Monday, 29 August 2011

Fun In The Alps (Now Proof Read!)

So what else did we get up to?

Amone Slab

The Amone Slab is in Switzerland on the other side of the Mont Blanc range from where were staying and a bit of a drive away but excited reading of the Chamonix Bible had convinced us that this was a route we just had to try. The slab is a 400m sheet of limestone promising delicate climbing on small holds, and fun with friction!

We were slightly confused as the bible described the route as "technical but not serious" yet at the same time suggested that there were 40m run-outs, and about 5 runners on the entire route. Now I know men where men back in the 50s but I struggle to think of a time when the possibility of an 80m whipper would be described as not serious.

The slab. Oh Yes! (c UKC)

Slightly worried we may be entering a world of pain we deployed our computer equipped beta monkeys back in the UK to tell us just what level of fear we were about to let ourselves in for. It turned out that the route had been re-bolted in the 90s and now the run-outs were an almost reasonable eight to ten meters; great!

The climbing was fantastic the slab is covered with edges, flakes, and ripples, and brilliant to pad up on the amazing friction. A couple of sections sounded a bit hollow but you can only expect that on mountain routes. 

The bolts did prove to be rather spaced, you could normally only see one ahead of you at any one time but once you arrived at it another would pop its head onto view usually between 8-15m away. I'm normally a nervous leader when far above gear out but here I felt secure and managed lead pitches of up to French 5c which really pleased me. I guess confidence was the key, I was really trusting my footwork for once and this gave my the security to push it. I can't remember finding exposed climbing as relaxing before. 

A true big wall feel (c UKC)

The crux was about 6a+ but not as steep as it looked from below, Dom lead it pretty confidently but then he can on-site 7b. In the upper section you weave in and out of a gully in the rock carved smooth by the power of the water that occasionally flows down the slab. This gives the climbing a great 3D quality you don't get on most slabs, and of course by now there is some spectacular big wall exposure to enjoy.

A word of warning do not climb the slab if rain is forecast, the upper section funnels water, rock and debris off the mountain turning the climb into a death trap. Care should also be taken in spring with melt water running off the high mountains and I would also strongly recommend lugging your trainers to the top as the decent I've loose and steep but protected with a chin most of the way.

Papillons Ridge

The forecast was rubbish with rain due in the afternoon so we had an idea to get up early and grab a shortish low level rock route, the Papillons Ridge on the Aiguille du Peigne. We caught the first bin up the Midi and got off at the Plan from which it was a short walk up to the start of the ridge. 

The climbing was great a mixture of flakes, slabs, corners all on solid felling granite. The were plenty of opportunities for runners so Dom and I moved together and soon overtook two parties ahead of us who were pitching the route. As we approached the crux I note an ominous looking amount of grey cloud at about our level moving up the valley. "Lets crack on Dom, wall of hate on the way!"

The flakes coming up to the start of the crux (c)

The crux was harder than expected probably about 5a (English) and felt quite exposed stepping from a letter box up under an overhanging gendarme and traversing above a huge drop into an easier flake system. I know this route may traditionally be done in big books but we were very glad of our stealth rubber climbing shoes here.

Just after we got through the crux the Wall of Hate hit us drenching the rock removing 90% of the friction. Fortunaly the fast progress we had made lower down ment were were nealy at the finish point for the route and the majority of the climbing left was fine on wet rock. The only headache was one tricky section, a slabby bit of grade V which Dom lead coolly and I yarded through on the gear having been unable to work any friction for my feet out of the rock.

The last section of grade V, this was treacherous in the wet. (c)

That was pretty much it, done by 10:30; we abbed off the route and made our way back to the cable car station in the rain to meet hordes of disappointed alpinists coming down from the top station their day washed out. In the bin on the way down I ran into one of the guides who had taught my ML course last November. It's a small world.

Chere Couloir

The Chere is a classic ice line that is easily reached from the Midi station and seamed like an excellent route to finish the season on. We grab the first bin, trot down the snow arete, and shoot across the Valee Blanch.  The route is on the Triangle du Tacul and is visible for pretty much the entire walk in.

We move together for the first three pitches as the ice gradually steepens to about 60 degrees. I'm in the lead for this and like on the Amone Slab am again pleased to find I can run it out a bit more than I have done in the past.

 The Midi From towards the top of the route. Note the avalanche debris that has come down close to the normal route on the Tacul. (c UKC)

We get into a bit of an argument with a French guide who had arrived at the foot of the route at the same time as us. He complains at us for disrespecting the guide by not waiting for him then decides we are being dangerous by moving together, then he calls me a load or rude names in french (including a whore I think). Then he somewhat undermines whatever case he may have had by climbing up and over another in situ party himself.

Anyway the climbing. The route is supposedly about 80 degrees max and probably Scottish 4 but it's August and  this late in the season the line is completely stepped out by hundreds of boot and axe placements. Most of pitch four is climbed by hooking my exes into existing placements and moving my feet between kicked ledges. Still it's really nice to get the axes swinging and has put me in a right psyche for winter.

 Pitch 4 (c UKC)

Then were done, we abb the route and trudge back up towards the Midi. Climbing up the snow arete the climber for a moment gets a taste of the celebrity lifestyle, the tourists ranged on the viewing platforms and in the departure cave point their cameras and shoot away. The Midi is strange like this climbers with their technical paraphernalia mix with tourists in shorts and flip flops. Trying to look as cool as possible in front of the myriad of lenses I pass through the gate and into the crowd the center of attention for those few minutes. Deep down we enjoy it.

Overall I'm please with how the trip has gone, I did not actually do any of the routes I had intended when I sat down and thought about the trip three months ago, but the routes I have done were a definite step up from what I had experienced previously. There is still much to do here.

The Chere is the thin line of white running up just left of the right edge of the Triangle du Tacul.

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