Category Archives: Logbook

An entry in the CC logbook

Gannets are here for the Golf


4th July 2018 A last minute arrangement and another grand Wednesday at Malin Head. Geoff was a bit late getting to Culdaff due to road works, Irish Open etc, but we went to Malin Head for a look anyway. The Skildren Mor crossing was calm, but there were nesting birds, so we gave it a miss. We abbed down the big slab west of Stelfox in the Cauldron, and climbed a lovely route on compact sound black rock, with good protection, about Severe, but with a thin move or two of 4b, (40m), we called it Black Bush. Then we did a variation of the Lizard Line, Cutting Edge combination, starting up rebel Yell and following the quartzite vein all the way across to the col. Makes this ‘Cutting Line’ about Severe+. Finished off with Dawson’s Diedre.  A good alternative to the Pro Am at Ballyliffin.


Everest 25th Anniversary Expedition

Phuletate and Pulele

Kathmandu is still a great place.  A lot of work is still be done to restore the damage caused by the earthquake, but the tourists are back, and some of the shopping area of Thamel have even been pedestrianised.  The Pilgrim book shop, destroyed in a fire is now back up and running too, gear shops abound, with cheap versions of all the expensive labels.

Domestic departures at Tribuvan was full of excited trekkers, and large groups of commercial expeditioners, towering over their sherpa guides, easily identified by their brand new expedition boots, and united only by their group tee shirts.

 Then there was us.  Worn men with worn gear.  This was the 25th anniversary of the successful first Irish Everest expedition, and the deputy leader of that group in 1993, Irish adventurer and mountaineer par excellance, Frank Nugent was our leader this trip.  Paddy O’Brien, his partner in manys an Alpine and Arctic venture, Gerry Galligan the IMC’s most prolific expeditioner, and myself, made up the party.

The Lukla flight is great, (if you can ignore the fact that it is supposed to be the most dangerous on the planet), and soon you have landed and reclaimed all your gear.  Most of ours had gone on the previous days flight.  There followed two days uphill struggle through the crowds of trekkers to Namche, which is now sporting numerous cafes, expensive gear shops and even an Irish Bar (god help us).  The amazing load carriers are still there, still gobsmacking the visitors, but now they are on mobile phones.

We had to visit the national park office to sign documents to agree to take out everything we took in.  Over tea, the official told us that there were 25 expeditions on Everest, two on Lohtse and one on Nupse.  Our rubbish would be weighed back in Namche, and it would cost us 400 Rupees per Kilo to recycle.  Good for them.

Two days later we were camped at the back of a house in the, almost deserted, high village of Mende, preparing ourselves for an 850m climb to Kyajo Ri  base camp, while our Sirdar Dhana ( also from 1993) got directions from the lady of the house, as to where the path went.

It was tough, (and a lot harder for our porters), but we got there, with Paddy first and then me, to find a couple of tents belonging to a Russian Kyajo Ri expedition.  The three porters had been there a few days, and were cold and miserable in the low cloud.  Our 9 porters romped in and soon we had base camp up and running. The Russians returned that evening and dismantled their camp, disappointed that they had not reached the summit due to deep snow.  The leader was Yuri Somethinchenko, winner of the Piolet d’Or, and summitteer of many 8000m peaks.

BC Day 1.The next day was sunny and beautiful, and although it was supposed to be for rest and acclimatisation, three of us decided to carry loads up to the bottom of the gully above.  When we got there, we could see the Russian fixed ropes up the cliffs above, so we went up for a look, eventually going up them and continuing to the snowy valley above, the proposed site of ABC at 5000m.  I was up first , then Gerry then Paddy, who was suddenly struggling with the altitude.  Frank had stayed below to rest.  

BC Day 2. In the morning Paddy was ill, and Gerry and I did another load carry to ABC with the porters, we put my tent up and came down.

BC Day 3. The next day was a rest day to try and give Paddy a chance, but his health continued to deteriorate

BC Day 4. Paddy went down to Namche to seek medical help, while Frank, Gerry and myself moved to ABC.  I was up first and put the kettle on for the others, but only Gerry arrived, telling me that Frank didnt feel he had the strength to make it. Now there were 2.  That evening I broke trail up the hill above ABC in soft snow to see if I could see a feasible route.  Higher up, I ran into very deep snow, but could see a possible route to a col, from where the ridge looked do-able.  The summit ‘Crown’ was another matter.  We needed to start early while the snow was frozen, that was it!

