Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Alpine Rock Roadtrip: Chamonix Part 2

Like you could have read in Jeroen’s article, I (Bart) went back down to Chamonix, because I was feeling ill. So I packed my bags while Jeroen was looking for a climbing partner at the hut and I was on my way to the train station of Montevers. I was really feeling tired and sick when I arrived at the crowded train station. Luckily the train came quickly and I was on my way back to Cham.

The Aiguille Verte looking pretty snowy on my way back to the valley

When I stepped out of the train, the warmth overwhelmed me. I dropped off my gear at the car and went for a burger and a drink in the Midnight Express and some drugs at the pharmacy to get healthy again.  Then there was the quest of finding a camping close enough to Cham, so I could bring all my gear to the camping by foot (cuz I don’t have a driving license yet). That camping became “Les Arolles” in Chamonix-Sud. A nice, cozy camping with a communal table and a ‘free box’. An ideal place to meet people, so it turned out…
Me and Jeroen at the camping, showing off our Camalot #6
©Martin Antvorskov
Frida, myself, Martin and Jeroen at the communal table in the camping.
©Judith Leegwater

The next few days where filled with resting, reading, meeting interesting people and I went cragging once, with the friendly Swedes I’ ve met. When Jeroen returned from Envers, he settled himself in the camping and took a few days off himself. Jeroen really wanted to go back to Envers les Aiguilles, but I was still not feeling fine enough for those routes. So, Jeroen went up with Steve, a Brittish climber he had met on the camping. The same day I went to the ‘Dalles de Chézerys’ with Martin, a Danish climber I’ ve met. We climbed a three-pitch route, called Dune. That day, I felt better and Martin came with the idea of climbing Arête des Cosmiques together. A route he really wanted to climb. Although I climbed the route already twice, I agreed because I needed some acclimatization and he insisted on paying my cable car ticket. But we had to be quick, because he was leaving in the afternoon. No sooner said than done, we went up the Midi next day. We soloed, almost the whole way and downclimbed the  first rappel. As usual, there were a lot of people on the route, but it wasn’t overcrowded. Although it was the third time I climbed this route, it is still a beautiful one. Nicely exposed, fun mixed climbing and different behind every corner.  There was still a lot of snow, so we kept on our crampons the whole way. The climbing took us two hours and we passed a lot of rope teams. When we sumitted with the usual tourist-crazyness, we took a bite and a rest  and took the lift back to Cham. In the end Martin still had time by spare to catch his bus to Aillefroide.

Martin, feeling strong on the approach to the Chézerys!

Martin, follows the second pitch of Dune
View on the Aiguillette
©Martin Antvorskov
Martin downclimbs the first rappel

Martin rapelling on my way-too-long-for-this-route 70m rope

The classic Cosmiques photograph!

Martin climbs the crux

On the summit!

In the afternoon I went climbing in ‘Les Gaillands’ with Frieda and Josefin (the Swedish girls) and Barry, a South-African native who currently lives in Australia. Les gaillands is one of the most popular crags around Chamonix and it gets hot and crowded very quick on the main wall. That’s why we climbed on the left side of the wall. Shaded by the trees and less crowds! I made plans with Barry to go up to the Midi for some alpine climbing.

The next day, we took the Midi. Loaded with a tent and food to stay up for a few days. We dropped our gear on the Col du Midi and set off for the objective of the day; Chèré couloir on the Triangle du Tacul. When we arrived at the route, there were already some ropeteams in the route. We decided to wait until they were at the ridge, we hoped the ice would fall down to the sides and not trough the couloir. When they were a little higher, we climbed the first pitch, who was a bit sheltered from the falling ice. When we were at the safe stance, we decided to bail, because there was still too much ice coming down. When we were down again, we went for the Contamine-Mazeaud. The route was beautiful but it consisted out of constantly 60-70° of blank ice with no rests, not even at the belays! Quickly, my calves were exploding out of the back of my pants and I had to fight the pump, pitch after pitch. Barry, who had some more experience with ice climbing, had a much better technique and he kept the same rhythm, pitch after pitch. Halfway up the route, we came to the conclusion that the snow conditions were getting worse and we still had to get down, once again we had to bail! The route still had one surprise for us, we had to rappel trough a gigantic bergschrund! We walked back to the Col, we’ ve put up our tent and started making dinner, for once not with freeze-dried meals, but with real fresh food and even a bottle of wine.

