Verbier Guide Fred Roux's 3rd Attempt To Summit K

Verbier Guide Fred Roux’s 3rd Attempt To Summit K

Fred Roux shares his experience of his third attempt to summit K” alongside world renowed explorer Mike Horn at the Vollèges Film Festival.

While many of us consider a hike up to Pierre Avoi a test of our limits, there are others in our community who truly understand what pushing oneself to the very edge of existence is. One of these people is Fred Roux, an unassuming Valaisan mountain guide who lives in the tiny village of Vens, teetering above Sembrancher. It has been a few months since Fred, along with legendary South African-born Swiss mountaineer Mike Horn, tried, for the third time, to summit K2. He told Verbier Life about this experience, his relationship with Mike and his connection to the mountains there and here.

Fred looks like a mountain guide. He is tanned and rugged and wears the same green puffer to our interview that he wore on his last expedition. There’s no ego here, he is all passion with a self-deference that makes it possible for him to look at death and not be overwhelmed.

K2 is the second tallest peak in the world at 8,611m. Unlike Everest however, it remains unattainable even for many of the world’s most experienced mountaineers. It is a mountain of mystery, known for its steepness, its long distance to base camp, and its staggering beauty. Some call it ‘the mountain of mountains’ and others ‘savage mountain’. Mike and Fred have attempted on all three occasions to climb K2 from the Pakistani side in alpine style – this means using no supplementary oxygen and no fixed ropes.

On this last attempt, they made their push for the summit on July 16th. But the weather was against them. “We climbed to over 8, 000 metres, but we had to stop 400m from the top. We couldn’t even see our feet”. Once back at base camp, Mike spent the night massaging his own toes which were frost-bitten. Their window of opportunity had closed as Mike needed to continue with his Pole2Pole expedition. Fred is relaxed and philosophical. His smile is infectious, as is his laugh. Would he do it again? “Yes, maybe… but if we go back it will be from the Chinese side, now on the Pakistani side there are too many commercial expeditions, it’s too busy”.

Does he think that K2 will follow the same course as Everest? “I think so. Some of the big agencies are trying to make commercial packages to all the 8,000m plus mountains in the world. I think there were about 140 climbers in the basecamp this July, only 4 or 5 of us were climbers who don’t use oxygen”. Discarded oxygen tanks account for much of the litter that the exploitation of Everest has created.

It takes a personality like Fred’s to do what he does – at times jovial and sunny during our meeting, he is also reflective and real.

He describes his relationship with Mike, who he has known and worked with for 20 years, as easy. “We work together, we make decisions together” he says. On their first ascent in 2013, the decision to turn back was much harder. “We were around 7,500m and it was a really blue sky. But we had a bad feeling. That combined with a snow report influenced our decision and we turned back”. There were two New Zealanders just behind them, a father and his son, Marty and Denali Shmidt, who decided to continue. They climbed about 20m further before the whole slope avalanched and the pair were lost.

“You can be an expert in avalanches, but an avalanche doesn’t know or care if you are an expert” Fred says. As an older guide, he has learnt how important it is to follow your gut.

And what about life here in the Val de Bagnes? Fred reflects sadly on how evident the shrinking of the glaciers is here when returning after two months in the Himalayas, where you are surrounded by immense glaciers and so much snow. “When I was younger, we would be skiing up at Gentianes Mont Fort all the time during the summer. It’s sad when you see what is left there for my children”.

Fred and Mike share a unique bond. “Fred has been a lifelong friend and we lived moments very close to death together. Just by looking in his eyes, I can see the excitement or I can see the fear. And that is what friendship is all about. Friendship is understanding what’s going on in the mind of your best friend that is risking his life as you are risking you life,” comments Mike, who is currently in the North Pole.

When asked if he is following his latest expedition, Fred laughs, “yes, and I’d much rather be here!”
Theirs is a true partnership – where will it take them next ?


Early Winter Season Activities

Early Winter Season Activities

Rocky Off-Piste Skiing and Ice-Climbing in the Bagnes Valley

Hawaiian-born Hans first came to Verbier 25 years ago. He fell in love with the skiing and went onto be one of the first foreigners to complete his Swiss Mountain Guide Exam. He lives here with his wife and 2 children.

You never know how or when the season is going to start. But one thing is for sure: there probably won’t be a solid base of snow. Rocks will be lurking just underneath the surface, waiting to ruin your skis, or worse – you.

Knowing what the ground is like at this early stage is a big help. Much of the terrain we ski over is grass, which means we can ski on just 30cm of fresh powder with a nice fat pair of rock skis without doing too much harm to them – or us.

Lower altitudes, below 2’300m for example, generally have fewer rocks and are therefore better suited to early winter skiing. There is usually more snow at altitude, so you need to be able to wiggle in and out of the rocky areas.

The Creblet run is a fine example where one minute you may get down it trouble-free, and the next minute you completely ruins your skis. The top is really rocky, so it’s best to go in easy and avoid the bumps, which are actually rocks. After this you’ll encounter a relatively rock-free line: down the initial throat, bearing slightly left, and then straight down; just avoid crashing into one of the many new chalets in town – which may have appeared overnight – right in the middle of your favorite run home.

