Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wild cycling

I went for a 77K cycle with James Moore near Killarney this morning. When I woke at 07.45 I could hear the wind howling outside. It was very tempting to just turn over and forget the whole idea as the idea of cycling in a strong wind is one of the most unappealing things for me. Still I groaned and grumbled my way to the kitchen and dolefully ate my breakfast. We were heading back to Killarney on the train and the plan was to cycle around Caragh Lake via Killorglin. This is almost fifty miles long but it is the route that the Gap Triathalon will take in a couple of weeks time and as neither of us had done it we decided to give it a go. We exited from the station at 10.25 and were greeted by sheeting rain and strong winds. Still we were there now so there was nothing for it but to continue.
As expected we were into the wind for the first 15 miles but against all odds we found that we were actually enjoying ourselves. The act of cycling itself was not particularly fun but it nonetheless was good to be out and about and the exercise itself was its own reward. Avoiding the fallen debris and the occassional flood kept the mind focused. Soon enough we arrived in Killorglin and much to our great relief we turned towards Caragh Lake and now instead of being straight into the wind it was now merely quartering from the right. The circuit of the lake is indeed lovely and on a fine day will give a lovely outing in the future. Finally we turned for Killarney and the wind was now behind. Despite being tired we were on a tight schedule if we were to catch the returning train, so we put our heads down and our arses up and pedalled hard. We arrived back with a little time to spare and were very grateful to get into fresh clothes. Coffee and grub saw us fully revived and enthusing about our morning. A lesson perhaps not to be too put off by poor weather, just get out and do it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kerry Walk

I went for a walk with Killarney walking club yesterday. It was nice to be back on the Reeks again after my visit to the Alps. They are very beautiful but in a different way. Only eight of us set off on a 12K jaunt with 1200mtrs of ascent. The weather played ball but yet again I had to leave them behind as time constraints meant I needed to be in work for seven pm. One of these days I might even be able to socialise afterwards.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Alps 2011; June 12th to 28th

DAY 1;
Aig du Tour from Montroc le Planet

Wonderful meadow at Le Tour

I headed off to Geneva early on the morning of June 12th from Dublin airport in the company of a young east Cork man called Kevin Ring. The plane was about twenty minutes late leaving and we had some concerns about catching our bus transfer from Geneva to Chamonix. We were ten minutes late leaving the baggage reclaim but we needn't have worried as Cham Express were there waiting for us. This ensured that we arrived in the Chamonix valley before noon. We had planed to stay in a campsite in Montroc le Planet but after the driver going out of his way to take us the extra few kilometers we found the site had not yet opened. We walked to the nearby train station and caught a train into the next valley to my usual campsite near Vallorcine. This meant we were further delayed and as we intended (or hoped) to get up to the Albert 1 hut under Aig de Tour that day, time was now becoming our enemy. When we arrived at the site we quickly set up the tent and sorted our rucksacks out and caught the next train back to Montroc from where we started the long grind up to the hut. The day was warm and sunny and despite the full bags and slightly rushed timetable it was great to be here in this wonderful place and to once again be climbing towards another adventure. There was another plus. Kevin was proving to be a wonderful companion who was full of enthusiasm and good humour. We were getting along famously and when we could get our breath the hike was frequently punctuated with bouts of laughter.
Moon above Aig Chardonnet
When you walk up the road from Montroc you next come to the little village of Le Tour. From here one normally catch a lift to col de Balme and a long easy traverse brings you to the hut. Today however the lift is closed and we turned right and crossed a wonderful meadow and headed towards the steep climb that takes a direct line towards the hut. All told there is a full 1350mtrs of climbing but the distance is quite short so we were hopeful that it would not take os too long. We started from Montroc at 14.40 and we reckoned that we would take about three and a half hours up. We were moving along nicely and when we passed the meadow we hit the steep climb that zig zags its way up the rocky bluff that eventually leads to Fenetre du Tour and the start of the moraine that leads directly to the hut. I know that the middle of June in a bit early to be here as the lifts are closed etc but it does have its compensations and we were constantly marvelling at the variety and profusion of flora that carpets the way.  Using the slow but steady method we made good progress, however we both seemed to struggle after we crossed the stream and hit the moraine. Here the climb is fairly steep and I suppose we may have been have been feeling the first effects of altitude as we had now passed the 2000mtr mark. Anyway the difficulties soon passed and we set our sights on the hut which now seemed an attainable goal ahead. We plodded on up the moraine, cresting a series of brows and eventually we were there. We had made it in three hours and were very relieved to lay down our sacks and finally relax. The hut was very busy and dinner had to be over two sittings. We were in the second sitting which was fine as it gave us more time to relax and get our bearings. A good restful night followed.