ABC Day 1. Early start was 5.00 AM. It was brutally cold and my hands were numb from trying to boil the kettle from lumps of ice. The tracks from the previous evening were much easier being frozen, but the deeper snow above had only the crust frozen, so we stood up on it, only for it to collapse, and then we had to climb out, pulling our feet out through the crust,only for it to collapse again.  My estimated time to the col of about an hour and a half was eaten up in a couple of hundred metres.  Exhausted, we had to come up with a plan B.

A traverse to the right would take us to a short climb to the top of the big rock tower which dominated our base camp.  We felt that we could have a rethink, and try again tomorrow, but lets get something in the bag.  Floundering our way across a boulderfield (‘ a la Fairhead’ only covered in deep powder) we got to the base of the West Pillar, where upward progress was mindset V gravity, but we made it to the bright side where the snow had melted, and it was easy to the top of this huge rock monolith. “Oh look, there’s Frank leaving base camp”!  The views were immense, but Phuletate still looked like, well anything but a foregone conclusion.

Care was required on the descent, but on reaching ABC we met Frank who was delighted (and relieved) to see us. He advised us that the porters were anxious to leave, but we had another day at ABC.  He descended to BC, and we spent the snowy/cloudy  afternoon in the tent.

ABC Day 2. Sunshine and euphoria as usual, but let’s pack up before it snows (and it did) about 10.00 AM.  we decided to take a walk up through the misty Kyajo Ri valley for a few hours.  On the way down we came across Yeti Tracks, which Gerry wanted to follow across a frozen lake (to rule out a snow leopard you understand).  The thought of following a snow leopard or yeti, in fog, across thin ice did not particularly appeal to me, and fortunately I was able to remind Gerry  of his redunancy package, so we went back to ABC.

 Plain sailing to BC one might have thought, but not so, alas. as thick, driving snow made finding the top of the Russian fixed ropes problematic.  We made it ‘heroically’ to base camp early afternoon with big packs, but to our amazement, and awe, the porters decided to go up that evening and retreive the rest of the stuff ( ABC having been equipped for 4 for three days), which they did fairly effortlessly as the weather had cleared, and being very keen to be back in the comforts of Namche, I  would imagine.

BC Day 5. Exodus.  We left with all we could carry, wondering how on earth the small group of porters would manage to divide the mountain of stuff we had left.  They overtook us, with much good humour and laughter before the monastry above Mende.

The remainder is about a days rest and overindulgence in Namche. and 3 days descent and ascent to Pulele for a function ( the second day was 8 hours of the ‘path from hell’ ( this drizzly’  La ‘was 30% rock. 30% slime, 30% horseshit, and 10%  horsepiss). 

We were received royally at the Irish Nepal Education Trust school in Pulele, in time for the school prizegiving (a type of event in which I had never been previously involved for some reason)which went on for some hours.  Largely compared by Dhana (who had left our expedition early), and involved our chief guest Dawson Stelfox, with Margaret Stelfox , Chris Avison and Mary Solan.  Even I was asked to present one of  the school prizes. My grasp of Nepali is rudimentary, but I think it was for truancy.  The euphoric evening of culture dancing and music, ended on a downer when our porters gave our tips back, which they must have considered derisory.  Red faces and a futher donation may have helped, but expectations are different, especially in the Khumbu, where a recent group of Hong Kong businessmen tipped our porters $300 each.

The short trek to the road head was wonderful,  unspoiled Himalaya, but the 4 + hour jeep trip to ?? as tough a test to vehicle and driver as I have ever experienced, and our accommodation by the airport was probably also the most unsavoury, but the flight back to Katmandhu a delight, as ever.

As I write this report I am listening to a CD of Nepali music.  After a fine indian meal in the Third Eye Restaurant in Thamel, where I informed the head waiter that my last meal here was in 1994 (the year before his birth apparently) we went to a bar where there was a live Nepali loyalist band ( 5 drummers and one musician).  We applauded wildly, -perhaps too enthusiastically, thus the CD.

