Tuesday 25 August 2009

Little sister in the big mountains

On Wednesday (19/June), Jess's littlest sister Ellen arrived for a short visit. We picked her up in Geneva airport and smuggled her over the border into France. She had been a little confused about where she was actually going before leaving Ireland and had settled on telling people that she was going to Switzerance! We fed her that evening and gently broke the bad news that we'd be getting up at 6.30 am the next day to take the cable car to the top of Aiguille du midi. 6.30 am doesn't really exist in Ellen's world especially since it was 5.30 am Irish time.

The bleary eyed little thing dragged herself out of the guest annnex (tent!) the next morning bright and early and we headed for the cable car. The Aiguille du midi cable car is the highest in Europe connecting Chamonix at 1037 m to close to the summit of the Aiguille du midi at 3776 m. Its a two stage trip and each stage only takes 8 mins. A lot quicker than walking! From the top of the Aiguille du midi, there are breathtaking views of Mont Blanc and the Vallee Blanche. Mountaineers in single file leave here via the steep snowy exit ramp to start most of the routes in the high alps.

From this point, there is another cable car that runs to Helbronner just over the Italian border. It crosses the Vallee Blanche and a few hundred metres below you see mountaineers moving like ants across the glaciers, some with massive crevasses.

After a scenery overload, we headed back down the mountain to grab some lunch and to introduce Ellen to rock climbing at Les Gaillands in Chamonix. She was a natural flying up a 5b to our amazement. She seemed to enjoy it as long as we didn't make her look down for photos! The poor thing was exhausted after her day and retired to her tent by 9.30 pm.

We took pity on Ellen and let her have a lie in till 7.30am the next day. We had hired her boots, crampons and an ice axe and took her up onto the Mer de Glace. Dunk showed her the basics of steep ice climbing and front pointing and she was up and down the sides of crevasses in no time. She seemed particularly taken with the deep water filled holes in the glacier and got immense satisfaction from dropping stones down them. The ant hills (ahem!) on the glacier were another point of interest. I wonder what so many ants would be doing on a glacier! That evening after feeding the guest, we popped round to Toto (aka Toby and Tom) who were just back from a couple of days in the Requin hut to get the beta. Ellen went wild and stayed up till 10.30!!

On Saturday, we headed to do some more climbing hitting the Forestiers and Frendo areas of Les Gaillands. Ellen proved herself on her first overhang. We bumped into Toby who joined us for a couple. Poor Tom had gotten a stomach bug and was curled up in his tent. Hope you are recovered Tom and cranking hard in Font! We spent most of the day there and then popped into town to grab some Savoie specialities for dinner. These specialities involve large quantities of melted cheese. Mmmmmmm!! Afterwards we headed back to the campsite and had a few drinks and listened to a few tunes before bed.

On Sunday, we had to drop little Ellen back to Geneva. It was really sad to see her go and to pack away the guest annex. We've started making plans for our trip to the Requin hut to fill the gap!

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Alpine Adventures.

So from Sweden we started the 2 day drive to Chamonix, France.
We had a little van trouble on the way (blown air in-take hose) but all fixed thanks to the miracle of DuckTape.

We based ourselves in a campsite underneath the Bossons Glacier for the first 2 weeks and spent our time getting to know the area.

View from the camp site.

We bought all the useless climbing guidebooks on offer to newcomers to the region and set about going climbing.
Obviously being high in the Alps the quality of climbing is fantastic even if the quality of the climbing guidebooks is less than satisfactory...

Our 2nd day here we tried to off ourselves with a trip up to 2500 metres carrying rock climbing gear for a short climb and long trek back down to Chamonix (at 1000 metres). Needless to say Jess was not the happiest of punters on the cycle back to the campsite. (My legs had turned to jelly 1/2 way down!).

View from the top of our first hike. And my sandwich.

After a few trips to local crags and adopting Tom and Toby (two UK guys camped next door), our next expedition was up to the classic Papillon's Arete (Butterfly's Ridge for the un-educated...).
Luckily we had grown a little more used to the altitude by this stage and caught the gondola up bright and early to be at the bottom of the route for 09:00, 3rd in the queue. Papillon's ridge is graded V and follows the arete for about 400 m of spectacular views. The climbing was not particularly sustained although the crux chimney pitch which left the "letterbox" felt considerably harder especially with our rucksacks. The French pair coming behind us agreed wholeheartedly! The boulders crashing down a couloir up the valley as the heat of the day melted the ice certainly added atmosphere. Jess's camera also came crashing down the mountainside. Less dramatic but far more upsetting and expensive. All in all it was a great day out although the verdict might have been different if our sprint for the gondola down had had a different outcome.

Early start on Papillon's Ridge.

Passing 2 nice French climbers on the route.

Dunk on the 2nd last pitch.

View from the ridge looking east.

After a day or 2 of R&R (and some expensive ice gear and camera shopping), it was time to play on a glacier. We opted for a short hike along the famous Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) to see the large moulin. The moulin (basically a big hole drilled in the glacier by meltwater) has been explored down to 110 m. We contented ourselves with cautiously peering over the edge! The hike also gave us the opportunity to play on some steep ice in a few friendly crevasses and test out our new shiny boots, crampons and ice axes.

The Mer de Glace. (The Sea of Ice.)

Playing in the crevasses.

Heading home.

The next mountainside expedition was the Vaucher route, graded at VI and picked from the worst guidebook in the history of the planet (no I am not exaggerating!). The 400 m long climb was described in 2 sentences, an incomplete topo and a smudged mountainside photograph leading us to believe it would follow an obvious line. That was not the case. We found the start of the route alright at the top of a small ice field but soon had lost the line and cobbled together a series of excellent pitches up the mountainside. It turns out that there are numerous routes up the SW face of Aiguille de Peigne, a mixture of trad and bolted lines (not in the guidebook). We settled for moving in a generally upward direction on rock that bore no resemblance to the guidebooks description. About 300 m up, we opted to abseil down to avoid another sprint for the gondola. A great day out but still have no clue where the Vaucher Route goes.

Today, Jess's little sister Ellen is arriving for a visit. A great excuse to rest Duncan's feet and Jess's quads and calves. Can't wait to show the little sis some rock and ice action!!