DAY 2;

We rose early with the intention of climbing the Table Couloir, and AD gully that rises at an angle of approx 45degrees with a slightly steeper exit to near the summit of Aig de Tour. This would have made a nice interesting start to our holiday and at just over 3500mtrs Aig de Tour was a perfect first peak in order to acclimatise for hopefully greater things. However when we rose the dodgy weather that had been forecast had arrived. We were enveloped in mist and there had been no frost so the hoped for firm neve in the gully would have been an avalanche prone nightmare. A change of plan was called for so we decided to just follow the snow track of the normal route. We set off in the first light of day and followed the cairns over the rocky ground behind the hut until we arrived at the glacier. Here we suited and booted and headed off up into the gloomy mist. Although there was little to be seen we remained in a positive mood and consoled ourselves that we were on a good acclimatisation day. We moved slowly but steadily up past Signal Reilly and were soon on the long gradual pull up the Tour Glacier.
We were soon feeling the effects of altitude but we set a pace where we could keep moving and we were actually passing some groups. Soon we came to a steepening and the track zig zagged up for about 150mtrs and we were at the Col Superior du Tour 3289mtrs. A quick rest here and we proceeded up the Trient Plateau. Soon enough we were at the berschund and then we began the scramble up the final 160mtrs to the south summit. We stuck to the ridge and near the top took a direct line to the summit that involved a few tricky moves. Unfortunately when we reached the top we were greeted by the same views that were on offer all morning, nothing but mist. Still we were happy to be out and about. There wasn't any point in dallying so we began our descent quite soon. Again we took the direct line down which gave us the chance to involve direct and self belays over the tricky steps. Soon we were back to the col and crossing the berschund again. Despite the cloud the Trient Plateau gets more heat from the sun and there was already a noticeable softening of snow conditions. The descent back to the hut was uneventful and we were back by one pm. We relaxed for a while and in the improving weather of the afternoon and later went down to the glacier to try and find a nice bit of ice to climb. This proved surprisingly difficult and we abandoned our efforts after a short while in favour of more leisurely pursuits.

DAY 3;

After a good nights rest we rose at 04.30 and enjoyed the excellent breakfast that the Albert Premier hut offers. We were in great spirits after the mirth and giggles of the previous evening. I haven't had a fit of the giggles in ages but we found ourselves in stitches when we recalled a faux pas of Kevin's about a conversation we were having with two young Irish lads we had met and Kevin having briefly lost the thread of the discussion, expressed astonishment that Dermot Summers (a well known mountaineer and TV presenter) was only thirty years old, when in fact we were talking about Uli Steck. Between that and the detailed description of Mick Jagger with a beard we laughed ourselves to sleep.
We left the hut and emerged into the wonderful dawn of a cloudless alpine morning and the promise of a great day ahead. The plan for today was to climb the north face of the Tete Blanche. This is a short climb of approx 120mtrs of fifty to fifty five degree snow/ice to the summit at 3429mtrs. This would give us another good acclimatisation day with the bonus of putting both ice axes to good use. As with the previous day we followed the track to Col Superior du Tour and turned right when we entered the Trient Plateau. The big difference between today and yesterday was the weather. Whereas yesterday was misty and dull, today we enjoyed everything good that the high mountains have to offer. Pristine snow covered glaciers surrounded everywhere by impressive spires of rock and peaks covered in snow and hanging glaciers. Another big difference was the heat. Even though we had made swift progress, it was already quite warm at only 7am. The snow which had been hard on the Tour side was now turning soft and we found ourselves occasionally sinking as we passed Col du Tour and begun the pull up to the berschund under the face. The snow was now quite soft and as I stepped gingerly on to the snow bridge over the berschund there was unsettling noises underfoot. The berschund is by the way huge and cavernous. It was not only deep but really very wide and was going back under me quite a long way. I was glad of the reassuring feel of the tight rope Kevin was keeping on me. Anyway I tried to place the axes in the snow above the Berschund and all that was happening was they were sinking down through sugary powder that offered no purchase at all. Between that and the fact that the slope above looked to be fairly loaded with snow the decision to retreat was an easy one.
Tete Blanche summit with Petit Fourche behind.

