The article was written by my friend and colleague Peter mason.
Headpointing is leading a climb on gear that has already been worked, or practiced, on toprope. There is a play on words with the more common “redpointing,” meaning a climb realized after multiple tries. Headpointing is the result of climbers seeking new ways climb in areas where the ethics prohibit the practice of bolting; common to sport climbs throughout Europe. In Great Britain and America, many climbing areas strictly forbid the placement of expansion bolts under the premise that they cause permanent damage to the rock. Expansion bolts require drilling holes into the crag, and can be unsightly, as they are left in place, and are metallic silver. (No mention of the unsightliness of white chalk splotches in climbing areas, though eventually these may be washed away or cleaned…) The result of the bolting ban led climbers seeking routes outside of the easily protected cracks to resort to headpointing.
When a route is difficult physically for a certain climber, and hard to protect, soloing the route or working a ground-up style ascension becomes very dangerous and potentially mortal. Climbers wishing to do a route install topropes to practice the route, learn all the moves, and eventually lead the route with a prior knowledge of what awaits them, at least physically, on the crag above. The mental game is another story.
When is it ok to try and lead a route? When you toprope it successfully every time? 3 out of 5 times? This is obviously the leader’s choice, but one can imagine that a route lead from the ground up on sketchy or non-existant protection will engage the leader not only physically but mentally as well, as a fall entails serious injury or death. This adds a certain mental control to the climbing game, which, while always part of climbing, is more easily ignored with a fat bolt at belly button height- a climber can try whatever move he wishes in total security. Three meters above a nest of crappy wires and eight meters off the deck- a climber can’t help but think of the possibilities…
Headpointing originated in Great Britain and spread to the states, but seems to be non-existent here in France. To be fair, the abundant limestone doesn’t lend itself to gear like granite or sandstone- imagine the headpointing possibilities…. The continental ethic, however, allows for the free reign of sport climbing ethics, and in many places even the cracks are bolted. The advantage- all climbs can be enjoyed in relative safety with a minimum of equipment. The disadvantage- those who look for a bit more adventure, and who find the bolts harmful, distasteful, and unsightly are out of luck. There is also a certain pleasure in applying a “leave no trace” ethic in the vertical world; impossible when climbing on fixed gear.
Is our recreation worth the permanent altercation of a limited natural resource? Can we find creative solutions to ethical issues? Is climbing meant to be a purely physical endeavour? Or can the mental aspects be just as important? Is climbing meant to be safe? Why lead a dangerous route at all? To each climber his or her own opinion. The practice of headpointing puts these questions under focus, as it privileges not only what may be challenging physically, but also mentally, and offers solutions. Even if one never leads one’s intended route, toproping is (usually) both safe and fun, and a day at the crags is never a day wasted, regardless.
It's funny how at this time of year we all get a bit exited at the prospect of holidays, parties, drink and, for the lucky one's, a trip to the mountains. And what a start to the snowy season!! I'm sure you, like me, build up the anticipation by keeping a watchful eye on the Chamonix web cams and Seb's snow reports. Although I will be doing the gentle slopes of Sweden's Salen this year, I have been watching in awe as the Alps get their fair share of the beautiful white stuff. Two things have struck me though: one, I need to get my wax out, and two, it seems the climate sceptics are trying to make a comeback.
You will have undoubtedly seen that 2008 is on course for being a cold year, and the snow on the ground may be some proof of that, but this doesn't mean climate change is a myth to be busted. If anything it just shows us what life used to be like – local anecdotal evidence may not be peer reviewed but it offers a great local perspective. When I talk to the locals in my current homeland; Sweden, I get the same response – 'it's not what it used to be and the snow is unreliable'. If I look at the general data for the Swedish mountains from 1960 to 1990 they have observed almost a 2 degree rise!
Last week our leaders in the EU agreed to make a 20% reduction in CO2, by 2020. Although the final agreement was watered down and the current financial crisis was used by many as an excuse of taking limited action, it is still a significant step forward and should be welcomed. A cold 2008 will be wheeled out as an excuse not to do anything, but the reality is things are getting worse. We know the hottest years ever on the temperature record have been recorded in the last decade, we also know that glaciers are moving uphill. What is just coming out though is that we have pushed our natural carbon absorbers to the limit; new data suggests that the Oceans have lost 16% of their capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon!
