another and after 3 hours we stood on the highest point in Western Europe, the summit of Mont Banc.' 

Happy people on the Summit of Mont Blanc

On the way down just below the Vallot hut

'We quickly shot a few photos and ate some power bars and started our way down.  Any mountaineer will tell you that the summit is only the halfway point of a route.  The aim was to make it back down to Chamonix the same day.  The trip down the first 500 meters to the Vallot hut was done at half the time and after a quick drink of water we headed down to the Gouter Hut.  Once in the Gouter Hut we stopped to brew tea and have a snack.  Then it was back on the route with the hope of catching the train back to Chamonix.’ 

‘This was where things started to go wrong.  Being residents of London and being accustomed to all sorts of transport running into the early hours of the morning, we had forgot that, in the Alps everything stops at 16:00.  Of course we had missed the last train and we had to make the long slog back down into the valley.  We arrived in Les Houches at around midnight and still had to find some way of getting to our campsite in Chamonix.  There were no night buses and in the small mountain villages there were no taxis.  The only option was to try and hitchhike.  As you can imagine being three strangers walking along at night with ice axes made this a difficult task.  Soon we heard music and found our way to a restaurant that was being closed up by the owner.  After a bit of broken conversation he kindly offered us a lift back to Chamonix.  We arrived back to our campsite at 01:00am and after 25 hours of action we could finally get into our sleeping bags, knowing that in a few more hours we had to be boarding a plane in Geneva.’
‘In the morning after a frantic packing of bags and a coach transfer we were in Geneva airport.  To celebrate our achievement we headed to the duty free and brought ourselves a particular brown liquid, sold in a square bottle and made in Tennessee.  Thanks to the square bottle the flight to London was unbelievably fast.  It was an amazing trip and another great adventure.  What was most important was that we came back in one peace and still friends.  We are all looking forward to going back to Chamonix again, even if it is just to drink tea and look at the mountains.  Yer right.’
Kamil currently works as a freelance photographer.  If you do need some photo work done drop him a line.

I hope Kamil’s tale has given you some inspiration to get out there and have your own mountain epic.  Soon at the Westway will be offering workshops that will equip you with some of the fundamental skills to keep you safe in the mountains.  Until then it’s back to training for you, go on, 10 more reps!!!

1 comment:

  1. I simply love adventure in my life !! this post provides the same !! well done! I'll be back, till then take care! Cute animal videos