The ridge up to the Tete Blanche with the pitch near the top.

We decided to retrace our steps as far as the Col du Tour and scramble up the ridge to the summit. The ridge is in the main easy until not far before the summit we came to a steep slabby section that required a short pitch of balancy VDiff. We reached the top and just sat and savoured the our surroundings. We decided that we didn't need the slog of a further 100mtrs to the top of the Petit Fourche so we descended the easy slopes across the glacier back to the hut. We were moving very well and we were relaxing at the hut by half past noon. A nice long relax with some good coffee and treats and we were ready to tackle the long descent back to the valley floor. I was a little trepidatious of the effects the the descent would have on my dodgy knees but I needn't have worried. They were fine and we were really quick. We thought we would be able to catch the 14.08 train to Vallorcine but in the end it was not to be and we were at the little station at 14.20. This allowed us the luxury of 45minutes with our boots off and relaxation in the glorious sun.
We eventually got to the campsite and after a most welcome shower and shave we headed off on the train to Chamonix to meet Dave Commins. Dave is from Carrigtoohil (via Waterford) and had driven from Ireland over the previous two days. It allowed an enthusiastic Kevin a little time to explore the town and when hunger reared its head we headed to the McDonalds, whose terrace has perhaps the best view of any in the world, and there the trio became complete. We ate and chatted and made plans and relaxed. All in all I think we had fitted quite a lot into our first three days. Later on it was decided that Dave would need a couple of days to settle in and get some hikes under his belt. He wasn't in any fierce hurry as he planned to stay for over two months. As Kevin only had a week we decided to head up on the Aiguill du Midi and do a climb on the Triangle du Tacul and head across the Glacier du Gheant to the Torino hut and do a climb the day after. So after a few beers we retired to our tent that evening with a solid plan for the next couple of days.

DAY 4;

We rose early and caught the 06.30 train to Chamonix and walked to the lift station at Chamonix Sud. We caught the next telepherique up to the middle station. Here there was a delay before we boarded the final spectacular lift to the summit station at nearly 3800mtrs. With all the delays it was after 8am before we emerged from the ice tunnel onto the arret that leads to the Vallee Blanche. The arret is quite narrow and exposed and ensures that concentration is immediate and sustained for its duration. The day was again glorious but this also meant that the heat was already considerable. We followed the obvious track down and across underneath the Aig Midi and headed in a direct line for the obvious Triangle in front of us a kilometer further south.
The Triangle du Tacul and Chere Couloir
The original plan was to climb the Contamine Grisolle route AD+ on the left side of the face. On closer inspection I judged that there was a lot of fresh snow on the route and that at best it would involve a lot of trudgery in the warm conditions and at worst present a serious avalanche risk. We opted instead for the much more inviting looking Chere Couloir D II/4. We moved together up the first pitch on 45degree snow to the first belay point. Kevin led up the steepening slope to the next belay which was out of the couloir on the right. From here the couloir rose at an angle of 80degrees for approx 40mrts of pure ice. It looked intimidating to me and as I hadn't done any serious rock climbing and wasn't at all confident of the endurance of my arm strength I suggested that Kevin go ahead and lead on. This he did with considerable style and as I watched him from the belay at no time was I given pause to question his ability to overcome any difficulty in the route. I followed on and was soon engrossed in the physical effort and concentration of climbing steep ice. Steep it certainly was and long (the pitch was all of 55mtrs) I was delighted to crest over the main difficulties and join Kevin at the next belay.
Heroic or what?.

