/ Alpine ice climbing/mountaineering with no ski approach - tips?

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jhw - on 15 Nov 2012
We are mooting climbing in the Alps, either cascade ice or couloir ice, in January. Unfortunately, not everyone in the team skis and nobody wants to snowshoe, particularly.

Can anyone recommend any venues for ice climbing or, if possible, full-on mountaineering where neither a ski approach nor snowshoes are required - or is this asking the impossible? I suspect it's asking the impossible. There's a reason everyone goes in June-October...

Any leftfield tips for reliable ice climbing destinations with a lot to do at WI4, in the Alps or anywhere in Europe, also greatly appreciated. We're already on the ball with Rjukan, Setesdal, Ecrins/Portes du Soleil/Valais destinations, I'm thinking more random places you don't normally hear about like Bohinj in Slovenia, etc...
Nadir khan - on 15 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: get the book '600 best ice climbs in europe' , I have it at home but cant exactly remeber the title but its something like that , its got all the info you're looking for
iksander on 15 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: How do you like post holing? Went to Julian Alps last winter and actually it wasn't too bad for ice falls in the valleys, tops were quite hard work though, sinking thigh deep into snow covered trees
Simon4 - on 15 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: well I doubt you will be able to do much mountaineering without snowshoes, you have already mentioned lots of the cascade areas (though almost all Alpine areas have some in what are normally the lower sub-alpine bits.

I hear the Tatras are very well spoken of for ice-climbing, that didn't seem to be in your list. Probably not too snowy either.
David Rose - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: There are routes in the Chamonix area you can do without skis. Anything in the Argentiere glacier basin, or on Mt Blanc de Tacul, or the Chamonix aiguilles. Tons to go at. But snowshoes do make life easier, and these days, are light and easy to carry. Cogne is good for water ice. Again, snowshoes would help, though depending on the conditions, maybe not essential. You can rent snowshoes cheaply.
In reply to jhw: I think water ice without lots of snow is not generally the norm. Of course it can happen, but for obvious reasons isn't the norm. From ice.solo's pictures and others that I've seen the venues in Western (?) China seemed VERY un-snowy but lots of ice. Pictures suggest that some of the US dessert areas have minimal snowpack and great looking ice routes - but they could be horribly remote? That's just going on pics/videos I've seen.

Snowshoeing can still be a bit crappy and still very hard work BUT it's very straightforward. If it's snowshoes or no climbing, I know which I'd pick!
matejn - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply If you are looking to go ice climbing in Slovenia I would recomend Kranjska gora region. You don´t need skis nor snowshoes for approaches but you will need a car. All major climbing spots are in radius of 15 km around Kr. Gora( Tamar walley, Prisank area,Krnica walley, Bele vode ).
Nick Harvey - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to TobyA:> ...BUT it's very straightforward.

Oh, I don't know, I once got my foot stuck for about half an hour. Nearly killed me trying to extract it.

Snowshoeing over boulders is one of the most frustrating things in life, but i guess would be worse in skiis.
Erstwhile on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to Nadir khan:
> (In reply to jhw) get the book '600 best ice climbs in europe' , I have it at home but cant exactly remeber the title but its something like that

"Alpine Ice", Versante Sud

Frank4short - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to davidoldfart:
> (In reply to jhw) There are routes in the Chamonix area you can do without skis. Anything in the Argentiere glacier basin, or on Mt Blanc de Tacul, or the Chamonix aiguilles. Tons to go at. But snowshoes do make life easier, and these days, are light and easy to carry. Cogne is good for water ice. Again, snowshoes would help, though depending on the conditions, maybe not essential. You can rent snowshoes cheaply.

I'd argue that, unless you're doing something really hard that's going to take a really long time, under normal winter conditions, as opposed to a really lean year, anything in the Argentierre basin would probably take 2.5-3 times as long round trip without skis or snowshoes and still considerably longer than it actually should do using snowshoes for access instead of skis. The Aiguilles wouldn't be much different either. That is of course if the OP doesn't like postholling in fresh snow.