Killarney Mountain Festival


First Ever Killarney Mountain Festival


Recommend this goes in the calendar for next year.  Twinned with the Kendal Mountain Festival, it had lots of outdoor films ( full length and short) in the cinema, and guest speakers such as Andy Cave, Stephen Venables, Dawson Stelfox, Dermott Somers, and Cameron McNeish.  All very entertaining, and nearly too much on, in fact.  There was a big circus tent at the back of the hotel which was designated as ‘Base Camp’ with stalls from gear shops, Scouting Ireland, Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering Ireland, and a café where people could meet and chat.   We were able to park the van overnight free in the car park beside the big top, within 200m of all the venues, and handy for all the town centre bars and restaurants.  Cameron McNeish lecture on Friday night.


Had a good morning out on Mangerton on Saturday and made it back for the match ( satisfactory result) then straight off to the screening of Sikkim Dreams’ in the cinema*, then straight back to the hotel for a lecture on the Alpine North faces by Dawson, Dermott and Tom Curtis ( very Funny) then Andy Cave.


*Gutted I wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor.  Had me acceptance speech written, but some old geezer called Attenborough pipped me at the post apparently.  Sooo unfair.


Sunday we went up Carrauntoohil from Cronins Yard.  Not much snow left, but we met David and Agnes, facebook CCC members, and did the mountain with them.


Another awesome mountain film at night, and home on Monday.


It’s a good time to go to Kerry, the best county in Ireland I think.

Well done to the organisers, a huge effort!


Escape from the Beast

It’s usual for the club to arrange a sport climbing trip to Spain in march or February but this year was a little different, for me at least. An old friend had returned from India after ten years and suggested a trip to the Costa Blanca even though he hadn’t climbed for 12 or more years.

Straight off the plane we walked from our Altea apartment up to Toix Oueste and managed 3 routes before the sun went down. The next day we went to Guadalest where the weather was considerably warmer than last time I visited. Rob astounded with a lead of the very pumpy Margallo 6a+. We bumped into another friend that I hadn’t seen since the 80s here who recommended Montesa so that’s where we headed next and it did not dissappoint. The very best crag we visited with an amazingly rough, pockety limestone which we liked so much we came back a day or so later. Two of the best 5+ ever were the rockfax guide was a litel difficult to read here as they had opted for a very wide angle photo for the topo, making it difficult to read.

The following day it rained lightly most of the dsay so we declared a recovery day.

The next crag on the list was Sector New Year’s Day in Sella, which Gerard O’Sullivan had suggested [thanks!]. This was another great crag with plenty of good holds although quite busy. Trying to avoid the crowds we were thoroughly sandbagged on Perlita.

Alacalali was the next stop. Here the sun was shining but the wind was approaching gale force when we arrived. As it dropped we were able to head up to the left hand end of the crag for some shelter. An excellent couple of 6as and some very steep 5s were our reward.

The final trip was a return to Montesa. There was no sun this time, but we met a German couple at the end of their year long road trip and we discovered they had a wicked sense of humour. We grabbed a couple of lines before the rain came and we retreated to the Cafe Aurora. Once more the Costa Blanca welcomed us as we avoided the beastly weather at home. Adios until next year.

The thing about ice climbing..

George, Finbarr and self set off to Cogne via Ryanair and Sicily Car hire, and it all went quite smoothly, meeting Jack Bergin, (who had driven out), within an hour of our arrival.

George, a veteran of previous Cogne campaigns, rightly felt that we should start off with something not too difficult, particularly due to the age profile of his comrades.  The handiest best known route of this type being Cascade Lillaz, we headed there, only to find that there was a substantial queue at the bottom.  This came as a surprise as there was little sign of any other ice warriors in the village of Cogne.  Undeterred, we headed off through the woods to come upon a much more daunting affair which George identified as Tutto Relativo, a 4, which looked like a Rjukan 5+.   Not having ice climbed for about 10 years ( Finbarr has only done one route in Ponte Di Legno) we left Jack to belay George, and warmed up on a much smaller piece of ice to the right, placing and removing screws, and practising technique.  This proved worthwhile, as when it came out turn to climb the first pitch of the route (which George had ably led following his ‘Point 5’ practise route), we managed better than a ‘ring rusty’ Jack.  The second pitch was overhanging icicles, so we abbed off and went back down to Lillaz.  Quiter, but now beginning to melt in the late afternoon, I led the first 60m pitch, Finbarr the second, and me again the third and forth.

George had taken the steepest possible line on the first pitch, burning out Jack, so when we finished, we joined them in the café bar at Lillaz village.  Great first day.

