Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Chamonix Classic Climbs .

 After our ascent of the Arete de Saille, we both felt "well climbed".  It  was a big day and we decided we needed a simpler day.  Yet when we met in the morning the rain was there to greet us and so like so often a another idea  needed  to be conjured up,  

John for all his previous mountaineering experience had never tried a Via Ferratta. Like many true mountaineers he was a bit ambivalent about them, but poor weather and limited options he concluded that this was a good as time as ever to commence.

We choose the Via Ferrtta in Le Fayet,  behind the Thermal Baths . It was recently built and it has a reputation for trapping the unprepared.  In fact when it was first built it was ill conceived and resulted in lots of rescues from people with failing arms.

Since then it has been reconfigured and split into three sections with the option to quit at three different points.

We set off up the first and supposedly easiest section and although it had stopped raining it  was oppressively  humid and it felt like some practical- joker had been just ahead of us coating the ladders with soap.    Yet John seemed to be powering his way up and after the spectacular Himalayan-Bridge there was the option to bail.  John was having non of it , he was keen to try the second part.  This starts  sedately and then becomes significantly harder [read over hanging ladders and bold traverses.]. 

I have, over quite a few years done many Via Ferrtta's and this was  the most difficult.  Spectacularly beautiful , but defiantly not for the non committed debutant.  We choose to retire for lunch at the end of the second section and leave the finale for another day.  Lunch, as it happened, was very competent in the grounds of the Thermal Park.

This Via Feratta is definitely not for the faint -hearted.

Like all our big two week trips together we like to work towards  an "End Game" - a mountain  of significance that we set as a potential goal.  This year I had identified the Weisshorn as that goal.  Yet when I went to make the reservation in the Weisshorn Hutte   it had just  closed for a rebuild.  Plan B. We looked at the possibility of climbing the Grande Casse the highest mountain in the Vanoise.  Yet the Refuge was having some sort of organisational crisis , not unrelated to Covid.  

Then we realised Chamonix was unusually quiet , the weather forecast was perfect and there were plenty of the classic climbs which John had so far not done.  We  had the  opportunity to climb them without being swarmed all over.

Our first of the classic Chamonix climbs was the traverse of the Clocher-Clochotons with its  iconic Tyrollean Traverse . First done in 1912 and it hasn't lost any of its magic.

The Tyrollean Traverse
The Iconic Tyrollean traverse.

The next day we climbed the traverse of the Aiguille Crochue - the weather forecast was indifferent , very misty and atmospheric - far too atmospheric for all continental parties and unsurprisingly the only other two groups were British.

Approaching the start of the climb to the ridge

Magnificent ridge scrambling
John on the ridge

John & I with photo taken by fellow BMG Guide Stuart Macdonald
John & I . photo taken by fellow BMG Guide Stuart Macdonald.

Still managed  a swim in Lac Blanc on the way down.

Swim in the Lac Blanc

Next day was our chance to go for the Cosmique Arête .  A climb that has become so popular that frankly it  is frequently  untenable because of the bottle-necks plus it has suffered some significant rock fall which made parts of the route dangerous.  Yet with Chamonix quiet this was our chance to climb what is undistubitably  one of the finest climbs of its type and grade in the Alps and probably the world.

Crux pitch not as hard as it looks.

Yet  confidence was a little dented because as we travelled up in the Cable car, I met my good friend Eric Cantelle who is the chief electrician for the Aiguille du Midi. It's his job to keep it running when  the weather gets bad.  He has access to weather forecasts that us mortals don't have, because knowing what the weather is going to do is critically important to keeping the biggest generator of cash in France functioning.  Eric said " You need to be quick the forecast for the afternoon is bad". 

The Cosmiques Arete.

We were not so much quick, as efficient, with only a couple of other parties we had a wonderful experience and what's more the bad weather never materialised .

John in the Exit Cracks

Next was another Chamonix classic : The papillons Arete .  We were away early and we had the whole route to ourselves again.  It was just perfect.  

First pitch. Brutal for a grade 4 pitch

Stunning climbing

Positions are breath taking .

Having said that it is a classic Chamonix grant climb with lots of skin shredding crack climbing rock.  We needed something a little less aggressive for the next day and we choose the Peroux route on the East Face of the L'Index.  Again immaculate climbing which we had to our selves , well at least until we reached the ridge and joined the normal route , where chaos ensued .  It is, I'm afraid, one of those climbs that no matter how bad you are at climbing you can be certain there is some one worse than you.  It was a jumble of ropes knots and people not sure how or where to rappel from.  Fortunately for John and `I we had two 60 meter ropes so we could by pass everyone and arrived directly at the foot of the route from where we went for a late lunch at the Castel Restaurant  in Les Praz.

East Face of L'Index

Our final day together was our hardest  rock climb of the trip.  The beautiful Acqua-Concert on the Aiguille du Van with the jaw dropping back drop of the Lac du Emosson.  This is a modern bolted route on perfect rock. 

The turquoise Lac Emmossen give the perfect back drop
Turquoise backdrop of Lac Emosson

 The climb finishes on the summit and then it's a simple scramble back down to the scene of the giant beer tankards.

Big routes need big beers
Big routes require big beers.

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