The rough plan for the week was to spend as much time at altitude as possible so that Charles would be well acclimatized for his forthcoming trip to the Himalayas. Yet not for the first time the weather forecast had other ideas. It was mixed without a period of two consecutive settled days, which makes planning for climbing big mountains difficult.
We decided that the Gd St Bernard Col would be a good place to go. Thanks to the recently published guide book- Entremont Escalade there is a wealth of fine rock climbing. Plus there are good hotels which are at an altitutude of 2400 meters. Which means that if the weather improved we would have all ready aquired some acclimatisation.
We drove over the col du Gd St Bernard, but road over the pass was closed for some resurfacing work. We had to drive through the tunnel and approach from the Italain side which added an unwanted 40 minutes. It started to rain. Rather bullishly we set off for our climb anyway. The Grande Chenalette. 5b. It stopped raining and the sun came out. All was good. Then the sun went away the dark clouds rolled in and it started to hail. Hail is better than rain because it just bounces of you without soaking you. Well upto a point... It wasnˋt much later that it looked like snow. Fortunately near the top of the ridge we found a cave to see out the worst of the storm.
|Weather looks better than it actually was!|
Charles on summit ridge.
We finished the climb on wet rock, but it wasn't too difficult. This was followed by a walk off [again in the rain]. Back to the col and then a kilometer drive to Italy where we checked into the delightful Hotel Italia .
The next day it was raining so we escaped it bt driving all the way down to Aosta where we found a dry crag with some excellent single pitch rock climbing near a village called Fenis. [It has a sign-post that is always having the F changed to a P by someone who thinks this is hilarious - which it probably was the first time.]
We spent a good portion of the day there until the rain caught up with us again, so we retreated to the center of Aosta for some cappuccinos, before returning to the Hotel Italia.
On our third day the weather was good. We climbed the route Zucchero on the east ridge of the Pain de Sucre. 5b. It is the undoubted classic of the area. Never difficult but it’s long. We shared the route with a Swiss Guide and his client plus three female members of the Italian Alpine Military brigade who were climbing the route in full combat gear including leather army boots.
|Knife edge summit of Pain du Sucre.|
The Pain du Sucre is a fine summit. 2900m. The descent is a contrast to the line of ascent, because it is a walk off, albeit a tricky one to find the best line and avoid all the loose rocks and scree. Yet all in all it was just over an hour back to the car park- so pleasantly quick.
Another night at the Col, but this time in Switzerland at the Auberge du Gd StBernard, where we enjoyed an excellent beef fondue.
On our fourth day it was again raining. We had aquired a lot of solid acclimatisation, but the weather was not allowing us to exploit it. The road was now open so we headed back towards Bourg St Pierre. Fingers crossed that lower down the valley we would find something to climb. We did! The Entremont Escalade guide book saved us and we climbed the immaculate route called *Sisyphus heureux TD 6a+ on the Trappiste cliff. [ We did have to wait a while for it to dry out.]
|Charles leading the first pitch.|
On our 6th day together, now back in Chamonix again the weather forecast was not looking good. Okay in the morning but the decidedly indifferent for the afternoon.
We decided to try the spectacular route called La Piste Oubliee 6b+ on the Brevent. Our insurance was to climb the route using double ropes in case we needed to escape, if the rain came faster than forecast.
The route gave five pitches of magnificient steep technical climbing which had to be read carefully. The climbing was totally engrossing so much so that I forgot to take any photos of the climb.
We were lucky with the weather because just as we finished it started to rain again... But what a route to finish on.
* Le Mythe de Sisyphe par Albert Camus.