Day 2 took us up a different valley and to the bottom of a grade 3 (looked like a Rjukan 4) called Thule.  I had a notion to lead the first pitch but cowardice set in, and when I watched George struggle, I thanked the craven gods.  Actually it wasn’t too bad on a top rope, and I began to feel comfortable on ice again.  George was belayed far back, about 20m below an ice curtain. Jack and Finbarr took a look at it and abbed off, while I belayed George.  When he reached the icicles, he was concerned lest he hadn’t enough screws, and decided to belay in a cave underneath and bring me up.  Cold water ran down his neck and the curtain looked frail, so he decided to abb off, but the screws were way off to his left, so he belayed me as I climbed up and took them out, before he lowered me back to the belay.  Some French climbers arrived at the belay and explained that it had been very dry, so what normally would have been a solid block of ice was now just a curtain of icicles, and thus harder.  We bailed!

Day 3.  Poor forecast, and heavy snow. Rest  and rugby.

Day 4.  Low cloud.  A long walk into the ‘Money’ area in poor visibility (after our initial objective was considered very avalanche prone)  sounds of many climbers led us up to the bottom of one of the most attractive routes called Cascade Di Patri 3 ( more like Picadilli Di Circuso).  What did we expect on a Sunday?  They disappeared quite quickly, and Jack and George led the first lovely pitch.  I seconded Jack and led the short second and third pitches, catching up with the hoardes on the big fourth.  Casting caution to the wind, I decided to lead, beginning a catalogue of incompetence, which I shall describe.

 A. First screw, handle gets entangled in my wrist loop- delay. B. Second screw won’t go in, as blocked with ice. C. Drop replacement screw. D. Next attempt cracks a piece of melting ice, and it has to be relocated. E. Finally get second screw in, but Elvis leg now in evidence, right glove soaking, and hand numb. F. Just as wondering if this was a good idea, Finbarr points out that he thinks my crampon has come loose.  Get lowered off. Follow George up.

Day 4.  Every day starts off with a quandary, but seems to work out.  This is no different.  Clear but brutally  cold, but at least we can see everything, everything that is buried in new snow, or has a queue.  Across the valley there is a big route, Cool Couloir, still in shadow and with only 2 climbers on it.  On reaching the bottom, we realise that it is big and steep and graded 4+, and the guys onit are not finding it easy.  George, (he of Point 5), is keen, not having climbed it before, so Finbarr belays him while I decide to take photos.  Camera drained by the -20 temperatures.  George gets up it, and I learn that I will have greatness thrust upon me as Finbarr has cold feet ( and cold everything else).   A sustained 60m pitch has me up with George.   The second looks shorter and easier so we decide to give it a go.  It is neither. The first two thirds of this 60m pitch is fine , but the top George described as Knarly.  It was that, and a few other things, but worse, I got soft snow on my glasses, couldn’t see me feet, and couldn’t let go my axes to clear them.  Somehow I got up.  2 abbs and we were down.

Day 5. Injured knee, and Achilles tendon.  Cleared up the room while the others went back to retrieve a screw dropped the day before.  Drove to Bergamo, while Jack tried to unfreeze his diesel.  Overnight in Bergamo, and home to meet the Beast from the East!!



Kyrgyzstan – Endless Summits

The Jetim Bel range is remote and little visited by outsiders, never mind climbers.  So remote are these areas that only the very highest peaks are named. Nomadic herders, tending horses, cattle and yaks are still the only people to be met. As we arrived in mid September the higher valleys had already been emptied and the lower yurts were being packed away.
We climbed four peaks in total with one probable first ascent and all First Irish Ascents.

The first base camp in the Naryn Valley at an altitude of about 2950m, was reached by the versatile Kamaz six wheel drive vehicles in about 6 hours from Bishkek. After an acclimatisation visit to the twin lakes at 3500m we were ready for our first ascent. During the night snow had fallen and the start felt like a Scottish winter. Soon the sun came out though and the climb to the romantically named Pt 4327 improved. This was a relatively simple peak, up snow to the col but the final shale slope was tiring after the 7km approach. By the time we returned to camp the sun had cleared most of the snow.
The next day we moved camp, driving some 50Km east to the confluence of Naryn and little Naryn rivers. In the afternoon we ascended Pt4069 to recce the next day. Pt 4343 was a slightly more technical Peak but easier to ascend (1300, F) once the snow was reached.

