With the promise of an afternoon thunderstorm and aching, ageing limbs, I was pleased that we had decided to head for the relatively close Les Cheserys up at the Col des Montets. The weather was supposed to be a lot cooler, but it started out scorching, and we were all a little overdressed.
The routes here are all slabby, so the emphasis was on technique and balance…….. a bit of a bugger for me as I’m not sure I’ve got either.
Tish and Astrid started on the 150m Voie du Psychiatre, which wasn’t equipped, while Pete and I decided on La Voie de L’EHM (bolted) described in the guide as one of the best routes on the crag.
The climbing on the slabs was completely different to the thuggy granite across the valley. Easier on the arms, but harder on the feet, especially as I wasn’t used to cramming mine into the seemingly undersized shoes. On our route, Pete and I found the guidebook description to be accurate, Pitch 4, a 5c pitch that Pete led was great; balancy, with underclings and small side pulls.
By mid-afternoon the weather was, as predicted looking stormy, so Pete led a 1 pitch route with a tricky start, which Astrid and I top-roped and Tish led; and just as we packed up, the heavens opened. We were on our way down as the crag became a waterfall dotted with French climbers (smug feeling). This was a great place to climb; easy approach, great views and a variety of routes at the easier end of the scale.
I was just a little worried with the description of the proposed mine trip. The “bridge of death”, and a dingy that kept deflating had me very close to going for a walk above ground. But Pete’s enthusiasm “it’ll be a great adventure!!” finally won me over. More “more Observations from Underground”
On the weekend of the Mountain Festival in Keswick, there was a triathlon ending in Crow Park and the Borrowdale Trail Run, so Keswick was heaving…….. luckily Anna and Sarah had entered the Glaramara Fell race based at the Glaramara centre further up Borrowdale, and here it was relatively peaceful.
The race is fairly short for a fell race, 8kms and 630m of ascent, and with all the other events on there was only about 70 competitors, but as Sarah noted when she arrived : it was all the fast people who had turned up!! As it was their home event there was a lot of Borrowdale runners and they all do nothing else apart from run uphill.
The race is a straight up and down, with the turn round being on the top of Glaramara……
Despite the quality of the field, Sarah and Anna both had good runs, Sarah came in 3rd lady, and Anna picked up the prize for 1st in her class (I’ll let her tell you which class that is!!). So with post race euphoria, there was only one place to head………… the tea shop!!!
The last couple of weeks have found Anna and me joined by Zac, Steve, Brian and Jo ski touring around the area of the Vanoise. The Vanoise National Park sits high above the developed areas of the 3 Valleys ski resorts, and is a largely glaciated plateau rising to 3600 metres, but despite this it is rarely frequented, in fact on the days that we crossed the top of the plateau, we only saw one other group.
We based ourselves in Meribel chez Brian and Jo, and had a couple of days skiing off piste and day touring to check our kit and fitness. This included an overnight stay in a small unguarded hut, from where we ascended the Petit Mont Blanc, and an ascent of the Bourne glacier, accessed from the lifts of Meribel.
After our few days of day touring and a day resting we made a belated start on our tour. The weather had been looking very unsettled for the week ahead, and we gave it a couple of days to settle, but this shortened our tour by a day (it really just lengthened one of the days, but I didn’t let on). We left from Pralognan, in the north of the Vanoise in a mixture of sleet and drizzle, and with snow slides coming off the rock all around us. With the forecast improving, we pressed on uphill to the first hut, the Col de la Vanoise Refuge.
After a well earned rest, one of our two big days loomed ahead of us. This entailed an initial 700 metre climb up to the Col du Dard, a small descent to the Col du Pelve, and a final long 600 metre climb to the top of the Dome de Chasseforet. As we climbed the final slopes, the weather closed in, and the slope seemed to go on and on, with the summit shrouded in cloud. Eventually we made it to the top and had a tricky descent down a narrow icy ridge with unseen drops waiting to swallow any of us that slipped……..
Eventually we made it to wider, snowier slopes and came out of the cloud. Here the snow was easier to ski and we made quicker progress to the unguarded refuge de L’Arpont. We soon got the stove going, warmed up and collapsed……………
Day 3 of the tour was another long one: 1000 metre climb of the Glacier du Mahure to the col du Labby, but with the weather a lot better, we made short work of it, only to have to faff a lot at the top when the col marked on the map had a huge cornice on the other sdie, so we had to traverse a kilometre on soft dodgy slopes to another col further south. By the time we got to the refuge de fond D’Aussois, we were ready to drop.
During the night, much to the relief of most of us, the weather closed in , and by 6am we were stormbound, unable to leave the hut. We hoped the weather would improve, but by 11am it was worse, so we chilled for the day and stayed put………. ate more, drank wine and napped.
With the storm over by morning we headed for the Peclet Polset refuge, just 600m of ascent and much shorter distance. We were there by lunch, and the plat du Jour turned out to be the French version of a fry up…….. egg, bacon and chips. Just the ticket, washed down with a beer.
The Peclet Polset Refuge was busier than the others we had stayed in as it is so close to the access from Meribel and Val Thorens, but was nowhere near full, which we thought was strange as it was the Easter weekend.
