Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tumwater Fire Update ~ August 24, 2011 ~ Leavenworth Rock Climbing

Just a short update to let everyone know that our Leavenworth Rock Climbing Courses will be running as scheduled as the fire scene is under control and not having any effect on our local rock climbing courses. Northwest Mountain School ~ 509-548-5823

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
215 Melody Lane
Wenatchee, WA 98801

For immediate release:  Tuesday, August 23, 2011    5 p.m.

Contacts:        Robin DeMario, Okanogan-Wenatchee Public Affairs, 509-548-2558
                         Joe Anderson, Fire Information Officer, 509 860-7209               

All Quiet at Tumwater Canyon Fire

Although smoke is still visible from the 458-acre Tumwater Canyon Fire, fire activity today was minimal.  Approximately 50 firefighters continued mopping-up along the perimeter and patrolling the fire throughout the day.

With a fireline completely around the fire, and the success of firefighting efforts to date, this will be the final information update on the Tumwater Canyon Fire.

Fire managers are grateful to everyone involved with fire suppression efforts and for local community support.  No injuries occurred during suppression actions and no structures were threatened.

Travelers through Tumwater Canyon will continue to see occasional flames along the highway and in the interior of the fire.  These flames will be especially visible at night; please do not report flames seen between mile post markers 91 and 94 in Tumwater Canyon--these spots are not new wildfires. 

Due to steep terrain, there is potential for rocks, trees and other forest debris to roll downhill from the fire area.  Motorists are advised to be aware of these potential hazards as well as fire vehicle traffic and suppression activities along Highway 2.  Fire managers ask the public to remain vigilant and drive safely and slowly through the fire area and not stop to look at the remains of the fire. 


The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to State and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mont Blanc 5-day Climb ~ August 13-17, 2011

I wrapped up my summer 2011 Alps season by picking up a 5-day Mont Blanc trip with brothers Paul and Matt on a program organized by International Mountain Guides.  Both had been scheduled to go on a Mt. Elbrus climb that needed to be cancelled at the last minute and were looking for a romp in the mountains that could stand up to the highest peak in Europe, thus Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, seemed a logical stand-in.

Matt on the ski lift to La Breya above Champex-Lac, Switzerland
We started by taking a 90 minute taxi ride from Chamonix, France to Champex, Switzerland on the morning of August 13 as this would shorten the approach to the Cabane du Trient (3170m), and allow us to do a nice 2-day traverse back to the Chamonix Valley without needing to retrace our steps.  We boarded the lift to La Breya (base of lift 1498m - top of lift 2194m) just above the Swiss ski resort of Champex-Lac, avoiding 600 meters of climbing enroute to the edge of the Trient Plateau, and making the Cabane du Trient a logical destination for a day that would also include some training on the hike in.

Matt and Paul just below the Cabane du Orny, with Clochers du Portalet in background.

The hike in takes the same approach used for the Cabane d'Orny (2826m), but then continues another 60-90 minutes on either glacier or trail to reach the Cabane du Trient (3170m), which is about 1000 feet higher and better positioned for a quick acclimatization program.  The area between La Breya and the Cabane d'Orny is very well known for its excellent rock climbing, with the most impressive feature in the area being the Clochers du Portalet, which features a Yosemite-like clean corner system that goes at around French 7a.  This is also a good place to see Bouquetin (Capra Ibex), a species of wild-goat, common in the Alps, but not so common that you are not psyched when you finally see one in the wild.
Matt hiking in to the Cabane du Trient with the Glacier d'Orny below.
As we would only be out for one night, we were able to keep our packs pretty light.  This first trip is designed to become familiar with the differences between short-rope, short-interval, and long-interval rope techniques, to acclimatize, and to sort out what exactly is needed for climbing in the alps.  As the huts provide food and shelter, you really can trim your personal gear down to less than half of what you might carry for a similar climb in the wilderness of the US.  Our weather was stunning on any day we needed good weather.
Paul and Matt on Glacier d'Orny with Le Portalet (3344m) in the background.
After passing below the Cabane d'Orny we gained the Glacier d'Orny, which we followed up to the col d'Orny (3096m), on the edge of the Trient Plateau, just below the Cabane du Trient.  I had been here a few weeks earlier and there was a solid foot of new snow on the glacier, but during the past few weeks the weather in the alps had finally returned to more normal weather for August, and things were melting pretty quickly.
Climbers on Trient Plateau with Aiguilles Dorees in the background
Once we gained the Trient Plateau we wrapped around to the approach used in the spring when we are skiing the Haute Route and practiced some short-rope, and short pitch technique on the steep rock bench to the NW of the Trient Hut.  At this point we are over 3000 meters, or about 10,000 feet, so any time we can spend at this elevation is going to begin to help us acclimatize for our ascent of Mt. Blanc.

