Report: 17 May 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 17 May 2023

What can we say...

Certainly beautiful weather for the mountains and the rivers, but difficult for actually getting out in the mountains! “Capricieuse” and unpredictable weather in this month of May. We could say go south and climb, in Finale, in Sardinia or to go to Lourdes but it's not much better there! Weather windows have been rare.

On the positive side, it's snowing high up. Faces, couloirs and glaciers continue to get healthier before the summer. Skis and snowshoes are essential to get around in the mountains.

There has been very little activity in the mountains in recent weeks. So here are a few brief news items:

  • The road to the Emosson dam will be open from this Wednesday evening.
  • A few people have been up to the Albert 1er refuge. Up the moraine path, snow at the water intake at about 2,000m. Then a good trail on foot to the refuge. There are no tracks beyond that point, so you'll need skis or snowshoes to get around.
  • As the work has progressed faster than expected, the decree which regulated access to the Argentière basin has been repealed.
  • The Mer de Glace gondola and grotto are closed until 2 June.
  • The Couvercle refuge is open, but access is rather complicated. Contact the guardian who should have a bit more information today!
  • The Aiguille du Midi cable car is open, as is the Cosmiques refuge. The Skyway will reopen on 26 May. The arête is now completely unequipped. Climbing teams have been to the Pointes Lachenal, Contamine-Negri, Chéré, Voie Nomale on the Tacul (beware of avalanche risk), Cosmiques Arête. The approaches have been tracked. For the Trois Monts, waiting for a suitable weather window. The traverse between the Col du Mont Maudit and the Col de la Brenva will be on ice (to be confirmed).
  • The Grands Mulets refuge is also still open (25 cm of snow between yesterday and tonight). Access is fine (skirt the Pélerins glacier and the Jonction low down). An attempt via the Goûter N ridge led to the summit last Saturday, a great way to optimise the time slot!
  • The huts on the normal route of Mont Blanc via the Aiguille du Goûter have again postponed their opening dates (Tête Rousse on Friday 26 May; Goûter on Saturday 27 May) due to the weather conditions and the heavy snow cover.
  • The Plan Glacier hut opens tomorrow until Sunday 21 May, then from 26 to 29 May and finally 7 days a week from 3 June. Trainers up to the second moraine.
  • The Conscrits hut (30cm of fresh snow over the last 24 hours) is also open. The snow starts just after the Mauvais Pas. Mont Tondu and the N faces of Tré la Tête look good. On the descent by the Armancette glacier, skis off at around 2,000m.

As far as hiking goes, the snow is slowly but surely receding! No big change then. Many of the high altitude hikes, as well as treks lasting several days, are not yet possible. We regularly update the practicable hikes in our dedicated news.



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.




Tom Hornbein

We are saddened to learn of the death of Honorary member Tom Hornbein on 6 May 2023 at the age of 92.

Graeme Nicol

We have learned of the death on 30 April of Graeme Nicol.  He became a member of the ACG in 1959, and on retirement from the ACG. an AC member from 1978.  The funeral will take place on Friday 12th May at 13:15 at the Crematorium at Hazlehead in Aberdeen.

Everest Kangshung Face - First Ascent of the Neverest Buttress | Alpine Journal Extract

Everest Kangshung Face - First Ascent of the Neverest Buttress | Alpine Journal Extract

In 1988, a small team of climbers from America, Canada and the UK made the first ascent of a new route on Everest's Kangshung Face. In the process, Stephen Venables became the first Briton to summit the mountain without the aid of supplemental Oxygen. In a piece for the Alpine Journal, he detailed the ascent. What becomes clear from Stephen's prose is the incredible allure that the adventurous nature of this expedition held for him: to visit the Kama Valley, to set foot on this incredible face and to be a key cog in such a small, interdependent team. What also shines through are the friendships he formed with his compatriots, men who he had not met prior to the expedition but with whom he became lifelong friends. 

The original piece is reproduced below to mark 35 years since the day that Stephen reached the summit.

At 6.30pm on Tuesday, 10 May 1988, Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, Ed Webster and I broke through a cornice at the top of the Kangshung face and stepped out on to the world's most desolate mountain pass. We were the first people ever to reach the South Col from Tibet. Two days later I stood on the summit of Everest. Seven days later - after a protracted, harrowing retreat which nearly cost us our lives - we were all safely down at Advanced Base on the Kangshung glacier.

Everest - Kangshung face 1988. Paul Teare climbing fixed ropes on the lower buttress.

If we had died on Everest, we would perhaps have been dismissed as irresponsible fools but, because we returned, both the public and the mountaineering world have been indulgent, brushing aside uncomfortable questions about some of the risks we took in their eagerness to praise. People like success and ours was a dramatic success. We made the second ascent of the notorious Kangshung face, by a completely new route, starting with some of the most sensational technical climbing ever achieved on the mountain. Our four­ man team, climbing without any support and without supplementary oxygen, was the smallest ever to achieve a new route on Everest, and I was the first Briton to reach the summit without oxygen.

The genesis of 'Everest 88' was haphazard. In 1985 an American climber, Robert Anderson, spent eight days above 8,000m on the West Ridge Direct, eventually being forced to retreat only 250m from the summit. He applied almost immediately for another attempt on Everest; the first available permit was for the Kangshung face in the spring of 1988. The W ridge attempt had been a huge overstaffed shambles, but this time Robert would be leader and the team would be small. He invited two of his companions from 1985, Ed Webster and Jay Smith, who recommended the Canadian Paul Teare. Then he employed Wendy Davis in New York to raise the money. The expedition became the '35th Anniversary Assault', with Peter Hillary also invited on the climbing team and Tenzing Norgay's son, Norbu, on the support team. The leader of the 1953 expedition, Lord Hunt, agreed to be 'honorary leader' of this anniversary attempt, on condition that a British climber was invited to join what was essentially an American venture. And so in the autumn of 1987, quite out of the blue, I was asked to join the team.

I felt honoured, flattered and very grateful to John Hunt, but I had to think hard before accepting. The only previous ascent of the E face of Everest, in 1983, had been the work of a large team using sophisticated ropework, complete with motorized winches, to tame a gigantic rock-buttress and gain access to the central glaciated spur. Robert proposed tackling the face with half the number of climbers, by a route further left which, although shorter and therefore more feasible, was possibly more threatened by the notorious Kangshung avalanches. If his plan worked and we did reach the South Col, there would be no possibility of carrying up oxygen for the remaining 850m to the summit. The risks of oxygenless climbing had been graphically illustrated on K2 in 1986 and, of the 20 people who had so far climbed Everest without oxygen, four had not returned.

Several leading American climbers, including John Roskelley, declined invitations. Jay Smith dropped out. Peter Hillary decided not to come after all. That left just four climbers - Robert, Paul, Ed and myself - for now, by Christmas, I had decided to accept. A visit to Tibet's Kama valley, the beautiful approach to the Kangshung face, was an opportunity not to be missed. And if we did actually set foot on the was the biggest and most spectacular on the mountain, and it would be an interesting problem. With just four of us there would be no redundancy, for each person would be fully stretched, sharing equally in the drudgery of load-carrying and the excitement of leading. It had to be worth a try.

My hunch that this improbable expedition had a chance of working was reinforced in January 1988, when I met Robert and some of the support team in New York. Six weeks later I met the other two climbers, Ed Webster and Paul Teare, in Kathmandu. Now we were on our way to the mountain and, in the best tradition of the pre-war expeditions, it was to be a gentle leisurely approach. Instead of the usual modern rush, we had time to enjoy radiant mornings at the Swoyumbunath temple and to bicycle out to Bakhtepur, time to wait two days at the Chinese border without fretting, time at Xegar to climb up a 5,000m hill and contemplate the great snow-plume streaming from the summit of Everest.

