Monthly Archives: October 2009

Willett and Jack ski 8156m Manaslu

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Guy Willett. Or is that Emma?

More news trickling in from the Himalaya about Chamonix crew kicking back and relaxing on their days off. This time it’s Chamonix-based mountain guide Guy Willett of Dream Guides and news about a leisurely weekend of skiing over on Manaslu (8156m). More specifically, on September 28 he and his friend/client, Emma Jack, made what could well be the first complete ski descent of the world’s eighth highest mountain.

Willett and Jack climbed and skied the North East Face route using siege tactics including fixed ropes, on-mountain Sherpa support and supplementary oxygen. The descent from summit to basecamp is around 3,300 meters (10,827 feet).

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"...And we'll build a big kicker right there on the lip so we can boost this gap on the way down."

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Guy Willett

Between C4 and the summit

Based on scattered reports from the interweb, Willett and Jack left Camp 4 (7450m) on September 28 at around 2:30a.m. followed by a group of Himex climbers. They climbed to within 15-20 vertical meters below the summit and waited while the Himex crew, led by Adrian Ballinger, fixed a rope to the top. After the Himex team had descended Willett and Jack continued to the apex arriving around 9:00. The pair then downclimbed the fixed rope and clicked in about 15 meters below the summit. From a dispatch on EverestNews.com Willett reported,

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Charging above 8000m

“Emma and I skied back to C4 in difficult crusty snow and spent maybe an hour warming up our super cold feet in the tents before continuing down. We skied the line of ascent til about 7,200m. At this point the ascent line negotiates very steep ice and we traversed a long way to the right side to avoid these ice cliffs.”

“We then skied down (in great snow) for about 100m or so before traversing back to C3 at the north col (6800m). From there we skied the line of ascent all the way back to ‘crampon point’ – the point at about 5050m where one joins the rocky moraine for the 30 minute walk back to BC.”

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“I took my skis off once for a short abseil (5m) down an ice wall at about 6250m, as by then we were in white out visibility and finding a safe way through with skis on was not possible. Emma downclimbed maybe 250m in the icefall. We were at BC by 4pm the same day. We stopped using oxygen at C4.”

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Guy Willett - Dream Guides

According to unconfirmed reports, the first ski descent of Manaslu was made in 1981 by an Austrian team. At this time it’s uncertain whether the Austrians made a complete descent. Another Austrian ski descent was made from 7,000m to basecamp on May 2, 1993 by Sepp Brunner, Gerhard Floßmann, Sepp Hinding and Dr. Michael Leuprecht who reached the summit via the normal route.

Based on the pending verification of the ’81 descent it seems there is a strong possibility that Willett and Jack’s achievement could be the first complete ski descent of Manaslu. Whatever the outcome, 3,300m of fresh tracks starting at over 8000m is a noteworthy achievement worthy of respect.

Trommsdorff-Graziani Send Burly New Route on Nemjung

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Christian Trommsdorff, Yannick Graziani

Word has hit Chamonix that Christian Trommsdorff and Yannick Graziani have successfully climbed a bold new route on the south face of Nemjung (7140m) in the Manaslu region of Nepal.

The pair left camp on Saturday, 10 October and made the six-day ascent in exquisite style: the team rocked up to an unfamiliar face, determined a line and sent a gnarly new route on a virgin face, bottom to top, single push, totally self-sufficient. Allez the hardmen.

In an email to the ChamonixInsider, Trommsdorff described the route:

It’s a route of around 2400 meters, 45 pitches (plus some simul-climbing for maybe 25% of the route), ED+, mostly ice/mixed and snow and a few pitches of rock. Many very delicate snow ridges/walls/flutes to climb and traverse, fantastic gullies and mixed climbing, many vertical sections. It was a very committing route. The abseils were complicated and we had to climb from a gully back onto the base of the first tower, which we had avoided on the way up with a 60m abseil.

We only acclimatised for three nights – 5200m, 5400m and 5600m – on the ridges east and west of our basecamp. We then had a forced 12-day rest period.

Day 3 - near the top of the first serac

Day 3 - near the top of the first serac

It was a great six-day climb of the south spur, maybe the most beautiful we have ever done, certainly the most continuously steep,  sustained and constantly exposed. Although no pitches were as hard as the hardest ones on Chomolonzo or Pumari Chhish there was always uncertainty about the key passages; on the last day there was a miraculous hole in the very corniced ridge that enabled us to cross to the other side.

