Chamonix Photo Diary

I snuck in a great four day trip to Chamonix this summer. As winter has barely got going yet in the UK I thought I’d jog my memory about a short trip where we got a lot done…

Day 1 started pretty late by Alpine standards. Lift up at about midday, down the Midi Arete, and then on to the Arete des Cosmiques.

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Guess where we are…

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Tacul Triangle.

We blasted up the Cosmiques Arete in good time – I’d done it before while it was first time for my partner Scott – and the atmosphere on the route was fantastic: laid back, stress free, easy going. Even the French guides we chatted to were in a placid mood, happy to join the queues and discuss very specific and extremely boring details about camming devices with us. We finished the route and took the bubble over to the fantastic Torino Hut.

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Walking over to Tour Ronde.

Our next day started early as we had the Tour Ronde north face in mind, a route I’d tried to try a few years ago, but conditions hadn’t even let us get to the route, let alone climb it.

We moved together over the bergschrund and made great progress as the sun climbed behind us.

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Scott getting going on the face.

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The Vallée Blanche.

We pitched some of the steeper ground, but climbing conditions were generally good. The crux chimney was pretty hollow and ‘boomed’ ominously, but good sticks were never too far away. Soon we were out onto the snowfield leading towards the summit.

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Solid screws and good ice. Very nice.

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Heading for the top.

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Legs burning. Feeling the altitude a bit at this point too.

We were pretty delighted to reach the top. We’d made good time on the route and for both of us it was our first ‘proper’ Alpine north face. We walked along the ridge until we reached the guidebook’s abseil descent and then began our six abseils back to the glacier. A rocket-speed run across the glacier meant we caught the last lift back to France from the Helbronner and we were back in the valley for celebratory beers. Fantastic day!

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Tour Ronde North Face from the cablecar.

We spent the next day lazing about, getting stocked up on kit, and then we caught the last lift up to the Midi. We couldn’t believe how quiet it was… too quiet. The forecast was good, conditions should still be good, why were we the only people on the lift? We found out soon enough.

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The famous Midi Arete…

A bit of micro-navigation found us safely down onto the Vallée Blanche where we prepared for our bivvy. It was very cold, very windy, humidity was 100% – it was going to be a grim night. However, slowly the cloud began to clear and figures and tents began appearing in the mist.

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These two guys eventually appeared out of the mirk. They looked absolutely wasted: staggering, slow, falling over.

The forecast slowly came right and we were treated to an amazing sunset and sunrise.

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The Aiguille du Midi from a different angle.

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Alpine sunrise: utterly freezing but completely beautiful.

The next day we made a quick decision to abandon our original plan of having a crack at one of the Couloirs on the Tacul as conditions looked poor. We instead climbed the Laurence Arete, a fantastic little route and a great end to a very productive few days. Sometimes conditions aren’t perfect, but if you take your opportunities when they’re presented, you take your time and change plans when forced, and you can have a great time. Thanks Scott, awesome trip.

 

 

 

 

Waffle fabrics

“Bird’s Eye Potato Waffles they’re waffely versatile”, went the advert. And they were right: they went with fish fingers, beans, and probably dog food. As a student, anything goes. However, if you dug the potato out of a potato waffle you were left with just the waffle, and that’s what this post is all about: waffle fleeces, waffle and mesh baselayers, waffle outer layers, and why you should own them.

Waffling

As you can probably gather from the above, I could waffle on for a fair while, but let’s cut to the chase: waffle (aka grid) fleece is not that new any more and yet so many people are still unaware of it.

The whole three-layer clothing system is pretty old-hat and as fashionable as hairshirts but the key to waffle is that they operate outside of the traditional definitions of baselayer/midlayers/shell.

Waffles have a macroscopic (big) discontinuous layer that faces the body, with a much more continuous layer facing away: they should not be thought of as one layer in the traditional sense.

Waffles/grids wick extremely well, trap loads of air to keep you warm, absorb minimal water, and are very air permeable making them really comfortable.

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4 waffle/grid fabrics: a waffle/mesh baselayer , a Polartec Powerdry baselayer, a Pontetorto Technostretch fabric, and a grid drop-liner in the background (more on that below…)

Baselayers

I’ve written a fair bit about baselayers on this blog, and in most conditions they remain the most important part of a layering system: comfort is measured at the skin, not between your layers. My thoughts on baselayers haven’t changed since I wrote this, and that’s a fairly decent primer on the subject. But, how do waffles fit in with the whole ‘be as thin as possible’ thing? Well, they work really well: the inner waffle is only very thin and very little fabric actually makes contact with the body. Thus, the inner waffle acts like a very thin baselayer. The more continuous layer on top of the waffle acts as a second layer, and barely makes contact with the body. This doesn’t mean you can wear a super-thick waffle as a baselayer in hot weather, as it will have too much thickness, but it does increase its operating range. Waffles tend to wick well too, keeping you dry. This is because of their greater surface area on the surface giving a huge driving force to the capillarity that causes wicking. Mesh baselayers are just an extension of the waffle concept (that is a terrible marketing phrase if ever I heard one) that provide an incredible buffer against cooling and heating. You won’t see a pro cyclist wearing any other type of baselayer for 6 months of the year, and those guys care about performance. So should you.

As midlayers

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A grid fleece at 5000 metres

Thicker waffles really come into their own as midlayers. They trap a whole potato of air between the waffles, keeping you really warm, but their excellent air permeability means that they are also extremely breathable. Unlike really thick Thermal-Pro-style fleeces, they are a bit more adaptable to changing conditions and layers on top of them. Get one, you won’t regret it. The fleece is not dead, it just moved on.

As outer layers

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Grid liner and dense-woven outer. Yussss.

Grid fleece outer layers? Yup, they exist. What if you took the best features of pile and pertex softshells (the warmth when wet, the adaptability) and removed the negatives (weight, bulk)…? There are garments out there that do exactly that, with microgrid drop liners and super-dense weave outers that wick amazingly, are super wind resistant, keep you dry in all but the worst weather, and are super comfortable. Get one.

I wear mine in all sorts of weather from 15 degrees and windy to sub-zero and still, to heavy rain. I challenge you to find a more versatile outer layer.

Yes, I’d definitely challenge that well-known Patagonia model, and there’d only be one winner.

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Please ignore the face and instead bask in the mighty lined hood and awesome wind resistant outer. These are proper softshells, not just tough shellsuits.

Waffley waffley versatile

Waffle is versatile; keep a bird’s eye out for it. While its use in fleece is well known that doesn’t stop it being excellent stuff in baselayers and ‘true softshells’ as well.