Does this mean you should stay in this year and stop breathing, as the climate sceptics would suggest is the only option? Not really, unless you like that kind of thing. I would make the most of the snow, but also try and make conscious decisions i.e. car share or bus around Cham etc. Ultimately, it is our small actions multiplied by the millions who do it that will have a big impact, not just grand decisions made by our leaders. If there is anything we should take into 2009 it is that we can make a difference. If we do maybe the start to the 2008 season will return to being the norm again.
Article written by working for the European Community where he is in charge of enviromental studies.Damian Phillips, alpinist and expert snowboarder
This is the first, and let's hope not last, contribution to Chamonix Guiding.
Why is a green comment needed at all? All of us with a passion for the mountains, at any time of the year and with varying levels of experience, will have already noticed that our Alpine environment is changing. Whilst some people continue to argue about their own locality; "no change here" or "we could do with more sun anyway", the reality for the mountains is that change is happening, and fast.
In September this year the European Environment Agency released another pan EU study which shows that the mountain areas in Europe are under significant pressure and that the cryosphere (the frozen world) is under threat. Those of us who have spent time on Chamonix's glaciers will know this to be true.
To be fair politicians have woken up, but they aren't quite out of bed yet. The EU believes that global warming must not exceed two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which will require global emissions to peak by 2020, and then be at least halved from 1990 levels by 2050. The problem is we don't yet know what the world plans to do after 2012.
This date signifies the end of the Kyoto process on reducing global greenhouse gases. What comes after that is not yet known, but the word 'Poznan' is critical.
The Poznan conference (which is in Poland and also known in jargon world as COP-14), runs between Dec. 1 and 12, and represents an important step in the international negotiations for a post Kyoto global agreement at the end of 2009 in Copenhagen. In short, lots and lots of people (9000) are meeting to arrange the next meeting in 2009, in Copenhagen!
Sounds a bit daft I know, but getting the world to change its stripes is a big deal and everyone needs to feel part of the package. And if we consider that the biggest impact from climate change will be felt by those countries who emit next to nothing compared to the west, then it's also about fairness, or at least sympathy.
But as always the US holds the key. Bush and his merry crowd of disbelievers have tried to derail all climate change talks, Obama, who is currently favouring 'change' has promised to make a difference, yeaha!
Although the whole process is shrouded in language and acronyms designed to confuse all but the seasoned climate change spotters, Poznan is critical to the mountains, as without a detailed implementation agenda for Copenhagen in 2009, there will be no post Kyoto deal. Without a deal we can be sure the future of our mountains will be without ice too!
Article published by the independent guide to skiing and ski holidays Welove2ski.
If Fred Decker of the French website lameteo.org is on target, it looks as though we'll be having a cold, dry start to winter.
Anyone with a snowfall addiction will probably know of Decker already. He's our favourite French meteorologist - chiefly because he's not afraid to stick his neck out and have a go at forecasting up to six months in advance. His maps (see above for an example) are a lot, lot clearer than those produced by our own Met Office, too!
Decker worked for La Chaine Météo in France for 10 years before joining MétéoNews in 2006, and last year his long-term winter forecast was not too far wide of the mark. Check out our news story on it from October 12, 2007 here.
Back then, he was predicting a cold December, "with a greater chance of heavy snow in the second half of the winter". Sound familiar to anyone?
(Before we get too excited, however, it's also worth noting that he predicted February 2008 would be much colder than normal - whereas in fact the Alps were hit by a prolonged heat wave.)
Anyway, Decker has now extended his long-range forecast for Europe as far as January 2009, and as you can see, it looks as though it's going to be a cold one. He told welove2ski.com that he expects a lot of stable, sunny, but cold weather in late autumn and early winter - and thinks we're in for a re-run of the frigid autumn of 1993, although he says "it won't be quite as cold as it was back then".
This is, of course, mixed news for snowfiends. Cold is good. Dry is not brilliant. It suggests superb conditions for the snow-cannons, which will be able to get to work early this year, laying down a thick, durable base of snow on the pistes. But it could mean a slow start to the season in terms of powder.
Many of my clients ask me about wich backpack they should choose for their next trip to the Alps. Many possible answer to this question:
Which activity ?
each backpack is designed for a specific activity.
