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Ice climbing in crevasses: Mer de Glace moulins

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The fall interseason in Chamonix can be a bit depressing: the lifts all close down (save for the Montenvers train), there isn’t enough snow to ski, waterfall ice hasn’t formed and it’s too cold and wet to rock climb. On top of all this, the town is deserted and most stores simply close down. The few options include indoor climbing, drytooling down in Le Fayet or Sallanches and a few ice gullies on Chardonnet or Pélerins. Or, as I discovered, starting the ice climbing season in Mer de Glace crevasses.

During the spring and summer, a lot of the water from the snowmelt gets on the huge glacier and has to find a way down. It mostly stays on the surface, creating small rivers, but occasionally its path is blocked and, warmer than the ice, it burrows and creates underground tunnel systems. Then, in the fall, when the flow stops and before the holes fill up with snow, they can be explored and climbed. They can be quite steep and very deep and narrow, sometimes with false floors, and always offer out of this world atmospheres.

I ended up going twice in the past two weeks. Once with Hulya, where we found a 20m deep, 10m long crevasse with a complex architecture, and a week later with pro skier and North Face athlete Giulia Monego, working out of a simple 30+ meters deep, 1m wide hole!. The old ice was so hard that placing screws was quite an ordeal, so we kept to top-roping in both cases, and I managed to get some good shots from deep down.

With the snow falling as I write, it will probably be over for this year, but I will be sure to come back in 2013 for more crazy blue photography!

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Shooting for Vaude on Tour Ronde

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I had been talking with people from the big German outdoor brand Vaude about a shoot since ISPO, last January, and at the end of last September, we finally got the opportunity to work together. They wanted a winter alpine shoot in Chamonix and luck was on our side, as big storms plastered the mountains white in the days before our shoot.

With limited options, we elected to go climb the classic and not too hard SE ridge of Tour Ronde, on the Italian side of the range. It was totally different (and more interesting, I think) than when I climbed it in July, as the deep snow turned it into an interesting snow/mixed route. Doing it with good friends like Hulya and Francis certainly didn’t hurt either! The weather, initially very good, turned on us, and additional worries about avalanche conditions and not missing the last bin compelled us to descend the normal route at its junction with the ridge, rather than keep going to the very top. Still, a very successful shoot and some really cool images!

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