Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Chamonix Aiguilles Traverse

I'm not sure of the exact definition of the Chamonix Aiguilles. I should know, I've watched the evening light glow across them enough times. To my mind they are the set of spiked mountains that run form the Aiguille du Midi westward, finishing at the Grand Charmoz or maybe l'M. My original plan was ambitious. Bivi underneath the Grand Charmoz and climb it and every other peak between it and the Midi over two days. Mike brought me back to the earth, pointing out it would probably take us at least three, and we agreed to go downwards from the Midi instead. 

Looking across the Chamonix Aiguilles at sunset.
Josh's partner had bailed on him so we were now a trio. The three of us took a late Midi up and spent a few hours relaxing in station. After a brief negotiation we secured accommodation, "No, we won't make any mess and we'll be gone by two in morning." In the warmth I fell into an easy sleep. The alarm went off, we gulped down breakfast and got going. It is amazing how much quicker everything is when you're warm and inside.

We tiptoed down the Midi Arête, marvelling at the Valley Blanche under the full moon. The snow, firm beneath our crampon made passage secure and easy. As we sped along the Midi-Plan ridge, un-roped, I remembered the last time I'd been here: aged fifteen, the last route of my first alpine trip. It had been a big adventure back then, we'd turned around just before the summit of the Plan so as not to miss the last lift. 

A couple of fun rock pitches led us to the summit of the Aiguille du Plan, just before dawn. The whole traverse had taken us around two hours. After a short abseil Mike led us down and up onto the Dent du Crocodile. We were still making good time and the description still made sense. I made a slight error abseiling off the Crocodile, but a short pendulum brought us back on route and we continued on towards the Dent du Caiman. We started to loose time here as Josh led us towards the summit. Still everything was under control. 

We started to descend of the Caiman; we tried to follow the vague disruption in the photocopy of the Phillipe Batoux book we had with us. Nothing seemed to make sense and soon we were lost on the south face with nothing but the faded tat of other unfortunates to keep us company. We certainly never found the "strenuous grade five move" that led back onto the west ridge. Eventually Mike found himself in the footprints of the party ahead of us, but only after climbing a scary pitch of wide climbing and making thirty metre horizontal abseil that involved three runners to redirect his ropes. Josh came across this last and slipped off taking the last runner out. Thankfully the ends of the ropes were also tied in and he was caught like giant fly in a spider's web. We were now all thoroughly pissed off, having wasted at least four hours. 

We continued onwards, moving together, with the occasional abseil, towards the Lépiney. Tired and dehydrated after a day in burning sun. It felt like we had spent the whole day descending rather than climbing. I tried to find a way to the summit, but the heat had frazzled my motivation. Instead we brewed up and ate our freeze-dried meals, before continuing on to a good bivi ledge below the Fou.

My sleeping bag was too warm and I struggled to make myself escape out of it into the cold morning air. Eventually I mustered the motivation and we got going a little later than planned. The Fou was straightforward, slightly longer than expected. I block led, pulling on the occasional runner to speed up the process. From the summit – Well, just below the summit, I couldn’t work out how to surmount the final perched block – we continued abseiling and moving together towards the Ciseaux. Josh led a final tricky section before we were able to scramble over towards the Blaitiere. At this point we noticed a core shot in one of our two ropes and decided it would be prudent to descend straight down rather than attempting to reach the summit.

After a snowy winter, the descent down the Spenser Couloir was in good condition. However we managed to jam our other rope early on and were forced to chop it. Thankfully this did not cause an issue for the descent down the Nantillons Glacier and we managed to make the last lift.

Ridge ministers
Josh and Mike heading towards the summit of the Aiguille du Plan.
Rigging the abseil of the top of the Dent du Crocodile.
Mike brewing up below the Lépiney
You know it's a good bivi when you fall asleep with your sunglasses on.
Cold scenes in the morning.
Josh A0ing for Yorkshire low down on the Fou.
Josh and Mike a couple of pitches higher on the Fou.

Mike and I shuffling across toward the Blatitiere. Photo: Josh Fawcett.
Granite eats rope!

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