Matt and Paul in the dining area of the Cabane du Trient, Switzerland.
Hut life seems to be something that American's either love or hate.  If you look at it as an opportunity to have someone else cook you a great, simple meal, and an opportunity to climb without a tent, stove, or sleeping bag, then you will love it.  The hut wardens wake-up each day at 3 am, cook for a bunch of dirty, disorganized, climbers and skiers, and then work until close to 10 pm each night.  They catch up on sleep during the day with cat naps here and there, and generally work 7 days a week during the busy season.  Matt, Paul, and I were loving how well we were treated by Melanie Chollet and Olivier Genet, the guardians that took over the Trient Hut in the spring of 2011.

Aiguille du Tour with moon setting at sunrise from Trient Hut in August 2011.
We were up the next morning at 4:45 am to make a 5 am breakfast, and the weather was perfect.  From the Trient Hut we simply had to cross the Trient Plateau to reach the Aiguille du Tour (3540m), which was our climbing destination for day 2, August 14.

Paul and Matt in early morning on the Trient Plateau enroute to the Aiguille du Tour.
We generally leave the hut right around sunrise, with the goal of being one of the first parties on the route so that we do not get stuck climbing behind the mob that often climbs up from the Albert 1er Hut slightly later in the morning.

Matt and Paul climbing the Aiguille du Tour.
The climb of the Aiguille du Tour is not difficult, but it does provide a nice place to become familiar with the idea of moving together as a team in short-rope mode.  We made excellent time on the route and also had the advantage of being one of the first groups to start the climb this morning, which always avoids much of the challenge of climbing with lots of other climbers around.

Matt,  John,  and Paul on the summit of the Aiguille du Tour. 
Once on the summit (3540m) the sky was starting to cloud up a bit and by the time we had started down there was even a bit of very light precipitation.  Things held off for the most part until we reached Chamonix, but we did endure one cycle of rain in town (snow in the mountains) before everything cleared up during our Mont Blanc climb.

Paul and Matt resting at the Albert 1er Hut on our descent to Le Tour, France.
After hitting the summit of the Aiguille du Tour we descended to the Col Superieur du Tour (3286m) and then worked our way down the Glacier du Tour until reaching the Albert 1er Hut at 2702m.  This is very nice walking down an interesting glacier with phenomenal views of the Aiguille du Chardonnet (3824m).

Matt and Paul with Glacier du Tour below and rain rolling up the Chamonix Valley.
Below the Albert 1er Hut we followed the trail that leads up to the hut.  This trail has been blasted and scratched into the impressive steep walls to the NE of the Glacier du Tour and it consistently provides some of the best scenery on the Mont Blanc climb.

Paul and Matt maximizing their energy while waiting for the train to Nid d'Aigle at the Bellevue Station.
On the morning of August 15 we had a leisurely start, primarily because we were waiting for the rain to blow through and our day only required us to make the approach to the Tete Rousse Hut (3167m).  We had chosen to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc via the Gouter Route, with nights planned before and after the climb at the Tete Rousse Hut.  This works fine with strong climbers like Matt and Paul, but is a more difficult climb than say Mt. Rainier, which is a common reference for climbers from the US.

