Europe & Africa

Posted by Dave Pickford
Friday 19th February 2010

What a great start to the new decade! After ice climbing in North Wales over new year, in some of the best winter conditions experienced there for a generation, I headed out to the Alps for two weeks. Along with several days shooting some ongoing photography projects, I managed to squeeze some climbing and skiing in too. An enormous amount of snow fell in the Chamonix Valley in early January, and I enjoyed some of the best powder I've ever skied.

Ben O'Connor-Croft and I had a particularly memorable day at Grand Montets. We got the first lift to the top, skied untracked powder down to the top of the Rive Gauche Wall above the Argentiere glacier, abseiled down and climbed the classic WI6 icefall 'Nuit Blanche' (The White Knight), then skied back to Argentiere in time for tea. I'm not sure if there's anywhere else in the world where you can combine downhill skiing and ice climbing with such convenience! (By the way, Nuit Blanche is outstandingly good, one of the very best pure ice routes I've ever done, for sure).

The author leading the second pitch of Nuit Blanche (WI6)

Another highlight for me was skiing Cosmiques Couloir for the first time, one of the most sought-after and notorious off-piste runs in the Valley. Abbing in off the Cosmiques arete with skis on your back and 1000 metres of forty-degree snow beneath you, with the odd cliff to keep things interesting, is one of the most thrilling and unforgettable downhill experiences in the western Alps. And the extremely fast powder run back down to to Cham off the old mid-station is the icing on the very large cake of this classic descent.

Ben O'Connor-Croft hard-charging Cosmiques Couloir

I was back in the UK for one day at the end of January - just enough time to charge camera batteries, upload a few thousand RAW files, and wash my clothes - before a thoroughly uncivilised 3.30 am alarm call to get a flight to Amsterdam and meet my 14 clients for Jagged Globe's Kilimanjaro Lemosho Glades expedition. Despite two clients having their flight from Leeds cancelled, they amazingly still just made the connecting flight out to Tanzania, and the next morning I had a full team of 14, supported by 6 local guides, and no less than 55 local porters and staff all waiting for the starting pistol.

Kilimanjaro seen from the Shira Plateau to the south

We enjoyed clear weather and stunning views of the mountain on the approach trek across the Shira Plateau. On the climb up the Barranco Wall, conditions closed in and the mountain remained veiled in cloud for the next 24 hours - thankfully we were not scheduled to summit until the day after. We left Barafu base camp at 1am on the morning of Saturday February 6th, and our ascent up the steep scree to Stella Point was lit by some awesome electrical storms building on both sides, over the Seregeti Plain to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east.

Greg Annandale looking out towards Mawenzi (5500m) from Stella Point as dawn breaks.

I was understandably a bit concerned about this, but by 8.30am all 14 clients successfully made it to the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak (5,893m), under clear skies but with those threatening clouds still approaching. We all made a swift retreat and eventually reached Mweka Camp down at 2800 metres late in the afternoon, after a 17 hour day and almost 5000 metres (that's about 16,000 feet) of ascent and descent! A tremendous effort from my clients - very well done by all of them.

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Read more blog entries by Dave Pickford

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