An (almost) exhaustive list of our notable exploits and some lessons learnt during 21 days in Chamonix. It excludes the extremely productive but comparitively dull days spent in the valley where climbing mileage was of course high but which involved a higher proportion of bolts, red wine and rain.
Day 1-3 Conville Course
Aimed at introducing young people to Alpine climbing, it was thoroughly worth the £120 for instruction with British Guides. We practised glacier travel as well as efficient movement techniques and rescue scenarios.
- Alpine guides can roll and smoke whilst descending steep rock.
- Being sharp on crevasse rescue is essential
Battling the L'Index on the Pig-Squeel-Rouge
One of the most popular multi-pitch routes in the area, the L'Index is relatively short and features straightforward climbing near to the upper lift.
The approaches this year are generally of the cold and slushy variety, and therefore introducing a difficulty in access and descent. We didn't actually do this route because Sinclair fell in a hole, afterwhich i dropped my axe and had to abseil down to get it. Strong start!
- If you are considering wearing crampons - wear crampons - even if nobody else is and even for 10 minutes on the snow.
- Snow becomes slippery porridge in the Alpine sun.
- There are big holes between the rocky couloir sides and the snow - falling into them is not advised.
-Dropping your ice axe is a real pain -finding and retreiving it 20 metres above a steep snow basin is also a pain but at least rewarding.
Dessication and Discovery on the Chappelle
The Chappelle de la Gliere or the SSE arrete, is a popular classic - much longer and more difficult than it's neighbouring L'Index and with trickier approach and descent. It felt around HVS.
The prevalence of snow meant both approach and descent again took the form of slush lined couloirs, and the distinct absence of other people indicated:
a) we had a popular alpine route to ourselves and were rather lucky
b) nobody could be bothered carrying boots, crampons and axes and spending a few hours kicking steps in wet porridge
A mixture of the two perhaps!
Nevertheless, the sun shone and after catching an early lift Harriet and I intrepidly made our way up the couloir toward the base of the route. The access difficulties began 100m before reaching the rock - a series of zig-zig pitches up the steep couloir, involving snow-runners and 'hole-hops' as well as the odd in situ bolt. Despite this adding significantly to our time, neither of us fancied the long slide down the valley and opted to be a little safer.This melodrama was however quite enjoyable in the morning sunshine - proven notably in Harriets cheek to cheek smile pre 'hole-hop' photo... just before the base of the rock climbing.
Upon reaching the rock, and sporting heavier packs than is desirable on a multi pitch route, Harriet and shared leads for the first 70m dierdre and were soon establshed upon the ridge, where i dragged ropes up toward an impressive 60m corner shod in dirty old pegs. The climbing was steep and delightfully sustained , feeling around HVS . Harriet, who despite having seconded only VS, was climbing profficiently throughout and lead a shorter scrambling pitch to the base of a steep wall and the Raison d'etre ' Razor-flake pitch - featuring a through-drilled thread runner and a thickness of around 3'' in its uppermost section!
Rounding the day off, we summited the pinnacle of 'Le Tour', but having only a 3 sentence translated route description (the french seem to like to word 'dierdre'?!), struggled to find the 'winding trail, making short ascents and reascents'. We eventually decided upon a gully, skirted by a vague path. Our route, involved some short- roped scrambles and on arriving at a pile of old tat above a slimy wall and couloir, we abseiled town for the evening step kicking session! Unfortunately Harriet had forgotten her headtorch and so as the mist began to gather , progress ground down and it was not before 11.30pm that we found ourselves beyond the steep snow, choss and difficulty.
Thoroughly dehydrated and hungry (i had eaten two cereal bars and some M&M's since 7am and drank little more than 1L) we arrived at the telepherique station. Finding it entirely locked up, we attempted to rest on the deck chairs to sleep until the sun rose early - night-bathing beneath the stars in waterproofs and duvet jackets .. After 45mins, finding sleep impossible in the cold and, quite bored, I resorted to drinking a capsule of saline solution from my first aid kit for entertainment (quite salty). Needless to say, this provivded the neccessary impitus to move and we began the trudge back to Argentiere. Thankfully we happened upon a clean looking stream and with the ovaltine i has tucked away, shook up some sugary brown broth for the walk.Despite heightened spirits, progress with 1 headtorch was slow and it wasn't until 4.30am that we arrived for lunch/dinner/breakfast at our tents! A great, if rather long day featuring some brilliant climbing -
Harriet even talked to me the following morning!
Traverse of the Midi-Plan
The out and back traverse is an alpine classic, and features mixed ground, north face exposure and winding snow arettes. Given AD, it is a serious route despite lacking in technical difficulty.
We made our first bivvy at altitude that evening, enjoying a feast of burnt cous cous, chicken and cheese and were woken intermittently through the night, not by cold but by a magnificent starscape, fringed by the pale snowy peaks.
