Sunday, August 26, 2018

A mix of big mountains and rock climbing

John Young joined me for his annual summer Alpine climbing fix. There was no plan other than to maintain maximum flexibility and go where the conditions and weather were good at the time. Yet on our first day together this back-fired as no sooner had we got off the Index chair lift at La Flegere it started to bucket it down. Not a great start. Nevertheless we did manage to salvage the day by rock climbing in St Gervais where it remained dry and we able to do some very enjoyable rock climbing which ultimately proved to be a very good preparation for what was to follow. The forecast suggested that the weather would gradually improve so we hatched a plan to go and explore the Zinal Valley and booked ourselves into the Moiry Hut. Although the weather was due to improve it was not doing that when we arrived at the road head. It was raining hard and thumping off the windscreen. We sat in the car waiting for it to stop,it was like sitting inside a drum. Yet it did stop [sort of] raining and then we headed up to the hut between bursts of rain.
The hut didn't provide the best nights sleep either of us have ever had. It is of a modern "eco" design which as far as I could ascertain meant it tries to store all the heat within. In other-words you cant open the windows and so you basically suffocate and stew in your bed. Morning couldn't come soon enough. Any way, the plan for us was the traverse of the Aiguilles de la Lé.
The guide book describes the route as a "minor classic"
A minor classic it may be but it seemed like a very big undertaking to us. A fabulous route where despite it being the height of the alpine climbing season , we saw no one. Aesthetics are everything . It was an exceptional day. Then it was back to Chamonix for some rock climbing close to the Brevent . We choose the very good 10 pitch route "Hotel Calafornia." [I'm not sure what the back story is to why the route has such a name.]
By the Friday the weather forecast was looking unsettled and so we decided to venture further afield for the day in an attempt to climb in better weather. We climbed the Arete Marion high above the Col des Aravis. We made the journey in a 39 year old MG Midget which didn't have a fully functioning roof.
The route was fantastic yet we were very lucky to finish the route before the heavens opened and we were subjected to a classic summer drenching on the way back down. We arrived at the col where we left the car soaked but contented. The no roof on the car issue meant it was important to drive home at speed so that he rain [in theory] passed over our heads. After a couple of days rest , we headed back to Switzerland , in fact back up the Zinal Valley but this time up to the Tracuit Hut. Our intention was to climb the Bishorn 4153 meters. The walk to the Tracuit Hut was knocked off in 3.15 minutes, which we were happy with because we had been expecting it to take upwards of 4 hours. This was another "eco" hut however this time the architect and clearly thought that it would be good if the occupants could at least breath. They had considerately designed it with opening windows. It was a pre-dawn start and there was no moon. Finding the route across the dry glacier was difficult because there was no track to follow. [Or at least no track I could find.] Once we got to the glacier snow , we stumbled across the track and progress was a lot more straight forward.
It was then back down the same way. At first the soft snow helped the descent, then the hard glacier ice took its toll on our knees , but this was nothing to the path below the hut . Its gradient was designed to torture the knees. It was steeply sloped but with no steps. This meant that our toes were constantly being rammed into the front of our boots. It was so tedious that the descent took exactly as long as yesterdays ascent. 3 hours 15 minutes. Highly unusual for a path which is meant to be simple. Not surprisingly after 2550 vertical meters of descent on a path which had been sculptured by a bunch of idiots the beer at least was well received. We decided we needed a "rest day" [well to rest the knees anyway] We elected to climb the iconic Frisson Roche route on the East face of Le Brevent. The route was named after Frison Roche the writer who's most famous book Premier Cordée is a classic of French Mountain Literature. He was also a Chamonix Mountain Guide. It is a truly great rock climb. So much to say that if you were only able to climb one rock climb in the Chamonix valley this might be the one.
On our final together day we tried La Flegere again this time the weather was good and because the Brevent Cable car was broken [again] there were lots of people all fighting to get up the lift. We decided to walk a little further than everyone else and were rewarded by finding the route on pointe Gaspard very quiet. An absolutely fantastic climb to finish with.
A complete photo record of the trip can be found by copying this link

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.