The walk-in from the roadhead at Kharta, which was supposed to take four days, took 23, because heavy snowfalls reinforced the Tibetan porters' traditional antipathy to the work ethic. But again, this gave us the chance to get to know each other, to unwind and acclimatize. Four times we broke trail up to the 5,500m Langma La, and on every occasion the light was different as we enjoyed one of the finest mountain views in the world - Chomolonzo, Makalu, Pethangtse, Lhotse and Everest, encircling the meadows and glaciers of the Kama valley.

When we did eventually reach Base Camp on 29 March, we must have been one of the best-prepared teams ever to attempt the mountain. We were perfectly acclimatized and reasonably fit; but, more important, we were mentally prepared. There was a calmness and confidence which no amount of 'training' at home could have achieved. And now we knew each other, appreciating our complementary qualities. Paul, like me, was no great rock­ climber - more an all-round mountaineer, with a streak of impatience. Our tastes and personalities were very different, but I and everyone else found him warm-hearted and funny, and it was mainly his banter which had kept the porters sweet during the approach. Ed was quieter, more contemplative, slower, perhaps more sensitive to the risks; but he had enormous reserves of strength and experience and was certainly the most talented climber on the team - our chief technician. Robert, as chairman, made the right decision to keep us swapping partners - avoiding a destructive 'A Team'/'B Team' mentality - and as instigator of the whole mad project he maintained an insuppressible optimism that inspired us all.

We made an efficient four-man climbing team, but we needed relief from each other at Base Camp. Mimi Zieman, our doctor, Joe Blackburn, the photographer, Pasang Nurbu, the cook (whose first Everest expedition had been under Angtharkay in 1962) and Kasang Tsering, his young assistant from Kharta, brought our numbers up to eight. Without their company it would have been a much duller expedition, and I doubt whether we could have climbed the mountain. Our only disappointment was that the additional support team never reached Base Camp because of the delayed approach. Wendy Davis, helped by Miklos Pinther of the United Nations and Sandy Wylie from New Zealand, had secured sponsorship from American Express, Burroughs Wellcome, Kiehl Cosmetics, Lindblad Travel, Kodak, Petroconsultants, Rolex and the Weaver Coat Company, thus making the expedition possible. Robert Dorival had done a superb job in organizing the food. Norbu Tenzing had organized all the travel, and it was a great shame that he never saw the E face of the mountain about which he had heard so much from his father.

Base Camp was at about 5,000m in a grassy ablation valley on the north bank of the Kangshung glacier. We kept on 20 porters to do one carry to Advanced Base so that we could install ourselves immediately, at 5,450m, ready to start work on 3 April.

Robert offered me first lead, so that on my very first day's climbing on Everest I found myself exploring interesting ground - in this case an 80m wall of banded granite and quartzite, smeared with enough ice to make it interesting­ probably Scottish Grade 4. We fixed nearly 400m of rope that day, and during the following five days we continued to make steady progress up the initial buttress. I tend to succumb too readily to superlatives, but I really think that those six days were amongst the best I have ever spent in the mountains. Contrary to popular myth, an Everest expedition can be enormous fun. The actual climbing - technical, varied and demanding- would have been a delight anywhere; but it was the surroundings - la grande ambience, as the French guidebooks would have it- that made it so special. Our buttress projected from the back of a huge amphitheatre, with the unclimbed 3,000m NE face of Lhotse on one side and the Americans' 1983 buttress on the right. It was a fantastic world of huge striated rock-walls, exquisitely fragile snow-flutings and improbable ice-towers, which soon acquired names like Big Al, the Greyhound Bus, the Gargoyle and the Cauliflower Towers, prompted by familiarity tinged with fear. Sections of the route, particularly the great seracs of the Cauliflower Ridge, were a little dubious, but certainly no more dangerous than the Khumbu ice-fall in an average year.

Everest Kangshung face. Ed Webster on the easy middle section starting for Camp II on 9 May.
The spectacular 1983 buttress rises out of the clouds.
Khartse, climbed by Mallory in 1921, is the obvious pyramid on the left horizon.

On Day 5 Ed climbed the gently overhanging ice of Webster's Wall at 6,400m, and we thought that we had almost cracked the buttress. However, the next day we were stopped dead by a huge crevasse spanning the entire slope, so we all retired to Base Camp, very conscious that we were due for a rest. Sieging a big route with only four climbers is hard work. During this and later weeks on the mountain we often spent three days in succession leading and load-carrying and they were long days, with perhaps 12 hours spent on the route. In 1975, at the same altitude in the Khumbu ice-fall, the SW face sahibs tended to work only on alternate days, saving themselves for higher up. With our heavier work-load we had to be extremely careful to pace ourselves, so we now spent three days at Base Camp doing some serious eating.

The second phase on the mountain was much slower, hampered by bad weather. While Paul and I ferried loads up to Camp 1 on the Cauliflower Ridge, the other two slept there for three nights and dealt with the crevasse, abseiling into it so that Ed could aid his way on ice-screws up the 30m overhanging wall on the far side. It took another day to fix ropes across the gap, then Paul and I had a turn in front, marvelling at the Tyrolean over the Jaws of Doom, then stomping up deep snow above and fixing a final 100m length of rope through a dangerous jumble of seracs. Now we had finally broken through the lower lip of the hanging glacier and reached the easy undulations of the upper snow-slopes. At 6,650m we had cracked the technical-crux of the route and the way was open to the South Col.

The weather, however, was not good and every day the upper face was becoming more dangerously laden with new snow. So once again we retreated to Base Camp, where we waited a week before returning to the mountain.

There are many attractive reasons for going on expeditions. One is the opportunity during rest periods for unlimited sleep; another is the chance to get some uninterrupted reading done, usually on subjects that have nothing whatsoever to do with mountains. However, on this occasion we did have a small climbing library of Bill Murray's Story of Everest, Audrey Salkeld's Mallory book and White Limbo, the account of the 1984 Australian expedition. During the days of watching and waiting we were all acutely aware of our predecessors, particularly E H Norton and his solo push to 8,600m in 1924. Surely, if he, Wager, Smythe and Wyn-Harris could get that high in the 1920s and 1930s without oxygen - surely we, with our vastly improved climbing gear and clothing, could reach a little higher now? But, of course, far more important than equipment was the huge psychological advantage of knowing that what Messner and Habeler had done 10 years earlier had been repeated by others.

The Australians' 1984 ascent of the N face without oxygen was the greatest inspiration because they, like all of us except Robert, had never been to 8,000m before Everest. Also like us, they were a small team climbing a new route. Ours started lower, with much harder climbing, but theirs finished with Norton's insecure traverse out of the Great Couloir, whereas we would complete our ascent by the easier SE ridge. We were now approaching optimum fitness and acclimatization and wanted to make the big push before we started to deteriorate. Our original plan had been to complete the route to the South Col, leave a cache there and descend to rest before the final push. Now, however, we changed that plan - partly because of delays, partly because of the precedents on the N face. In 1984 the Australians only went once to about 7,000m before leaving on the final push. Messner, during his 1980 solo, and Troillet and Loretan in 1986, barely went higher than 6,500m before dashing for the summit. The message was clear: get really fit and acclimatized between 6,000 and 7,000m, but don't waste energy burning yourself out at 8,000m before the final push - particularly if, like all of us in 1988, you have no fat reserves. So the plan now was to reconnoitre only as far as Camp 2 - 7,450m- and never to sleep above Camp I until the summit push.

Everest Kangshung face. The 1983 buttress is at extreme R. The 1988 buttress is L of the huge central
depression (Big Al Gully) and rises to the South Col.

Everest Kangshung face. Venables, Teare and Anderson leaving Camp II for the South Col on 10 May. Peak 38 is on the extreme R.
In the centre is the skyline of Chomolonzo (L), Makalu II and Makalu.