View down from belay
Rock climbers heaven on the Aig bu Midi
On easy ground with giant seracs behind.
We were now well into the climb and so we continued in the same fashion over the remaining few pitches to the end of the main difficulties. The only glitch came when I was nicked by a piece of ice which came down from above over my left eye. This bled a fair bit and I'm sure that I looked quite heroic. Anyway after the main difficulties were over other parties were abseiling back down the route. The first abseil was a full sixty meters and as we had only one sixty meter rope an Italian party kindly allowed us to use theirs. So we arrived at the next abseil point. The two Italians went down first and proceeded to pull their ropes down after them. We were left to ab down to an intermediate point and ab down from there from a single piece of tat. All very entertaining and engrossing. We had a fine system going now and the remaining abseils progressed smoothly. We back climbed the lower pitch (neatly sidestepping the almost forgotten berschund) and arrived back on easy ground in the Vallee Blanche.
It was now really warm and as we were also quite tired we decided to return to the valley floor. The weather forecast for the following day was thunderstorms for the afternoon so we decided that going all the way to the Torino hut with the possibility of bad weather spoiling play was not worth the effort so we were happy with our decision. It was perhaps just as well as we really suffered on the walk back up to the lift station. We had to stop often and the heart rate was ofter very high but we eventually finished the slog up the arret and entered gratefully into the cool of the ice tunnel of the station. Here we luxuriated in the cool and packed away all our hardware. We were really pleased with our day and I was glad that my new Quark axes had gotten a really good outing. We descended to the town and enjoyed a nice meal with Dave and had a nice relaxing evening back at the campsite and had an interesting chat with an engaging elderly Canadian couple.

DAY 5;

Happy backy and Mr two mega pixel

This was a lovely day. After the rush rush of the previous four days today it was decided that the three of us would go to a crag in Servoz and do a little rock climbing and relaxing. The forecast was quite poor for the afternoon but the morning was fine so we took advantage of Dave's car and drove down. The crag is right by the roadside and has a wide range of climbs from the easy to the very difficult. A general rule seems to be that the higher you climb the more difficult it becomes as most of the top is overhanging. There was a group of young teenagers already there and it was great to see them leading climbs and generally taking responsibility for their own safety.
Dave (keep it goin) Commins et moi.
We took a leisurely attitude to the task in hand and didn't overextend ourselves. Mindful that I was the weakest climber of the three the boys kindly picked a quite easy one to start proceedings. Kevin led off with his usual enthusiasm and despite only having runners on made a fine fist of things until higher up a smooth, fingery section caused him to retreat. Dave went next and he too was initially stumped by the problem. Needless to say I wasn't able to make any inroads on it and truth be told I was glad to just be able to get off the ground and climb the initial stages.
Abbing down
Dave leading up.
The morning progressed at a leisurely pace and as luck would have it there is a nice bar come restaurant literally across the road from the climb where we decided to have a spot of lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful tasty meal in the warm sun and after a suitable period was allowed for digestion we returned to the rock. I then led my first climb of the day, a vicious twenty meter one graded at a stiff 3B. The two boys then followed (with not a lot of difficulty) to the belay.  Above was a short fifteen meter pitch of 5B which both boys went up (led by Dave) and then prepared themselves for the probable task of hauling me up and over. I surprised us all by getting up fairly easily and we then abseiled down. The weather was now on the turn so we went for a spot of shopping to the Quechua store near St Gervais. Here both myself and Kevin took advantage of some great value and bought a few bits.

DAYS 6 and 7;

Dave (who ate all the pies) Commins
Unfortunately the weather was by now not playing ball. Yet again extensive thundery activity was again forecast for the afternoon. Kevin decided to go shopping and myself and Dave went for a walk up to the alpage Loriaz approx 800mtrs above the campsite. This was a pleasant outing that offers wonderful views towards the Verte and the Chamonix Aiguilles. After a tasty wedge of cake at the refuge the weather started to turn so we retreated back to the valley floor. It rained for a solid thirty hours thereafter so that marked the climbing end for Kevin's trip.
Something odd in the water.
 On the Saturday evening we went to a barbecue and music show in the village where tasty morsels and the occasional beer was enjoyed. Kevin maintained his good spirits despite the poor weather preventing him getting into the high mountains and expressed himself happy with what we got done. I for one look forward to our next adventure.