TonyM - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw:

I don't think the full-on mountaineering option is really going to work without skis/snowshoes in January in the main Alps massif. You could get lucky with low snowfall, but January is prime cascade climbing season, so better to maximise chances with planning for that activity.

For cascades with a mountaineering feel you could do a lot worse than head for Briancon and do some of the longer routes in Friessinieres and (if not too much recent snow) longer gullies like those of Fantomas and the ones on the Tete-de- St- Margerite.

At Cogne, Cold Couloir followed to the top (and not rapping off) felt like a big, wild alpine day.

Also at the WI4-ish grade you could have a good trip to Val Masino in Bregalia - covering some of the longer routes such as Durango and Val Romilla. With firm snow conditions there's potential to take some beautiful, longer alpine walks to approach remoter climbs and maybe stay overnight in some of the bothies (baite)?
Simon4 - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to TonyM:

> For cascades with a mountaineering feel you could do a lot worse than head for Briancon and do some of the longer routes in Friessinieres and (if not too much recent snow) longer gullies like those of Fantomas and the ones on the Tete-de- St- Margerite.

Wouldn't the long approach to the Tete-de-St-Margerite be likely to need snow shoes in January?

How do you get off it BTW?
jonnie3430 - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw:
> not everyone in the team skis

Ski touring is walking in skis, no ability is required if the approach is flat. Skill is only needed on downhills and it doesn't take long to learn to snow plough...
George Ormerod - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to jhw)
> [...]
>
> Ski touring is walking in skis, no ability is required if the approach is flat. Skill is only needed on downhills and it doesn't take long to learn to snow plough...

Similarly I'm wondering why the aversion to snow shoes. Presumably everyone in the party can walk.
TonyM - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to Simon4:
If there's not much snow, or it is old and hard, you can make it on on foot, especially if the path has previously been tracked out.
Descent: back down line of ascent (usually)
jhw - on 16 Nov 2012
It depends on the terrain I guess. Kick turns, skiing uncertain snow with a heavy bag and axes, coping with crux etc. take practice!
janiejonesworld - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to jhw)
> [...]
>
> Ski touring is walking in skis, no ability is required if the approach is flat. Skill is only needed on downhills and it doesn't take long to learn to snow plough...*

*BS warning: please note this may not actually be true or based on fact in any way
Damo on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to janiejonesworld:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
> [...]
>
> *BS warning: please note this may not actually be true or based on fact in any way

+1

Skiing badly is dangerous and not fun. I should know. 'Ski touring' involves actual skiing, with plenty of downhill, otherwise people would never do it.

To the OP, either choose easy-access icefalls or suck it up and use snowshoes, they're not that bad. Of course skis are better, but only if you can use them.
matejn - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: Higher the altitude, greater is the possibility of encountering some crevasses on the approaches or walk offs and that happens on flat surfaces also. Than, in my mind, that is a whole new ball game. So choose wisely, accordingly to skills of everyone in your group.
Simon4 - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw:
> Kick turns, skiing uncertain snow with a heavy bag and axes, coping with crux etc. take practice!

In reality, not many people could ski on rough terrain with a full Winter rack, axes, rope etc.

I just about managed it at Alp d'Huez, when all we had to ski down was a pisted red run.
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jhw - on 16 Nov 2012
Not to mention avi risk.

Thanks for advice all. Think Norway most compelling option.
jonnie3430 - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to janiejonesworld:

OK, sorry, janiejonesworld took more than a day to learn to snowplough, this is an outlier, the average is within 1 hour.
jonnie3430 - on 16 Nov 2012
In reply to Damo:
> (In reply to janiejonesworld)
> [...]
>
> +1
>
> Skiing badly is dangerous and not fun. I should know. 'Ski touring' involves actual skiing, with plenty of downhill, otherwise people would never do it.
>
As I said, skiing on the flat is walking, downhill needs a bit of skill, the basic is snowploughing, and it isn't that hard to learn...
janiejonesworld - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to jonnie3430: but the OP is not talking about bimbling down a piste, they are asking about accessing and returning from alpine routes. When you've learned to ski try putting a 20Kg sac on your back and snow ploughing down waist deep powder, knee deep collapsing wind blown crud or cast iron sastrugae. Try it on a glacier for more fun
Simon4 - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to janiejonesworld:
> ... try putting a 20Kg sac on your back and snow ploughing down waist deep powder, knee deep collapsing wind blown crud or cast iron sastrugae. Try it on a glacier for more fun

Or try it in a steeply-wooded hillside, where turns need to be got in precisely to avoid smashing into trees, where powder may alternate with ice.

