dimanche 20 avril 2014

 Aiguilles Basic Linkup 

When the weather forecast showed a few days of good weather i imeediately tried to get to one of my main projects, then during the weekend the forecast changed into a bunch of days of very strong north winds. The only day who looked good was thursday not really enough to get anything done on big hard routes. Still was a good day to fill with Alpine climbing so together with Tomas Mueller we decided to fill it with a lot of climbing. The line we were thinking was a traverse of the aiguilles de Cham not by the ridgeline but by the northern aspects were are a number of excellent classic routes. A line we would appreciate everytime we look at the Aiguilles from the Elevation terrace. The idea was to start at night from Montenvers ,climb the Grands Charmoz north face then rappel down to the Nantillons climb up the Spencer rappel down to the hanging glacier underneath Aig. du Plan climb up Lagarde - De Segogne to then traverse till Aig.du Plan and finally Aig.du Midi. We took the last train up Montenvers we are not alone some fellow Spanish friend Martin, Unai and Eneko are going to spend the night there to do Gr.Charmoz as well.

note to self: next time bring a xbox

Weather was very good but it was still windy and cold, we were happy to have a tent. 
The alarm was set for 1:15 AM and some 45 mins later we took off, we left a bag with the tent and camp gear at the train station. We carried  a rack with 8 cams 4pitons and stoppers quite a heavy rack the idea was to have enough to set some rappel stations down the upper part of west couloir of brèche de Blaitière as we never heard of people either climbing either rapping down it. The approach was tedious fortunately we found some old tracks so it was not phisically demanding. Following tracks meant we could easily tackle the lower part of the route without getting lost in the dark something i was kind afraid of. On such long days with multiple climbs everything must go smoothly as it's easy to waste time. I made a schedule, i really hoped we would top out Grands Charmoz around midday finally it took us 4h40, an encouraging start 9h30 on top . The Grands Charmoz north face was first climbed by Ryan and Lochmatter by a very bold line on the right of the face. Consensus in Alpine History tends to tag Welzenbach and Merkl with the first real ascent of the north face. Before their epic ascent a solid attempt was made by Tezenas de Montcel and Paul Fallet until some 100mt from the summit. Nowadays the criteria people have to define a succesful ascent are really not that stricts, this is particularly the case for first ascents in Himalaya and Patagonia. The route on the Vallot was given an unimpressive D+ in French rating. The difficult of the climb has inflated to more appealing 4+ and M5 maybe because the couloirs got really leaner and steeper during the last decades or maybe because modern climbers tends to pretend they can climb D+ without struggles (after all the north face of Les Droites similar in difficulties was given a ED grade by Rebuffat now with modern gear should get a D+). I have nothing to bring into the grading concept only i can suggest people to do lots of D+ routes from the early 20th century if they want to be confortable on "ED" routes. Most of these Classics in the Vallot topo are kickass . 
Once on top of the route we faced a decision that only climbers doing linkups will have to take: why not going home now that we have climbed this route? i have to admit i didn't really paid attention to that particular scenario generally after i climb a route i just descend and go home, not this time. This time we stay to the mountain side for a "all you can eat" program. It is a particular moment who give you the feeling you're really going for it. I started feeling pain on my bad ankle on the rappels and i was a bit afraid it would have been a very tough day, and it did.

The Welzenbach Merkl is thin but very good

first rappel

Spencer couloir, Aig. du  Midi in the back 

Up Spencer

First Rappel down West Couloir Lagarde is the gully behind

Once on the Nantillons glacier we climbed up Spencer Couloir, which is lame because is the kind of staff people ski... fortunately nobody did skied down it that day , anyway it was too obvious to do like that and there where no others better options, top of the couloir at 12h45, we immediately started the rappels into the west couloir the only part of the all traverse who held some mistery as we had no information about it. It would actually give interesting ice and mixed climbing in the upper 100mt just it's quite long and tedious to get there...we reached the couloir after only 4 rappels and we downclimbed the couloir quicly before the high temperatures would made it unsafe. Once at the base we simply traversed 50mt into the Lagarde-De Segogne via a beautiful mixed ramp. 

