Well first week of work has flown by and it turned out that we had a two day window, being given the whole weekend off. A very rare occurrence here as once the season kicks into full flow, we’re all working different shifts and will be lucky to get off the mountain (Torgon while beautiful, can also drag). So most of us on the activity team decided we were Chamonix bound and mildly hungover (and generally feeling sleep deprived and groggy), we piled into a couple of cars and headed south.
Chamonix is only about fifty or sixty miles south but it was quite a drive. We dropped from 1100m in Torgon down to the valley floor, something that takes about twenty minutes. Then it was onto the ridiculously flat valley floor down to Martigny before climbing again and down into Vallorcine.
It was scorching. I am a pale ghostly individual so I was cringing at the prospect of stepping outside. We arrived bright and early but the day just got hotter and hotter. But the shopping made up for it. Five years after I first started dabbling in climbing, I have finally invested in my first climbing harness! I am now the proud owner of a Petzl Adjama. I also invested in a nice lightweight jacket from Quecha that will replace my heavy duty rainjacket that in fairness to it, has done me sterling service in the Alps, Scotland and Ireland.
It’s a quaint little town that still has a veneer of charm about it despite the commercialisation.
We headed over to Servoz for some cragging but I baulked. The sun hit me pretty badly so while everyone else went climbing, I sprawled in the shade with my ereader and dozed. I’m not sure how they did it but they had the sunburn to show after the couple of hours!
Suitably layered on with Factor 50, I just led a couple of easy climbs, a brace of 4b’s. 25m long (they don’t do small crags in the Alps), I was glad to have done something. I’ve never pretended to be an amazing climber, I enjoy doing what challenges me and hope someday to be able to lead something like a 5b!
Since some of us were lacking kit, myself, Caz and Brody ventured back to Cham to rent some gear. 2 pair crampons, a pair of technical boots and three technical ice ax pairs and we were ready to go. We camped away from my usual spot (keep an eye on future blog posts to learn more about the amazing Jean Luc) and set up two tents. Of course our mathematical skills being a trifle rusty, we informed the site owner that five of us would be staying when in actual fact it was six. We played it covert!
We dined in one of Cham’s best pizza spots where for around €20, you and a mate can share a pizza that truly deserves the title “geant”. Naturally me being me, it took us a while to find it and I was slagged mercilessly as I rang a mate back home to ascertain it’s exact location.
An impressive view from the campsite.
Being the clean-living sober young men that we are, we went back for some early kip, easier said than done with fireworks hitting off further below in the valley. Nonetheless we were still up and moving at 0630. The first cable car left the station at 0810 and we wanted to be on it to avoid being stuck on the route behind loads of other ropes. And we had to pay the fairly extortionate price for our tickets.
Us looking remarkably jovial for an early morning and at the prospect of coughing up €55.
Naturally we missed the first cable car. It doesn’t seem to matter too much where you are in the queue, just who you know. So we watched as some of the guides hopped ahead of us with clients. Grrr. Still the ride up was spectacular. And at the Aiguille du Midi you prepare in this little ice tunnel before venturing out onto this snow slope that drops down on your left to the plateau, something that sends a chill down anyone’s spine. The path is just about wide enough for one person to walk on and it’s a very queer, very odd feeling as you trudge down in crampons, nervously shuffling sideways to make way for those slogging uphill.
Remembering how to walk again in crampons.
The route we were going for was Cosmiques Arete, a classic AD climb that finishes at the Aiguille du Midi station. We were six altogether and the rope teams might as well have been out of a bad joke, an Irishman, a Welshman and an Englishman on my rope, a Welshman, a Scotsman and an Englishman on the other!
Many people actually prefer climbing the Cosmiques back up to the Midi station rather than slog up that dog awful snow slope.
Traipsing across the Vallee Blanche, we kept a watchful eye out for crevasses but we were reasonably safe this early in the morning. We plodded on up to the foot of the climb and began to prep for the route. We ran into bottlenecks almost straight away. Cosmiques is famous for it and we were stuck on the two abseil points while what seemed like a joker pack from Cirque du Soleil bickered in front of us.
The beginning of the route. Me posing and failing miserably.
It’s nae much but snow slogging for the first wee bit.