It was a tense time with all these calculations, hopes and fears going through our minds, even on the beautiful day when Ed, Joe and I walked up towards Khartse, the snow pyramid which Mallory had called the loveliest peak in the world. It would have been fun to have taken Mimi and Joe climbing on some of the lower snow peaks, and to explore further in such magnificent walking country; but, like Mallory, we were compelled to concentrate on the job in hand. Everest, like no other mountain, is a place of history and tradition, and we had a chance to take our place in that tradition. It was very poignant to watch the evening clouds, backlit by great shafts of setting sunlight, swirling around the NE ridge, and to think of Mallory, Boardman and Tasker, and to ponder the problems of ambition. By all accounts, Mallory wanted desperately to finish the job in 1924 so that he would not have to come back again. Boardman and Tasker seem to have been similarly driven in 1982, as were Julie Tullis and Alan Rouse in 1986, on K2.

The third phase started on 28 April, when we returned to Advanced Base. The weather was now much better as Ed and I did two carries to Camp 1, while Robert and Paul started to break trail towards Camp 2. On 1 May all four of us carried loads to the Flying Wing - a huge roof of ice at 7,450m which would provide total protection for Camp 2. This middle part of the Kangshung face, once one has surmounted the spectacular lower cliffs, lies back at a gentle angle - meandering hanging glacier terrain, similar to but less steep than the Lhotse face on the normal route. We had always been concerned about avalanche danger. Judging Himalayan snow-slopes is an extremely inexact science, but these particular slopes did seem quite safe, and we picked a careful route through the hummocks and crevasses, avoiding steep undercut slopes and staying close to the crest of the spur, well clear of the giant avalanche gullies on either side.

It took 11 hours to reach Camp 2, marking the route with wands. On the final stretch I slowed to two steps at a time, with three breaths per step, but I was pleased to discover that I had no headache when we reached the haven of the Wing. We left the supplies for Camp 2 there, then slid back down to Camp I in 1½ hours. Everything was now in place for the summit attempt, but we were frustrated for another week by changing weather before we could finally leave Advanced Base at 4am on 8 May.

The journey to the South Col was long and slow. On 8 May we rested, ate and drank at Camp 1, enjoying the familiar view down to the valley to Chomolonzo. On 9 May it took 14 hours to break a new trail to Camp 2. It snowed most of that day, but the 10th dawned clear; we left at 8am, carrying tents, stoves, gas, food and all our personal gear, and leaving just three gas cylinders and some scraps of food for the descent. In spite of the 20kg load on my back I was enjoying myself, feeling incredibly lucky to be up here on this beautiful morning, completing our new route on the E face of Everest. However, as the day wore on and it began to snow again, elation gave way to resigned drudgery, and in the end it took us 11 hours to reach the South Col.

The Kangshung face from the Langma La. A big plume blows from Lhotse on the L. Everest is on the R, with the 1988 route partially visible,
rising to the South Col in the centre.

We emerged into a blasting wind which continued all night, shaking and battering our tents, pressing the icy fabric against our faces and intensifying breathless claustrophobia. Pasang, who had been here in 1969, had advised us to rest only briefly at the Col before pressing on to the summit. But our plan was starting to disintegrate. Even though we had deliberately placed Camp 2 only 550m below the Col, it had taken us 11 exhausting hours to cover that final stage. We were too tired, and in any case the wind was too strong on 11 May for us to continue to the summit.

Paul was ill that morning, possibly developing oedema, and the only choice for him was to descend immediately. We uneasily accepted his decision to go down alone and he set off, bitterly disappointed, for Advanced Base, which he reached in just seven hours. That left three of us waiting and hoping at 8,000m, eating some food, drinking lots of liquid and discovering that, contrary to received wisdom, it was possible to recuperate slightly at this altitude. By the evening, when the wind miraculously dropped, I felt much stronger.

We left the South Col at 11pm on 11 May, each carrying just one long ice axe, one prusik loop, camera, spare mittens, bar of chocolate and a litre of Rehydrate juice. Our only hope of completing the remaining 850m was to travel light like this, and we hoped to be on the summit, taking lovely photographs in the early light, by about 11 the next morning.

But at 11am on 12 May I was still below the South Summit. Robert and Ed were lower still and I was beginning seriously to doubt whether I was capable of reaching the top. However, after an hour's rest I decided to give it a try. One of the biggest problems, after four nights with little or no sleep, was staying awake, so I took two caffeine pills. They seemed to help and with a new determination I continued to the South Summit, reaching it at 1.30pm. Once again, in spite of chronic exhaustion, I was swept along by emotion and instinct, thrilled to be up there, looking down, down to the Western Cwm and Pumori, and across to the W ridge and the big traverse on the SW face and, just ahead of me, the final narrow crest of the SE ridge leading across to the Hillary Step. I continued, confident that I could reach the summit, turn round by 4pm and return to the South Col before darkness fell at 7pm.

For a while my instincts were correct. I found myself enjoying the rock scrambling beyond the South Summit. The Hillary Step sported the expected fixed ropes and I was able to safeguard myself with a Bachman Knot. Then, on the final 300m or so to the summit, I was thrilled to find the snow firmly crusted and at last, after all the hours of trail-breaking on loose slabby snow, I could walk on the surface, keeping well to the left of the big cornices and stopping every three or four steps to rest and cough, telling myself that it really was time to give up smoking. At 3.40pm, just ahead of my revised schedule, I stepped on to the crest of the W ridge, turned right and took the remaining three or four steps to the summit. Three empty oxygen cylinders left by the Asian Friendship Expedition on 5 May were adorned with prayer flags, the letters 'CNJ' for China-Nepal-Japan and some remains of television transmission equipment.

So far instinct had served me well, but when I started down at 3.50pm the clouds, which had been building up steadily, enveloped the summit ridge completely. Suddenly I was struggling for my life, terrified of re-enacting Mick Burke's sad fate in 1975, as my glasses froze over and I groped my way through the mist, collapsing several times from oxygen deficit, hyperventilating furiously to refill my lungs. I had always suspected that the problem would not be climbing Everest without oxygen, but getting down again, and now for the first time in my life I was having to draw on a whole new reserve of will and strength. I had grossly underestimated my level of exhaustion and the problems of orientation in the mist, so that when darkness fell I had still only just crossed back over the South Summit. Our tents on the South Col were far below and, even with my head-torch, I could not find the correct route.

The only safe thing to do was what we had tried so hard to avoid by leaving the South Col so early - settle down for a long lonely bivouac in the open at about 8,600m. Luckily the afternoon storm had blown over and it was a fine night and, like most of the people who have spent a night out hereabouts, I survived.

At about 3.30 that afternoon Ed had reached the South Summit, frightened by hallucinations and the possibility of blacking out and, like me, very conscious of Mick Burke's fate. He had wisely decided to turn back, soon passing Robert, who later also reached the South Summit before retreating. The two of them had descended as far as an abandoned Japanese tent in the big couloir, where they spent the night sheltering without sleeping bags. In spite of the numbing effects of cold and hypoxia on my dulled brain, I felt incredibly moved when I rejoined them early the next morning and the three of us tied symbolically to one rope to descend the remaining 300m to the South Col.

After all that trail-breaking up the E face, all those sleepless nights, the ridiculously slow 16½-hour ascent to the summit and now another sleepless night, we were exhausted. We knew perfectly well that we should descend immediately, but we were so desperate to lie down, drink and sleep that we stayed another day and night at our Camp 3. On 14 May lethargy started to take over and when we finally left at 3.45pm we had been 93 hours above 8,000m. We had broken the rules and we were to continue to break them - allowing heat, hunger and thirst to reinforce our lethargy as we delayed feebly, wasting another whole day at the Flying Wing, so that when we started down from 7,450m on 16 May, we knew that this was our final chance to escape alive.

Lying in the snow on that final morning, taking one hour to find the strength to stand up, I thought with detachment that this was how they must have felt on the shoulder of K2 in 1986, and we did not even have the excuse of a major storm. We were luckier and we all returned safely, despite many questionable decisions - agreeing to Paul's solo descent, climbing unroped to the summit, allowing lethargy to get the better of us; delaying dangerously, fooling ourselves that it was a good idea to descend unroped so that we could glissade more easily, leaving Robert behind on the fixed ropes on the final night of the descent...However, in our defence I have to point out that, although we ate virtually no food for four days, we still had spare gas for melting snow at the Flying Wing and further reserves and tents at Camp 1. Tackling such a big problem with such a small team obviously has its risks, but we all knew what we were letting ourselves in for. Although people on the Nepalese side saw us above the South Col, we never saw them and we never seriously considered the possibility of outside help, preferring to rely on our own prepared line of retreat down the E face. Our descent to 6,650m was marked, albeit sketchily, with wands and below that we had a safety line of meticulously fixed ropes. It took a whole night excavating and abseiling those final 1,600m of descent, but it was rewarding to discover that one did still have the instinct and control to cope safely with all the changeovers at anchors.

