Monthly Archives: August 2009

MadCatSkills in Chamonix

Danny MacAskill has made quite a name for himself lately with his mad freestyle mountain bike skills. He pedaled past Col du Montets on his way through Chamonix recently and, fortunately for us, alert reader Michael Devor recorded the action.

After the warmup he started in with the upside down tricks. I mean this guy is seriously good, eh? OK, OK, I couldn’t figure out how to get these right side up and I finally gave up. They’re good enough to put in upside down though so if you’re on a lappy just hold the thing upside down and watch and hopefully I’ll get this figured out before the next one. Any and all ideas on the fix are more than welcome.

When there aren’t big boulders around to bounce around on, Danny makes the most out of fences, trees, staircases, traffic barriers and basically any other architectural feature he spots. Check out more of Danny’s skills in this remarkable vid.


Ultra Trail Beta, You Betcha

Only 100km left to go

Only 100km left to go

The Ultra Trail website is kind of a nightmare to wade through so I’ve compiled all the maps and profiles for UTMB 2009 races here in one easy-to-use reference. Allez Martina! Allez Crouse! Allez Terry!

CCC (Courmayeur, Cheztrey, Chamonix)

98km (61 miles)

5600m (18,373 feet) climbing

26hr max

1800 runners / 1266 finished

start Friday, 28 August 10:00, Courmayeur centro

Jean Yves Rey (SUI, Nike)                    11h 40m 47s
Nikolaos Kalofyris (GRE)                     12h 15m 35s
Ludovic Pommeret (FRA, Quechua)  12h 34m 20s

Chantel Begue (FRA)                             16h 51m 00s  (79th overall)
Patrizia Pensa (ITA)                               17h 10m 17s   (94th overall)
Giuliana Arrigoni (ITA)                         17h 11m 35s   (96th overall)

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix

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TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie)

105km (65 miles)

6700m (21,982 feet) climbing

30 hour max

1200 runners / 480 finished

starts Saturday, 29 August 5:00, Chamonix centre ville

Patrick Bohard (SUI, Asics)             14h 01m 48s
Thomas Saint Girons (FRA, Asics)  14h 04m 40s
Alun Powell (UK)                                14h 40m 23s

Fernanda Maciel (BRE, TNF)           17h 17m 43s     (26th overall)
Agnes Herve (FRA)                             17h 38m 16s     (32nd overall)
Kim Gaylord (USA, TNF)                   18h 11m 45s     (44th overall)

Sur les Traces de Duc de Savoy

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie

Sur les Traces des Ducs des Savoie

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie

UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc)

166km (103 miles)

9400m (30,840 feet) climbing

46hr max

2300 runners / 1383 finished

Starts Friday, 28 August 18:30, Chamonix centre ville

Jornet Kilian (ESP, Salomon)               21h 33m 18s
Sébastien Chaigneau (FRA, TNF)        22h 36m 45s
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (JAP, TNF)            22h 48m 36s

Kristin Moehl (USA, Patagonia)          24h 56m 01s     (11th overall)
Elisabeth Hawker (UK, TNF)               26h 04m 42s    (18th overall)
Monica Aguilera Viladomiu (ESP)      29h 17m 31s      (55th overall)

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

PTL (Petite Trotte a Léon)

245km (152 miles)

9,400m climbing (30, 840 feet) climbing

60 teams of 3 runners each

started Tuesday, 25 August 22:00 Chamonix centre ville

Chossat, Morfin, Allouard                     79h 24m
Mirabaud, Banegas, Fournier               86h 25m
Joie, Louon, Salmon                               86h 25m

La Pettite Trot à Léon

La Petite Trotte à Léon

La Pettite Trot à Léon

La Petite Trotte à Léon

And They’re Off! … (their freakin’ heads)


Let the suffering begin. The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) officially kicked off Wednesday night at 22:00 with the start of La Petite Trotte à Léon. Amidst a blaze of flashing lights and cheering crowds the racers took off into the darkness as the sky unloaded and the cold rain began hammering the runners on the first leg of their 245km (152 miles) course with 21,000m (68,897 feet) of climbing to look forward to.