This area was visited by a French Party in 2004, but there were no records of them climbing this peak, nor was there a cairn.
Camp 3 was a further 10km east at a shade below 3000m. Again we ascended to a summit above camp (pt 4005) to spy the route opposite.

The final peak, Pt 4624, was almost entirely on snow but the recent fall made going a little difficult,  (900m PD-). The final summit ridge dropped away dramatically, making the summit rocks a challenge.

Summary: Within a few hours flight of Dublin is an extremely remote area with loads of potential for exploration. There is positively loads to do here without much technical difficulty or the need for extensive acclimatisation, meaning a trip can easily be fitted into annual leave.

Irish Sikkim Expedition, a personal perspective.


Why did I go?  I knew the terrain was tough, the weather patterns unhelpful, and there would be long periods in the sleeping bags between short periods of euphoria.  Maybe I had to get the monkey off my back after leaving the previous expedition almost as soon as I got to base camp. Maybe I thought it would be different this time, maybe I thought that with a fit young team of cutting edge climbers we would achieve something special?  Maybe I wanted another great adventure, or maybe I just needed to lose weight.


No time wasted on the approach. Into Kolkata, and the next evening we were back in Joe Wongden’s homestay in Mangan (he who has a sister in Antrim).  Never thought I would be back there again. A day for Raja to buy food, and the next day we were on the road again, but only half way to Beh, as a land slip in August had dammed the river and created a lake (and 18 submerged houses).  We unloaded, crossed by dinghy, and got 2 more jeeps on the other side.  The approach by foot started the next morning.  Another landslide had swept away the path necessitating a very difficult exposed traverse across the cliff, during which one of our 16 porters fell.  Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt, but our supply of vegetables landed in the river, and was last seen making good progress down the Ganges towards Kolkata (resulting in a restricted menu of rice and Dhal).  We made the Tolung Gompa about 2.00 PM (never thought I would be back there again) despite the attentions of leeches, killer bees, giant ticks and a cobra.  Next evening to Tolung Yak camp (without the yaks) and then river camp, then the ascent from hell to base camp (never thought……..).  The weather was good to base camp, but as soon as we arrived it clagged in and rained and snowed for a couple of days.  After that it settled to a pattern where it was clear from 5.00AM to about 11.00, and after that rain, snow, mist etc


We crossed the river up at the lake (at the cost of one broken and mangled finger to Piaras) and set up ABC at 4300m in the valley above and to the right, with dramatic views of the Singel chu Needles. In the next four days we climbed 3 unclimbed peaks near the camp, Diwali Lho 4960 Scottish Gr 111 apparently, and two others either side of a saddle, the second a VS rock climb.  Another peak was attempted from a high camp, but abandoned due to danger of frostbite.  The photos of this area do not even come close to doing it justice.  These guys are good climbers who, having studied pictures taken by the 2014 expedition, had big ideas about routes on the most challenging Zumthul Phuk peaks and needles.  They were unprepared for the scale, technicality, and level of commitment required when they saw them in the flesh, and wisely settled for coming home alive.  Up in the valley of ABC there are numerous more amenable unclimbed peaks, but with long moraine approaches.  Back at base camp, 3 had had enough hardship, and descended with Raja, who was going down to arrange porters and a visa extension.  Five stayed a further 3 days.  We did a bit of exploration towards the German pass, but I developed a sore ankle after that, and decided to rest it before the descent from hell.  Painkillers and determination got me down to Tolung Gompa in 9 hours, and the following day something similar to Mangan.  This was the best couple of days weather we had!


A day in Mangan, two in Darjeeling, and overnight on the train to Kolkata, with Raja entertaining us to dinner and a Bollywood Band on the last night.  Didn’t climb to the summit of anything, but it was a great full on mountaineering experience, pure exploration, despite the hardships.  Good bunch of lads from Ireland and girl from Finland, with never a harsh word spoken, and Raja’s team of Lackpa, Irun, Rakesh and Phurba were cheerful and tireless.


 Oh aye, and Raja found some footprints……..


Remembrance Sunday

  • 8Jeremy and I met at 9am  by Leenan beach. I had a map, a compass and a GPS. I also had a fit guide who knew where we were going. Jeremy was less well equipped; he had me.

After a short walk along a nearly level road we encountered our first nearly impassable obstable.  Luckily Jeremy had dealt with it before and opened the gate. Despite my attempts to slow him down it didn’t seem long until we were near the top.  Jeremy stopped to look at the view. I tried to pick up my lungs which I had coughed into the heather. 