The fact that there turned out to be a second abseil was a point of discussion for us. Half of us had climbed the route before but much later in the season so seeing this much snow on it was a bit disconcerting for us all. On my last climb of Cosmiques in 2013 there was so little snow that myself and my partner actually ditched the crampons and climbed in boots!
But I digress. Regarding the congress of clowns ahead of us, we would later discover that the six of them were sharing a 30m rope. And. They. Pitched. The. Whole. Route. More on this later.
Our two teams combined for the abseil, deciding to use the same ropes to speed it all up when we got to the larger one. Of course me being me, I was a bit over impetuous. While Caz was perched on the ledge, I was chomping at the bit to get down and get climbing. So I basically just kind of hopped right onto my prussik to ab down and……well the photos will demonstrate what happened next.
Getting wedged in the chimney.
Just a distance shot for perspective.
And getting it right. Eventually.
I’m not proud of it. But if I didn’t confess, my mates would tear me to shreds (and probably will regardless once they’ve read this).
Down here we ran into more drama as a pair of climbers looking to avoid the abseils had chanced a very dangerous traverse along the slope of the route. Which really wasn’t fun as the whole route seemed to be melting, we saw plenty of rockslides and snow tumbling off as the day went on. Being the knights errant we were, we tossed a rope to this damsel in distress and brought her in with an Italian hitch to secure her to our anchors.
Extricating the six of us from the clusterfuck of ropes that was developing (two more Swedish climbers having now joined in the party now). Ian was leading off with his rope, belayed by me while Taff tried to explain to the French couple that no, the two nuts, cam and sling making up our anchors were not actually fixed alpine protection placed there for the convenience of every climber on the route. Ever the gentleman, he kindly built them a new anchor.
The snow was just slushy and soft now as we pressed on, eager to make up for time. I received a bit of a minor shock when what seemed rock solid just crumpled underfoot and I ended up falling through weak snow at least ten feet. It was in such bad condition I couldn’t even arrest properly, being stopped only by Tom having me on belay. Thoroughly awake now, I pressed on.
Quite a cool shot of me that really shows you the scale of the route.
We did fairly well until we reached the last real bottleneck, the crux of the climb that is the crack on Cosmiques. Rated 4c, its been made quite a bit easier by the guides having drilled crampon holes for climbers. We were stuck waiting there a good hour and a half. Suffice to say, I had murderous thoughts against those climbers ahead of us, particularly when it seemed that we could be conceivably bivving at the Midi station. The queue grew longer behind us and me requiring a toilet break didn’t exactly help. God love poor Taff who was stuck next to me while I bitched, groaned, moaned, wailed, railed, griped and pretty much just used up my entire repertoire of curses in half a dozen tongues.
Progress being anything but rapid, I was delighted when we started moving again. We’d gotten past the crack but it was 1515 and the last cable car was leaving at 1630. Tom did a fantastic lead on some very exposed ground for the last bit. I laboured up it with as much grace as a pig, terrified I’d drop my axe. The altitude meant I was huffing and blowing by the time I reached him at the belay and slumped down on the rocks. Feeling about as useful as a glass hammer, I volunteered to solo up the snow slope and see where we had to go next.
And this photo made up for it all.
The fear sorta evaporated when I looked over to see about 20m in front of me, Caz, Ian and Brodie relaxing on the viewing platform and having some chow while I was stumbling about on this snow. I yelled back to the lads that we were there and sat down to enjoy the view.
Reunited. The beautiful feeling of being reattached to the rope!
Hearing an avalanche and seeing the rescue helicopters at work all day really makes you glad to be on a rope again!
The finishing point. The ladder is the worst part of the climb.
Cable cars. Smells so putrid, they’re visible.
Absolutely knackered but glad not to be huddling for warmth on a balcony all night, we headed down to the valley, enduring the inevitable ear popping and intolerable heat. Great to be off the mountain for a weekend (albeit to go for another one!) and enjoy a holiday others would gladly bludgeon me on the head for. Especially getting to revisit an old route with new friends (as lame as that sounds :D)
Anywho it’s back to babysitting kids and nature hikes for the duration. Just found out I’m on arts and crafts tomorrow so it’ll be………interesting.
Slán go foill mo chairde!
P.S. Thanks to all the lads mentioned below for taking photos, all credit to them, naturally I had none on me and this post would have been a much more léadranach one without all that visual support!
Obligatory team photo. Ian, Brody, Tom, me, Taff and Caz. We all stank.