The Petite Trotte is a non-competitive event for a maximum of 60 teams of three runners each, at least two of whom must have previously completed the UTMB. The race description states:

-Each 3-man team must stay together throughout the event.

-The course follows a mapped path that may not be signposted

-The course is 100% trail running with less than 5km (3.1 miles) on pavement.

-Paths are clearly more difficult than those of the UTMB and can present objective dangers (very steep slopes, falling stones, very narrow paths, and risk of getting lost on very faint trails).

-Teams must finish before Sunday, 30 Aug at 16:30

-Runners are completely autonomous with refreshment and rest available only at the mountain refuges that are passed along the way. Personal assistance is forbidden.

-The course is often above 2,500m (8,200 feet), far from any refuge, and in case of poor weather conditions can become extremely tough.

-There will be no assistance on the ground other than that supplied by the mountain refuges.

Hmmm, surely I wasn’t the only one to get a sinking feeling in my stomach as I watched the lightning and remembered back to this past June when three competitors died overnight from exposure at a race in Mercantour.

Four Races

ultra-trail5000 runners will be competing in four races in this year’s UTMB on courses ranging from 98km to 245km. All competitors will be issued a chip that will be scanned as racers pass through checkpoints every seven kilometers (4.35 miles). However, as in Mercantour, the problem is what happens to the racers between checkpoints, which is one of the reasons competitors are required to carry a mobile telephone with a fully charged battery to which storm warnings can be texted to the racers based on their position.

Rescue and health professionals on hand include PGHM, CRS, mountain rescue, firefighters, doctors, physiotherapists, podiatrists, nurses and volunteers – around 1400 people in all. In addition a Race Control will be set up in Chamonix for the duration of the event and will continuously follow the racers. In case of emergency the team will be able to phone Race Control and speak with a doctor for diagnosis and advice on field treatment. If they need to see a doctor they must reach the next village. If the team finds it impossible to move they can alert Race Control and emergency services will be notified.

Obligatory equipment per person
– 1-litre minimum water supply
– Two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries
– Mini survival blanket (140×210 cm)
– Whistle
– Mobile phone with international option
– Sleeping bag
– Clothes:
o breathable T-shirt
o two breathable and warm undershirts with long sleeves
o a long-sleeved fleece
o goretex jacket
o long tights
– Sun glasses
– Gloves
– Hood
– Altimeter and compass
– Knife

Obligatory equipment per team

Road-book (instructions and map of the race) provided by the organizers

– a bivouac tent  big enough to enable a team of 3 to take shelter
– a rescue pack (see below)
– a digital camera

Highly recomended
A GPS on which the maps given by the organisers will have been downloaded.

Required by Customs authorities
– identity papers

Other equipment advised (non exhaustive list)
– camping stove
– trekking poles
– Goretex-style trousers
– additional clothes
– string, sun cream, Vaseline or anti-burn cream

In addition, a GPS/GSM tag is issued to Petite Trotte competitors that will send out an SMS every 15 minutes indicating the position of the team. This information will allow Race Control to follow the progression of the team as well as friends and family to follow on the racers’ progress on Google Earth.

Good luck, ladies and gentlemen. Let the hardest man win.

Off Belay

Well, I got so much response from the last Chamonix accident report that I’ve decided to post another to hold us over until either Martial calls me back to fill me in on the Cervin or we get a better picture of the forecast which will determine whether I cover the Ultra Trail or go climbing in the next few days. Come on, sun!



Tasting the Void

Thursday, 20 August – A 35-year-old man from Bordeaux missed the last lift down from the top of the Grands Montets and, as you do when confronted with hazardous terrain and approaching nightfall, decided to walk down the glacier. Alone. Unsurprisingly the intrepid adventurer fell into a crevasse and broke his leg while descending. Astonishingly, he survived the night in the crevasse and was able to extricate himself on his own. He was spotted the next morning near the 4th pylon by a GM lifty who called PGHM who escorted him the rest of the way down.

Wings Over White

Wednesday, 19 August – For the first time since the epic summer of 2003, paragliders landed on the summit of Mont Blanc (4810m). After taking off at 13:52 Denis Cortella and Max Jeanpierre took one-and-a-half hours to fly from Planpraz to the summit of Mont Blanc. Although some were claiming this amazing feat to be a new record for summitting MB without mechanical means this seems to be a case of comparing apples to oranges when compared to the guy who took four hours to run from the centre ville to the top. I mean, we’re not 100% sure but we’re guessing the pilots used the lift – yeah, the big mechanical one – to get up to Planpraz at 2000m, right?