It was a brief trot to the site of the wellington’s 1941 crash. There is a geocache here, some debris, a wheel strut and a small memorial cross. Although it was only 10.30, I left a poppy and we left.

Despite my best efforts to go downhill, my guide said we should go up. I have to admit he was right but I remembered why I prefer climbing to walking.

We were soon back at the cars with my reputation, for finishing early, intact. 

Thank you for the directions Jeremy and thank you to 5 airmen for me not being on a wanderweg. 


Malin – a walk on the wild side

Sunday 2nd Oct 2016

 While the CCC were having their AGM and meet in West Donegal (Apologies sent), the sun shone on Malin Head and there was wall to wall blue sky. I had a couple of hours to spend so off I went.

 I headed for Banba’s Buttress and descended ‘Malin Head Shuffle’ and went out towards the water’s edge to get a closeup of the waves and the western entrance to ‘The Chasm’. Then it was up the start of ‘Malin Android’ to commence ‘Skywalker’ traverse. To escape I climbed ‘Yoda’s Staircase’ 

 Then it was on to the 1st Headland. I don’t know the name for it but it is the one with a Cross on Top. I down climbed one of Bren Whelan’s climbs on the southern corner and then crossed the narrow 1st Zawn and climbed ‘Freebird’. It was drier today unlike yesterday (Saturday). 

Then it was on to the Knobble Amphitheatre. Descent on the slabs on the northern wall to a point at the end of the large rock pool. From here the slightly rising ‘Amphitheatre Traverse’ always entertains me until I am forced up by (Alphie’s) triangular slab and then on to the very obvious fault line and to escape the amphitheatre I climbed up ‘Land  Ahoy’.  

  On the way back to the  car park I descended ‘Grainne’s Ledge’ crossed the floor of the 1st Zawn and  scrambled up  ‘The Edge’  on the northern side of the cross (1st Headland). Then it was back home  in time for dinner. What a way to whet one’s appetite.

Chamonix fun in the sun


Chamonix: a mecca for skiers, mountain bikers, trail runners and above all climbers. PJ and I had missed out on climbing there with the MI meet there a few years ago and again last year when the weather was just awful, but we were determined to get the little T@B caravan there this year and have our turn. Initially sworn to secrecy, we thought we’d have a sneaky attempt at Mont Blanc and maybe pip Keith to the post, after his multiple past attempts but we soon couldn’t help telling people excitedly “We’re going to Chamonix!!”


PJ’s mountain rescue team were planning a trip too, so we arranged to hook up with them, though we were taking the leisurely Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry route and driving down to Chamonix and having a 2.5 week holiday. The lads had 7 days and were hitting the hills fast and hard.


We arrived at Iles de Barrat campsite on Sat 28th August and were treated to a marvellous thunderstorm that night. Main street Chamonix outside The Pub was literally a river.


Sunday was climbing on hot rock (it literally burned your hand in the afternoon sun) at Les Gaillands, a very handy crag less than a mile from the campsite.


The team arrived that afternoon and routes were discussed for the next day. Billy had been there a few days doing the Dome de Miages and a solo run over the Trois Monts, ending with a bivvy at the Nid d’Aigle train station having missed the last train down. Hardcore in that thunderstorm! He and Roy K were off to the Conscrits hut next day which left 8 of us deciding what to do.


PJ and I had thought a leisurely acclimatisation on Petite Aiguille Verte but Robbie had other plans: a straight climb from the valley floor at Le Tour up to Aiguille de Tour (2000m of ascent), back to Albert Premier hut for the night, then Tete Blance and Petit Fourche the next day. No messing and you can forget the gondola too!


Our enthusiam wilted a little next morning as we struggled to find the path to the ridge up to the Albert Premier (there’s a clearer but more circuitous route round the back, using the gondola). Then it became clear that Robbie’s guesstimate of a “2 hours no bother” climb up the steep ridge was, for us mere mortals, a tad eager.


Anyway we reached the hut and previous residents exclaimed how new and refurbished it all looked, the previous hut having been a bit of a “shithole”. A 30 minute break and we were off to the Aiguille de Tour but we hadn’t yet reached the Col de Tour before there was much dragging of feet and gasping breath. We struggled over the col, and made it to about 150m below the summit at 3.15pm before making the decision to turn around. Dale, our enthusiastic first time alpinist, wanted to push on, “It’s just there!” but the rest of us were too busted and more concerned about making it back in time for dinner at 6:30!


