Sunday, 11 September 2011

Gorner Glacier: Moulin exploration part1

A good friend, Martin Groves, had been keen for sometime to get an expedition together to look at exploring moulins, or water sinkholes, in glaciers. In 2011, using information from an Italian group who had previously explored the Gorner glacier in Zermatt, and back by a group of idiots who also thought this a fun idea, Martin went out to explore! I joined the trip for the second week. Martin also had further adventures in the glacier on a return trip in October 2011 - good write up by one of the participants, Henry, here.

The area is a vast expanse of ice, though evidence of large scale glacial retreat is everywhere. It is a harsh but beautiful landscape surrounded by 4000m peaks.

Camp was a vaguely flat strip cleared of large rocks on the edge of the glacier, and with a fine view of the Matterhorn.

Exploration had to occur at night when the temperature dropped and meltwater levels subsequently reduced. Typically we got up midnight, and returned to camp around 8.00am. We would then try to rest for a few hours until got too hot, after which we went for a wander, then ate an evening meal before trying to get a few hours kip before midnight. Photo: Martin Groves

Rigging used SRT or single rope techniques typically used in caving, but the main belay points were large bars sunk into holes in the ice drilled using an auger. All other rigging was done using ice screws or thread holes drilled using ice screws. Photo: Martin Groves

Descending an ice shaft within the glacier. Photo: Martin Groves

Tighter rigging close to where one of the moulin ice systems became tight and sumped. Photo: Martin Groves

Myself taking survey notes. Photo: Peachy

Ascending out of an entrance shaft in the dawn light. Very beautiful. Photo Peachy

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Gornergratz glacier, Zermatt: exploring the moulins...part2

This large Moulin was the last one we explored on this trip. This was located on one of the side glaciers as it joined the Gornergratz glacier.

Martin starting the rig down on the second visit - its about 3.00am and following an evening of thunderstorms although the weather had now cleared and water levels dropped so we went for it.

Martin is about halfway down at this point. Water flows off to the right of the picture in a rift. Picture shows a change in the ice from the freeze/thaw shattered upper layers to hard. Compact and clear ice lower down.

Sam enjoying the wet and cold rift at the bottom. Lots of the rigging was done on threads here - or 'abbaoffs' as we called them.

This back-lite shot gives an indication of the clarity of the ice.

Getting up and down these rifts proved a bit tight and damp in places - Chris clearly enjoying the experience. We came out to dawn light flooding the shaft - very beautiful but by this time the camera, flashs and radio slaves had given up due to the cold and damp of the place. We were getting keen to get out as well!

Martin also had further adventures in the glacier on a return trip in October 2011 - good write up by one of the participants, Henry, here.
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Sunday, 4 September 2011

A week in the southern French Alpes

The Massif Des Ecrin is an area we frequently visit both winter and summer. This trip was primarily for our daughter, Emily, to do a pre-race training camp with European Ski School at Les Deux Alpes (at which she had a fabulous time). Meanwhile myself and my good lady went to play on via ferratas and catch up with friends in the region.

Mines du Grand Clot
A few miles before the off piste skiing mecca of La Grave can be found his fine via ferrata. Following a line of old mine workings the via ferrata offers a trip through both history and the landscape. The bottom section follows various workings and ledges, with part of the trip taking you up through a chimney section mined from the rock. The upper section is mainly a cabled footpath. This side of the valley is dwarfed by the huge bulks of the main Ecrin mountains opposite, and you are constantly rewarded with fine views of these mountains and their glacier fields. The walk off is more of a trek - following a GR route to Chazelet, passing the scars of ski tows on route, before a steep path back to the valley bottom.

The following day whilst travelling to Briancon we stopped to do the L'Aiguillette du Lauzet via ferrata. Whilst only a PD this is quite a long day out and in the true 'Italian' tradition of the via ferrat in that it offers  a great trip up a proper mountain. Much of the trip is along cabled paths and ledges in a fine airy position.

Up a single ladder.........

A short descent leading to....

......a short 'cave' section

Then upwards to the summit

The usual cross marking the top.

Descent is following a path off the back and around and down to intersect the local GR path. Excellent trip - apparently the second via ferrata to be established in France.

Tuesday, and something different. Managed to meet up with members of my canoe club, Glamorgan Boaters, who were out in the Durance area for a weeks paddling. This was to be my first alpine whitewater paddling in some 10 years, but since then I have learnt to paddle properly (almost!) and can now roll a kayak. First paddle was on the Upper Guil (grade III) down to the start of the Combe de Chateau- Queyra (- a good grade IV). A pleasant paddle though water a bit low. Three of us were still keen to paddle so the rest of the group went in search of ice cream and a tourist bimble we headed down to the bottom section of the middle Guil to finish at the barrage lake. This was an exciting grade IV and I was in the upper end of my abilities so portaged two sections, but Andy and Phil paddled the whole section. Very exciting!

Upper Guil

Lower section of middle Guil

Phil enjoying the rapids!

Random adventures

Today I enter the blogging world.  The reason? Simply one as a source of a bit of fun and inspiration and as someone who enjoys a wealth of outdoor adventure both with the family, alone and with many friends. Hence the title 'Random Adventures'. Also I find using blogs such as Taran's good for both inspiration and information so time to do the same, hopefully!