We were too weak to help each other physically, yet I am convinced that during that harrowing retreat we were spurred on by an extraordinary, intangible bond. Afterwards all three of us admitted independently to a strong sensation that Paul had also been on the mountain, and I think that each of us, in his private struggle, was sustained by the close team-spirit that had made the whole climb possible. Down at Advanced Base Paul, Joe, Mimi, Pasang and Kasang took over, nursing us back to some semblance of health for the return to Kharta. Robert eventually lost half a big toe from frostbite. I lost 3½ toes. Ed lost parts of three toes and eight fingers. Many people would say that Ed paid too high a price. I cannot answer for him - only report the courage and humour he has shown throughout the trauma of operations, without the sustaining bonus of those final 80m to the main summit of the mountain. I was luckier and, although I am saddened by the loss of toes, it seems a price worth paying for an incomparable adventure with people who will always remain good friends.

Addendum (2023)

On May 12th this year I shall miss my customary Summit Day call from Ed Webster.  As you may know, he died suddenly and unexpectedly last November, aged just 66.  He was full of plans and had just embarked on his long envisaged biography of Fritz Wiessner. Ed’s climbing friend from early pioneering days in New Hampshire, Henry Barber, has set up a memorial fund with two purposes: to help support Ed’s daughter Joyelle through college and to preserve and make publicly available Ed’s unique archive, which includes not only Ed’s own superlative photos, but also a treasure trove of historical photos, maps, books and correspondence.

You can donate here.

 Ed diarising on Everest, 1988. Photo: Stephen Venables



Report: 3 May 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 3 May 2023

We are finally seeing the sun again for more than a few hours...!

High mountain activity is starting up again, we will have more information in the next days.

It snowed a lot at altitude this weekend (about 1 m above 3,500m). The snowpack is settling, the couloirs and faces are purging. There are still large amounts of snow depending on the aspect and altitude. You will have to choose your route carefully and get home early, the sun is heating up strongly and the isotherm will rise again over the next few days. Beware of the quality of the refreeze which could be altered by overcast skies or a SW wind at night. You are likely to find all sorts of snow and conditions are not always easy for skiing!

It is the off-season and most of the lifts and refuges are closed.

The Montenvers train and the Aiguille du Midi cable car remain open.

As for the refuges, the Couvercle, the Cosmiques, the Grands Mulets and the Conscrits are still staffed. 


Some bits of random information:

  • The Emosson road will not open before May 15.

  • Access to the Argentière basin may be complicated at times due to a local decree.

  • Access to the Couvercle refuge via the central couloir (also possible via the Pierre à Béranger but be careful as soon as it gets hot = rock falls).  Some teams are planning the Whymper, normal route on the Droites and to Pointe Isabelle tomorrow.

  • The Vallée Blanche is still possible. The Z has been unequipped but the rope on the ridge will remain in place for another ten days. Be careful with the crevasses of the Salle à Manger, as it will start to change. 15-20 minutes walk to reach the grotto, but that’s fine. Average skiability in the Vallée Blanche (undergoing transformation), Vallée Noire well ravaged by avalanches. Ascent to the Brèche Puiseux tracked without more info. One team turned back this morning heading to Pointe Yeld (loaded N face).

  • Some alpine activity around the Aiguille du Midi. The Cosmiques ridge was done yesterday, it is very snowy. Some teams today in the Chéré couloir without more information (except that it is still quite dry) and the Pellissier. The traverse of the Pointes Lachenal can be considered but the ice was not far away on the ascent to the first Point last week. Contamine-Negri tracked by skiers, Tacul being tracked and skied down.

  • Activity has resumed at the Grand Mulets. For the most courageous, skis on above the old La Para lift station (around 1,800m). From the Plan de l'Aiguille, descend below the station to follow the new summer path to bypass the moraines of the Pèlerins glacier from below. The lower track of the Jonction seems the safest. The N ridge of the Dôme was retracked this morning. There is an ice pitch, so bring steel crampons. It's a long way down and it might be a good idea to spend a second night at the refuge on the way down.

  • We are waiting for your feedback to feed the information chain!


Hiking conditions haven’t changed much. The website has the possible hikes at the moment. As every year, it is too early in May to have a go at the competition routes such as the 90 km...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.






After the miracle of last weekend, two people were less lucky and sadly lost their lives very early this morning (19 April) following a serac fall on the Petit Plateau. The toll could easily have been much worse as there were forty people on the route at the time.

Mont Blanc by Andrea Caramello
As indicated in the previous La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report, we remind all those who wish to climb this route that:
  • The plateau route is highly exposed to serac falls. The only way to protect yourself is not to expose yourself to it.

  • There is an alternative route to the ascent, admittedly longer and more technical but safer: the north arete of the Dôme du Goûter (unfortunately used by less than 20% of teams, often due to a lack of technical skill). The N ridge is currently tracked with 5-6m of ice on the exit (possibly blue ice) and can be done by all those who have the necessary skill and kit.

  • Mont Blanc on skis is a serious ski mountaineering route that is done in winter, in the high mountains. It is long and high, it is cold and often windy, the objective risks (crevasses, seracs, avalanches) are present all along the route, the ski descent is done in all types of snow. It is only for experienced ski-mountaineers who are physically and mentally prepared and adequately equipped (notably to protect themselves from the cold and wind and to do the ice pitches: proper steel crampons are necessary for the N ridge of the Dome and the Bosses ridge).


Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.




Mark Bicknell

We have only recently learned that Mark Bicknell died last December.  He was a longstanding member who was admitted  in 1957.

Report: 15 April 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 15 April 2023

A beautiful finish to the season (we are talking about mountain conditions!)

The episodes of good weather and poor weather continue to come and go. The snow cover keeps improving above 2,000m, and this is certainly a help to the glaciers and the faces at high altitude!

Generally speaking, we have had some good skiing lately. All the classic routes are possible. However, beware of the risk of avalanche which is, and will remain, present.

On the other hand, the good weather slots have been a bit short to engage in technical mountaineering (too much snow). Good conditions also in the Aiguilles Rouges massif.

The Flégère and Brévent lifts (except for the Planpraz TC, the Parsa chairlift and the Altitude 2000 TK which are extended until 23 April) are closing this Sunday. You can ski down to just above the Bérard buvette. More portage to get to Loriaz (refuge closed). A bit of portage from the Col de la Forclaz for the Pointe Ronde but good conditions too.

The Balme/Vallorcine ski area is also closing this Sunday.


On the Grands Montets (lifts open until 1 May), a "road" is being tracked by a piste machine (it will allow a digger to go up to the top of the pistes in order to start work as soon as the ski area is closed) at the level of the old Point de Vue piste (on the Argentière glacier side of the Col des Rachasses). So be careful in case of bad visibility!  

Still good conditions on the Vallée Blanche. Beware of falling seracs in the combe below the Requin hut, don't hang around. You can ski down not far from the grotto.  

No or little activity for the moment on the Trois Monts route. It's loaded with snow and we'll have to wait for a longer window for it to stabilise. The normal route on the Tacul was, however, tracked last weekend (not an easy route, especially to get out at the top, quite exposed to seracs from bottom to top). One team even went as far as the col du Mont Maudit without any further information. 