We began the traverse as the sun apeared on the skyline, making fast progress along knife edge snow aretes and scrambling between gendarmes. Following this we reached the Rognon du Plan n face, a thoroughly exposed and intimidating section on steep neve and a little ice. On traversing this, we marched up to the domed snow summit of the Rognon du Plan, a fine viewpoint and with time for a bit to eat, we surveyed the remaining objective.
Despite the morning sun only now becoming noticably warm, we were very aware of the rapidly deteriorating quality in the snow, and it was with this in mind that we decided to reverse ourselves then, avoiding having to later reverse a steep snow scoop in a south facing bowl - unfortunately unprotecable and destined to to turn slushy. Reversing the Rognon N face was again engaging and while it is protectable, the word is used in the 'loosest' of senses. The transforming power of the sun was notable on the return, where sluff avalanches had come down. In the space of 4 hours the still air had heated by around 20 degrees. On arriving at the Midi col late that morning, Will left us while Sinclair and I drank tea and gorged in my culinary discovery - Banoffee Banana.
- 2 axes would have allowed faster and more comfortable movement
-Alpine north face exposure is as intimidating as it sounds
-Leaving early isnt enough, leave very early is necessary
- Bannoffee bannanas (a true culinary delight) can be made by simply freezing and defrosting regular bananas at 3800m over a 12 hour period
An impressive cliff featuring a plethora of bolts and some interesting looking trad routes. Accessed via a chair and a10 minute downhill walk. Along with 4 other parties, we climbed the classic bolted route 'Voie Frasion-Roche'. Good fun - but certainly protectable in it's most part and therfore felt very 'un-adventurous' in places..
Aiding the Envers
The Envers hut, situated 300m above the west side of the Mer de Glace is the ideal base from which to explore the granite kingdom in which it is nestled. Routes between 5 and 25+ pitches upon impressive faces and spines cover every spire and ridge in the vicinity - including the Grepon, Aiguille de Roc and Charmoz. We bivvied for one night and climbed a classic 6 pitch route only 10 minutes from the hut - Le Piege on the Tour Verte.
From Montenvers, straddled by our 20kilo packs, Sinclair and I marched across the Mer de Glace to do battle with the 200m of iron clad slabs, forging the path up toward the Aiguille des Enver on steep ladders and ropes. Upon reaching a spacious bivvy spot, we began an unenventul evening watching the mountains turn red, meanwhile eating more food than we realised and resulting in the drastic depletion of our food supply..
It was with bright eyes and light packs that we ambled across snowy terraces and up the final ladders that morning, quickly reaching the Envers hut, perched upon it's ledge in a great gothic ampitheatre.
This vast rockland between the snow and pines feels far removed from the green Scottish hills. Between ice and rock, parched slabs sit among fringing grasses. Even in the pleasant morning air, the lofty spires surrounding the hut remain as impregnable as from afar. From their screes, like great iron swords, the granite obelisks thrust into the pale blue and below the gravely ice rasps their feet, barren, fissured and cradled in its own crumbling walls. The rock titans, in their glorious towering battlements, are quietly majestic. Unrivalled and supreme.
The route itself followed a series of partially bolted walls, gradually steepening toward 150m of exposed flakes and cracks. I followed a tremendously exposed pitch and arrived to an impromptu belay and rather deflated Sinclair. On looking above i too was soured, as a series of hand-crack roofs barred our progress. After a few minutes of sweaty shuffling, the dreaded jams succumbed to our newly aquired 'alpine style' techniques..! We followed cracks and slabs on immanculate red granite to the summit of the Tour Verte, stopping only briefly before abseiling down. Having missed the train and with only a tin of sardines to support another day, we happily made the long trek back to Montenvers, and then down the winding woodland path to Chamonix.
The classic line on the south face of the midi , accessed within 20 minutes of the top lift and extending for 200m on pristine orange granite. At 3800m, and tucked into the Vallee Blanche it is a stupendous situation for a warm multi pitch rock route. It equates to roughly E1, is in some places riddled with ancient snapped pegs and features bolted belays throughout.
- Rebuffat considered his route to be an effortless excurison up the steep face. Holdless grooves, however delicately climbed are impossibly efortless to ascend and generally unpleasant, unless of course a long thread of thick cord exists with which to aid progress..
- Germans encountered were both lazy, non puntual and quite funny. Stereotypes don't always work.
- French grading assumes technique and balance before strong arms.
- The increase in speed and efficiency is incredible when jammed ropes threaten the deadline.
Classic.. blah blah blah. It's a good morning's jaunt and features drilled crampon placements which are rather amusing. Otherwise the only attraction is a great victory seemingly accomplished as a crowd of tourists greet you on the platform.