A 6:30am start next morning and we were back over the same Col de Tour, this time on fresh legs we covered the samedistance in half the time. The guidebook we’d read suggested an AD route 150m up the north face of Tete Blanche but one look at the overhanging bergschrund was enough to tell us that the beginners in the group were never getting up it, so we settled for the scrambly north east ridge instead. From the summit it’s a short hoof across the col to the steep snowy north slope of the Petit Fourche, which finally involved a little ice axe fun as you zig-zag up it.


The descent all the way back to Le Tour was initially exciting as we negotiated the steep glacier with several crevasses but then the trudging began. The knees weren’t up to the steep ridge so we descended by the longer route, aiming for the gondola. The feet were in quite a bit of pain by the time we gratefully reached it and paid our €13. I’d have paid €50 to be honest!


Wednesday was a day off and I spent the morning scanning the Gouter hut website for free beds that weekend, eventually securing 2 beds for me and PJ and informing the lads that there were 4 other beds. Using Rab’s phone to book these 4 places however I must have entered his email address wrong because, although we saw a “successful booking” page, we didn’t get the confirmation email. Several trips to the Mountain Guides office couldn’t clarify if we definitely had the beds and it wasn’t until we arrived there on the Friday night that we could breathe a sigh of relief as the guardian looked us up and said “Row-bare??” (French for Robert).


Roy M’s knees had had enough and he was flying home, Billy and Roy K had rock climbing plans, the newly arrived Pete along with Mike and Robbie were off to the Conscrits hut, so that left PJ, myself, Rab, Nigel and Dale to do Mont Blanc. Rab’s 4th bed would have to go begging. So what to do on the Thursday? As usual time was of the essence for the guys, so if we wanted to do the Cosmiques Arete it was now or never.


We were up for the first lift to the Aiguille de Midi but so was half of Chamonix, still we were up there by 9am and raring to go… sort of. Problem number 1: several of us had just seen climbers pick their way down the NE snow ridge with that awful drop to the left and there were a few nervous trips to the loo to be had first. Problem number 2: Nigel had left his crampons behind. Luckily Mike was able to get them to a friendly elderly Scottish couple on the bottom lift and, with a little bit of texting, arranged to handover at the top. Meanwhile PJ and I geared up in the ice tunnel, getting relentlessly photographed by Japanese tourists, then it was time to swing open the little gate and teeter out.


“Oh Mummy!” I had flashbacks of the top of Matterhorn as we picked our way down, short gasping breaths, heart racing a million miles an hour, do NOT trip up, do NOT trip up… Phew, we’re down!


The bowl of the Vallee Blance is a magnificent place to be, the Rochefort Arete, Dent de Geant, Point Helbronner, Tacul, Maudit and Mont Blanc all surrounding you. As we trundled over to the start of the ridge we were stunned to see climbers high on the blank looking face of Éperon des Cosmiques. Seriously tough looking grade 6 climbing at least.


When Rab, Nigel and Dale caught us up we set off up the ridge and from the start you realise “this is gonna be a bit testy”. Solid severe grade climbing that never lets up. Route finding was initially straight forward but at the first gendarme we had to work it out, then at the abseils it wasn’t entirely clear where to abseil to, but a best guess got us there. At this point several parties (both Éperon and Arete ascenders) had caught up with us so we cleverly allowed them through and watched where they went. This worked for the next few chimney and slab sections until they were so far ahead we were back to best guessing. The crux pitch was a highly polished affair and tough in big boots but I laced the crack with gear and thrust up, leaving the gear for Rab’s team. By the time we reached the exit chimneys I was glad for the day to be nearly over. I think the longer I’m on a route like that the more my head goes “You’ve made it this far, don’t balls it up now!”, whereas the rest of the guys, especially PJ, seemed to have become inured to the big drops.


The final clamber up the rickety ladder to the platform is hilarious, dozens of clapping tourists eager to take your picture and ask stupid questions like “How far could you fall???” After a team photot we lunched in the restaurant, anything for a few more hours at altitude, then it was back to camp to pack for the big one.