The ascent of Mont Blanc from the Grands Mulets hut started with a bang. As announced in our last update, the Jonction can be crossed quite well, the route by the Plateaux is in good condition (glaciers filled in) but the seracs remain. This was well shown by the huge serac fall that swept across the whole of the Petit Plateau and the track on Monday morning, with miraculously no one there at the time. The N ridge of the Dôme was tracked by the left side of the ridge to avoid the ice (5m of ice on the exit). It is certainly longer and more technical but "safety has a price". The summit has beeen reached by the Corridor route (again, a serac fall was reported) and via the Bosses ridge (no precise information but it did not pose any problems for the climbers). The N face has been skied (hard snow at the top). A reminder to all aspiring skiers: Mont Blanc is a serious route and you need to be "strong": it is long and high, the objective risks are important (crevasses, seracs...), it is cold: you need to be physically and psychologically prepared!

Snowshoeing is over! For hiking, there haven’t been any developments given the snowfall (see dedicated news).

When the weather is good, we can climb on the lower valley crags!

Because of nesting in progress, it is requested not to climb in the sector "Dièdre Frendo" and "la raflée” on Gaillands until the end of May (exact end date to be specified).


The Curalla via ferrata (Passy) is open!



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.




Records Broken on The Haute Route

Records Broken on The Haute Route

Within the space of a week, both the solo and team speed records on the famous Haute Route, which links Chamonix and Zermatt, have been broken.

On 5 April, British climber and IFMGA Mountain Guide Calum Musklett completed the route solo and unsupported in a time of 24 hours and 30 minutes. His time shaved several hours of the previous record set by Aaron Rolfe in 2021.

The achievement is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Muskett hadn't intended to tackle the route on his own. Writing on his Instagram after completing the route, he explained: "I hadn't intended to go solo and unsupported, in fact, I'd rather have shared the experience with somebody else, but my days off, good weather and snow conditions, didn't overlap with the two other people who were keen for an attempt. Knowing that I might not have the fitness, conditions and time off again for quite some time, I decided to go solo. My main aim was to complete the trip rather than target a time..."


Five days after Muskett's crossing, the route was again completed in record-setting time, on this occasion by ski mountaineer Samuel Équy and alpinist Benjamin Védrines. Starting from the Chamonix church at 12:43AM on Monday 10 April, the pair arrived in Zermatt less than 15 hours later, (15 hours, 54 minutes and 54 seconds to be exact), breaking the previous record of 16 hours and 35 minutes set by Bastien Fleury and Olivier Meynet in March 2016.




Report: 06 April 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 06 April 2023


Good weather has now taken over from the unsettled weather (which did do the mountains and the glaciers a world of good). Snow cover is now almost normal at altitude (above 2,200m).

Ski touring and high mountain activity is starting up again. We need to give the snow time to stabilise, to settle down and to transform. The wind has been pretty active in some places in the past few days! Trail breaking and clearing are often the order of the day if you are first up there.

At the bottom of the valley, spring continues to settle in despite the cool temperatures of the last few days, but hiking remains limited due to the snow cover at altitude. You can find a more detailed update in French here.

Aiguilles Rouges

Another week of opening for the lifts (Brévent/Flégère). All the classics are tracked. There is still some powder snow on shady slopes. Elsewhere “moquette” (smooth, spring snow) is developing. The Lac Blanc refuge is open, as is the Loriaz refuge (skis need to be carried right up through the forest - not a good ratio of walking to skiing). In the Bérard valley, you can ski as far as the buvette at the waterfall!

Albert 1er / Trient

The Albert 1er refuge is open, as is the Trient hut. The Le Tour lifts will close on 16 April.

Good general conditions for ski touring in the area with a lot of activity linked to the Haute Route (Chamonix-Zermatt). All the main cols (Col Sup, Col du Tour, Col Blanc) are OK. The Col du Midi des Grands is still very dry (unstable terrain on the le Tour side). Otherwise, in general, the glaciers are relatively well filled in! You can still get down to le Tour on skis via the left bank of the glacier. There is more and more walking to reach Trient (discontinuous snow from 1,700m).


Argentière Glacier

Here too the main activity is ski touring!

The refuge and the lifts are open. The col des Rachasses is OK, as is the passage along the slabs on the left bank of the Argentière glacier.

All the classic cols are in good condition: Passon, Chardonnet, Tour Noir, Argentière. The slope at the top of the glacier du Milieu is hard snow and it's not softening at the moment. The couloir en Y is hard snow and can only be done going up. Quite good conditions on skis in the Barbey couloir the last few days. There is also some activity on the N faces: col des cristaux, NE face of the Courtes. The Couturier has also been tracked (summit icy, descent by the Z variant).

On the other hand, we have had no mountaineering activity. In the gullies it's very dry (lots of snow and no ice underneath) so no or little activity for the moment. Ditto on the N faces of the Droites and the Courtes. 


Talèfre Basin

The Couvercle hut has opened its doors! Access to the hut is via the Central Couloir, and for a few more days via the Pierre à Béranger, but it won't last long (see photo below).

For the Whymper, the rimaye is not obvious: you have to go down inside and climb up 4/5 meters (unless anyone can find a better route). Once in the couloir, some people failed this morning: a struggle in variable snow with a thin surface crust. Watch this space!

The S face of the Droites has been tracked, the rimaye of the oblique couloir is complicated then trail breaking on the face. There is also a surface crust and inconsistent snow underneath. 

The last news was that the Pointe Isabelle was being tracked. More info to come, by eye the upper part is ice. A little further south, the NW gully of the Pointe de Fébrouze was climbed without more info.


Aiguille du Midi

The Cosmiques hut (bookings until 01 May by phone or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., then it will be online - launch of the platform around 20 April) and the Requin hut are open. The Torino hut remains closed (winter room available).

Everything is going well in the Vallée Blanche where you can find a bit of everything in terms of snow. The glacier is now relatively well filled in but watch where you ski! Skis off 50m from the grotto. There is a lot of activity on the Brèche Puiseux (good ascent trail, 2 abseils of 30m at the brèche or at the bivouac) or on the col d'Entrêves/Combe de la Vierge etc. There were also many people at the Pointe Yeld and the Capucin glacier.

The N face of the Tacul was done yesterday, Wednesday 05 April, without any further information, notably regarding the route at the top of the face. For Mont Maudit, you'll have to go and see what it looks like (watch out for the stability of the snow cover with the wind of the last few days).

Gullies: the Pellissier and the Valeria were climbed in very good conditions. One team on Pas d'Agonie I ("quite a lot of snow, pitch 3 dry even after the narrows"). No need to remind you that from now on you must overnight in a hut! Quite a few teams in the Chéré despite the still very dry conditions on pitch 1. Contamine-Negri also tracked.

Arête Laurence and the Cosmiques arete have been tracked. Still no one on the Lachenal traverse.

Mont Blanc by the Grands Mulets

The refuge is open!

Concerning the access to the refuge, it's fine from the Plan de l'Aiguille. From the tunnel entrance , you can put skis on at the old Para station (1,685m). The Jonction goes well higher up. There is also a path lower down.

The plateaus have been tracked in good conditions (the glacier is well filled in, but the seracs are still there!) The N ridge of the Dôme du Goûter looks icy but "not bad for the time of year". The climbing teams stopped at the Vallot because of the wind and cold. The slope below the Vallot is really icy so you need proper steel crampons. 

Dômes de Miage

The refuges (Tré la Tête and Conscrits are open). Skis on as you leave the woods (1,750-1,800 m). The Mauvais Pas is OK (on foot; still some snow).

Regular activity on the Dômes traverse. The wind has hammered the ridge. All kinds of snow on the descent of Armancette (starting to transform). Skis off above the lac d'Armancette (around 1,900m).

Some people on the Pain de Sucre of Mont Tondu (also tracked from the lacs Jovets).

No one on the N faces (Lex Blanche etc), as far as I can see the wind has had a big effect and the ice is probably not far away.

And elsewhere...

Very dry conditions even if they have improved on the Grand Paradiso. The Vittorio Emmanuelle and Chabod huts opened on the 06 and 07 April respectively, closing on 07 May.

The same is true of the Italian side of Monte Rosa.

The Chamonix-Zermatt traverse is fine!


