Friday, August 10, 2018

First time in Chamonix. An Introduction to Alpimism.

Nivedita Dige was very curious to find out a bit about what it was like to climb in the Alps. She got in touch and we arranged to spend five days together. We started on Monday 6th August by heading up the Grands Montets cable car in Argentiere. We spent the morning learning how to use crampons and the ice axe in an alpine context. In the afternoon we climbed the Aiguille du Grand Montets 3295 meters by its short but spectacular east ridge.
Tuesday. The plan was to make a traverse of the famous ridge above La Flegere "The traverse of the Crochue." Yet not for the first time this summer , the cable car was broken. Luckily I had a plan B and we drove around and up to the Emossen Dam in Switzerland. We climbed the impossible looking [Nive said ] Aiguille du Van. After-which we took a very refreshing dip in the lake.
Wednesday: We arrived at the Aiguille du Midi to be greeted by an big queue despite it only being 7.30hrs. Yet with a bit of inside knowledge we manged to get on the next cable car and saved a huge chunk of time. We climbed the Point Lachenal.3613 meters This should have been a short simple climb on snow in beautiful surroundings. While it was indeed beautiful , it was not simple because all the snow had melted and instead we had to climb a steep icy slope to reach the summit. Getting back down was a very solid introduction to some of the challenges of climbing in the Alps...
Thursday. The day started according to plan: I picked Nive up from her hotel and we drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and then rode the Helbronner [Skyway Cable car] to its summit. The contrast to yesterday's cable car couldn't have been more stark. There was no queue , the staff were pleasant, it was super modern and clean AND the lift ticket was cheaper. We started across the glacier and headed in the direction of our intended summit the Aiguille du Marbrées.3535meters. There was a bit of mist swirling about but otherwise the conditions were very good. There were other parties climbing the same route as us, but Nive and I were moving much more efficiently than the other groups and we passed everyone else. At one stage we came across a Guide and his client. The client was sitting on the rock looking glum. Her Guide said she had had enough and they would be turning around and going back down the ridge. Not thinking too much about this we carried on.
We arrived on the very small and spectacular summit, the only down side was that the misted had socked in and we didn't get the view.
It was on the way down the ridge that we both heard this almighty blood curdling scream. Neither Nive and I knew what it was. It didnt even sound like it was a human cry. Eventually we got back down off the ridge to where the rock meets the snow of the glacier. There were lots of people sitting around. It appeared there had been some kind on accident. What had seemingly happened was the Guide with the glum client whom we had passed ealier in the day , had decided that she could not possibly retrace her steps. Therefore the Guide had elected to lower her off the side of the ridge down to the snow onto the glacier. While this was happening she had some how dislodged a rock which had hit her causing her to let out the aforementioned scream. A local French Guide had called the Mountain Rescue [PGHM ] who duly dispatched a Helicopter. Hence everyone was waiting to see what transpired when the helicopter arrived. Yet as mentioned there was no visibility and the helicopter was obliged to land below the cloud base and drop two Gendarmes [and a stretcher] who then had to flog up hill to find the casualty. All this was taking a lot of time. I couldn't actually see any of this drama unfolding because of the swirling mist although it was only about 50 meters away. It was during this time that the glum screaming women actuality decided that she wasn't in fact hurt and would be just fine to walk across the glacier and back to the cable car station. This is just as the Gendarmes arrived with their stretcher... Meanwhile the weather had gotten worse and the helicopter pilot decided that he couldn't hang around and cleared off leaving the two Gendarmes to make their own way back down to Courmayeur and then back through the tunnel to their base in Chamonix. I gave them a lift home and we shoved the stretcher in the back of the Land Rover. Friday. The weather was not being cooperative which reduced our options. Nive decided that what she really wanted to do was get as much time on crampons as possible and so we headed for the Mer de Glacé, where we could do some ice climbing.

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