The Bellevue cable car and Mont Blanc tramway to Nid D’Aigle are a very pleasant way to get to 2300m below the Aiguille be Bionnassay but then it’s 1500m of climbing to the Gouter hut. An initial hoof becomes steeper as you turn for the short Tete Rousse glacier crosssing, then it’s the notorious Grand Couloir. The weather had been gloriously sunny all week and we’d heard previous horror stories when the weather had been too warm, bur we had no problems on it, bar the effort of running with a full pack at 3200m, no stonefall at all. The final ridge is a long 700m climb with several steep scrambly sections in the middle and more to finish, this time with the aid of wire ropes though.


The Gouter hut is a magnificent edifice, visible from way below the Tete Rousses, inside it’s all pale wood and warmth with airplane-style views out the windows. The airplane effect is continued with the vacuum toilets. The comfy quilted beds were made use of for an afternoon doze before dinner and we were all tired enough to go straight back there after dinner, none of the usual beer and card game shenanigans.


Up at 2am and out by torch light at 2:15am to join the conga line. The hut had only felt 3/4 full and several of those were guided clients who’d ascended the day before from Tete Rousses and were headed down, so the route didn’t feel too congested. In fact PJ and I were probably the 3rd or 4th party on the line. The climb up to the Dome De Gouter felt interminable, the party in front of us were frustratingly just a little slower, enough to constantly break up our rhythm but not slow enough that we could accelerate past them. Things started to break up a little once we reached the plateau and parties rested and again at the Vallot hut where we 5 had a quick snack, so that we basically had the Bosses ridge to ourselves. By now daylight was arriving and the narrowness of the ridge was quickly becoming evident. Our initial “100 steps and pause” method was now reduced to “50 steps and pause” and again the mantra of “Do NOT trip up!” echoed in my brain.


Off the ridge there is a small rise and then you reach a crevasse with a steep wall behind, which thankfully had steps cut it into it and a fixed rope. So a leap over the crevasse, grab the rope with one hand, ice axe buried with the other and haul yourself up. Then it’s up the final narrow summit ridge, over a false summit, then suddenly there is nothing else above you. We’d made good enough time that only one party was heading back down the summit ridge but I for one was glad when they stepped aside rather than us. The breath was really short now, 50 steps had maybe become 40, I was leaning on my ice axe when we stopped and my trembling calves were making me sway a little which unnerved me. “Do NOT trip up!”


At 6:59am we were on the top and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but I hugged PJ and we took several pictures as we waited for Rab, Nigel and Dale. The forecast had said clear weather but it was quite overcast and extremely cold in the biting wind, so there wasn’t much celebration. I tried looking out for the Matterhorn but couldn’t see it and eventually the pain in my hands prompted us to leave.


Strangely I felt more confident descending the narrow ridges, I suppose when every step isn’t a monumental effort you can actually enjoy yourself, and I enjoyed the views more on the (long) way down. We were back at the Gouter hut by 9:30am and took a well deserved 2nd breakfast of pizza and Orangina. An hour later the horrible final descent began. We had to make the train at Nid d’Aigle for 2:45pm, they’d cancelled half the trams and the 5pm one wouldn’t let us catch the finalBellvue cable car, sothe race was on. That 700m initial steep ridge took longer to go down than up, some 2.5 hours and we feared missing the tram but we eventually made it with time to spare despite lots of aching, numb toes.


Billy was retiring, his official last day of work was Sunday so, with a big hill to celebrate too, we all headed out in Chamonix, lumbering from one blaringly loud bar to another and imbibing several expensive whiskies. There was even a bit of dancing too, despite the tired legs. I think PJ and I struggled back at 3am and awoke next day with missing memories and a missing watch, that was later found inside the Portaloo, but that’s another story.


The guys were headed home and PJ and I had had enough of the big peaks so we packed up and headed over to Lake Annecy. We spent a pleasant few days on the municipal campsite, whose only drawback was the fact it was at the top of a steep winding hill. My legs protested every time we returned from quaffing beer blanche and rose wine in the late afternoon sunshine in old town.


We found time, amid the quaffing, to do the via ferrata at La Clusaz, an achingly beautiful alpine village just below the Col de Aravis. 100m of ascent through the woods from the car park to the start of the climb, then 300m of D grade ferrata, then descend round the back to the car again. Great fun, especially the overhanging difficult exit (there’s an easier exit too).


So one of the most memorable alpine trips in years, we really lucked out with the weather, it only ever could have been called “dull” on that Wednesday rest day. Still, there remains lots of stuff to do in Chamonix and this won’t be our last trip there.