In fact as I pointed out, even bimbling down a piste with a full climbing sack is not so easy. I have seen people ski down from routes and do it impressively, but not many can, and you need to be a pretty good piste or touring skier to even consider it. The idea that snowplowing is adequate is frankly ridiculous.

If you cannot ski very well, and there is the possibility of deep snow for any distance, snowshoes are the only option.
Morgan Woods - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to matejn: How was last season. I went to go skiing in Kranska Gora last December and had to move up to Austria because there was so little snow. Nice place though esp Bled.
jhw - on 17 Nov 2012
Yeah tell me more about Kranskja Gora.

Agree with all that's been said about skiing.

I'm actually a pretty good piste skier and I had my first taste of skiing down from a route off-piste last year. Was taken aback by how difficult I found it, even in very good snow conditions. Certainly I don't think I'd have been able to deal with any crevasses if we'd been on a glacier. You've got the bag, and the unusual feeling snow, and also touring skis are harder to ski. Plus you're tired after doing a route, etc., and the last few hundred yards to the bottom of the valley are always going to be steep and full of trees and streams.

matejn - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to Morgan Woods:
Last winter was really awful one, with almost no or very little snow also in the mountains. If it wasn´t for that very cold period I would say that the entire winter season was bad, but that saved the day a bit.
matejn - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: What do you want to know about? Mountaineering, ice climbing, on & off piste skiing?
jhw - on 17 Nov 2012
I'm reasonably aware of the ice climbing possibilities, so it's the Winter mountaineering routes I'd be quite interested to hear about. Are there any mountains you can climb which don't require too much snowshoeing? I've been to Bohinj in summer before. As mentioned above, nice place.

jonnie3430 - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to janiejonesworld:

But I'm suggesting the OP thinks about using ski's to walk into and out of routes, giving easier approaches ice routes around places like Cogne.
jhw - on 17 Nov 2012
Thanks Jonnie comments are appreciated. I think we were envisaging just walking in for ice cragging - or perhaps snow-shoeing. I was asking more about ski approaches for larger Alpine climbs - high altitude couloir routes in Chamonix for example. I hadn't realised though that there were some quite big things you could do out of Cogne. Thanks! I should have made the scope of my query clearer in my original post.
jonnie3430 - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw:

I was in Cogne this summer for a look and the tourist information had the ice routes on a free map that they gave out! Amazing.

Having slogged in thigh deep snow before I'd recommend using touring skis every time! They keep you above the snow instead of in it and allow you to make good speed on the walk in. Yes, you need skiing ability to go downhill, but not on the flat (I did try to make that obvious, but hey?)
matejn - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: there are five major mountains that attracts the attention for winter climbing. First is Špik with its 900 m north wall but it is rarely in condition and it is also rarely climbed. However you can also climb it via an much easier route, but it is also a very long one. If the conditions are right there is quite some traffic on this route. Next one is Prisank. A lots of routes on his north face and all have very short approaches. Again, what can be climbed depends of a conditions. As with Špik, you can summit it via a ridge route, which is easier but a long one to. No skiis or snow shoes are requierd. Not for Špik not for Prisank. Further up the road is Mojstrovka with some easy south facing gullies up to grade III. North side of Mojstrovka is a different story with some serious routes. But again no skiis or snowshoes. I have to mention that to reach Prisank and Mojstrovka you have to drive some 10 km from Kr.Gora to Vršič pass. How far can you go depends of the amount of snow. In worst case you have to walk from Koča na gozdu ( mountain hut ) for some 45 min to reach Mojstrovka and 10 min. for Prisank. That goes for ice climbing in Prisank area as well. Mojstrovka is so popular winter destination that even if you have to walk from this hut everything will be tracked so no problems there.
For the next climbing area you have to drive some 15 km to Tamar walley. Here too you have to walk some 4 km to reach a refuge at the end of Tamar walley. There are two what are considered the best winter routes in Slovenia (Travnik gullie and gullie between Travnik and Šite ). This two routes are very dependable of conditions and are not very often in. But againk If they are, there is heavy traffic in them. No skis or snowshoes. The last mountain is Jalovec with it steep couloir. An excellent route, very popular and in condition every year.
jhw - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to matejn:

Thank you kindly for this. In fact I've just cut and pasted your message, and forwarded it to my partner.