DAY 8;

Heavy load
Above Mauvoisin dam towards Arolla
Orchid meadow
Kevin departed at 5 in the morning (thanks to Alpybus) and it was heartbreaking to listen to his uncontrollable sobbing as he went. Later after a leisurely morning Dave and me packed our rucksacks with food and provisions for three days and headed for the Refuge Panniossere on the northern side of the Grand Combin. This involved driving into Martigny in Switzerland and heading into the Val de Bagnes and going all the way to the road head at Mauvoisin. This is at 1800mtrs and is situated in front of the very impressive dam whose face is 230mtrs high. The day was sunny and warm and the prospects for the next couple of days were good. The flora near the car park was breathtaking with a small meadow filled with orchids one of the highlights. The bags were heavy and we still had over 850mtrs of height to gain so we set off at a slow but steady pace. The path started to climb almost immediately and we were soon enjoying expanding views. Across the valley Mont Blanc de Cheilon and La Ruinette near Arolla came into view. Above our heads the rose rock ridges that soared well over 3000mtrs.
 The track was wonderful and well engineered, at just the right angle so that it ensured that we were able to keep moving but we were gaining substantial height. Onwards, ever upwards we went and soon the landscape was changing from abundant flowers and grass to the bleaker rockier ground that marks where the snow lies for long periods of the year.
Grand Combin and Combin de Corbassiere on right.
Eventually we arrived at the snowy Col des Ottanes at 2771. Here we got our first view of the Grand Combin and across the glacier the Petit Combin and Combin de Corbassiere. From here it is easy to understand why people describe the scene as Himalayan in scale. It is a truly beautiful mountain, set back at the end of the snaking glacier and rising in a series of rock bands and huge serac fields to the summit plateau with its elegant tops. After a suitable break to admire the view we followed the track down steeply to the moraine and turned right to the Cabane Panossiere at 2641mtrs. This is a private hut which was not yet manned and we were not sure if there was a winter room open or not, hence all the food and bivvy gear. We headed on down to the deserted looking hut and we were delighted to discover that not only was it open but the kitchen and dorm was also at our disposal. It was with great relief we dropped off the bags and went to explore our new digs. The water was turned off but we found a supply nearby and set about re hydrating. We made ourselves at home and a big pot of soup accompanied by the large roll I brought up with me went down very well. A nice quiet evening followed and we found ourselves drawn constantly outside to look at the extraordinary view. We resolved to climb to Combin de Corbassiere 3715.5mtrs the next day and went to bed in the spacious comfortable dorm and enjoyed a decent sleep.

DAY 9;

The South Ridge
Combin Corbassiere with route up from bottom left
A weary Dave.
We rose at four and after a good breakfast we headed out into the early dawn light and walked along the moraine until the track descended to the Glacier Corbassiere. Here the glacier is quite flat, dry and almost completely devoid of any crevasses. We crossed diagonally until we arrived at a weakness in the rocky base of the mountain. From here a broad gully gave access to snowfields higher up. Initially the going was good but when we reached the snowfields above a short icy section the snow gave way underfoot and the going became torturous and slow. We passed above point 3096mtrs and any hopes we had that conditions would improve soon evaporated as the snow got even softer as the morning warmed up. There was a stubborn blanket of cloud clinging to the tops at about 3600mtrs. Still we persevered and eventually arrived at the Col de Panossiere at 3459mtrs. Dave was now beginning to really suffer both from tiredness and the altitude. This was after all his first day high up in the mountains so his discomfort was understandable. We were now at the south ridge. This stretches almost 300mtrs to the summit. It is fairly steep but the rock is good and it offers plenty of options for progress and any difficulties could usually be turned on the left. The only problem happened when I dropped my glasses in their case and they fell about 20mtrs, breaking the case and damaging further the already broken specs. At about 3550mtrs Dave finally called it a day and I continued u to the summit alone. Unfortunately there was still cloud about so I didn't have any views or reasons to linger on top so I returned the way I came and rejoined Dave. We returned to the Col and descended wearily the snowfield back to the glacier.

