I’m just back from another trip to the alps; I was meant to be away for 3 weeks, but came home a week earlier due to back weather. Conditions when we arrived in the Alps were superb – high pressure, low avi risk, and sun! Having driven straight from work on Friday evening in a pretty full car we arrived in Chamonix on Saturday afternoon.
Having not really slept we decided we needed a rest before heading into the mountains; so it wasn’t untill Sunday morning that we skied into the Leschaux hut up a very busy Mer de Glace – many people were completing the classic Vallee Blanc ski run from the top of the Aig. du Midi.
Our aim was the Shroud on the north face of the Grand Jorrasses – not the best ‘warm-up’ route; it is about 800m long and get the alpine grade TD – the climbing turned out to be pretty straight forward at about Scottish 4, but totally knackering! Reg and I had tried the face 5 years ago getting about a third of the way up the Walker Spur in very icy conditions, so we had a bit of a score to settle.
We set off at 2am getting to the Bergshrund at first light , where the first miss-hap of the day happened – I was about 10m up the first pitch when the ice I was climbing collapsed sending me quickly back to the glacier. This pitch turned out to be the hardest pitch of the entire route being about 30m of very steep snow ice which I dispatched second go. From then on the climbing was pretty straight forward, we moved together about 40m apart with 2 ice screws on the rope completing around 150m in each ‘pitch’. We were testing out a new rope system, climbing on a lightweight single rope and carrying a static 5mm tag line for the decent; this worked really well for this route (with one exception…read on), the absails being predominantly on ice with nothing to cut the thin tag line.
After no time at all on the route we slowed down from our usual speed, as we started to feel the altitude and the long drive out; in addition to this the weather turned and we became buried by spindrift at every pace. However the steep lower half of the route eventually seemed to pass and we climbed across the massive upper icefield without incident.
We topped out on the Hirondelles Ridge and decided to forgo the summit as we took a lot longer than expected on the route. Three Absails down the ridge went without trouble. On the forth however, descending the Rey Crack the single rope got stuck – with the weather now really not very nice and the evening approaching – we had to chop our brand new rope! We then absailed the Little MacIntyre route which had V-threads at 60m intervals from a team the day before – however we could no longer make use of them due to now having a 40m rope. The spindrift avalanches now became pretty intense not stopping the for the whole decent – we were continually completely buried in snow making it hard to construct the V-threads and the soaking us through. We arrived back at our ski’s just as it was getting dark, and there followed a very slow ski out to the hut by torchlight in a white-out.
After a quick ski out the next day, and a rest morning we got the cable car up the Grand Montets, and walked over to the Argentiere hut; our goal for the next day was Viva Gel on the Grand Rocheuse (a 4000m subsidiary summit of the Aig. Verte) a 1000m TD ice climb – really the lower half of the Couturier Couloir then 3 pitches of Scottish 5 climbing and a romp up to the summit.
The climbing was amazing fun, 5 hours from the bergshrund to the summit with only 4 real pitches on the route – but what pitches! The climbing was brilliant hard steep ice that was a joy to climb. On arriving on the summit we realised the temperature was really quite high so we missed out the summit of the Aig. Verte and ran down the Whymper Couloir. The walk out was horrible with knee deep snow – we really wished we had ski’s with us.
After that the weather broke and we sat around in Chamonix waiting for the weather to improve so we could head to the Bernese Oberland; however it didn’t. We did a day’s slushy skiing on the Grand Montets and a day dry tooling at a steep and loose crag near Chamonix. After studying the longer range weather forecasts we decided to head home early as the weather was not improving – however two brilliant routes in one week is still pretty good going.