Travels abroad continued...

12th Mar 2010

Initially, the ice came in the form of a ‘lump’ created by water pipes in a village called Aguilles. The walk in was hideous, probably a whole one and half minutes from the van, it was hell!! We’d come here as it seemed like a good place to kick things off. Plenty of easy leads and some harder stuff to top rope to get the technique back. Tim hadn’t done anything for a long time exercise-wise, so a gentle start was the order of the day.

It was great fun and my first lead felt very odd. I guess it’s been about 4-5 years since I’ve whacked ice and it definitely took me a few routes to get my head back a bit. Just learning to read the ice and trust placements etc. It was an interesting process and a good way to start, nothing too full on but enough to get in the groove. Also, to my pleasure the weather was nice and I was warm. A novel feeling for me, in fact since we’d got to the Ecrins it had felt significantly warmer than Sheffield, it didn’t bode well for the ice really.

We spent a couple of days at this venue just pottering, having fun and getting back into the flow. I would’ve liked the routes to be longer but hey, you can’t have everything. Tim’s elbows were pretty sore, so we were limited to single pitch routes as he couldn’t really get ensconced in a bigger route due to the pain. We also did some funky ice images featuring the new Grivel gear I was using which really is awesome, I especially love my new Matrix Tech axes. They are light and have a great swinging action, I’m definitely into the leashless thing. I used the leashes once and got very annoyed with them and took them off for the rest of the trip.

Meanwhile, the snow was falling in Vallouise and the surrounding areas, which obviously wasn’t great for avalanche risk. So the next day we went on a snow shoeing trek. It was very beautiful walking along tree lined paths, with the snow falling around us and a serene quiet enveloping the valley. We had planned to trek into Ailfroide and it’s surrounding area, I’ve been in Summer and it’s lovely. But the snow stopped us from driving that way, so we just stepped out of the door to the chalet and went off exploring.

We had a lovely day exploring, found little bits of ice (but nothing worth coming back for) and got back weary but happy.

After this, I hooked up with Louise Kennedy who has moved to Briancon and we went in search of ice. I wasn’t familiar with the area and she’d been back in the UK for a bit, so we didn’t really know which routes were in and didn’t have a fixed plan. So we came up with a couple of route ideas and walked into the Fressinieres Valley. Wow, it was stunning and there was some fantastic ice around, with some very inspiring looking routes. But unfortunately although the nights were quite cold, the days were oddly warm and from our safe position on the path we were shown the delights of mini avalanches and ice routes collapsing! It was impressive and humbling, so we decided to scuttle away…

Louise knew of some single pitch routes that were probably in, near L’Argentiere, so we went to find them.

Finally, we got some routes done, ok they were nearly slush and probably a bit dodgy but my route felt quite long (I wasn’t used to anything over 14m (Foundry height!) and had a demanding little pillar on it. I was glad I’d had the two days at Aguilles to get my head together. If this had been my first route of the trip, I would’ve pooed my pants.

It was satisfying to get it done, although as the ice was very sugary, I’m not sure if the screws would’ve held and as the ice was receding, the top out was a bare forest and we had to climb up on tree roots, it was quite novel. As it turned out that was the last of my ice climbing, as we had to some more of Tim’s Blacks pictures before heading home.

Ironically the next day was Baltic! Minus degress with a biting wind. The models (Giles, Louise, Robin and Cristel) got on with it though. We had so many jackets to shoot that we didn’t finish til 7pm, it was a full on day at quite a few different venues but fun though.

Suddenly, it was time to go home. I felt a bit robbed as it had flown by but I didn’t feel I’d done anything I came out to do.

The snow conditions were amazing but I’d only managed a day, the ice wasn’t so good but realistically dry tooling might have been a better option but I really wanted to climb ice.

So we packed the chalet and headed home. It took two days to get back to Sheff as we went the non-toll roads route. It worked well but was slower but the charges for our van seemed astronomical, so we put our foot down and on principle stayed off the autoroute. I like France a lot but it seems an expensive place to go these days, Spain is taking the top spot for me these days.

Getting back to Sheff was nice because we were reunited with Kodo. She’d been looked after (not sure that’s the right word) by my 16 year old nephew Jake. She still seems a bit traumatised from it poor girl. Jake’s routine is not what she was used to and she had a little bit of adjusting to do, I think she had a lot of late nights!

Yet again, my climbing isn’t in any sort of groove, I was trying to keep things going at the foundry before I left and have managed one session this week. I was a bit pathetic but it was good to get some mileage even if it was a little depressing, one just has to push on.

I am very busy at the moment, I’m off to present films at Shaff soon for the weekend (the winners get announced at 8pm on Sunday evening), then Tim and I are off to Nice area for six days climbing. I have coaching dotted here and there and I’m going to see the dog whisperer at Sheffield Arena- YES!

Also, I’ll be at The Outdoor Show in two weeks for three days on the DMM stand, signing posters and hanging out chatting to people. Phew!