It will soon be time to get back to tennis!

You can still get out on the marked itineraries on the Index and Flégère or on the Prarion (lifts will be closed on Sunday 09 April) or on the Posettes from the Vallorcine cable car.


Ice Climbing

The end of the ice climbing season! 



Even if the flowers and spring are well established in the valley bottom, it is still winter in the mountains. The snow is still very present from 1,500/1,600m depending on the aspect. The ski areas are still open and the main activity of the moment is still skiing.

The possibilities for hiking are therefore greatly limited. Most of the classic itineraries, especially the most popular ones, are absolutely impassable (grand balcon paths, high altitude lakes etc...). Almost all the mid-mountain refuges in the valley are closed and inaccessible (except for the Loriaz refuge).

The paths are often greasy and slippery: be careful! You will probably have to cross some snowy passages, which will not be a problem if you have "mountain feet" and if you are properly equipped (good boots and poles). Temperatures can be cold in the mountains and the feeling of cold is reinforced when there is wind. Make sure you are well equipped (warm clothes, windproof jacket, gloves, hat, sunglasses...).

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.




Bill Norton

We are saddened to learn of the death on 3 April of Bill Norton, a member since 1992. The Memorial Service will be held at 12 noon on Monday 3rd  July in the hall of Winchester College.  The Funeral is for family and invited friends only.


Tom Livingstone and Symon Welfringer Establish A New Line on the Aiguille des Pèlerins

Tom Livingstone and Symon Welfringer Establish a New Route on the Aiguille des Pèlerins

AC member Tom Livingstone and French alpinist Symon Welfringer have climbed a new line on the north face of the Aiguille des Pèlerins. Over two days, the pair established 'La Croisade', continuing directly through a steep, overhung roof from the line of 'Flammes de l’enfer' with the use of aid both in the roof and for one section above it.

They have named the route 'La Croisade' and have suggested a grade of M7+/A2/5+, with Welfringer commenting that freeing the route will be "quite a cool challenge for the next ones..."

You can read Symon's full report on the route via his Instagram.




Eurostar Clarifies Position on Mountaineering Equipment

Eurostar Clarifies Position on Mountaineering Equipment

After enquiries from a number of UK-based climbing and mountaineering clubs, Eurostar have happily clarified that their luggage policy with regard to mountaineering equipment has not changed and that equipment of this type, including ice axes, can be carried on their services.

A climber stands on a snowy alpine ridge, leaning on the head of his ice axe as he smiles at the camera.

Climbing equipment had been listed under the "Dangerous Sports Equipment" category of the Eurostar website, indicating that passengers could not travel with mountaineering equipment in their luggage, but this has now been updated. Instead, Eurostar request that "any passenger carrying this kind of equipment makes themselves known to a member of the Eurostar team in the station on arrival so that they can ensure the smooth passage through the security/baggage check".

If you are concerned that you may be refused access when travelling with mountaineering equipment, we recommend travelling with a copy of this letter from Eurostar which clarifies the position.

This news will doubtless come as a relief to the many mountaineers who aim to reduce the impact of their trips to the Alps by travelling via train and who may have previously been put off using Eurostar's service for fear of being turned away.





VACANCY: BMC International Committee Chair

VACANCY: BMC International Committee Chair

The British Mountaineering Council are currently seeking a Chair for their International Committee.

The International Committee was founded in 1973 and has responsibility for the awarding of expedition grants, oversees international meets, lobbying foreign governments and advising all arms of the BMC on mountaineering-related matters.

The ideal candidate will have a good working knowledge of international mountaineering, experience of partnership-building and excellent communication skills. The position is voluntary with renumeration provided for travel and accommodation expenses. The successful candidate will be expected to commit roughly 10 days a year to the role for an initial term of three years.

Further details on the Committee and the role of Chair, including how to apply, are available here.




Report: 17 March 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 17 March 2023

The long-awaited snow is here! Well, at least above 2,000m. At the end of this 10 day blip, it’s time for a quick update.

Snow cover at altitude has improved considerably, but has unfortunately got worse below 1,800 m. As has often been the case in recent years, snowfall was accompanied by strong winds. This had the effect of covering/filling in the glaciers, but also of creating snow bridges that are not always solid, as well as accumulations that are sometimes substantial. So be careful! Spring is on the doorstep and it is getting warmer and warmer, even at altitude: beware of being late! Sleeping in a refuge can be comfortable or necessary depending on your choice of outing. And the timing is good because most of them are now open or will open in the next few days: the Requin, Argentière, Loriaz and Les Prés huts are open. The Conscrits, Cosmiques (17/3), Albert Ier & Lac Blanc huts (18/3) will open this weekend. As a reminder, the access to the latter in winter is a ski touring itinerary and is not suitable for snowshoeing or hiking (risk of slipping). Finally, the Grands Mulets and the Couvercle will open on 1 April! 

On the Vallée Blanche, conditions have improved considerably. However, be careful on the Petit Envers itinerary, the track passes over a hole. Be careful at the Salle à Manger and watch out for the “moulins" (ice holes) on the Mer de Glace. You can ski down to the grotto again now. 

All the classic ski touring routes are being done. Make sure you cross any moraine (Col du Passon, Col du Chardonnet) early to avoid exposure to stone fall. There are two possibilities for the abseil descent on the Swiss side of the Col du Chardonnet. Firstly, three abseils on the right bank. The first 45m and the others shorter, bolt belays. The alternative is 3 x 30m abseils down the left bank (check the belays, the first is on a large block with two “maillons rapides”, the second block with a sling, the third a bolt with 2 maillons). It’s still possible to ski down to Le Tour, as well as to the Bérard buvette and the hamlet of Couteray. 


For the gullies, the activity will resume slowly. As you know, it has snowed well up there and the faces have been well plastered: it should settle down and purge over the next few days! The ice climbing season is coming to an end. There is still a bit of climbing at Bérard, and possibly at the Crèmerie or Déferlante (make sure to check the state of the ice before you start).


There is a lot of activity on snowshoes: the snowy weather has helped the high altitude itineraries which are all in good condition (Prarion, Flégère, Posettes, Loriaz). Further down, you can walk on the valley floor trails (petit balcons nord & sud, Cerro, Dard, Floria, Chapeau...), and more generally up to 1,500m on the north side and 1,700m on the south side.

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.




Up Close with Guidebook Author Lina Arthur

Up Close with Guidebook Author Lina Arthur

Lina Arthur is a guidebook author and editor based in the Lake District. In this interview, conducted in December 2022, we dig into Lina’s experience of writing a selective guide of British winter climbs and discuss some of the current challenges facing the publishing industry.

Lina Out and About for Work - Photo: Steve Broadbent

How did you start climbing?

I've always loved walking and scrambling in the hills, but for some reason it never occurred to me to try climbing, despite a long-since-forgotten climbing session at Cheddar as a child. When I started my DPhil, a friend suggested joining the Oxford University Mountaineering Club and, undeterred by initial trips to the Peak District in November, I've been climbing ever since.


Can you tell us a little about your job?

I write and edit climbing guidebooks and mountain literature, primarily for the Oxford Alpine Club. This means that some of my job involves heading out into the mountains with a camera, checking routes and walk-ins, taking topo photos and so on. This can be brilliant if the weather is nice, but in fact, the majority of my job is computer-based, transforming all the information and images I and others have gathered into written book form.

In the Office - Photo: Dave Arthur

On Tower Ridge in Winter - Photo: Steve Broadbent

Your own guidebook 'Snow & Ice' came out in 2021. What were you hoping this guide could offer that other winter climbing guides don't?

When I first started winter climbing, I found that many guidebooks omitted “easy” routes entirely or offered limited detail, particularly about things like descents. In Snow & Ice, I wanted to highlight the brilliant range of lower grade routes that the UK has to offer and to inspire people to climb them, but I particularly wanted to make winter climbing as accessible as possible. I wanted to create a guide which provided all the information needed to get to a route, climb it, and descend on one page, and which was as helpful as possible to the climber.


