Monday, 20 October 2014

Les Chercheurs d'Or, Berard Valley

The Chamonix Valley looks as stunning as I've ever seen it right now so I was really keen to get out and have a big day in the hills this weekend. There was talk of going somewhere up high but given the amount of snow that has fallen above 2500m, I think routes at altitude might have to wait. Eventually I found a route that looked to provide the ideal combination of a big day, a good summit and some fun climbing - "Les Chercheurs d'Or" in the Berard Valley, which finishes on the summit of Mont Oreb. Peter, Tristan and Tom were all keen so at the very least it was going to be sociable because we'd be climbing in 2 pairs.

With such short hours of daylight at this time of year we had to get up early and we were walking in by headtorch at 6.30 in order to start climbing by 8. Given that Peter had his ankle completely reconstructed less than 4 months ago, Tom has arthritic toes, Tristan's back is best described as "fragile" and that my hip is buggered and my back and shoulder aren't too flash either, we weren't expecting to set any speed records and needed all the daylight we could get!

At the foot of the route, with me being laughed at for bringing such a small water bottle. 
Photo Peter Riley.

 The lower buttress is fun enough but fairly sparsely bolted and we quickly realised that although it is referred to as "partially equipped" in the guidebook written by Michel Piola, the first ascensionist of the route, this is very much a trad climb with bolted belays. There is the odd bolt here and there but be ready to protect virtually the whole thing with nuts and cams.

Peter on the first pitch of the second buttress. To the right of Peter here is the "Chercheurs d'Or" bivouac where Michel Piola stayed whilst doing the first ascent of the route. Peter got a giggle from everyone when he suggested that, having seen how sparingly bolted the lower section of the route was, we should leave Michel "a new f**king battery for that drill of his". In all seriousness, Peter and I have had some of our best days climbing on Michel Piola routes ("Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune"being the obvious highlight) and he has probably done more high quality new routes than anyone else I know of so he can do what he wants as far as we're concerned! 

Tom leading the same pitch.

The second buttress is by far the best of the 3, with some classic pitches in amazing positions, then after that there is a bit of a walk up to the third and final buttress.

Looking up to the third buttress which follows the solid rock just to the left of the deep, shaded gully.

Tom, me and Peter sorting the kit out above the second buttress. Photo Tristan Wise.

Peter belaying below the last tricky pitch.

Peter and me just below the summit. Photo Tristan Wise.

Tristan, Peter and Magnum on top of Mont Oreb.

The third buttress is basically not that great, with the odd pitch thrown in amongst lots of grassy scrambling. Luckily it all leads to a fantastic summit which looked even better than I had hoped because of the fantastic autumn colours. 

With hindsight we should really have done slightly more research into how to get off the peak...

We vaguely knew that if we nipped over a col near Mont Buet then walked a bit we'd hit the Buet path but it turned out not to be quite so simple and it took some fairly tricky route finding to eventually get us onto the path and the refuge, which we reached just as darkness fell. Still, the views were nice.

Photo Peter Riley.

All in all, I got my long day and what a fantastic one it was. The climbing on the route isn't really that great on the whole but the overall experience and the ambience are unbeatable. Thanks Tristan, Tom and Peter for an amazing trip.