Sunday, June 30, 2024

An Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering.

This is an account of how you can be productive and make huge progressions in mountaineering skills while naviagting some pretty miserable weather.

First time on crampons.

It was Kate and Zak's aim to gain as many alpine mountaineering skills as possible in a five day period.

On our first day we headed up to the Mer de Glace for a traditional "Ecole de Glace."  We went through all the essential skills of how to use crampons properly [ Its not intuitive] The use of the axe in its basic form all the way through to using an axe and a hammer for steep ice climbing. This day is incredibly useful because it is possible to learn so many fundamnetal skills- skills that are mission critical for all future mountaineering adventures.  All was good apart from the rain  which got heavier and heavier as the day progressed.  

The next day I was awoken by the clap of thunder and then heavy rain.  We decided to postpone the day.  As it turned out this was a good descision as else where in the alps, like Zermatt, there was major flooding and the town was cut off.

The day after was marginally better, so we decided to give it a go.  We headed up to La Flegere. Where as the first day, was all about ice, the aim of this day was all about how to deal with alpine rock climbing, while moving as efficiently and safely as possible [Speed is safety is often the said alpine mantra] 

Katie & Zak near the summit of Aiguille du Crochue.

 It seemed that we were the only people with this idea... Yet we made a traverse of the Aiguille Crochue [albeit in the mist] Nevertheless as we reached the summit the clouds parted and we were treated to stunning atmospheric views which made for some dramatic photographs. 

The mist clears !

Our timing proved to be impeccable, because just as we finished the difficulties, there was a giant clap of thunder and the heavens opened.  We trudged down the snow to Lac Blanc, before picking up the path back to La Flegere cable car station, which couldn't arrive soon enough.  We were soaked .

On our third day we awoke to more mist and a grey blanket of fog.  However the forecast was good above 3000meters, so we headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel and too the Sky way lift up into beautiful clear weather - at last.

The 'eggs' suspended above the mist in the Vallee Blanche.

The upside of all the bad weather meant that it had snowed which made everything look pristine.  Plus there were many routes which were in condition because they were still covered in snow, where as in previous years all the snow had gone, just leaving piles of unconsolidated rubble. 

summit ridge of aiguille du Toule

The summit

We traversed the Aiguille du Toule by climbing the west facing slope and descending the "voie normal."  The climb was in really good condition and gave us more of a chance to consolidate the skills of the previous two days.

On our fourth day, the weather was actually good.  We decided to go rock climbing.  More specifically multi pitch climbing followed by several linked abseils [rappells] to get back to the foot of the climb.  We did this by following the Tour du Mont Blanc path up towards Les Cheserys high above Argentiere. 

A big but well camouflaged Ibex

 It is hard to imagine a finer backdrop for a rock climb.

On our final day, we were once again comfronted by an indifferent forecast.  Heavy rain, wind and thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon.  We needed a good climb with fast access, lots of interesting challenges , beautiful views and solitude. 

Tricky snow traverse

 There is no climb better than the south ridge of Les Glieres above La Flegere.  It has everthing all neatly packaged into a good climb.

Katie - with Chamonix and Mt Blanc in the background.

So all in all with the contiuning mixed weather we had a productive and enjoyable time together.

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