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Caroline George Completes ‘Technical Alpine Climbing Week’ in Swiss Alps
Posted on September 22, 2010

By Caroline George

My first guided trip in the Alps this summer was working for ISM—The International School of Mountaineering—based out of my hometown of Leysin, Switzerland. My dad had worked for them back in the ’70s. I grew up surrounded by the guides who worked there and was mesmerized by them. It was probably then that my secret desire of becoming a guide budded.

During Technical Alpine Week, my team at ISM took clients up rock, snow and ice-mixed ridges in the Alps and on multi-pitch rock climbs. The purpose of the week was for clients to learn how to move fast on ridges and mixed terrain and to get 2–3 big climbs in. We tried to stay up high during the whole week, going from hut to hut.

I worked with Adrian Nelhams, as I had the previous year. Adrian is British, has a little son named Monty, and is an examiner for the British Guides. I really enjoyed working with him.

We met the day before the start of the course in Leysin to discuss the plan. We decided to climb the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier in the Valais and the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion in Arolla, along with the nearby Aiguille de la Tsa.

We hiked from Ferpecle up a rugged trail and then a glacier to the Dent Blanche Bivouac. It was raining, and snow conditions were completely isothermic, which made for difficult travel, but the beautiful little rounded bivouac made it all worth it. After a night of heavy rain, we woke up to perfect bluebird skies and great views of the mighty Dent Blanche north face and of our climb, the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier.

At 3,962 meters, the Grand Cornier is just shy of 4,000 meters, but its surrounding giants have nothing on it. There is no easy way up or down it, and the SW ridge offers amazing climbing up its sometime snowy or rocky—but always knife-edge—arete. With the previous night’s rain, the snow was very punchy all the way up the climb, which made for strenuous trail-breaking.

After many hours climbing up the amazing SW ridge, we climbed down the normal route, which was just as hard and long. There was a lot of precipitation in June and the snowpack hadn’t yet transformed, which made for heinous post-holing down to the Moiry Hut, where we spent the night. The hut was just remodeled this year, so we got to enjoy that beautiful new facility! The following day, we hiked down from the hut and drove back to the Arolla valley.

On our fourth day, we climbed a technical ferrata right above the little picturesque town of Evolene. It was very steep-to-overhanging in many sections, which got some of the clients’ hearts going!

That afternoon, we hiked to the beautiful Tsa Hut above Arolla to climb the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion and the Aigille de la Tsa.

The Aiguille de la Tsa is the pointy needle. From the summit of the Dent de Tsalion, an easy snow traverse took us to the base of the Aiguille de la Tsa. Four pitches on good rock took us to the summit.

We woke up in the early morning to hike up a boulder field to the base of the climb. The few first pitches instantly woke us up, climbing up steep and beautiful rock. The whole 600 meters of ridge climbing was up perfect cracks and nice ridge features.

From the summit, we scrambled down to the glacier and joined the start of the Aiguille de la Tsa, a striking, small, Matterhorn-like peak.

We then hiked up and over to the Bertol Hut. The view from the Bertol Hut stretches to the Dent Blanche, the Tete Blanche and the Bouquetins to the south, and over to the Pigne d’Arolla and the Aiguille Rouges d’Arolla to the north.

I loved guiding that week because it offered lots of diversity in the style of climbing. I feel the only way to keep being a good and efficient guide is to work on a wide variety of terrain whether it be multi-pitch rock, mixed climbing, alpine climbing, ice climbing, skiing, etc.

Author: - Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
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