A ski mountaineering pack should have side velcros and loops to carry skis and board whereas you will be happy to use ice axes loops for a day ice climbing. Side-access or double-zipper designs give you the option of retrieving gear from various parts of the pack without having to dig around or remove items...
Before you choose your pack, make sure it is designed for the activity you're planning.
For how long ?
For mountaineering ascents in the Alps you will certainly not need more than a 45 litres capacity. The longer you're out on the mountain, the more space you'll need for gear. You can use these figures as a basis for determining your capacity needs:
- Daymountaineering or single-night trips—30 to 40 litres. ( One day off piste skiing, ski touring, ice climbing, heliskiing)
- 2- to 3-day trips—40 to 45 litres ( summer ascents with a night in mountain huts, or short ski tours)
- Extended trips (up to 6 days)—45 to 50 litres ( ski or climbing trips in autonomy, multi days ski tours)
Try your backpack in the shop loaded and make sure you carry most of the weight onto your hips and not on your shoulders !
Avalanche transceivers are a class of radio transceivers specialized to the purpose of finding people or equipment buried under avalanches..When turned on, the beepers transmits a signal about once per second. If someone is buried, everyone else in the party turns their transceivers on reception mode, and they can hear the signal from the buried victim's beeper.
Which transceiver should I buy?
You will firstly have to make a choice between analog and digital devices:
The original avalanche transceiver transmittes the pulsed signal as an audible tone to the user. The tone gets louder when the user is closer to the transmitting beacon.
Digital transceivers take the strength of the signal and the emitted dipole flux pattern and compute distance and direction to the buried transceiver.
If you are an occasionnal off piste rider, I would personnaly highly recommend you a digital one. My personnal choice goes to the Barryvox Pulse that I have used since last year.
8 Usefull tips:
- Take off batteries between two seasons and change them all for new one before the first ride of the winter
- Everyone in the party wears them under their jackets.
- Organise a group transceiver brief to check all batteries are full and beepers on before you start the day.
- Doesn't matter wich beeper you buy: just practice, practice, practice ! I often compare a search to a foreign language, if you do not practice, you simply loose it !
- Mr transceiver always wants to ride with its 2 friends: Miss shovel and Mr probe. Never separate them !
- Never ride off piste without your kit, whatever the conditions are.
- Take a radio or phone and enter the local emergency numbers.
- Check the local avalanche forecast before you leave.
Chamonix valley is well known for its challenging glacier off piste lines. Some of my regular clients in search of new skiing horizons had a really good time ski touring in the unknow swiss resort of Les Marécottes.
You cannot drive to Les Marécottes, wich is why it is so quite and unknow from the Chamonix ski bumbs. Drive to the swiss border above Vallorcine and park in the pittoresque swiss village of Finhaut. From there are regular alpin trains leading you to Les Marécottes in 10 minutes.
Contact me on that blog if you wish some more informations about the off piste lines.
At last we can enjoy via ferrata in Chamonix ! A via ferrata, italian for "iron road"is a mountain route which is equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders, and bridges.
Quite good fun as a last easy day on one of my alpine courses or just as a first experience in a vertical dimension.
Watch the recently built via ferrata in Plateau d'Assy , 20 mn driving from Chamonix-Mont Blanc.
A moulin or glacier mill is a narrow, tubular chute.Moulins can go all the way to the bottom of the glacier and can be hundreds of meters deep.
Moulins are a part of a glacier's internal "plumbing" system, to carry meltwater out to wherever it may go.
We abseiled down on of them on the Mer de Glace the other day with Jesper as the running water system is now stopped by freezing temperatures: just an amazing experience in the heart of the longest glacier of the french Alps.
Watch the video here. Contact me for more details !
20 minutes from Chamonix is the peacefull Thermal parc in Le fayet. In the back of the Thermes building is a new born dry tooling spot. About 20 routes between 15 and 30 meters. From F 6B to 7C grade.
What is Dry Tooling ? Dry-tooling is climbing on non-icy rock but using ice climbing equipment such as crampons and ice axes.
Dynamic, burly moves, wild falls and unpredictable blow offs...dry tooling is controversial among many climbers !
Some favor it as a new and exciting kind of climbing, while others dislike it for its non traditional methods... Just try it yourself and make your own opinion !
Watch the related video from our last session with Peter in Le Fayet.