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.

 

 

 

 

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The North Face Verto S6K Glacier GTX boot review

A few years ago I got cold feet. Not metaphorical cold feet but genuine really cold feet. I’d had cold feet before but this was a bit more serious and I came back from an ice climbing trip knowing I’d have to buy some warmer boots for further similar adventures. Here’s my review of the North Face Verto S6Ks that I bought.

My original B3 boots I’d bought a tad small and so come Alpine summer and UK scrambling they were fine, but come Scottish winter they were a bit chilly, and come Alpine winter they weren’t good at all. So, I was looking for a boot for winter stuff – continental ice climbing and Scottish winter – while my existing ‘performance fit’ boots would be perfect for warmer things where their super-grippy sole made you feel like you were wearing rock shoes.

Here's the S6Ks on a successful day out on the Ben. My mate's wearing the ubiquitous Nepal Extremes.

Here’s the S6Ks on a successful day out on the Ben. My mate’s wearing the ubiquitous Nepal Extremes.

The shopping experience…

I went to Outside in Hathersage to get my boots because 1) they are cool guys who I know; 2) they have a massive selection of winter boots; 3) they know what they are doing in there. I tried on a lot of boots and immediately dismissed a few pairs based on fit. For an idea of fit, my feet are wide/very wide with a high arch and relatively small heel. I wear 5:10 Anasazi VCS rock shoes (forefoot is perfect, heel is crap (isn’t that the same for everyone?), I like wider Inov-8 fell shoes and New Balance road trainers are perfect. Most of my better-fitting hiking boots have been Raichle (now Mammut), though I can squeeze into some other brands too.

Based on suitability and fit it came down to two pairs: the Mammut Nordwand with its massive gaiter and the North Face Verto S6K that was altogether a bit more conservative-looking. I hadn’t intended to buy a pair of North Face boots as they’re new to the market and therefore unproven, and it’s not ideal if your boots fall apart halfway through your big day out. However, I’d had a good look at the boots and they seemed very well made and with all the features I was looking for: B3, thick insulation, decent rocker, good tread, big rubber rand, high top to keep snow out, water-repellent upper, light weight, good insole. I eventually sided with the North Face boots over the Mammuts because the Mammuts had bad heal-lift for me, cost more, and the lacing system was a pain in the backside. The North Face boots fitted amazingly, weren’t as expensive and had normal ‘conventional’ laces (well done design team).

The North Face Sk6 having had a year of use. Not looking too bad.

The North Face Sk6 having had a year of use. Not looking too bad.

First impressions

When I got home I got them out of the box for their casual wander round the house and thorough kicking of stairs, skirting boards and close friends.

They were super-comfortable straight out of the box. They’re of the modern breed of B3 boots which are not rigid like a plastic but instead flex a bit, making walking way more comfortable than wearing a pair of clogs. One thing that stood out was the insole which, unlike with 90 % of boots, wasn’t like walking on a piece of roofing insulation. It’s certainly equal to any £35 after-market insole.

It's a genuinely excellent footbed on these things.

It’s a genuinely excellent footbed in these things.

In Use

The sole is a thick Vibram thing with big star-shaped lugs somewhat reminiscent of old-fashioned boots. I’ve found this really grippy on mud and durable too – no scree or stabby rocks have managed to rip lugs off it or wear them down. The sole has no specialist ‘climbing zone’ on the front, as you might find on some winter-spec boots, and it certainly isn’t as responsive as my tight-fitting other pair of B3s. The decent curve on the sole means that crampons fit well but not very well, and a bit of a gap at the front occurs with my G14s.

The upper is absolutely awesome. It’s really tough (both the leather and the fabric), the stitching has been solid thus-far, and there’s a coating to it all that means it sheds water and dirt extremely effectively. I’m not usually impressed by this sort of thing because a normal ‘DWR’ is anything but durable, but my boots are still shedding crud very well. Even after long days in horrid weather the outer of the boot dries very quickly.

The sole's worn well but it's not a smart place to put a logo- I wonder whether that's designed just to 'sell' the boot...

The sole’s worn fine but it’s not a smart place to put a logo- I wonder whether that’s designed just to ‘sell’ the boot…

The lacing system is simple and the laces stay tied up, which can’t be said of all other boots.They are easy to tie even while wearing thick gloves, which is practically impossible with some gaitered boots.

The Gore-Tex liner does its job superbly.

I’m yet to get wet feet while wearing these (that’s probably that jinxed, then) and I’ve done some fairly serious river crossings and some very wet days out in them.

Some people don’t like Gore liners but I do wonder what’s not to like when it comes to boots – they make no difference to the sweat-factor and apart from the environmental problem and extra tenner I can’t really see any disadvantage to them.

Crampon fit

As far as crampon fit goes, I can’t really comment that much on this. They fit well with my Grivel G14 Newmatics but I’ve not tried many others climbing crampons. They fit quite badly on my G12s (old models) because of the small toe box leaving only a tiny bit of front point, but I only wear these boots for climbing and so my knackered old G12s rarely get teamed up with these boots. They’re not overly asymmetric so I don’t expect them to have trouble fitting with most crampons.

Walking and climbing

They are super-comfy for walking in. The great myth that B3s are uncomfortable simply isn’t true any more and these boots are lighter than my knackered old pair of B2s and definitely a lot sexier. However, I don’t wear these boots for winter walking routes purely for the cost-of-replacement. For walking only then they’re arguably overkill and the S4Ks would be cheaper and still up to the job.

When climbing I have found them absolutely great on both mixed and ice. As a genuine punter I’m never going to climb anything hard in them but as long as I can feel my front points, they feel super-stable, and the boots don’t heel-lift then I’m happy. On belays they are warm and cosy and certainly warm enough for any Scottish winter days encountered in them so far. When using the boots without crampons they are not as deft as my other B3s: the thick sole makes them fairly unresponsive and your foot can feel quite detached from the terrain you’re climbing. It’s not a problem on scrambles but there are better boots on the market for long technical rock routes and last summer in the Alps I took my old boots rather than these purely so I could climb harder rock routes. In my mind this is the only real down-side to their performance.

Here's me pootling up Aladdin's Mirror Direct. This was my first day out in the boots and they were brilliant.

Here’s me pootling up Aladdin’s Mirror Direct. This was my first day out in the boots and they were brilliant.

Conclusions

It’s a big thumbs up from me. The footbox is spacious so ideal for those with wide feet and the heel isn’t baggy. They’re comfortable, warm, durable, lightweight and waterproof, and they climb ice very well. Their only real limiter is their relatively average performance on rock, but that hasn’t stopped me trying to boulder in them… that went badly. These should be on the ‘to try’ list for anyone looking for a solid summer Alpine, Scottish winter, or European ice boot, especially if you have wider feet. They can be bought on offer in a few shops, making them a good-priced B3 too. Top effort North Face on your first big winter boots, though maybe shorten the name next time.