Thursday, 4 August 2011

Aiguille de la Republique - Voie Normale

 With almost comical timing, the weather picked up almost as soon as we left Cham for Provence, but we figured that with all the fresh snow the mountains would need at least a few sunny days before anything would be possible. By the time we got back there were 2 sunny days left and some half way dry mountains so we decided to get on the Aiguille de la Republique’s normal route. The normal route on most peaks tends to take in fairly steady terrain and serve as an easy descent, but the Republique is not most peaks! The route is graded D+, 5b, A0/6c+, and is over 700 metres long, making it one of the most sought after summits in these parts. Tom, Matt and Tristan were all keen, so a sociable day was inevitable, and having 2 pairs also means that the quicker team could climb or abseil first and do the route finding for the second team. As it turned out there wasn’t much in it, but Matt and Tristan were probably slightly quicker, due entirely to them having 60 metres ropes to our 50s!

The Republique from the Montenvers

I’d had an attempt at the route last year and was confident that I knew the first third of it pretty well, and so we decided to get the first train up to Montenvers and then walk over, climb the route, descend down it and then walk all the way down to Cham in one day. We knew that it would be a late finish but we figured that if we could make it back to the foot of the route in daylight then we’d be fine walking down in the dark.
The walk in was fine, and the first section went very quickly, but when we reached the couloir where the route branches off from the Grepon’s Mer De Glace face we found far more snow than we had been anticipating. Still, we could see a line avoiding most of the snow on the right hand side of the couloir so motored on up and carried on making good time. 

Tom and I climbing

And again, this time just below the summit

Tristan on the easy rock section

Mid way up the easy ground

The summit pillar from just below the Breche de la Republique

The climbing by the time we reached the belay just below the Breche de la Republique (around 100 vertical metres below the summit) had all been nice and easy, and it took us less than 2 hours to this point. However, there was even more snow from here, and the route finding was not that obvious as a result. Pushing on we were really slowed down by the snow, and took around 3 hours to get from the top of the easy terrain to the summit. And what a summit it is! The final pitch weighs in at 6c+, but most people just pull on the bolts to make it A0. Matt and Tristan went first and dropped a loop of rope down for Tom and I so that we could haul/be hauled up and so save doing the aid pitch. As each of us in turn reached the summit, the air turned blue as we took in the incredible exposure, and it was amazing to finally have all 4 of us sat on top. The summit is around 10 feet long and 8 inches wide, with huge drops on every side. By this time, the clouds were coming and going and this just added to the situation, with peaks occasionally appearing out of the gloom around us.

Hauling my way to the top!

Matt on the summit

Tom, Tristan and I on the summit

About the start the abs

One last summit shot

After 20 minutes on top it was time to go, and we split into 2 teams for the long descent. The descent is initially obvious, and takes in a breathtakingly exposed, free hanging abseil near the top, but becomes slightly convoluted just below the Breche de la Republique. I think with hindsight that the best option would be to go down from the belay next to the Obelisk (marked clearly on the topo) to the couloir right below the Breche, then re climb a pitch or 2 until back at the top of the huge rock couloir which makes up the bulk of the route. Instead we faffed about looking for a way which avoided re climbing anything, and ended up spending much more time messing about than we would have done had we just stuck to the description of the descent in the guidebook.

First Ab

Exposed! The view from the second ab.

We also had a problem in that large amounts of the route can normally be downclimbed, but with all the rocky slabs covered in soft snow, it would have been extremely dangerous to do this and we were forced to abseil the whole way. Needless to say we were not safely down by darkness, and with Tom and I climbing in rock boots which were by now soaking wet and cold, there was a fairly respectable amount of suffering being done! Having eventually reached the glacier it was an easy decision to go and stay at the Envers des Aiguilles Hut, and walked down the next day.

Coffee stop on the walk down

Boulder trundling on the way back to the train

Despite Matt’s announcement back in town that Alpinism is just “a good climb ruined” by lots of walking and faffing, we all felt that it had been an awesome day. I would recommend staying at hut first though so as to spend more time in the sun, and also to allow a bit more time for any potential messing about on the descent. When the weather clears the route should be dry quicker than most things, so not an excellent option in the coming weeks.

Here's a quick video from the route -

Aiguille de la Republique from Charlie Boscoe on Vimeo.