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Day 4 - between the seracs

On Oct 15th at 14:15 we reached the top of the south face but not the top of Nemjung. Another bivvy would have been necessary to follow the fairly flat and long ridge to the summit. But the lower wind window was closing in on us and I felt too weak to keep going. The previous day I had been hit on the helmet by a big chunk of ice and I felt like I was in a state of shock although I didn’t lose consciousness. Continuing would have meant a long descent in the dark so we turned around. Later, on the long way down, I had several moments of “absence” like when I dropped Yannick’s backpack, for example. (Two days after the climb he went back up to a bergschrund and found the pack, but the camera had fallen out. We lost two hours of his film and we have only my photos left!!!)

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Day 4 - second serac

Conditions were stable and there were no objective dangers except for an easy one-minute traverse of a couloir below the big serac. We waited three full days after the massive snow dump and started early on Oct 11th. We arrived back down at BC at 22:00 on Oct 16th. Note that on the second day the cold weather helped because the gully behind the first tower has some mixed sections with very poor rock. On the third day the absence of strong wind probably prevented icicles from falling off the first serac onto the ridge.

We climbed the entire route free. Gear : 2×60 twin ropes, four ice screws (not enough!!!), six friends, a few nuts, 10 pitons (we dropped four), and a few slings.

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Day 5 - second to the last pitch

The team had originally planned to put up a new route on Manaslu (8156m) but the mountain has been battered by high winds and unusually high snowfall this season which forced them to change their plans.

“We couldn’t climb Manaslu because of lack of acclimatisation and too much snow…we had a long 12 day period of rest due to very bad weather, but in the end managed to put up what we believe is a new route on the south face of Nemjung.”

Trommsdorff and Graziani have already distinguished themselves with new routes on Makalu (8460m), Chomo Lonzo (7400m), and Paksitan’s Pumari Chischa (7000m). They have also climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen and the south face of Aconcagua.

The third member of the acclaimed TGW team, Patrick Wagnon, missed this trip because he is preparing for an Antarctic expedition with Isabelle Autissier and Lionel Daudet in December.

Although Trommsdorff and Graziani have rated their route ED+, the Insider sticks with its original assessment of Gnarl Factor 11 until the route receives a second ascent.

tracé voie nemjung*

Bottom of the face 4750m. Bivvys at 5300m, 5800m, 6200m, 6500m. Top of the south face about 7000m.

Flight of the Felix

Felix Rodriguez

Felix Rodriguez

So I’m walking home from checking out the new Burton gear that just dropped at Zero G and I look  in the air and see a parapente overhead doing these crazy infinity loops over and over and over again. When they eventually ended it was straight into helicopter spins: first clockwise, abrupt stop, and then counterclockwise. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Now let it be known that I live in a place where there are days when you can look to the skies and see 30 wings in the air. And that’s a conservative estimate. What I’m saying is that although I’m a total novice when it comes to flying I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s extraordinary when I see it. And this guy was truly impressionant. So like the ace reporter that I am, I decide to hop on the Nouveau Style (Steam Punk had a flat) and mosey on over to the landing field to find out more about what this guy’s all about.

Turns out Felix Rodriguez is originally from a village in Spain between Alicante and Madrid and has been flying for 20 years. Needless to say, the guy’s witnessed the wild progression of the sport firsthand and has the medals to prove it. He’s been living in Chamonix for the past two years with his fine young son Horacio and his lovely lady Charlotte, an amazing pilot in her own right (stay glued to these pages for a future post on her).

Anyway, I ended up catching him on video the next day and mashed it up with a slammin guitar rock band  from Austin. Do not go a step further without plugging this into the big speakers and crankin it to 11.

Amazing or what? Wonder what it looks like from his perspective? Check out the lid-spinning felix-cam in this one …

No question about it, it’s a different breed of human that goes out and does that for fun every day. Big smile, a leg of Spanish jambon and a sharp knife, the smile of a young boy with his father and mother and her mother and peanut butter and nutella and a big black dog and friends with big smiles and warm energy.

Search Felix Rodriguez on Vimeo to see more.

“Live, live, live, live. Live while I can, yeah.”

Horacio and Felix

Horacio and Felix

Ullr Shines Light on Chamonix – Needs to Replace Batteries

Chamonix’s first snowfall of the season doesn’t look like much but it’s better than nothing. Everybody get naked and do that snow dance!

Post script: Turns out I took that video during the only 3 minutes that it snowed all weekend. While the eastern Alps were once again getting hammered our total recorded snowfall for the valley over the weekend was about .0001 cm.

Make your winter holiday reservations now … in Austria.

Still untracked!

See that little patch of snow near the top of lift. It's still untracked!