I will have a look at these suggestions and come back at you with follow-up questions.

The one that immediately jumps to mind is - I don't suppose there's a guidebook...?
matejn - on 17 Nov 2012
In reply to jhw: As far as I know only in slovenian language.
jhw - on 18 Nov 2012
Thanks, found a few on Needlesports. Looks like Collomb came out with one in English - in 1990!
matejn - on 18 Nov 2012
jhw - on 18 Nov 2012
In reply to matejn:

Nice - thanks!
David Rose - on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to Frank4short: I think you're wrong. You can snowshoe uphill as fast as you can ski. So although you can ski down to the Argentiere hut much more quickly than you can walk (which only takes about an hour, anyway) once you start the uphill bit, there's little difference, if any. On the way back, yes, skis will be significantly quicker. But not to the point where the whole outing takes 3 times as long. It should not take more than a couple of hours to walk from the hut to the mid station at Lognan.

Having said all that, I learnt to ski because I was frustrated at following my skiing partner miles behind after doing winter routes. The best way to minimise the disadvantage is to go up to the hut and do two or more routes in one stay. The food is fantastic.
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smithaldo - on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:

If you are 'slogging in through thigh deep snow' to routes in cogne I would suggest you are taking rather a risk of being avalanched sooner or later.

Also if you are going in on skis in cogne I would have thought it would be loads more of a faff than needed, especially coming down as it isnt all downhill so you would need to switch skins etc alot or ski down with your skins on which isnt great either.

On balance I think your reccomendation to ski into routes in cogne 'every time' is a little ludicrous.
In reply to davidoldfart:
> (In reply to Frank4short) I think you're wrong. You can snowshoe uphill as fast as you can ski.

The knackered and miserable looking snowboarders I've seen lugging their boards up by snowshoes in Lyngen would suggest this isn't always the case!
jonnie3430 - on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to smithaldo:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
>
> On balance I think your recommendation to ski into routes in Cogne 'every time,' is a little ludicrous.

My apologies, I did not mean to twitch your ludicrometer. I merely believe that walking on the flat on skis on snow is better than walking on the flat in snow.
Damo on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to TobyA:
> (In reply to davidoldfart)
> [...]
>
> The knackered and miserable looking snowboarders I've seen lugging their boards up by snowshoes in Lyngen would suggest this isn't always the case!

Yep. I'm a crap skier, I have used snowshoes a lot, and even I can ski uphill faster than I can snowshoe. Getting down safely and stylishly is another story...

Simon4 - on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to Damo: The problem is skiing down with a full climbing pack. I am sure that some users of this forum can do it, and probably do it well, but that is very much the exception than the rule.

It is true that skiing will generally be significantly faster going uphill than snowshoeing, though I have seen 3 Belgians manage quite a fast ascent of a 3000m peak with them. The point is that anyone can snowshoe, but most people can't ski-mountaineer and are not likely to learn quickly or easily.
Damo on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to Simon4:
> (In reply to Damo) The problem is skiing down with a full climbing pack. I am sure that some users of this forum can do it, and probably do it well, but that is very much the exception than the rule.
>
Oh, I certainly agree with all that. I was just disagreeing with David's statement about relative speeds uphill. As for Cogne, much of that, iirc, is relatively flat - that's why there is a popular x-country circuit there - so some of the approach might be OK on skis for the poor skier, though I always walked it.

In the actual mountains though, for alpine routes or remote water ice routes, skiing badly back down, rucsac or not, is dangerous and unfun, as noted above. I've used skis a lot in Antarctica, but have always rued not being good enough to ski well (or at all) down some of the stuff we have skinned up.

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