Saturday, 6 August 2011

Alpine trip to Chamonix

I'm back home in Snowdonia after a short holiday to the Alps with Bryn. We didn't really have any plans or objectives - mainly due to injuries limiting us and a poor forecast! We decided to head to Chamonix where we have some friends we could stay with. On arrival there it felt like winter! Snow had fallen to 2000m for the previous few days and the peaks where plastered. Everyone was a little despondent - they had not seen sunshine for about 3 weeks. On Friday it looked like there would be no change as it rained hard in the morning. It did brighten up in the afternoon so we stretched our legs on the petit balcon sud.

The forecast was much improved for the next day so we set an alarm and woke to a clear dawn! We caught the first lift up to the Aiguille du Midi. Its a crazy experience to be whisked from the valley floor to 3700m in a few minutes. Even more crazy is to step out of the ice cave on to the descent arete. There is no time to adjust to the surrounding and the exposure. One moment you are inside a man made structure the next you are balancing down a narrow snow ridge with a 1500m drop to your left and a 1000ft drop to the right. It certainly focuses the mind!

Descent from the Aiguille du Midi

We strolled down to the glacier and then enjoyed the traverse of Point Lachenal - a nice, short AD- route that is good for acclimatisation. We took our time and enjoyed the views and sunshine and tried not to get to puffed! The altitude had its affect on the slog back up to the Aiguille du Midi - I just seemed to have no energy! Check out Bryn's awesome video from this day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXqqZ35Ekv8&feature=share

The Grandes Jorasses
Back down in the valley we made plans for the next day - we wanted to head up for a bivvy just above the Albert Premier Hut on Le Tour glacier. We headed out on Saturday afternoon after a burger at Midnight Express. The weather, despite the good forecast, looked threatening. We took the lift up to Col du Balme and then it started to rain. We walked for about an hour, getting steadily wetter until we found a small boulder to hide under! After nearly 2 hrs we decided it was time to bail so we walked back down to the valley.

Next day we decided to try our luck with a bivvy again - this time near the Argentiere hut with the aim of climbing the Tour Noir. This was a peak that I attempted in 2003 but had to turn back as Paul had forgotten his sun glasses (not easy to climb with a buff over the face!). We took the bin up to the Grands Montets and made the descent down the Col de Montets to the Argentiere glacier and our bivvy.

Chilling at the bivvy




We left the bivvy at 4.30 and started the ascent towards the Col du Toir Noir. It was quite warm and we passed climbers who had turned back as the route they had hoped to do was running with melt water - not promising. We stopped to don our crampons - Bryn quickly realised that he had a problem. His crampons kept coming off his boots... not ideal. He had never used this combination of boot and crampons before and they didn't appear to be compatible. So once again we had to turn around. As consolation we watched the sun rise on the massive north faces of Les Courtes, Les Droites and Le Aiguille Vert.

Alpine sunrise
We strolled out before it got too hot and after a brief wander on the glacier, getting lost in a maze of crevasses, made it back to the lift station. A brief inspection of Bryns ingrowing toenail (by him), revealed a nasty infected mess! It didn't improve that evening so thoughts of rock climbing and front pointing had to be put on the back burner... that didn't leave us with too many options so we decided to do an easy and short route on the Index the following day. We enjoyed the SE arete in approach shoes - a great route 5 minutes from the lift which goes at about severe.

Bryn on the Index
The next day dawned wet and stormy so we decided to make the drive home... so what did we learn?
- Summer in the Alps is best for alpine rock climbing in the sun.
- Make sure that your crampons fit your boots.
- Winter in the Alps is better: Instead of rain you get snow (powder skiing), the weather is more stable, no afternoon deterioration of snow due to heat, getting around and down the mountains on skis is so much quicker, the night life is better.....
- It helps to be injury free!
Despite this it was a good holiday and good to catch up with friends in Chamonix. We will be back in the winter for some ski mountaineering and touring!

1 comment:

back packs said...

Wooohhhhh.....Having fun at the same time learning. What an incomparable experience.

From: backpack