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skiing approach to multi-pitch rock climbs

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kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,643

Yesterday my first time reaching a (non-solo) rock climb using skis. Then after my partner climbed six mixed-Trad pitches on fun-featured granite, made five double-rope rappels back down to the snow, and skied down 5000 vertical feet back to parking. With the aid of mechanical lifts.

I'm feeling I'd like to do it again with favorable conditions. Key component of "favorable" is mechanical lifts in operation -- because otherwise hauling up rope and protection gear in addition to the weight of skis and related gear gets to be very non-fun for me very quickly. Another component is being able to rappel back down to the base of the route. Another is non-windy. Another is not-to-cold. Nice to have is direct sunshine.

So I think it's a good season now in some regions of the northern hemisphere.

I recall somebody recently slogged up to the popular East Face route and then hauled their skis up that famous rock climb to the summit of Mt Whitney. Not my kind of fun, so ...

I'm thinking I will do most of my skiing to "rock with ropes+protection" routes in Europe. Because there's lots of good multi-pitch rock routes there, and more important lots more mechanical lifts than USA or Canada. In France many ski lifts continue operation to mid-April, and a few into early May.

Yesterday we climbed on the Aiguille du Refuge (10000ft / 3057m) the ultra-classic route "Bettembourg de droite" (5.9 TD- 650ft) : lots of interesting outdoor moves, including some sustained chimney/gully sections climbed with thought rather than squirming.

We got there by first riding two lifts from Argentiere (town just N of Chamonix) up to the Grands Montets top station, then skiing down 1800 ft / 575m vertical to the Argentiere glacier. Next attached friction skins the base of our skis and hiked up on our skis +320 ft / 185m (across the roof of the Refuge d'Argentiere hut) to the base of our rock route. Left our ski boots there and climbed in rock shoes.

After the rappeling back down to our skis + boots, skied down (this time well below the hut) on the mostly rather gentle Argentiere glacier, a long ways, then exited onto its left-side slope, and finally reached a groomed ski trail -- which still left lots of skiing down to the parking.

Funny thing from a skier's perspective is that the many times while we were climbing we could hear the sound of skis scraping and chattering on overnight-refrozen snow. Did not sound like fun downhill gliding to me. But then when we skied the snow surface had turned soft, a nice thin layer of "mush" to  provide easy edging for our skis.


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,643

other rocks to climb with ski approach+descent?

Popular around Chamonix is the "Pointes Lachenal" with several mixed-Trad routes on featured granite.
Advantage is that the base of the rock can be reached by skiing down from the top station of the Aiguille du Midi lift, with little uphill needed. Then after climbing and rappeling, a long long ski down the Mer de Glace glacier (the ultra-famous Vallee Blanche run) with a short steep uphill (on stairs?) near its end by Montenvers station.

Interesting that the routes on Pointes Lachenal are easier with approach by skiing (when the Mer de Glace glacier descent is in condition to ski)
because without the long ski descent, instead need to return to the top station of the Aiguille du Midi, so
. . . either . . .
(a) Rappel back to bottom and hike back up from there, hauling double-ropes and Trad protection the whole way up.
. . . or . . .
(b) Haul mountain boots (and crampons? ice axe? up the climb, then do the semi-technical traverse of the summit ridge followed by a shorter hike up to the lift top station.
Many summer non-skiing parties choose (b).

There are other ski-approachable rock routes from the Aiguille du Midi in the Michel Piola guidebook Envers des Aiguilles.


P.S. big advantage of skis for many of the rock routes above the Refuge d'Argentiere is not so much that it changes the approach or descent route (if wait until the date the Grands Montets lift begins summer operation), but that skis make it easier to climb a great alpine rock route in a single day from parking. And of course it's just more fun (in favorable snow conditions) to glide down skiing than to "pound" down booting.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,643

Yesterday with Alex climbed the classic route "Diedre Central" on the Plateau du Jardin (between bottom of Glacier du Milieu and Refuge d'Argentiere) a bit north in France from Mont Blanc.

Sustained interesting climbing on featured granite, but much focused on laybacking to the right side - (not much stemming, despite the "dihedral" name) - (and not much jamming, despite being having lots of crack sections to take Trad protection). Crux rating is 6a, and much of the rest is rather Euro 5b. The 5b is often converted to YDS USA rating of 5.8, but I think those are old-school Chamonix difficulty scale -- so safer to guess that it's only "5.8" if you've climbed lots of Chamonix layback cracks, or you're way strong for that (since you'll need to hold the layback while placing gear sometimes). Fits my usual advice to better be solid on outdoor 5.10a/b before trying Mont Blanc granite routes.

Straightforward double-rope rappel descent sequence (nice if need to get back to where you left your skis at the bottom). Faces somewhat SW or W, so did not get sun until we were about mid-way up thru the six pitches.

Some tricky "engineering" thru snow at bottom to reach the rock. Then all the rock was dry on the route itself. But then on our return to the bottom the snow had turned to a meter deep of soft "rotten" mush. However once we had our skis on and glided off from bottom of climbing route, the downhill turning was just fine ...
and skiing down the Glacier and then to the piste back to Lognan proved to be a rather pleasant way to descend from a rock climb. Reaching the climb was easy because the high traverse from the Grands Montets top station was in rather good condition.


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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