Anyway, congrats to the 11 paragliders who touched down on the summit. The crew included what I’ve been led to believe is the first tandem pilot Olivier Laugero as well as the first female pilot, former world-ranked pilot and Chamonix tandem instructor Caroline Brille, to paraglide to the summit.

The video I saw from this feat is pretty dull so instead of that here’s a great bit o’ footy of Steve Waining early August 2003, his first year flying, flipping out as he sails over the Dru. For those who wonder about the whole parapente thing, Steve-o’s voice pretty much says it all.

Accidental Tourists

Guy Martin-Ravel

photo: Guy Martin-Ravel

Wednesday, 19 August – Busy season for the PGHM as they began the day by rescuing a victim of acute mountain sickness at the Col des Dômes. Around 17:00, they assisted an apparent heart attack victim at the ice cave on the Mer de Glace (and cruelly ignored my own heart palpitations as I raced across the glacier to barely catch the last Montenvers train down). The boys in blue rounded out the day by evacuating two exhausted hikers, one older than 80, from the trail between Brévent and Flégère.

Japanese Death Rappel

Monday, 17 August – A 59-year-old Japanese man, accompanied by a guide from the Compagnie de Chamonix, died while rappelling from Point Gaspard in the Aiguilles Rouges. Initial reports indicate the guide had already descended when the client fell and early speculation is centered around the client’s daisy chain. To learn more about the dangers of daisy chains, check out this vid. Or just bring up the subject with Stian. Believe me, you’ll get an earful.

Guide Down

Sunday, 16 August – Alberto Noraz, a 53-year-old Courmayeur guide and member of the Val d’Aoste mountain rescue team, was killed on the Bernezat Spur of the Tour Ronde. Reports indicate he fell 200m as a result of ‘rupture du becquet rocheux’ (broken hold?). His Italian client received minor rope burns but was otherwise uninjured. Our sympathies go to the Noraz family.

Butts Afire

FireSunday, 16 August – A fire broke out beneath the 10th and 11th pylons of the Brévent–Planpraz gondola at around 11:15. Firemen originally planned to rappel from the gondolas but changed their minds when confronted by the wind-driven flames and toxic fumes. Plan B? Call Pascal Brun of CMBH and ask him to bring his extraordinarily large, 900-liter bucket. 38 trips were needed to dump 34 cubic meters of Lake Champraz water, extinguishing the flames in 13 hours. Four fire trucks from Chamonix, Saint-Gervais, Sallanches and Cluses were also used to secure the area and thoroughly extinguish the fire.

Many tourists who found themselves stuck at the mid-station simply walked down while around 200 others, who were unable or uninterested in walking, were evacuated by 4×4.

Firefighters believe the wildfire was started by a cigarette butt. Or a cigarette arse, as the case may be.

No Picnic at the Dining Room

Week of 10-16 August – A group of aspirant guides were on a training exercise to Dent du Geant with instructors and clients

Dent du Géant

Dent du Géant

when disaster struck. One of the aspirants was moving with his client across the ‘dining room’, the snowy mixed saddle that accesses the Geant, when a loose block caused him to fall pulling his protection and his client with him. The aspirant fell about 50 meters when, despite a fractured wrist, he was able to arrest his fall and that of the client who was suspended in air after falling over a rock wall. The 29-year-old Chambery woman suffered a fractured sternum and several fractured ribs. The ENSA professor overseeing the group called a rescue, which due to their location, was answered by the Italian rescue service who took two-and-a-half hours to make it to the scene of the accident.

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Instant Gratification

I know, I know, I’ve been a little slack lately with the regular updates but this latest weather window coincided with the availability of some of my fav-o-rite climbing partners and as they say in the mountains, “When it’s good, you go.” So I went. Several times in fact. Maillon Manquant on the Peigne, Walker Spur, Aiguille de la République. All-time routes that I’ll be posting soon enough. But in the meantime here’s a little teaser from Thierry Donard’s next Nuit de la Glisse / Perfect Moment moving picture called Instant featuring Chamonix’s Robert Pecnik blowing minds with a bit of base/wing/proximity hijinks. If this footage doesn’t blow your hair back then man you must be totally bald.

