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.