While I was whiling away the time this autumn from the discomfort of long hours behind a desk, something amazing was happening out there in the real world. Social media alerted me to incredible mixed climbing conditions the Alps as icy tentacles started to drooling down the faces providing relatively easy passage for all the mixed masters. Fomo was kicking in pretty badly and I managed to engineer my way out of work for a week in September and another in October. Success on the Michto-Polish route on the Jorasses in September brought confidence in off the couch fitness and ability to use a pair of tools after a year or two off. It allowed the mind to explode with all the possibilities and adventures out there given the right partner, enough time and the weather. I eagerly looked forward to the October holiday knowing one big route would calm the mind from the boredom of work during the run into the ski season. Conditions just seemed to get better and the weather was looking great. The week before heading out there was a minor blip with some days off training due to a cold. Arriving in Chamonix I took advantage of the Brevent being open to get some lift assisted mountain biking i.e. downhill. But then I started to feel tired, like wtf, am I imagining this? I thought it was probably psychosomatic but not completely willing to try my theory out on a big face, we decided to go for a quick hit on Chere Couloir. A friend had recently solo’d it and reckoned the serac was not threatening. And so Sandy and myself started romping up the neve plastered line and I was feeling ok, not great but ok. Then boom, out of nowhere my body went cold and into shutdown mode like I had flu. I put on ever stitch of clothing from my bag and continued to climb in it all the way to the top. Just as well we weren’t on the Grand Pillier D’Angle! I Guess it pays to listen to your body no matter how much you want to do something. 6 weeks later and I think I have finally got rid of what was bugging me, just in time for the snow to arrive. And the serac is mildly threatening, enough to make us feel relieved once we had past it!
After a quick warm up on Mont Oreb’s ‘l’Ete Indiane to get back into things, we spent 3 back to back days last week escaping the 35 degree valley heat on the perfect golden granite on South Face of Midi 3842 m climbing Kolmann (6a+), Contamine (7a) and Jules de Chez Smith (6b). With cooler temperatures this week we were able to hit the fingery Zone at Gietroz and sample some of its impeccable gneiss.
The Rebuffat Thierry route was first climbed in winter by Rab Carrington and Alan Rouse who followed a series of ice runnels that drooled down from the Col des Pelerins. Fpr some reason or another I had never got onto this route. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending a day climbing at Gogarth with living legend Rab Carrington and knew I had to amend this obvious omission to my Chamonix winter climbing resume. Aged 60 odd Rab is inspiring to watch on the rock, still climbing big E5s and 8a with impressive flexibility, a testimony to the benefits of a stretching regime. After a year off climbing myself with being busy skiing, this was going to be a challenge to my residual climbing fitness and break me back into shape. I headed up with Sandy Simpson who was keen for a mid length day route and is fit from time well spent dry tooling at the Zoo.
The route itself was in good to lean conditions with a couple of breaks in the ice at the steeper cruxy locations due to traffic. It was great fun being back Alpine climbing and moving quickly in the mountains and not spending much time searching for protection (unlike Scotalnd) – even if slowed slightly in freeride touring boots!
On the way down we descended Pre de Rocher which contained a mixture of awful crust, disgusting wind buff and treacherous frost coated boulder fields. Hopping from sugar coated boulder to boulder was the order of the day (or night by now) and after 600 m I gave in on the skiing and decided to walk.