Monday, 16 March 2015

First time alpine climbing with Daan

This is a little write-up from Daan Nijs. Last summer I took him alpine climbing for the first time. I might have taken him outside of his comfort zone, I guess...

Hi everyone,

Let me first introduce myself. My name is Daan, I met Bart last year at Don Bosco Wilrijk at the rope-access course. Me and Bart got along very well right from the start of the course. Bart and I share the same love for the mountains and climbing, though he is much better at it than I am.  
Last summer Bart and I went to Chamonix together. It was my first time in Chamonix and my first real experience as a mountaineer. Bart was planning on staying for two months, but because I had to work, I only had one week to climb.

The first week of July we drove from Belgium to Chamonix. Once in Chamonix we went to this cosy camping full of climbers. We arrived at the camping in the late afternoon. The same day we went to town to get the last supplies we needed to go climbing. The next morning we took the Flégère cable car to the Aiguilles Rouges. Here we wanted to climb 'La Chapelle de la Glière'. An alpine style rock climb with a beautiful ‘Razor’ pitch. After my first lead on this route, little experience with nuts and friends, multi-pitch routes and a first experience of terrible rope drag I suffered from a weird feeling where it was very hard for me to go on, better known as fear. So for the upcoming pitches Bart took the lead. We continued on the route with a break after the sixth pitch. After another demotivating confrontation with a chamois who apparently could make it to his point with ease, we continued to the top of the route. After a few minutes of enjoyment on the summit, I just realised we were only halfway and still had a small journey ahead of us. It was already late but we still wanted to make it to the last cable cart to Chamonix. We didn’t make it though. On the way down, which should have been an easy walk we stumbled upon a wall of snow that was blocking the path. But no worries, on the right of the path we found a belay point where we could rappel down to a ledge from where we could go down to the cable cart. At least that was the plan. Once on the ledge, we discovered that is was impossible to go down through a field of snow without crampons. When we discovered it was impossible to go down through the snow, we already pulled down the rope, so returning wasn’t an option either. We started to look around for an alternative route to go down. At first we couldn’t find a way down, but then it happened. I saw a small piece of paper. I picked it up, and saw it was a page from the guidebook of the wall we were on. Was this luck or was there something up above guarding us? Who knows. Anyway, we found a rappel route and got down just before it went all dark. Luckily for us, we brought our tent, so we camped near the lift. The next morning we took the first bin and went down. This first climb was already a great adventure, although the real adventure still had to come.

When we arrived back in Chamonix, we went to the tourist-office to check the weather forecast. We decided to take the cable car of the Aiguille du Midi. We went to buy the food we would need to stay up for 2 days and we left with the last cart. Once up at the station, we prepared to get on the glacier and pitch our tent between two or three other tents. There we ate something and went to bed. We had to get up very early to leave on our climb. We wanted to climb the Aiguille d’Entrèves. A route which is AD- according to Camptocamp but back then I thought it was PD. This was going to be my first alpine climb.  I was very excited. The next morning was painfully early. We left as the sun touched the horizon for the first part of the climb, a seven kilometre walk to the start of the route. It didn’t took long before I realised that I hadn’t eaten enough. When we arrived at the start of the route, I felt pretty empty inside. I ate some candy bars which gave me energy to go on. We started the climb, it was easy terrain to climb and I really enjoyed it. The view was amazing but when we were half way, the weather changed. It became very clouded and it started to snow. The wind started to pick up, A snowstorm was coming. And yes, a few minutes later the weather was terrible, but because we passed the point of no return, we pushed forward. After this climb we still had to walk back. The trail was snowed in and we couldn’t see the crevasses. At that point we realised why a good preparation is mandatory, which we hadn’t at that point. We pushed on and when we descended more, the visibility became better and we could see the trails again. On the way back I was completely out of energy. I tried to go on and pushed as hard as I could. I fell a few times, but Bart helped me to push on. After a serious struggle to get my empty body back to the location where we left our tent, I fell down in the hole where we put our tent last night. There we decided to put up the tent again because of my empty body and upcoming bad weather.

Daan on the Col du Midi

On our way to the Aigulle d' Entrèves, the third mountain from the left.

On the ridge

Beautiful climbing on the ridge, just before the weather turned foul.

Daan climbing the ridge in less than ideal conditions.

When we got in our tent, a snowstorm blew over. We had to stay in the tent for the next sixteen hours. These where some scary hours. The wind was blowing down on our tent which was only anchored with our two piolets and two ski poles. After these hours, we decided to go to the lift. The last push to the finish line. It was still much further than anticipated. Then we arrived at the last ridge to the Midi lift. On this last ridge, I almost fell down because my crampons where stuck in my pants (classic). Luckily I could plant my piolet in the snow, which saved me. When we arrived at the lift station, I was very relieved. Here there were the usual Asian tourists who were taking pictures of every mountaineer they could get an eye on. After some waiting, we finally could go down. The first thing we did, was going to the ‘Midnight’. A place with delicious hamburgers. After that we went for a drink and then to the camping where we relaxed after our adventure. That day we also met an Australian guy who was also named Daan, who was completely amazed by the fact that he met another person with the same name.

The next day we wanted to climb a multi-pitch route somewhere further down the valley, but on our way up, we realised we forgot our water. So we returned to get some water but by the time we got back, we were to tired (read lazy) to go back up, Also the weather was changing and it was already getting to late. So we went bouldering for a while, which we grew tired of pretty fast, although it was fun in the beginning.

The next day was my last day in Chamonix, but we couldn’t do a lot because of bad weather, so it became a last lazy day. The next morning I left Bart in Chamonix and drove home on a boring ten hour drive. It was a great week where  I learned a lot and did awesome things, I hope I can repeat this, next summer but then with better weather.

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