Our last day was a short climb onto the Glacier de Gebroulez, and a long descent down to Meribel, and a lakeside restaurant….
The Vanoise is a great place to tour and an area I’ll certainly be returning to. It’s quiet and has a real remote feeling to it. There’s a lot of day tours available and great off piste skiing accessed by lifts. I’m not 100% sure I’ve convinced Anna of the merits of uphill skiing, but hopefully by next year she’ll have forgotten the ups …………. Hmmmmmmm…..
The season is moving on and there are only four weeks to go before we have to leave on the ship (so we’re not stuck here for the winter). All the efforts through early January to meet the Friday 13th deadline – decision day – were brought to nought by the failings of some of the systems on the mechanical and electrical side. At the time BAS did not have 100% confidence that the life support systems would be wholly efficient to take on the base for the winter, so the decision was delayed for two weeks, and its been an all out effort including late nights to move the project on sufficiently for BAS to make their decision.
The good news is that yesterday, with the arrival of a BAS board member by plane, the decision was made and they will winter in Halley 6. All the major systems are now functional and the large areas are finished. From next week we will be having all our meals in the new base.
Some of the lads haven’t really been pulling their (considerable) weight though and for some of us it’s been really frustrating to work on Sundays and until 10 o’clock most nights to be held up by wiring not done by guys who are “tossing it off” all day and finishing early.
As you can imagine, it’s the end of the season, we’re all getting a bit crabby, and there’s been some words said and some raised voices. (Yep, I’ve shouted at a few people!) How some of them ever get anything done at home eludes me.
Anyway despite this work has continued to put the finishing touches to the modules…
The science modules are all but finished and this week BAS move into them to set up and continue the science that has been continuing at Halley 5. The main module is looking more finished and the glass spiral staircase was fitted this week, while the command module (Base commanders office, surgery, comms room, server room and laundry) was completed and handed over last week.
With all the work, I’ve not got out skiing much, so the half marathon race from Halley 5 to 6 in two weeks time is looking like it might be quite slow. However, we did have time for a BBQ last Saturday, just getting it in before it was too cold to stand about outside. (We ran out of meat again!)
Windy Bay Penguins
News on the Windy Bay penguins is that the sea ice stayed for long enough for the young ones to fledge into the sea, and we now have the first few Adelie penuins about that are coming in to moult.
With the first sunset due in two weeks and the time seeming to fly by, it won’t be long before we’re packing up. There’s still lots to do, so I’ll keep you posted on progress…
With the weeks seeming to flash by here at Halley, even Christmas was over fairly quickly. Not the long drawn out process of back at home with it dragging on for weeks… We finished early on Christmas Eve (1pm), had Christmas day off and were back at work at 7.15am on Boxing Day. It was almost like it had never happened, but then, on Boxing Day the best Christmas present of all arrived: the ship!!!
We ate like kings…
Fresh fruit, vegetables and chocolate…
A variety of soft drinks…
And best of all, as I was emptying a container of build equipment, I came across a box with my name on it!! Presents from home and more choc and malt whisky. Things are a lot rosier…
Most of the work on site is moving ahead on schedule, its only the electrical side that seems to be holding things up. Most of the problem is the mess they constantly work in; they never clean up after themselves and are often working on top of weeks of debris. Their excuse is that they are too short of time to be cleaning up, and try as I might, they don’t believe me when I tell them they would work quicker and more efficiently on a clean site. Usually, some mug (i.e. me
or Les, the other painter) gets sick of the mess and sweeps up. On New years Eve I spents 2 hours moving 8 bags of rubbish from the undercroft of 1 module (Rant over!!!)…
This has a knock on effect on everything else, and 2 more sparkys are flying in in 2 weeks time to help catch up. D-day for the project is Friday 13th January when BAS have to be confident they will be able to winter in the Base and the main services will be functional. If not they will have work to do on the Halley 5 building for the winter. The mood though is optimistic.
No more news yet on the Windy Bay penguins, although we are hoping to catch up with them next weekend. The sea hasn’t been very rough, so we are hoping the sea ice has hung on over the festive period. I’ll keep you posted on them. Here are a few other wildlife shots to keep you going…
Over the last couple of weeks the main topic of conversation here at Halley has been food. After only a week here we began to run short of things. Of course, the food we are eating came on the ship last year and was ordered in about June 2010, so it appears they under-ordered. So far we’ve run short of pepper, sugar, meat, tomato sauce, CHOCOLATE, crisps… But at least there’s plenty of porridge. The emergency food was brought out, but with 60 people on base it hasn’t lasted long, and it was with great relief that a plane arrived from Rothera yesterday with more emergency food. The ship is also making good progress and should be here in the New Year. I forsee a Roman style banquet every night!!!!
Windy Bay Update
If you’re worried about how the young penguins at Windy Bay are getting on, I can report that the sea ice is still solid and they are getting a lot bigger. Hopefully the ice will remain into January when they should be big enough to survive. Here are some pics…
By the way…
Happy Christmas to all the Sterling Adventure Bloggers and readers from here. It’s going to be a white Christmas…