Instant will be released 6 November 2009 in 42 countries around the globe. And yeah, my guess is that the footy from Jean Noel (whom you see at the beginning of the vid dropping in right behind Robert) will be amazing.

So. Can’t. Wait.

Climbing Legend Riccardo Cassin Dies at 100


Legendary alpinist Riccardo Cassin died last Thursday, 6 August, at the age of 100. Born on 2 January 1909 in the province of Friuli, Italy, Cassin was orphaned at a very young age and started work at the age of 13 as a blacksmith, a mason and then as a mechanic.

It was during this time that his natural ability and passion for the mountains enabled him to develop into a premiere talent. He began climbing with the Ragni di Lecco (Lecco Spiders) and opened his first routes in 1931 at the age of 22. In 1935 he astounded the international climbing community by climbing the north face of the Cime Ovest di Lavaredo (Italian VIII°/VI° /500m / A0 or 5.11d/5.9 A0) in the Dolomites. This route was coveted by the biggest names in climbing at the time and had developed a reputation as being unconquerable. Federica Valabrega describes the route in a Climbing magazine interview:

Cima Ovest Lavaredo (UIAA VIII- or VI-/A2)

Cima Ovest Lavaredo (UIAA VIII- or VI-/A2)

…a 500-meter line alternating overhanging sections with some more technical roofs, both requiring a large number of pitons. At that time, the ascent lasted over 60 hours, during which three terrible rainstorms lashed the wall, making snow condition very precarious.

July 1937 – Cassin leads the first ascent of Via Cassin, the northeast face of Piz Badile in the Bregaglia, Switzerland with best friend and climbing buddy Vittorio Ratti and Gino Esposito. M. Molteni and G. Valsecchi had reached the wall earlier and asked to rope in when the parties merged. illustrates the epic struggle:

Piz Badile (TD / 1200m / IV/6a)

Piz Badile (TD / 1200m / IV/6a)

In the evening during the first camp on the wall, Molteni asked Cassin to rope in. The second day of climbing was full of great technical difficulties worsened by the absolute isolation and the frequent stonefall.
During the night of the second bivvy a terrible rainstorm broke out that put the five alpinists to the test especially Molteni and Valsecchi who were already exhausted by the efforts of the climb.
On the third day the team conquered the wall after climbing many hours in rain that transformed into hail and then into heavy snow.
The descent down the Italian side was difficult due to cold weather, poor visibility and rapidly diminishing light. Molteni and Valsecchi, physically and psychologically exhausted, did not reach their salvation.

In August 1938 he followed with perhaps his greatest triumph. Along with with Gino Esposito and Ugo Tizzoni, the team climbed what was at that time widely known as the greatest alpine challenge, the Walker Spur (Italian V+, or 5.7) on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m). The team spent 80 hours on the mountain, 35 of which were spent on mixed terrain. Mountaineering in the Alps recounts the infamous story,

They knew nothing of the Chamonix district, had never been there before, and

Walker Spur (ED- / 1200m / 5+/A1

Walker Spur (ED- / 1200m / 5+/A1

in a vague fashion asked the hut keeper where the Grandes Jorasses were. Even more vaguely, the man made a sweeping gesture and said: “somewhere there”. He had not recognised the Italians and he thought their question was a joke. He was greatly surprised when, the next evening, he saw a bivouac light fairly high up the Walker spur; by the next night the light ha[d] crept up the face. On August 6th the party reached the summit ridge, where it was caught by a violent storm which compelled the men to bivouac on the way down.

Cassin’s comment on the climb?

“We climb straight up, on a line of pitons, without pushing the route unnaturally. We take the necessary material, we plan the bivouacs; only bad weather can come between us and our line.”

Many more remarkable achievements were to follow in the coming years:

Gasherbrum IV (7925m)

Gasherbrum IV (7925m)

1939 – Cassin and Tizzoni – first ascent, northeast face of the Aiguille de Leschaux (ED-/800 m).