The Chèré Couloir, pretty crowded as usual
©Barry Smith
Waiting for the other teams
©Barry Smith
Barry, leading the first steep section  ot the Contamine-Mazeaud

Bart, following the steepest part
©Barry Smith
Barry, leading a fun pitch with some mixed in the end

Rapelling over a gigantic bergschrund

Our camp on the Col du Midi

 Next morning, we took our tent down and went for the East-face of Pointe Lachenal to climb the classic Contamine route. The approach was easy, but there was some doubt about the right start of the route as our topo wasn’t very clear. Thank’s to Barry’s route-finding experience, we started the right route. A nice crack with a block underneath that served as a gear depot. The most pitches were relatively short, that’s why sometimes we climbed two pitches together. My lead of the second pitch consisted out of a short, but very beautiful dihedral and led to a ledge. After this plateau started a huge compact wall littered with beautiful cracks. Pitch after pitch, we were astonished by the beauty of the wall! There where surprises behind every corner! Halfway up the route we encountered a huge freestanding flake, with another flake lying on top of it and on the last pitch we passed a huge window in the rock, that looked out over the North-East face. We were also surprised by the toughness of the climbing for the grade or was it the altitude… After all the climbing is situated between 3100 and 3600m. Later-on we learned that the Voie Contamine follows the ridge and as we climbed more on the face, I believe we climbed some pitches of Harold et Maud, after we left the ledge. Anyway, if you know what we climbed, please comment below!

Approaching the East-face of the Pointe Lachenal
©Barry Smith

Bart, following the third pitch of the route
©Barry Smith

Barry, climbing without helmet because he dropped it
(we were able to recover his helmet later on, because it lay on the bergschrund)

Barry crushing one of the harder pitches

Enjoyable climbing on the face!
When we arrived at the last belay, we walked to the actual summit. It was possible without crampons, as the rocky ridge was clear of snow. We took  some pictures and we walked back to the belay for a bite. We rappelled from our last belay and we got a bit of an epic on the wall. We ended up in the overhanging part of the wall and we had to do some scary traversing rappels on pretty bad stances, the “alpine feeling” was further strengthened by a thunderstorm in the distance and the Gervasutti couloir, who was avalanching the whole day long. The traversing rappels were necessary to get back to our depot, but the rappel line led us to a couloir to the left with a huge bergschrund underneath that was impossible to cross, especially without ice gear! After two hours of rappelling we were back at our equipment depot. We were relieved to get off the wall, but we didn’t knew the day wasn’t over yet! The thunderstorm was staying in Italy, we thought. But when we were ready to start walking, it started to rain. Lightly at first, but then the clouds dropped and the thunderstorm broke loose. By the time we passed underneath the first Lachenal point, we got into a complete whiteout. Sometimes we managed to see the foot of the mountains trough the mist, just before it closed in on us and we could only see a few meters ahead. I tried to adapt our course, by making a deliberate error. But, made an error in my calculation and I was still too close to the Mont Blanc du Tacul instead of the Aiguille du Midi, so we almost passed our tent. Luckily the skies cleared briefly and we were able to see our mistake. We put up our tent, ate some bread, drank some wine and went to bed.

Bart, arrives at the last belay after the 'window pitch'
©Barry Smith
Climbing to the actual summit
©Barry Smith

Yeah! But the day is far from over!
©Barry Smith

 General info
A return ticket for the Midi-cablecar cost you 50 euro’s, yeah pretty expensive! However if you don’t wish to pay for the expensive Cosmiques hut, you are allowed to bivouac in the Mont Blanc Masif. Beware! Camping is forbidden, so you have to take down your tent every day! Be careful because the camping fees are very high!

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