Ski Porn Smackdown: Instant vs Edge of Never

'Instant' by Perfect Moment / Nuit de la Glisse

Charlie Sarragalet (RIP) – 'Instant' by Perfect Moment / Nuit de la Glisse

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve been a bit slack lately getting the posts up and the backlog is building. Anyway, in this installment of the Ski Porn Smackdown you’re getting two different vids and they’re both tied to Chamonix. First up is Thierry Donard’s Perfect Moment / Nuit de la Glisse film, Instant.

Now, I’ve always wondered why a filmmaker who lives in Chamonix would travel to the far corners of the earth when the best lines are certainly here. I mean that’s why we live here, right? Well, the epic season of ’08/09 was just too amazing to neglect and Thierry stayed home to shoot local hellmen like Mic Devor, Karsten Gefle, Mike Lamy and Fred Syversen shredding their home turf where they charge hardest.

Now for the benefit of those who live outside the valley I should stop right here and mention that conditions are never like this in Chamonix. In fact most of this film was shot either on bulletproof blue ice with Thierry’s battalion of special FX logging some serious overtime to magically create the untracked, deep powder imagery that appears on the screen. Either that or it was shot in the Arlberg where they have waaaay more powder and much smaller lift queues and complimentary weiss beer served by flirtatious young fräuleins at the bottom of every lift. Man if I wasn’t stuck here in this dump that’s where I’d be for sure.

Anyway, there’s also some amazing base jump, wingsuit, proximity flying, and speed riding courtesy of Chamonix’s resident lunatics Jean-Noël Itzst, Robert Pecnik, Alex Aimard and recently deceased Charlie Sarragallet that is simply not to be missed. The progression of these … erm … leisure activities is mind-blowing.

There’s a free preview in Annecy at the Pop Plage on 30 October at 23:00 and a premiere in Chamonix on 31 October. These nights are not to be missed.

Edge of Never

And our next entry in today’s Ski Porn Smackdown is Edge of Never. “A documentary feature film set in the world of big mountain skiing, The Edge of Never is a real life coming of age saga about the tribe of skiers who challenge the biggest, most dangerous mountains…”

[Cue scary music] … “In the World’s MOST DANGEROUS Mountains. No one rides ALONE.”

Oh my.

Anyway don’t let the spray put you off this vid because it looks like it’s a great story. Extreme skier Trevor Peterson died back in the day while filming in Chamonix leaving behind a wife and a few children. His son Kye grows up and turns out to be what looks like a pretty solid little ripper. He bravely decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and travels to Chamonix. With Glen Plake, Mike Hattrup and others (rare cameo appearance by Nate Wallace!) as his mentors, he prepares to ski the line that killed his father, the Glacier Rond.

Reviews on the net are super positive. There’s evidently a book about the story as well and Steve McQueen gives it two thumbs up. Or was that the conversation about Steve House’s new book? What the heck, read ’em both and cover all the bases.

Janne’s Chamonix Shopping Post

Holy re-branding. Nice work, Aigle.

Holy re-branding. Nice work, Aigle.

Word has filtered down through the Scanner Underground that some of my fav-o-rite readers are threatening to mutiny unless I get some girly stuff up ASAP. I told them I’ve already spent hours searching the interweb for that image of Farrah Fawcett in ski pants that the Dawg requested but I was assured in no uncertain terms that’s not the kind of girly they’re looking for.

So being the outerwear industry vet that I am I figured I’d do a little window shopping. And if a person’s eyes are a window into their soul then I’m thinking Chamonix’s windows look like a trip to the optometrist is in order. Or would that be an opthamologist? A visit to both wouldn’t hurt, really.

Nonetheless, there are indeed a few doe-eyed beauties lining the streets of our fair village so in an effort to promote the fine art of window dressing here are the results from an early evening perambulation down Chamonix’s high street.

Consistently the best windows in town.

Consistently the best windows in town.

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Early Xmas present for LL?

Early Xmas present for LL?

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The North Face
The North Face

Moncler - Italian styley

Gary Neptune's gonna be stoked.

Moncler - Gary Neptune's gonna be stoked.

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Millet

Patagonia

Patagonia

Patagonia

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Tease Me, Snowboard – Nice Try

OK, I’m back in Chamonix and yes, the Calanques is an amazing place to climb. Yeah, yeah, it’s a little polished – OK, it’s a lot polished – but that only means you focus harder on those placements, right? I mean, what’s so bad about trying to edge on a bit of teflon-coated glass when you’re climbing in swimming trunks and you’ve got a beautiful blue Mediterranean sea to fall into?

Anyway, back in the mountains now with a bunch of great ideas for content so stay tuned and hopefully this lovely new teaser from People Creative will keep you occupied while I delete my Inbox. Hang on until the end for the killer bail section.

Question du Jour: why can’t ski vids be more like snowboard vids with less cheesy voiceover and mo’ betta’ soundtrack and bail sections?