Are there particular challenges to writing a selective guide? 

Narrowing down what goes in it! That was very tricky, and continued to change right up to the last minute. I wanted to include popular routes, but also to include lesser-known ones that are just as good. Inevitably I couldn’t include all my favourites, let alone anyone else’s, but I hope there is something for everyone.

Another challenge was that where a definitive guide focuses on one area in detail, my selection had me crisscrossing the country, chasing conditions. With limited space, it was a challenge to do justice to so many different areas. 

'Snow & Ice'

Making the First Ascent of 'Don Turquoise' (HVS, 4c), Akaltine Edge, Tafraout 
- Photo: Steve Broadbent

What are you working on at the moment?

One of the nice things about my job is that it's so varied. Since the publication of Snow & Ice, I've worked on the second edition of The Alps, A Natural Companion (by Jim Langley and Paul Gannon, which was published in June) and I'm currently nearing completion of a guide to UK dry tooling, which should be available early in 2023.


It feels like publishers are currently going through quite a tough time with the price of paper, inflation, postal strikes...etc. Do you think this difficult period will pass or does it herald wider changes for the industry? Is there anything customers can be doing to help?

These are certainly tricky times. The guidebook industry suffered massively during the COVID travel restrictions, and paper prices have been rocketing ever since. I think that things will stabilise; while postal strikes are hugely detrimental to sales, particularly as this is the busiest time of year for bookselling, they are a temporary issue. More generally, publishers will have to adapt. That will mean that some great books are simply not financially viable to publish so there may be less variety, but I believe that there will always be demand for high-quality books.

The most helpful thing customers can do is to buy guidebooks! And, if possible, buy them directly from the publisher so that as much of your money as possible is directly helping to pay the costs of producing the book, thus ensuring that more books will be published in the future. Pre-orders and reviews are also very helpful and are always appreciated.

Lake District Days - Local Ice Climbing - Photo: Aileen Robertson

Lake District Days - Climbing 'Free Falling' (E4, 6s) on Steel Knotts Crag - Photo: Steve Broadbent

You're based in the Lake District. How important is it to you to live in one of the UK's mountain regions?

It's incredibly important, both for my spare time and for my work life. One of the main reasons I moved to the Lake District is that I was spending a lot of time driving to and from the mountains, and I wanted to reduce that. Being based here makes it much easier to get out into the mountains and I feel very lucky to be able to do so. The Lake District is relatively central; not only is there climbing practically on my doorstep, but North Wales and Scotland are also very accessible. It would have been impossible to write Snow & Ice while I was living in Southern England, but from the Lakes I was able to snatch good weather days whenever they occurred, and the odd day-trip to Scotland made a big difference in completing the book.


You're a fairly active Twitter user (going as far as live-tweeting a route earlier this year). Is social media something you enjoy using to share your climbing or is it more of an obligation as a writer?

I feel I should say that live-tweeting a route was a one-off way of appreciating the absurdity of a very tedious situation until I could escape onto an adjacent route! One of the things I love about climbing is that it lets me get away from a screen and focus on enjoying the moment, so I'd hate social media to be a distraction from that. That said, I love talking about climbing and sharing the wonderful places that it takes me and it's hugely rewarding to hear from people who are using and enjoying my books, so I definitely don't see it as an obligation. My job can be quite solitary, but Twitter has introduced me to many fellow outdoor writers and it's lovely to be part of an online community that shares my passions.




Doing Good with Old Mountain Gear

Doing Good with Old Mountain Gear

My gear room is full. Most of it with items that reflect my age. Vintage, cool, historic. And I know I’m not alone! We all hate throwing things away and, in the age of the circular economy, many of us are searching for ways to prevent these once cherished items from going to waste. Luckily, for much outdoor kit, there are lots of options! In particular warm clothing and waterproofs can almost always be used by someone else.

You can sell your items on the usual sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Even Décathlon offers a reselling service. But you won’t get much, so why not do some good by donating your items to the homeless instead?

The best items for donation are unquestionably warm clothing, but don't forget waterproof trousers. They are very useful for the homeless. As for sleeping bags, just make sure that they are not too worn out and remember that down is not a great option in the British wet!


First Point of Call: Outdoor Retailers

Some retailers have systems in place to collect second-hand items and in various ways distribute the proceeds to charities. Having checked most of the shops in London, the bins are not obvious. You’ll often need to ask a shop assistant to help you locate them.

But many of the outdoor shops which recycle do not give to charities. Instead they sell the recycled items to a large company that in turn sells them on the second-hand market in Eastern Europe and Africa where the unusable items are transformed into fibres. Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing - at least items do not go to landfill. But it is not a charitable action.

The only UK retailers I have found who donate their collected clothes to charities are:

  • Outside – Our very own Dick Turnbull has set up a scheme, run by his sons Robert and James, to receive second-hand outdoor clothing. These are refurbished when needed and sold. The proceeds are then donated to local homeless charities. Sleeping bags are donated immediately without reselling. 
  • Ellis Brigham – You can bring in your old outdoor clothes and they will donate them to homeless charities.
  • Rohan – Has a “Gift your Gear” scheme whereby donated items are gifted to a wide array of charities which are listed on their website. 
  • Alpkit Continuum – Kit can be donated in store or sent free of charge via a Royal Mail Tracked service. There is a comprehensive list of charities served on the Alpkit website
  • Mountain Warehouse – Items will be sold by the charity New Life which will use the funds to buy equipment for disabled children. 
  • The Climbers Shop and Joe Browns – Will send your gear to the Brathay Trust for their youth projects and other charities. 


Details of Outside's Re-action Scheme


Second Point of Call: Give Directly to Charities

As a volunteer in a homeless daycentre, I know that it’s best not to give directly to homeless charities unless you have ascertained that they need your stuff. Don’t just drop a bag in front of their door. I have been on the receiving end of such generous but ill-advised donations. We end up spending a lot of resources in manpower and space to store and sort donations. In the end, we get very few items that are actually usable by our population of homeless who have very specific needs.

That is why I set up KindWinter, with the support of the Rotary Club, to solve this pain point of sorting random donations. At KindWinter we procure the specific equipment that is needed by the homeless in order to withstand sleeping out. We either get gear directly from companies or fundraise and bulk-buy exactly what people need: warm clothing, warm underlayers, waterproof outerlayers, synthetic sleeping bags, bivvy bags…etc The homeless get the right kit, new and clean.

If you are in the outdoor industry, or know someone who is, please consider giving KindWinter a helping hand by donating your surplus stock. 

Alternatively, anyone can make a financial contribution at any time by donating via our website.


And next time we are bivvying, let us all be grateful for the opportunity we have to watch the stars even if we are cold and uncomfortable. Because we are doing so out of choice rather than necessity and, unlike so many others, we have a comfy bed waiting for us back home.


Françoise Call is an Alpine Club member and the founder of KindWinter. 
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 




Ron James MBE

We are saddened to learn of the death of Ron James MBE, a member of the Alpine Club since 1974, author of ‘Dolomites West and East’ and founder of Ogwen Cottage.

Webcast details for the service for Ronald James MBE at 10:15 on Wednesday 15th March, at Colwyn Bay Chapel, Colwyn Bay Crematorium run by Tom Owen & Son are as below:

Watching webcast live and watch-again: User name fosi8600 Password 114143


Report: 01 March 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 01 March 2023

Almost six weeks without significant precipitation, but it’s looking....well, lets not jinx it...

As a result, conditions aren't changing much.


Off-piste, it's not good: poor snow cover, often hard snow. You have to be a very good skier. Be careful not to take on routes with too little snow, in poor nick or not suited to your level given the current conditions. Let's hope that March will give us some nice turns. The conditions are still good on piste, but here again you have to ski carefully.

When ski touring, you can find a bit of everything, but rarely very good: hard refrozen snow, smooth snow, windblown snow. In short, you must adapt your choice of outings to these particular conditions and not be too ambitious!

