It’s now August, the middle of the summer and I’m busy guiding in the mountains, riding my bike and keeping yoga’d and fit whilst already diving deep in to the planning of the coming winter and thinking beyond…
It’s been a busy summer so far and very hot.
Mainland Europe has suffered/is suffering a crazy heat wave that just keeps on giving.
I mean suffered in both a good as well as bad way as it’s made for an epic summer so far, but also I mean suffered in that the soil beneath our feet is cracked and dry and the mountains around us are falling to the ground.
If you’re near to water it is fantastic, if you’re doing anything energetic not in the water, cycling, climbing, running etc. then its exhausting and if you’re up high in the mountains then it is a time of change and a whole new learning experience that each day starts all over again.
We’ve had hot summers before, periods of intense heat, but not like this from what I can remember.
A lot of people refer back to 2003 when everything dried out like this, but from what I can remember the heat wave then was relatively short lived and although things in the mountains dried out and melted back, the heat didn’t run deep like this time and the perma snow and Ice, which became exposed after the winter snows melted away didn’t disappear like it is doing this year.
It’s amazing to see the changes up in the mountains this year, amazing and frightening. These are permanent changes and they are accelerating at a crazy rate.
Walking out onto the Midi ridge these days is a whole new experience.
The ridge that we used to walk on has shifted to the left and is now somewhere over on the North Face. A crevasse lies between the North face and the South face, we now walk along the edge of this crevasse staying to the right until we join the ridge again which is now down to the rock for the first time.
From here we descend onto the North face and descend steep ice until we join the easier angled ridge which is now so narrow that Slack-lining skills are almost required.
As a guide, if a client was to stumble and fall, we would be required to launch ourselves over the opposite side of the ridge to counterbalance the fall.
From here the ridge gets wider and regains some normality, there are crevasses to cross lower down but its all pretty much business as usual down onto the plateau below the South pillar of the Midi.
Looking around from the Midi plateau things are in a state of change as the temperature up there, even at 3600m has been positive for most of the summer.
The rocks are warm and their warming helps to melt the snow and ice around them.
The rock climbing is great, probably rarely better, T shirts, no gloves and endless granite.
As the ice between the rocks melts however, things begin to loose their stability, the icy bond that the rocks once had to the mountain is disappearing and things are moving and falling.
There is no longer any mixed ice and rock climbing to speak of during these hot dry summer months and routes that were once year around classics are no no longer there.
Mixed faces and ridges of Ice, snow and rock are now completely dry, the perma snow and ice is gone and there now lies a rocky mess that often resembles a heavy weight game of Kerplunk, blocks of granite balanced precariously onto of each other as left by the receding Ice.
Mont Blanc has been out of condition since early July, the rock fall in the Grand couloir and on the surrounding faces is intense, continuous and powerful, not anyplace to go climbing.
The gendarmes have set up camp to stop the unwary from proceeding and the Gouter refuge has closed its doors for the first time in history during what is normally the busiest period for attempting Mont Blancs summit.
Access to Mont Blanc by the 3 months route is also changing. The Tacul requires ladders and is steeper that I’ve ever known it. The Maudit is steep and direct and the traverse from the Maudit to the Blanc is solid blue glacier ice.
Last week I gazed across from the summit of the 4000m Gran Paradiso (wearing T shirt and no gloves) towards the Gand Motte/Tignes. Where usually you can still see the vague lines of the pistes on the glacier, there is now only blue ice and rocky scree…again, I’ve never seen it like this before, these are big changes and sadly seem permanent.
For those of us that have work to do in the High Mountains it is a time of change.
We change our plans day by day and adapt to the changing environment.
Things quickly fall in and out of condition, routes we did last week are no more and the heat runs deep, the perma snow and ice that has melted this summer is not coming back anytime soon.
Some rejoice, routes like the Matterhorn, the Mitteleggi ridge on the Eiger, big rock routes that are normally made more difficult by Snow and Ice are easy pickings this summer and for the first time I’ve seen people amongst the high summits in trainers, no crampons and with out gloves.
A taste of things to come?
The weather patterns of the World are changing, growing more extreme. Temperature fluctuate and the extreme is the norm.
We are living in a changing world and a world that we are changing?
But also, finally, maybe we are starting to change with it.
Everyday there is more and more talk about the awareness of global climate change and the solutions that go with it.
More and more people are becoming aware of how we are treating our tortured World and the changes, although slow are starting to come into effect.
Change has to start somewhere and that somewhere is right here with each of us.
Green energy, Organic, Re-cycling, Sustainability these are the obvious keys to our future and the slow process of change which is starting to gather momentum.
We can each make a difference and so we must…
Simple changes are the initial key, these then become the norm and we grow from there?
In our consumer society, the environmentally correct and most sustainable pathway is often the hardest and more economically challenging to follow.
I am by no means a perfect follower or a leader of the Organic/Green faith and I am, no doubt, as guilty as the next for naively or consciously playing my part in our global torment.
But everyday my awareness is growing and everyday I feel the growing need for change.
Change must start somewhere and whilst I make small and important everyday adjustments, I also begin to look at the differences I can make through what I do and how I live my life, it makes me think about what I promote and what I do.
Snowboarding is by no means the greenest pathway out there and it’s easy to look at the whole negative process of what it takes to get us up there riding down mountains…the travel, the lifts, the heli’s, the equipment…
But then perhaps the positivity that it creates within us, the respect for the environment and the powerful mindset it promotes goes way deeper than the negative process involved.
I’d obviously like to think so anyway…
I think back to those epic days from last winter, once in a life time days, were I have shared an amazing experience with a group of like minded riders.
Days were I have taken them out of their everyday lives and Introduced them to the untamed World of high mountains and jagged peaks in which I live and work.
We have climbed and soared within the body of our natural world and I have shared my passion and respect of this wild and ever changing mountain environment with them.
This is what I can do, this is what I can share and in return the riders I journey with share their experience, their joy and their passion with me and others and our movement grows.
We begin to love and respect our World, we feel purpose and drive and we begin to care…our mindset changes, we respect ourselves and think about what we can do and what we want to do and how to do it in a better way…
We become positively charged and we start to believe and see beyond the everyday and maybe through this we also start to make a positive difference?
Maybe these moments that we share run deeper than we might first imagine and this too is a positive state of change?
I’ve been running McNab Snowboarding for over 20 years now and it’s grown and developed Organically into what it is today.
Over the past 20 years I have shared many great experiences with a great many people.
Many of these same people still ride with me today and share the same mindset and passion, as me, for the environment and the beauty that is found within our natural world.
We are a tribe of Snowboarders and we share and breathe an inspired passion for our World that goes beyond the simple action of riding down mountains…
We are at the beginning of our journey and it is a journey of change.