Nice gully on Lagarde- De Ségogne

Traversing under the Crocodile

Ajouter une légende

The last bit of the journey
The Lagarde De Segogne is a pretty steep climb with ice and mixed up to 85 degrees i just can't imagine how these guys did it with a straight axe no frontpoints, no pitons, no icescrew, clearly a masterpiece. This climb ends at a brèche,still far from the top of Aiguille du Plan and miles away from the Midi. My ankle was hurting a lot by then we definetely slowed down trying not to do some stupid mistakes on the tricky traverse underneath Aiguille du Crocodile, it took us a while to finally step into Midi Plan ridge but we were still ahead of schedule. We both have climbed the last part of the ridge a few times and we were more then happy to do the most difficult part, the Rognon du Plan, by daylight. After 21 hours of climbing and walking we stepped into the cablecar station at the Midi. We spent the night in the toilets as it was the only warm place in the building, still better than outside! Big Thanks to Tomas for this excellent day

Gear: 1x 8.5mm  50mt rope                     Survival Bag
          1x 6mm 50mt kevlar rope              Jetboil Titanium 120ml gaz
          8 camalots from #0 to #2               Cordelette 
          4 screws   (quite useless)                V-Thread Hook 
          4 pitons  (for retreat)                      Knife
          6 stoppers
          5 quickdraws