Paul pointing to the start of the trail that crosses the Grand Couloir on the Gouter Route, Mont Blanc. 
Once up at the hut we indulged in a mid-afternoon nap as sleep in not one of the key things to be found at this hut on a night when the hut is full of climbers.  In the photo above, Paul points to the trail across the grand couloir, a dangerous feature that must be traversed to gain the Gouter hut enroute to the summit of Mont Blanc.  On our previous climb, 5 days earlier, we crossed this around noon without event and were saddened to hear that another climber was killed near this spot when crossing later in the day.

Sunset on August 15, Tete Rousse Hut, Mont Blanc, France.
We had another small rain event during the afternoon while we were staying at the Tete Rousse Hut and by evening things were starting to trend toward the good weather that would dominate during our climb on August 16, 2011.
Paul and Matt on the summit of Mont Blanc (4810m - 15, 781')
We woke the next morning at 12:45 am, had breakfast at 1:00 am, and were walking away from the hut at 1:30 am.  We moved well enough and were busy enough that I took almost no photos enroute to the summit.  I believe our time from the Tete Rousse to the Gouter Hut (3817m) was 2 hours 20 mins, and our time to the summit was just under 7 hours, with a round-trip time of 11 hours 58 minutes, which is perfect.
Matt and Paul on summit of Mont Blanc, August 16, 2011.
The weather on top was overall very good.  We had a bit of a wind, but nothing out of the ordinary, and we were very pleased with the temps.

IFMGA Guide John Race on summit of Mt. Blanc.
 This was a particularly nice way for me to end my summer season in the alps.  Within 72 hours of standing on the summit with Paul and Matt I would be reunited with my wife, mountain guide, Olivia Cussen Race, and our 10 week old daughter, Josephine.

The summit of Mont Blanc is not huge, but there is room for a party.
We did not mess around for long on the summit as we wanted to get back down and through the rock section below the Gouter Hut before things loosened up and rocks began to come down the Grand Couloir.
Looking across to the Bosses Ridge and Vallot Hut from the Dome du Gouter on Mont Blanc.
On the way across the short climb back to the top of the Dome du Gouter, I snapped a few photos of the upper mountain, including the one above of the route to the summit from the Dome du Gouter.

Matt and Paul below the Dome du Gouter on the way down from the summit of Mont Blanc.
This is a shot looking up at the glacier climb up to the Dome du Gouter from the Gouter Hut.  This section usually takes a bit less than 2 hours on the way up if you are moving well.

New Gouter Hut under construction August 16, 2011.
There is a new hut being constructed next to the old Gouter Hut on Mont Blanc.  This is expected to be completed and ready for use in the summer of 2012.  It is hard to imagine the logistics and engineering involved in making a new hut in a spot like this.  All of the supplies come in by helicopter, and these guys can really only work in pretty good weather.

Matt and Paul back at the Tete Rousse hut.
We arrived back at the hut just before 1:30 pm.  Even though we could have easily caught the train down that afternoon we opted for one more night in the hut as it would provide an opportunity to catch a 3.5 hour nap following the climb and hike down sans crowds the next morning.

Paul, John, and Matt back at the Tete Rousse following the climb of Mont Blanc.
Thanks much to Paul and Matt for a great trip, and to International Mountain Guides for the work.  I am sure we will be back in France running Guided Mont Blanc Climbs next summer so, do not hesitate to contact us for more details.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Leavenworth Fires Update~ Tumwater Canyon Closure ~ August 19, 2011

US Highway 2 has been temporarily closed from Coles Corner to Leavenworth while the USFS works to contain a fire in Tumwater Canyon.  The fires and the closure are not adversely affecting Leavenworth Rock Climbing Courses offered by the Northwest Mountain School in the Leavenworth area.

During the road closure we will not be offering climbs in Tumwater Canyon.  The main climbs that this takes off the table for us are the routes on Castle Rock, which can easily be substituted with similar routes in the Icicle Creek Canyon.

The latest report on the fire can be found on the USFS website here:

We are open for business as usual and expecting a busy weekend with courses in basic rock climbing, multi-pitch climbs, and rock rescue programs occurring on the weekend of August 20-21, 2011.  If interested in details of climbs that can be reached during the fire season, feel free to call the Northwest Mountain School at 509-548-5823 for details.