We eventually arrived back at the refuge and were surprised to realise that it was still only 1pm. We spoke to a young German pair who were planning to climb the Grand Combin the following morning. We relaxed for the afternoon and enjoyed the improving weather and views that it afforded us. The relationship with Dave was different to my relationship with Kevin, not surprising really as they are quite different people. With Kevin it was all chat  and lively while with Dave there were more quiet times and this was good too as there was no pressure to fill the spaces and conversation ebbed and flowed in an increasingly comfortable rhythm. The afternoon was interrupted by the arrival of the guardian who arrived early in order to prepare for the summer season. He spoke intermittently to us as we lounged about. We discussed our efforts of the morning and we both regretfully agreed that the Grand Combin, at 4314mtrs, would probably be a step too far too soon for Dave and we resolved to return to Vallorcine the following day. We were pleasantly surprised when as evening approached the guardian invited us to join him for dinner. This we gladly accepted and shortly afterwards enjoyed a delicious meal of pasta with a caper, tomato and anchovies sauce, accompanied with a very fine cheese from the valley below. He spoke informatively about Switzerland and the meal passed very pleasantly. After dinner we sat outside and looked up the glacier at the Grand Combin who was now making its own cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky and at times seemed to be almost on fire.

DAY 10;

Wild Aquilegia

We rose late and had a leisurely morning. We were in no hurry so we relaxed and made the most of our beautiful surroundings. Eventually we loaded up our bags which were still almost as heavy as when we came up and set off on the journey back. We came to the spot where the Germans had set up camp and were surprised to discover that they too were packing up and readying for the descent. It seems that one of them had taken ill the previous evening which meant that the other one couldn't go up. Bugger and dam it I thought as if I had known we could have paired up and made an attempt together. Still no point fretting now and we continued over the col and down. Back to the car and down, down the long road to the Rhone valley where the heat of the lowlands was really noticeable. Back over the Col de la Forclaz and back to the tents. Yet again the weather for the following day was suspect so we decided that we would again for Servoz and do some rock climbing.

Yet another Alpine garden
DAYS 11 and 12;

Wednesday dawned warm and sunny so we set off fairly early for the crag. Dave was in good climbing form and was pushing the grade and indeed led up to grade 6A. One route went right up and over a substantial roof and nobody was more astonished than me when I actually managed to climb it clean albeit on a top rope. We climbed a fair few routes and I led one route of 5B. The crag was quite busy and sometimes we had to wait a fair while for our chosen route. Eventually we had enough and took off down to the Quechua store where I discovered that I didn't really need or want anything. We returned to the campsite and I went for a run/ walk up to the Col des Posettes. Here at 1997mtrs I was some 700mtrs above the campsite and I ran the Twisting track back to Vallorcine and to camp. Yet again the weather had turned and indeed on Thursday we had three separate storms. Still things were to improve for the following few days and we had plans afoot.

DAY 13;

Friday we decided to take the train into Chamonix and from there get the bus to Courmayeur. From there we would get the gondola up to the Refuge Torino. I had phoned the hut and spoke to a grumpy mare who had space for Friday night but not Saturday. We decided to forgo the hut comforts and its surly staff and bivvy instead. So yet again we set off with heavy packs for the train. We mistimed our efforts slightly and missed the train at Le Buet but drove to Argentiere and caught up with it there. We purchased a few supplies in Chamonix and caught the bus at 11.45. The Mont Blanc tunnel is impressive and runs in a straight line under the mountain for over six miles and emerges into the Aosta Valley in Italy. The first thing that strikes you as you head into the town, and its a big thing, is the extraordinary and awe inspiring Peuterey Ridge which is revealed in its entirety as it soars up to abut the gigantic southeastern side of the highest mountain in western Europe.

The Peuterey Ridge
We got off the bus and went up the hill to a bus stop where we waited for a local bus up to the lift station. Unfortunately we had just missed one and long story short we didn't get to the lift station until nearly four pm. We got out tickets and enjoyed the wonderful and inspiring sight of the Italian side of Mont Blanc as we rose. We had known that high winds were forecast for on high but when we emerged from the tunnel at the refuge at 3371mtrs, the force of the wind still took us by surprise. Adding to the problems was the fact that the cloud had come down and we were again in the mist. Still we set off onto the glacier and followed the track in the direction of the Tour Ronde which was our objective for the following day. On we went into the very limited visibility looking for somewhere sheltered where we could be out of the wind. When it became apparent that we had followed the wrong trail and had arrived at a col before a rocky ridge we decided to retrace our steps and head instead for the Helbronner lift station which is at 3475mtrs is a hundred meters above the refuge. Here we found a lovely sheltered platform which was sheltered from the wind where we made our home for the night.
Home sweet home and Dave in flattering pose.

