Monday, 29 June 2015

Voie des Dalles, Aiguille du Pouce

Having just had one super keen mate out from the UK (Ed, see below) another one arrived on Saturday in the form of Matt Groom. Needless to say, I took zero convincing to go out climbing on Sunday so we made plans to go to the Voie des Dalles on the Aiguille du Pouce. 

The 2 previous attempts by Matt and me to do a route (The Aiguilles Dorées (the route fell down, video here) and the Royal Traverse (the weatherman cocked up)) ended in failure so we weren't optimistic. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when everything went swimmingly on the Pouce.

All photos by Matt Groom, except the ones of him, obviously.

On the fairly safe assumption that we'd miss the last chairlift down from the Index, we stashed mountain bikes at the top of the Flegere lift in order to make the descent back to town easier. It was certainly quicker than walking but for 2 novice mountain bikers on knackered, 15 year old hardtail bikes, it didn't feel very easy!

Looking down on the initial section of the approach.

A French climber ahead of us. Having faffed about stashing our bikes, these guys got ahead of us on the approach but then they failed to locate the correct start of the route, meaning that we spent the day climbing alone. We spotted them retracing the approach route in the afternoon having realised too late that Les Anglaises had been right about where the route started after all. We tried not to be smug but didn't quite manage it. 

Me on the approach.

The approach wasn't actually as bad as everyone says it is but it does take a while. We had crampons with us and could just about have done without them until the last 5 metres to the route, which was bullet hard, 40 degree snow and would have been terrifying in just boots. 

Once on the route the climbing is superb but it is quite technical for the grade and doesn't follow obvious features so it is really tough to climb fast. On many of the routes in Cham, the line follows a feature and so route finding isn't an issue but on the Voie des Dalles you constantly need to think about the next few metres, and the bigger picture of where you are on the face. This, coupled with the slabby and occasionally bold climbing means that it's pretty hard to keep up a fast pace. However, with such good climbing and the World's best mountain view (in my humble opinion) behind you, taking your time doesn't feel like a chore. 

The climbing is interesting throughout and breathtakingly exposed in places. Many of the pitches are quite bold too so make sure you have a grade or 2 in hand, especially given that you'll need to carry your pack up the route. The top section is a bit loose and rubbish but it's a small price to pay for what precedes it. 

A few pitches up, enjoying the view.

Looking down the initial pitches.

Matt midway up the route.

Matt nearing the top of pitch 7 or 8, we'd sort of lost track by this stage.

Me posing on the summit. No amount of photoshopping made it look like I had anything resembling a sun tan so I gave up and accepted my paleness.

Quite the view from the summit. 

The descent was much looser and more involved than we expected and after a full day of walking and climbing under a hot sun, we were pretty over it by the end. I think my face says it all. 

One final look at the face.

Needless to say, we did miss the lift and were very glad of the bikes. 

The weather looks superb this week but very very hot so I'd be very wary of anything with the potential for rockfall right now. However, if you pick your routes right, summer should be off to a great start.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Climbing the Classics - Aiguillette de la Floria, Mani Puliti & Lépidoptères

It seems as if the weather has been ropey in Chamonix for weeks now so the fact that we've finally got some blue sky is very welcome. To celebrate the arrival of the sun, I've been out making the most of it and working through some of the classics of the Valley.

First up was a half day with John Vincent ticking off the south-west arete of the Aiguillette de la Floria, followed by "La Plage" on the same peak. The weather wasn't as good as forecast and we moved together for most of the day just to stay warm but given that it was tipping with rain at 9am, getting to the end of the day with the best part of 10 pitches of climbing in the bag felt like a good result.

John clinging on to winter with some ski-less skiing.

The Drus looking moody through the mist.

The next day was the first real "bluebird" that had been forecast for ages and with my mate Ed over from Lancashire, we shot up "Mani Puliti" just above the Index chairlift. I'd somehow never got round to doing the route before but it was superb, with good rock throughout and excellent views. 

Ed leading on Mani Puliti.

Friday saw Ed and me out again, this time on the slabs of the Aiguille du Peigne and specifically Lépidoptères, a low grade classic that leads onto the Papillons ridge. After a few shenanigans finding the right approach, we were soon underway and fired up the route in no time, leaving us plenty of opportunity to enjoy a leisurely lunch looking at the superb view.

Ed low down on Lépidoptères.

Some French climbers on an adjacent route being dwarfed by the Midi's north face.

Ed has now teamed up with other mates but he reckons he can convince me to get out climbing sometime next week instead of working. He's probably right but I'm going to try to be strong. In the meantime, make sure you give Ed a toot if you see him driving around the Valley in "The Munchkin Mobile". Ed's got a cool company called Mountain Munchkins and all I will say is that what his car-based marketing lacks in subtlety it makes up for in effectiveness! You won't miss him if you do see him. 

The weather now looks superb for this week and I'll likely be out making the most of it so stay tuned.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Aiguille de L'M North-northeast Ridge

It's been a busy few weeks here in Cham and I haven't been into the hills much, hence the lack of blogging. Yesterday I finally managed to get out because I had some photos I wanted to take of the Aiguille de L'M and Peter didn't take much convincing that we could combine this with actually climbing the thing.

The North-northeast ridge is something of a neglected classic that I remember was high on my tick list when I first came climbing here and yet I've never got round to doing it.

The sweaty slog up to the foot of the route was quite a re-introduction to summer alpinism for this year but I don't mind walking for a bit of solitude. Once on the route it was superb, with slabs, cracks and corners aplenty, all surrounded by stunning scenery.

Peter on one of the lower slab pitches.

On the famous off-width pitch. This got 4+ in the old guidebooks and was regularly led back in the day without cams and wearing old school mountaineering boots. The old Chamonix guides must have been beasts!

Nearing the top, with the summits of the Republique and Charmoz behind. 

Once on the summit we had a bite to eat, fed the birds and then headed back down to the Montenvers for a couple of beers. All in all, an excellent day and a Chamonix uber-classic in the bag.