Be sure to save an old pair of skis to use during the first couple of weeks of off-piste skiing in Verbier. Getting familiar with the terrain, and finding out where the rocks is best done on an old pair of skis – not to mention lighter on your wallet. Stay on top of the skis and don’t practice that “hip smear” technique this early in the season.

On the other hand, rain can fall high on the mountain at the start of the season. This rain, on top of a meter of snow, creates a solid shell over the ground rocks allowing free run off-piste skiing.

The ideal start to the winter season is lots of early snow.

This creates an insulating layer keeping the warm ground far away from the cold surface layers resulting in a stable snow pack for the rest of the winter.

What often happens however, is small amounts of snow fall in October and November. Cold nights and no sun on the north-facing slopes create a very high “temperature gradient”. This is just a fancy way to say there is a big difference between the type of snow on the ground and the type of snow at the surface.

In these conditions, the snow crystals grow quickly into angular globs, similar to the raw sugar I buy at the Migros supermarket. The snow is big grained stuff, which when covered with another layer of snow, offers virtually no support for the added weight. All it needs is some clown like me to come along and set it off, and bingo, I’m under two metres of snow hoping my friends have read up on transceiver rescue techniques. Not a great place to be, and better to stay home if you think you may end up in such a precarious situation.

The wild waterfalls past Fionnay, in the upper reaches of the Val de Bagnes, provide a superb environment for Waterfall sport climbing.

Our very own Val de Bagnes offers some of the finest ice climbs in the Alps. The first time I did one, it felt like I had walked into Mom’s kitchen, opened the cupboards, started pulling out glasses and throwing them all over the room. Glass was exploding with every axe placement, flying through the air, and crashing all around me. I kicked gleefully at the ice, destroying everything around me with my crampons. What a great way to pass the time on a calm, peaceful, alpine day in Verbier!

Progress up these vertical frozen waterfalls is assured with ropes and screws placed in the ice. Choosing the right time and the right place provides excellent entertainment, and perhaps even addiction for a new and cool lifestyle. Be sure to leave all those screws hanging off your belt when you swagger into the Pub Mt.Fort for the after-climb brew. The girls will certainly put you on their immediate “to do” list. But be sure to remove the crampons…

The ‘Guide des Cascades de Glace en suisse romande’ by Bob Rodzinski is a good guide book, covering most of the climbs this part of Switzerland.


How To Ski Bumps

How To Ski Bumps

Harry Steel from Altitude Ski School shares his top tips on how to ski bumps

    1. Take it easy to start. Make sure you practise first on some easy smaller bumps to warm up, don’t head straight to Tortin! Even when you do get to the harder bumps, break the run into smaller sections for example just trying to ski 10 bumps at a time. Before you know it, you will be at the bottom!
    2. Pick a line. Before you have even started skiing, it is so important to choose the line you are going to ski and commit to it. Pick a point down the hill and aim for it with conviction, do not hold back!
    3. Pole plant! Pole planting is critical to skiing bumps, as it will help with the rhythm of your turns, provide stability for your upper body and help you to stay balanced over your skis.
    4. Take a deep breath and relax… Bumps can often be intimidating, so it is important to try and keep a level head. Take a deep breath at the top of the bumps and try and just focus on one action point for the run. The more relaxed and confident you are, the more likely your legs will respond and your upper body will stay strong, leading to great fun ride down the hill!

Tips from Harry Steel – a BASI 4 & Swiss Federal Qualified Instructor working with Altitude Ski & Snowboard School in Verbier. 
www.altitude-verbier.com


Don’t be that Guy - Avalanche Basics

Don’t be that Guy – Avalanche Basics

Each year, the mountains remind us of their awesome power in devastating slides that claim young lives. It’s a fact that ninety percent of fatal avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in their party.

Just when we all thought that winter had forgotten us here in the Alps, she blew in like a grand diva, dazzling us with her brilliance. With all the excitement of this late start to the winter, it’s so easy to overlook the dangers that our freshly white-washed landscape holds and venture out with reckless abandon. Maev Cox played it safe by attending one of Powder Extreme’s newly-launched avalanche safety and awareness courses.

Each year, the mountains remind us of their awesome power in devastating slides that claim young lives. It’s a fact that ninety percent of fatal avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in their party. The intention to do an avalanche course was gathering dust on my ‘to do’ list so I felt great excitement at the opportunity to tick if off by completing the ISTA (International Snow Training Academy) Discovery course under the instruction of Antoine Blaizeau. On a breathtaking day, during the height of the arctic freeze in January, our group of learners assembled.

As we began, Antoine introduced us to the concepts of ISTA, the innovative Lausanne-based program which designed the course. Simply put, ISTA has created a universal language for learning that doesn’t bog learners down with jargon and specialised terms. The main aim of ISTA is to make their courses accessible to anyone who plays on the mountain.