Dent Geant

Towards the Chamonix Aiguilles

The Grand Paradiso

The eastern Valais with the Matterhorn and Monta Rosa

The intrepid duo.

Evening light on the Peuterey Ridge

Aig Noire de Peuterey

Distant Dents du Midi
Morning glow on the Tour Ronde

DAY 14;
The wind howled throughout the night and ensured a fitful sleep. I was constantly listening for signs that is was abating yet when morning arrived any easement was not in evidence. Still we rose as planned at 04.30 and had a good breakfast. We were unsure what to do as we reasoned that being on a ridge in these conditions would not only be dam cold but possibly dangerous. We decided to head down to the refuge and hang out there for a bit and await developments. The Torino hut is not the most inviting of places and at 5.30 am it seemed especially bleak. We sat about and shuffled and got colder and colder. Eventually I had enough and suggested that we head in the Tour Ronde's direction and even if we decided against going up at least we would have done something and warm ourselves up. So off we went at about 7am and joined the track on the glacier. The wind wasn't too bad and when we entered the giant basin under Tacul and the Tour Ronde we were actually quite sheltered. There were a fair few other parties out and we head off for the normal route. Before we started the climb up to the gully that would give access to the ridge we put all our excess food and gear into my bivvy bag and left it on the glacier. It was quite a relief to ease the burden and now that we were actually doing something the spirits were good.
Pristine conditions en route

Warming up in the sun and shelter

Two climbers on the north face
We had thought about the north face but with the late start I didn't want to be high up on the face as it turned to slush on the morning sun. Still the normal route is graded at AD so it promised to be interesting as well. With our light packs we made good progress and climbed the gully quickly and were soon on the southeastern ridge. This is fairly straight forward with an exposed traverse of a rock barrier giving the only pause for thought. There  was actually a good number of parties out, mostly guides and their clients and it was interesting to watch how they cajoled and encouraged their charges over relatively easy ground when it was very obvious that some had little experience and even little head for heights. We continued up and were soon past any difficulties and on a wide snow slope that leads to the summit rocks. This was a bit of a plod but it passed and we were soon sharing the summit at 3792mtrs with several other parties. We rested a while and enjoyed the only intermittent views and after a few pictures headed down before we got too cold. Here the wind was again quite strong but as we descended we gained the relative calm once more.
On the Tour Ronde summit.

Aig d'Entreves summit
We returned from whence we came and when we reached the top of the gully we decided to use the in situ gear and abseil down the gully. All went well we came across a party that were being lowered down by their guide who proceeded to go under then over our rope and generally make a nuisance of themselves, much to Dave's annoyance. Anyway soon enough we were back below the berschund and it was amusing to watch another guide lower his client who was floundering on his back and flailing with no grace as he came down the snow slope. Sometimes I guess they really earn their money. We returned to our bag of food etc and a snap decision was made to also take in a traverse of the nearby Aig d'Entreves 3600mtrs. The pull up to the Col d'Entreves on the right was gentle but now it was later in the day and the snow had softened and we were once again hauling heavy bags. Still we were soon enough at the col and here we could leave behind the soft snow and enjoy a pleasant scramble on the ridge. Easy ground was the order of the day and were enjoying ourselves despite the burdens. As you near the summit  the character of the ridge changes and it becomes a spectacular knife edge with good exposure on either side.


Upon arriving here we were confronted by several groups going in opposite directions and there was something of a logjam. We paused for a bit to see if things would sort themselves out but eventually we had to just push on and force and cajole our way past. Though narrow, the ridge is of good rock and it provides many good hand and foot holds. Still care is needed if only to avoid unnecessary bumping and shoving. We eventually got past and finally after a steepish back climb of not my favourite snow on rock we came to the end of the difficulties. Here we were confronted by yet another group that was being lowered by their guides. We decided to put some gear over a rock and abseil down the thirty meters to the snow slope below and so speed-ed things up considerably. We were now back on easy ground but we were faced by the slog from the basin up to the plateau near Helbronner. By now fatigue was really taking hold and the heavy loads were taking their tolls. I have seldom found a walk back as tough and I was constantly stopping and trying to ease the ache in my chest caused by the tight rucksack and rope coils. We got back and had to wait only a little while for the lift station to close and we again assumed vacant possession of our home for the night. Lots of snow was melted as we re hydrated after a full 10hour day.

