Marhofn 171.09 - May 2007

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Trigger Happy

Rob Woodall

Not as baggy as intended, hill-wise. Easter week started with good intentions, with my two remaining Kirk Thousanders (height+drop<=1000m) completed in fine winter conditions: the last was 890m/P129 Sgurr na Muice (12A) on 10 April. However, after two days slogging through snowdrifts and skating around on névé, a week's Corbett-topping degenerated into a trigfest in Aberdeenshire. Then there was the TGO Challenge in May - I lasted four boggy days before the skin started to peel off the feet and we turned right at Kingussie. The next adventure was to be the UK three peaks yacht race, until a foot injury a few weeks beforehand left me searching for a stand-in - and spending the week flush-bracketing among the houses, bridges and roadside culverts of the northern Highlands. I did however manage to hobble up Beinn Ceannabeinne, NC422646 (16B), a new SubMarilyn. Another potential Sub, Suidhe Chatain on the Isle of Bute, was visited on a Christmas Eve day trip, to keep my Subs list topped up.

The other Big Idea was a five-day group assault on the Tour de Mont Blanc. This didn't happen either, but I wasn't going to waste a fortnight's leave. Armed with a set of Mark Trengrove lists and a box of IGN 1:25000 maps I headed for the French Alps, intent on boosting my tally of Ultras (P1500m, 5000ft prominence) and P600 hills (2000ft prominence). This was brilliant - staying almost entirely below the snow line, I enjoyed two weeks of trail walking, scrambling, great views, no midges, and dry feet. Let's see if I can sneak a couple of examples past the censors.

The sublime: Pointe Blanche, 2438m/P825m; Pic de Jallouvre, 2408m/P148m

The 1:25000 map shows a dotted red path (i.e. passage délicat) from Col de Colombiere to the thought-provokingly named Col du Rasoir. This is the closest the mapped path gets to Pointe Blanche, but Terry Marsh's useful 100 Walks in the French Alps describes an interesting-sounding route from there to the top. Reaching the start of a stony couloir, however, I was distracted by a tempting rising ledge leading to the lower slopes of Pic de Jallouvre. Closer inspection revealed a fixed cable - via ferrata. This climbed, I followed the path above, until it started to head down towards another section of via ferrata. I picked up the scrambly south ridge, which leads not to the west ridge tourist route as hoped, but to a blank wall. A complex of crags south of the summit area looked do-able, however, and arriving at the most promising line of weakness I was relieved to find a red paint mark. As expected, a marked trail leads to the summit, initially via a system of ledges and chimneys at about Mod/Diff grade, finishing along a superb arete reminiscent of the cleaner and less serious sections of the Cuillin ridge, finishing on a fine compact rocky summit with a view full of P600s - to the south all done, to the north still planned. A close-up pair of alpine accentors was an added bonus. Good value for a SubBrigitte.

Pointe Blanche (photo: Rob Woodall)

Pointe Blanche (photo: Rob Woodall)

The tourist route from the summit was quite busy, but beyond this the awesome west face of Pointe Blanche was attracting no traffic whatsoever. The paint-marked route is pretty much as described by Marsh, with a short passage of scrambling and some seriously steep slopes. Another great summit, with a view even better than from Jallouvre. This was the most continuously interesting route of the trip, with two of the best summits. Some were rather easier...

The ridiculous: Montagne du Gros Foug, 1057m/P693m

This ascent involves a testing 160m of ascent, the summit being apparently in a patch of box scrub about 20 metres east of the track (I built a small cairn); not often visited I suspect. There's no view from the top, although there is from the Point de Vue en route. That view is dominated by Le Grand Colombier, a roadside P600 peak just across the Rhone.

I've put key details of 30+ French Alps ascents on www.peakbagger.com - I can thoroughly recommend the area. Lists of hills in these and other faraway places are on www.peaklist.com thanks to the hard work of Jonathan de Ferranti, Mark Trengrove, Aaron Maizlish and others. As for the Tour de Mont Blanc, I took a day out to watch the race - 100 miles and 5800m of ascent. It was won in about 21 hours. Phew.

Marilynsc 105 (all repeats, of course, so +0)
Corbett Tops+9 = 457 / 666 (must try harder)
Graham Tops+7 = 489 / 1000 (who cares?)
Scottish 500s+14 = 384 / 1022 (mostly Donald Deweys)
Yeamans+65 = 1789 / 2528 (just trigging - honest)
Trigs+1005 = 4064 / 6100?
P600s+29 = 155

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