1943-45 – Decorated for his actions with the Italian resistance movement which fought against German occupiers in Italy.

1947 – Began producing mountaineering equipment in Lecco including pitons, then hammers in 1948, ice axes 1949, carabiners 1950, the “first eiderdown duvet jackets for non-European mountaineering expeditions” 1950, his first harness prototype 1958, and the first titanium crampons in 1960.

Jirishanca (6094m)

Jirishanca (6094m)

1958 – expedition leader, first ascent of Gasherbrum IV (7925m) by Bonatti and Mauri.

1960 – expedition leader, Jirishanca (6126m), Peruvian Andes.

1961 – expedition leader/climber, Cassin Ridge, Denali (6,194 m. the most technical route on the mountain at the time).

1975 – expedition leader, unclimbed south face of Lhotse (8516m).

Riccardo Cassin is an honorary president of the C.A.I. section of Lecco, of the Spider (Ragni) group, an academician of the C.A.I., and a national climbing instructor. He is an honorary member of the Italian Alpine Club, French Groupe Haute Montagne, American Alpine Club, Club Academico de Montanismo Espanol, and Swiss Alpine Club Bregaglia section.

In December 1971 he received the honour of Commendatore della Repubblica and in 1976 the honorary citizenship of Lecco. He has been designated Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica.

Riccardo Cassin’s legendary achievements have been recognized in a book produced for his 100th birthday celebration, entitled Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista (“Riccardo Cassin: One Hundred Faces of a Great Alpinist”).


"The mountain is a life teacher because it gives you the most fulfilling sensation you could possibly get from life and teaches you how to think without fearing. One who fears should not attempt to climb; nonetheless, you must have a little prudence when you climb. One without prudence is crazy." -Riccardo Cassin (1909-2009)

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Alaska: Two Brits, Two Weeks, Two New Routes

Jon Bracey leading the crux pitch of Meltdown (1,300m, ED3 V M6 R). photo: Helliker

Jon Bracey leading the crux pitch of Meltdown (1,300m, ED3 V M6 R). photo: Helliker

OK, so I’m a bit off the back here but hey, a story about two Chamonix locs putting up two impressive new routes in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge deserves space regardless if it’s four months or four years late.

Been trying to get more deets from the boys but trying to pin down a coupla guides in summer in Chamonix is like putting cats in a bag so I’ll just regurgitate what I’ve seen on the web so far.

According to

On May 10, the Britons climbed a line of ice runnels through steep granite slabs on the north face of Mt. Grosvenor, then followed a beautiful gully to the east ridge, with a crux pitch of M6 on rotten ice and fragile volcanic rock. They reached the summit after 12 hours of climbing, descended the south face to the col between Grosvenor and Mt. Church, and then continued to the glacier, returning to camp 20 hours after leaving. The new route, Meltdown (1,300m, ED3 V M6 R), lies between Once Were Warriors (Walsh-Westman, 2005) and Warriors Way (Walsh-Westman, 2006).

Bracey, Meltdown

Bracey, Meltdown

Helliker, Meltdown

Helliker, Meltdown

Meltdown, Mt Grosvenor, Ruth Gorge, Alaska

Meltdown, Mt Grosvenor (2,575m), Ruth Gorge, Alaska

Two days later, Bracey and Helliker climbed a new route on the north face of Mt. Church, well to the left of the Japanese “Giri-Giri Boys” route Memorial Gate (Ichimura-Sato-Yamada, 2007), the first route on the face. Good snow conditions allowed them to quickly reach a snow-stuffed, overhanging chimney high on the face. After Helliker’s painstaking battle with this crux lead, 250 meters of snow flutings led to the east ridge, where more insecure climbing past big cornices and rotten rock gained the top, 10 hours after starting. They called the route For Whom the Bell Tolls (1,150m, ED2 V WI6 and mixed).

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Mt Church (2509m), Ruth Gorge, Alaska

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Mt Church (2509m), Ruth Gorge, Alaska

Helliker leading FWTBT crux ((1,150m, ED2 V WI6 and mixed)

Helliker leading FWTBT crux (1,150m, ED2 V WI6 and mixed) photo: Bracey

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CHX homeys Helliker and Bracey

CHX homeys Helliker and Bracey

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