January 2nd 2011

Aiguille Verte - Late To Say I’m Sorry and Vivagel

Once in a while I get an email from a client with the perfect photo-shoot. The perfect photo-shoot for me is when a client says that they need some really gobsmacking Alpine imagery and it’s up to me to pick what we do, when we do it and who I climb it with. Whilst still out in Patagonia Berghaus contacted me as they are about to launch their new Active Shells range and wanted to use their new athlete Philippe Gatta to promote it. Now organizing a shoot like this is no mean feet especially given the slower-than-dial-up connection in Patagonia as well as the fact that I only had a week in which to do it when I got home.

So barely back in Chamonix and it was all go go go. Berghaus as a brand have always been keen to portray themselves as an ‘Extreme’ mountain company. In keeping with this I suggested that we did something quite revolutionary and new and shoot their new clothing line on the Colton Brooks on the North Face of Les Droites. Keen as always to get away from anything to do with the Cosmiques arete it started to all slot into place. Unfortunately the route itself was not in condition- something i couldnt find out until I actually got to Chamonix on Boxing day. So plan B was formulated.

My attention still stayed in the Argentiere basin side as the collection of North Faces there provide some awesome lines as well as photographs and so it was that my eye was drawn to a line that myself and Will Sim climbed last winter called Late To Say I’m Sorry on the infamous Aiguille Verte. Late to Say I’m Sorry is a real gem and doesnt get anywhere near the amount of traffic it deserves- after reporting it on my blog last year it seemed to be the route to do last winter and by all accounts it received more ascents after that than it has done since it was first put up. This year it is in amazing condition.

From the glacier floor I could see that it was the one to go for. It is in such good nick right now that the A2 pitch can be avoided entirely by going direct up some thin placage of ice. However I decided to have a warm up day so that we could all get used to climbing together and headed over from first lift to the ever popular Frendo Ravanel which is in amazing condition as well. More like a WI4 climb for the moment. I was very surprised to see no-one else at all climbing in the basin either day we were out…conditions are not that bad for the moment, so there are no excuses!

Philippe Gatta on the lower section of the Frendo Ravanel

Philippe Gatta on the first ice crux with the Argentiere basin in the background

Carine Salvy on the top ice section

With the Frendo Ravanel dispatched with it was time to turn my attention to something much bigger. I really wanted to get shots of Late to Say I’m Sorry as it is an amazingly photogenic line in an amazing situation. The kind of photos that you really dont ever see, and the ones that I am obsessed with trying to get. However given how short the days are for the moment and how time consuming doing these kind of shots are I decided that actually climbing Late would not be feasible. So instead I decided to head up the Vivagel to the side of it and rap into the line to get the shots I wanted.

This tactic could be considered cheating to some extent but then I’ve already done the route and have been itching to get shots of it ever since I did it…so ethics aside we headed up early for the Vivagel.

The Vivagel is a much easier route that branches off the Couturier couloir and follows a very nice series of ice steps up to the Grande Rocheuse. Again it is super fat right now. Bomber nevee all the way and a real romp. The Couturier couloir itself is in incredible condition as well.

Branching off from the Couturier. Sunrise in the background

The First ice step in the Vivagel

On the top ice field. A perfect Alpine morning

Heading up black ice to the Grande Rocheuse

Unfortunately we didnt top out. I had to make a decision about what was more important: Late To Say I’m Sorry or a summit shot and decided that it was the former. Heading down into Late To Say I’m Sorry was awesome and the shots we got are maybe some of my favorite ones I have taken for all round uniqueness- a serious route on a serious mountain in the middle of winter. It’s very rare that I get to head out and take this kind of photography so all-round a very good day out followed by a night time ski descent to Chamonix to celebrate the New Year.

On the amazing ice pitches of Late To Say I’m Sorry. The glacier floor far far below

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book