A good technical knowledge is necessary to practice at this time, whether it is for the ascent or the descent. Couteaux (ski crampons) and even boot crampons are often necessary even for classic runs. Beware of falls and slides with this often hard snow. In spite of everything, the skiability is sometimes good thanks to the two or three small (very small) falls of snow. Snow cover at the bottom of the valley has taken a serious hit. It is sometimes green up to 2,000m on the south side. You have to plan a little portage from Notre Dame de la Gorge (20-25 minutes on the descent), from Le Buet/Couteray, from Finhaut and probably also from Plaine-Joux or the Col de la Forclaz. It's not really worth taking the skis in the Aiguillette des Houches sector. The classic routes of the Aiguilles Rouges are frequented in variable conditions. Very hard snow at the bottom of the Bérard valley, some even put on crampons.

Conditions are also technical on the glaciers. Some information in summary:

- Col du Midi des Grands even drier. (See photo below).
- Couloir de la Table: Good conditions to go up. (Narrows with mixed climbing low down).
- Forbes Arête done there and back.
- Col des Rachasses: Use crampons on the traverse at the end (bullet hard).
- Col du Passon: Descent towards Le Tour in bad condition (hard snow, unpleasant exit).
- Col du Chardonnet: Dry access from the Argentière side, beware of rock fall. Descent on Saleina side: 2 new belays on the col. The rimaye has collapsed. It is necessary to make a rappel on a dead man (bring one because nothing is in place for the moment and there's no real possibility to make a snow mushroom because the snow is unconsolidated) or otherwise on the last belay (need to check this) with an “escaper" + 50m rope (or 2x50m). It is overhanging and is unlikely to be climbable on the way up: go via the secondary couloir on the left.

- The Argentière refuge opens this Saturday 4 March.
- Glacier du Milieu (now also called Couloir du Milieu) on the Aiguille d'Argentière: 15m abseil to pass the narrows on the way down. Rimaye ok, two short mixed pitches above - bring protection - top a bit dry.
- NE face of Les Courtes tracked on the way up (no info on skiability - no doubt it will be better with new snow) with a traverse and descent by the normal route on the Talèfre side.
- Still some activity on the Couturier. Bad conditions for skiing (it's dry) in the Whymper (but ok on the way up). So plan to abseil/downclimb. It's long and it heats up fast = be early at the top.
- No info yet on Pointe Isabelle.
- A bit of activity on the Brèche Puiseux but a decent snowfall would be good. The Mont Mallet glacier is not in very good condition.
- Vallée Blanche: Arete and ‘Z' equipped. The classic or the Rognons routes are best. Smooth snow and bumps mainly. Traces of serac falls on the traverse to reach the Requin, dont hang around here. "The bottom track at the exit of the salle à manger is very dangerous (a crevasse that's opening up and risk of falling), it is better to take the top track...". An unusual crevasse also at the exit of the salle à manger. The Vallée Blanche is therefore reserved for good skiers! Its a 5 minute walk to reach the grotto. The descent via the Mottets is no longer relevant unless you have no choice!
- The last cabin for Montenvers is at 4PM until 17 March, 4:30PM from the 18. "Every evening we have latecomers that we try to wait for, but sometimes we are obliged to close down in order to make the last train of 4:30PM leave on time.
- Vallée Noire reserved for very good skiers (hard snow, steep and exposed at the bottom).
- Still no activity on the Grands Mulets, it will have to snow because it doesn't look inviting (glacier filled in but a lot of wind-affected snow).
- Dômes de Miage has been done: "Departure from Cugnon, we put on skis at 1,700m. The Mauvais Pas is ok on foot without crampons but not on skis. Glacier hard snow and well-tracked ridge in good snow. We put our skis on at the top, sastrugi, alternating hard snow - light crust until about half way down, then hard snow with more or less good grip. Good skiing needed! Then it's hard snow transforming around 12-13h. Skis off above the Armancette lake and then back on but not for long."
- The start of activity on Chamonix-Zermatt with very dry conditions. The descent to Zermatt from the Col Valpelline is said to be complex. More info to come when the activity is more consistent.
- Bad conditions (little snow, bare glaciers) on the Grand Paradis. The refuges (Chabod and Vittorio Emmanuelle) have postponed their opening until 30 March.


A few changes concerning the goulotte activity. Some information in summary (if no information please refer to our last update): 

- Complicated access to the Ravanel-Frendo and Claire Chazal (steep traverse above the rimaye).
- Pépite: One step to cross the rimaye - “couic” (hard) snow at the bottom -3rd pitch: left corner dry, the right one is just OK - unconsolidated snow at the top.
- Mini-Blast always very busy (approach exposed to seracs/avalanches). As elsewhere, the numerous passages make it easier to progress but that's no reason by itself to go there without having the necessary skills.
- Fil à Plomb (1 thin plate after the crux) and Mallory retracked after the snowfall. A few ropes on the Eugster Diagonal (first technical pitch difficult to protect - rest OK).
- Chéré (dry); Modica-Noury; Gabarrou-Albinoni; Pellissier, N face of Tour Ronde still frequented. Some ropes also in M6 Solar, Pas d'Agonie, Laratoune (quite dry conditions). A few ropes on the Supercouloir (mixed start, abseiling at the end of the ice pitches). The season is progressing and some routes (depending on their orientation) are no longer possible to consider sensibly off the first lift.
- The Cosmiques and Torino huts are closed. Overnights are possible in the abri Simond or in the winter room of the Torino.
- Fairly good general conditions for the moment on Ice is Nice and Sorenson-Eastman above the Requin.

Ice climbing is still possible at the Bérard site (booking needed), at the Crèmerie, on the left bank of the Argentière glacier (Déferlante/Mini-couloir sector) and probably at Cogne.


It's game set and match! (“La raquette” is French for snow shoe).

At least for as long as it doesn't snow! The classic routes (+ Floria, buvette du Chapeau...) are possible with crampons. Be careful not to get into too exposed positions, turn back when there is still time! "The atypical snow conditions can sometimes give the feeling that spring is just around the corner when winter is not yet over”.  


As a reminder, except for a few exceptions (Chalets de Chailloux, Loriaz by the 4x4 track – snow slides before the bridge on the forest path make the passage tricky, several accidents), the classic hikes in the valley (lakes, grands balcons paths...) are not practicable in winter! 



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.




RGS Events to Mark 70 Years Since the Ascent of Everest

RGS Events to Mark 70 Years Since the Ascent of Everest

The Himalayan Trust (UK) and the Mount Everest Foundation have organised a day of talks at the Royal Geographical Society, London on 13 June 2023 to mark 70 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Mount Everest.

Mount Everest framed against a purple sky

Split into two sessions, an afternoon and an evening, the events will feature contributions from Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing; AC members Leo Houlding, Kenton Cool, Melanie Windridge and Stephen Venables; as well as Adriana Brownlee, Hari Budha Magar and Ray Mears.

The afternoon session is aimed at a younger audience and is centered around the theme of inspiration. Speakers Peter Hillary, Jamling Tenzing, Ray Mears, Leo Houlding, Adriana Brownlee and Melanie Windridge will speak about the inspiration they have all taken from the 1953 ascent. There will also be contributions from Duke of Edinburgh Young Ambassadors reading from the letters of expedition leader John Hunt. The talk is well-suited to school and youth group bookings. Further details are available via Eventbrite.

The evening session will include contributions from Peter Hillary, Jamling Tenzing, Kenton Cool, Hari Budha Magar and Stephen Venables who, in 1988, became the first Briton to climb Everest without the use of supplemental Oxygen when he made the first ascent of the mountain’s Kangshung face. The session is titled ‘Collaboration in Exploration’ and will look at how relationships have shaped the lives and ascents of all of the speakers as well as their relationships with Everest ‘53. Further details are available via Eventbrite.

All proceeds from the events will be split equally between the Himalayan Trust (UK) and the Mount Everest Foundation, two charitable organisations which were founded as a direct result of the 1953 expedition.

The evening is part of a worldwide programme of celebrations highlighting the continuing legacy of the Everest ’53 expedition. You can find out more at