DAY 15;

After a fairly decent nights sleep I awoke to a perfect alpine dawn. Not a cloud was to be seen and all traces of the strong winds of the previous couple of days was now gone. One final word about the bivvy. It is a wonderful experience to look up in the dead of night and see the stars as they can only be seen from nearly 12000feet. We were nice and cozy in our bags so we decided to have an extra half hour so a snooze before we rose and faced the crisp morning. The objective for today was the peak that was drawing the eye constantly over the previous days, the Dent du Geant. We  had a good breakfast again and packed up and descended to the glacier. This time we didn't have to carry the heavy loads too far and after about a kilometer we stashed the excess. The conditions could not have been better and we continued up the crisp neve to the berschund. After crossing this a steeper climb sees you arrive at the shallow Col Superior de la Noire at 3622mtrs. Here you turn right and the ground becomes more mixed and some easy scrambles make the going more interesting and easier. Soon you round a gendarme on the eastern side via an exposed rising traverse and you arrive at the Salle a Manger. This is the spot where the great rock pillar of the Dent doorstops the wonderful Rochefort Arret.
Looking up the slab on the Dent Geant
Now the nature of the outing changes yet again and you gain an exposed ledge that is equipped with fixed ropes and we stashed our crampons and ice axes. From here on it is all rock. While we were getting ready we were surprised to see a guide arrive down from above, alone and without a rope, who collected another groups gear and disappeared around the corner. We could only assume that he had somehow back climbed the route but why we couldn't figure out. Anyway Dave led off up around the corner and up to a belay at the top of an easyish but icy couloir. The most difficult thing was getting onto the climb proper but it is well protected by bolts and fixed rope. After this we were on the main slab. The rock is extremely polished and if one was to attempt to avoid the use of the fixed protection it would be essential to wear rock shoes. There were several other parties also on the route but all were moving well. Indeed one German pair were trad climbing it.

Looking down on the Rochefort Arret
We continued up with Dave continuing in the lead. Higher up there is a traverse to the right and them it is up a series of chimneys to the summit. We sat for a little while and enjoyed the stupendous views but I was conscious of the time and since we had to return the way we had come which would involve more abseils and undoubtedly be more time consuming we didn't delay and started back. The first two abseils were the most awkward as one was semi horizontal and the other involved passing upcoming groups. After that things went very smoothly and after a total of six abseils we were back at the ledge and donning our crampons etc. We descended in a deliberate and careful manner and by the time we were below the berschund the time window to catch the last lift to the valley floor was very tight. To compound matters the snow was very deep and soft in the heat of the afternoon so the going was very tough. Still we ploughed on and by the time we reached our stash of extra gear we had 30 minutes left to get to the lift station. The only problem was this was up hill and with soft snow. It was hard work but we put our heads down and we made it with just a few minutes to spare.
The heat seemed oppressive when we landed back in Courmayeur but as we had over an hour to kill until our bus back to Chamonix we treated ourselves to a delicious pizza. We got our bus and we arrived in the Gare in Chamonix at one minute past eight in the evening. The only problem was the last train to Argentiere six miles away had left two minutes before. There was nothing for it but to walk to the outskirts of town and stick out the thumb. This I did and as I was explaining to Dave that I was usually very lucky the first car that came along stopped. He gave us a drive two miles along the route before he turned off at Le Pras. Again I stuck out the thumb but this time the magic was gone and I had to wait until perhaps the fifth car before we got a lift. This time a young Swiss guy dropped us right at the station in Argentiere. Though we were tired we were buzzing after our day and just how well things had turned out.

DAYS 16 and 17;

After a good night sleep, Monday was a rest day and a chance to get organized for my departure early the following morning. The day was a scorcher and we just lazed about and chatted, enjoyed the view and reminisced. We talked well into the night and generally got along famously. I think we have plans to make plans for the future, watch this space. So it ended and the return home went flawlessly. Roll on the next outing.