The Discovery course is their entry-level course. Its objective is to provide an introduction to the fundamentals of avalanche risk prevention as well as providing practical knowledge of the snow pack and how best to handle an avalanche situation. The course is divided into three parts: before, during and after. The bulk of the learning is covered in the first section and Antoine took the time to discuss the various environmental factors such as, but not limited to, wind, temperature, aspect, incline, precipitation and visibility that act as our clues. Understanding the variables within these elements is essential when assessing avalanche risk. Of course, human factors play a role too, such as always checking equipment and entering into a gentlemen’s pact which agrees that all opinions be taken into account at the outset of any backcountry adventure.

Our day was a satisfying mix of time spent getting to grips with the material contained in the concise course manual and time spent on the mountain, analysing the terrain and getting hands-on instruction. During the afternoon session, we covered the second and third parts of the course. Antoine dug a snow pit which gave us incredible visual information on the various layers of snow on which we ski and helping us to understand what makes certain layers weak. Our team worked up a sweat despite the freezing temperatures as we mimicked a rescue situation, using our transceivers to search for a transceiver hidden beneath the snow. We learnt the patterns in which to search, to probe and to dig, in order to complete the most efficient and effective search.

Antoine’s Top Tips:

  • Take the time. Avalanche risk is significantly reduced by creating space between individuals when moving about on the mountain.
  • “Don’t keep your tongue in your mouth”. In other words, trust your gut and don’t fear voicing your concerns, being outspoken could just be the thing that saves you.
  • Be mindful of changing conditions, what is true for the present may be altogether different later in the day.
    Watch your ego and don’t let enthusiasm blindside common sense.
  • Don’t use a plastic shovel! In fact, invest in good gear all round.


10 Things Not Miss In Verbier This Winter

10 Things Not Miss In Verbier This Winter

There are a million reasons why Verbier is the place to be this winter, but we’ve brought together the 10 best things not to miss this year.

1 HELISKIING

Tick off this ultimate bucket list item in one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are a number of epic heliskiing zones around Verbier, including the iconic Petit Combin, Rosablanche, Trient glacier and Pigne d’Arolla. Enjoy long runs deep in the alps and far away from the crowds, led by one of Verbier’s famous mountain guides.

2 STAY AT CABANE MONT FORT

Immerse yourself in the full wilderness experience by staying overnight in one of Switzerland’s legendary mountain huts. While many of the country’s huts are inaccessible to most throughout winter, Cabane Mont Fort in Verbier is an excellent exception. In bounds at 2457m, you’ll feel a million miles away bundled up in this cosy hut for the night.

3 DINNER ON THE MOUNTAIN AND SLEDGING HOME

A trip to Verbier wouldn’t be complete without a classic evening dining at one of the resort’s best mountain restaurants and sledging home afterwards. Chez Dany, Marlenaz, Namaste and Marmot are all walking distance from Verbier, offer the best of Verbier’s Swiss mountain fare and link to brilliant tracks to sledge back down to the resort.

4 SKI TOURING

Join the revolution and earn your turns this winter ski touring around Verbier. There are a host of touring itineraries mapped out around the resort. Find the official maps online or at the tourist office and hire gear from one of the many great ski shops in Verbier.

5 HIRING A GUIDE AND GOING OFF PISTE

Verbier is the capital of freeriding for a very good reason, so make the most of your days on the slopes by hiring a guide to show you the best of it. Conquer some of the resort’s legendary lines off Backside Mont-Fort, Mont-Gelé and even the mythical Bec des Rosses. Verbier’s mountain guides will create the perfect itinerary for every level of skier or snowboarder.

6 APRÈS SKI

Verbier is famous for its lively Après Ski scene. Le Rouge and Relais des Neiges are two of the best spots for a beer when the lifts close, while Farinet is the go-to for both locals and visitors looking for a big night out on the town, with the best live bands around and its famous sliding roof.

7 NEW YEARS EVE

One of the best ways to do New Years Eve in the Alps is no doubt Verbier’s Place Centrale party. With the town centre filling with thousands of revellers, a DJ pumping tunes all night and a massive fireworks show ushering in the New Year, Verbier’s world famous celebration simply has to be experienced to be believed.

8 VERBIER XTREME

Over a week every year in March-April, the Freeride World Tour finale comes to Verbier. The culmination of the world’s biggest competition for the only the wildest skiers and snowboarders, the FWT is a true spectacle. Watch riders take on the infamous Bec des Rosses and then soak up the festival atmosphere in town.

9 SLEDGING LA TZOUMAZ

Check out the longest sledge run in Western Switzerland right here in Verbier. Fun for kids and adults alike, the legendary piste weaves from the top of Savoleyres through snowy switbacks and forest all the way to La Tzoumaz. Dropping 834m in total, the sledge run is one not to be missed.

10 PATROILLE DES GLACIERS

In one of the toughest ski touring races in the world, the Patrouille des Glaciers sees teams of three set off from Zermatt and battle through the night over 57km, finally finishing in Verbier. The legendary race runs only every two years, so catching the finishers as they complete the last kilometres running from Médran to the Sports Centre in their ski boots is something very special indeed.