mercredi 16 avril 2014

Springtime Climbing 

After a winter mostly spent skiing i was more than eager to take up some good ol' Alpine Cruising.
Working as a Young Guide require to be 100 percent focused into the two main terms of this job :
Hunting and hustling for working and avoiding problems while working. A process that require most of my volatile attention. End of March ,town is no longer filled with black snow, days are longer girls less dressed and is nice to hang out on the terraces and enjoy Cham life...but Cham life is useless if staying in the terraces make you feel guilty for not being up there feeding rats. Stories of happy climbers enjoying anticyclones and alpine faces did not help feeling better even more if in the meantime you're studying  to complete a winter guide ski course. Stuff could have been finished a few injuries ago. Now is April courses are over and i take over feeding my rat, who by now is the size of a Pitbull i fed him with painkillers and free drytooling up on my Aiguilles. The beasts from the East come and gone with my project in the bag i got to reinvent myself but Chamonix has plenty of potential mixed free climbing projects! No rush or race for these projects when the only other person around who is interested in  collecting them is actually attached to your rope. Thanks god gas and autoroutes are expensive so the Slovenians are not here too often.
Conditions are quite dry but since early winter it seems that the Czech Route on Les Droites might be formed. I believe is not in a particularly good shape maybe is always to be found like that at some point of the winter but everybody me included seems more interested in the real Droites North Face, route 99 (ah the hype..) The Czech route is actually more interesting and technically more challenging than the north face. The ice crux is at the end of the lower third. A long exposed and at some point very steep snice bulge.
Jeff and me started late in the afternoon from the Grand Montets and set up a camp on the glacier some 45 minutes away from the base of the route. 1h30 AM i wake up (later i'll find out i didn't) and prepare some tea, i accidentally drop the Jetboil right into my sleeping bags but who care that's the only night we spending in the tent ,but, i was sitting on my two pair of gloves and now are completely soaked with tea. I try to recover at least one pair trying to burn them with the jetboil, fortunately we are not in AK but still we are going to climb a long north face difficult route. We started not really sure how long it will take before i'll froze my fingertips after twenty minutes i enjoyed the first of many hot aches,who in the end seemed to help drying the gloves. A 3am conclusion is "if you're dry you are getting wet, if you're wet you gonna get dry" at least on paper and on the Argentière basin. Jeff did a 200 mt pitch then a 150 mt pitch and we were at the base of the ice crux it was still dark but by the moment i was atop of it the sun was not far. The route being NE facing it take a fair amount of morning sun and it was welcome. We entered the upper bowl after some couloir and mixed climbing and we ended at the base of the steep and dry upper wall. Curiously the many belaystations we encontered went missing after the route actually got quite interesting. Jeff did a chimney and some loose corners, i did a last pitch who took us on the ridge of Tournier Spur from were the route was far from over. i climbed up on the funny steep crest of the spur then traversed into a beautiful gully. This gully was really cool with a little overhang on good ice. another couple of pitches of mixed and black ice and we were back in the crest of the Spur from them it looked like the terrain would ease but it wasn't the case it was low angle but covered with sugar snow a very annoying mix. We were adamant about descending the Lagarde downclimbing and doing rappels and it looked like we would have to do that by night if we tried to summit. A quick inventory of the gear we could use to undertake such a long descent by night showed the luck of a few essentials: knife ,V thread hook, pitons. I know is mainly my fault so let's descend into the Lagarde now so that at least we would use the remaining of the afternnoon avoiding further bullshit. The descent was in the end not that obvious and we were happy to avoid to do that in the dark. We got back to the tent at 18h45 and skied out before we had to use the headlamp.
A few days later i made some plans with Ben O'Connor Croft , Griffith and Colin to go climb the North Face of Requin a long mixed route i longtime wanted to try. We skied down vallée blanche and went sleeping at the nice Requin Hut. The next morning we woke up and walked to the base. The recent snowfalls made the climbing very tricky as the snow was very sugary and since we really wanted to avoid to spend too much time crawling we traversed int the Baumont Gaby gully. It's a very nice line who offer some Chamonix style steep mixed pitches. We topped out in early afternnoon and got down to Montenvers confortably. Very nice day out with the guys and cool to climb with Ben for the first time.
Some days later Jeff and I decided to give a go at one of our most unlikely drytooling projects. It's the huge corner in the West Face of Aiguille du Plan. Some people love flowers others love clouds i love dihedral. Some of the biggest ones in Patagonia for instance are my craziest Alpine dreams, so the obviuos one i see from home is also on top of the list. We secretely hope the route would go free even tough the topo talked about big chimneys and micro cracks,who generally translates into pain in the ass while dry tooling. We were thrilled about the fact first ascensionists Sir Bonington and Lito Tejada Flores did encounter a lot of ice in summer they couldn't use it because it was in the 60, well before carved tools and camalots were invented.
We started on first bin Jeff was wearing a set of cams and a shopping bag it was quite funny. We raced to the base and the old Jeff was there well before me which made look the shopping bag tactics quite good. Snow and ice conditions were very good we started on the obvious gully just aside of the spur who the first ascensionist used in summer , spur that by the way collapsed a few years ago. We quicly made it to the base of the massive corner it looked rad! splitter cracks around hard nevé gullies we were stoked. The route is dead vertical. I was thinking that it might felt frustrating for people who climbed hard on pitons and wooden wedges to discover it could have been so much funnier later on when cams were invented , i mean by then some people already walked on the moon and people were still struggling try not to kill themselves on a size 3 crack. We had some really top of the fun scale piches it could not be any better. Maybe for those who are not used jamming and handling double sword techniques it will look crazy hard some maybe it will be wise for those interested ,to pack a pair of rockshoes just in case. We used no pitons, we used more stoppers than usual the cracks being really stoppers friendly. When the route was over i still could not believe we had such a cool day out, sometimes you gotta be lucky. We descended to Requin Hut and were greeted by Delphine the Requin is a very cool place to stay both in winter and summer. Might that be for descending the VB by full moon or going to take advantage of spring sun on the Fou south face or obviously for the many gullies in the backside of Aiguilles.
Droites Czech Route

    Aiguille du Plan West Face Bonington Tejada Flores

Bonington route Vid:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtEDTin5sJE 
Droites Vid:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG5Qj5BeSKY