mercredi 16 avril 2014

Springtime Climbing 

After a winter mostly spent skiing i was more than eager to take up some good ol' Alpine Cruising.
Working as a Young Guide require to be 100 percent focused into the two main terms of this job :
Hunting and hustling for working and avoiding problems while working. A process that require most of my volatile attention. End of March ,town is no longer filled with black snow, days are longer girls less dressed and is nice to hang out on the terraces and enjoy Cham life...but Cham life is useless if staying in the terraces make you feel guilty for not being up there feeding rats. Stories of happy climbers enjoying anticyclones and alpine faces did not help feeling better even more if in the meantime you're studying  to complete a winter guide ski course. Stuff could have been finished a few injuries ago. Now is April courses are over and i take over feeding my rat, who by now is the size of a Pitbull i fed him with painkillers and free drytooling up on my Aiguilles. The beasts from the East come and gone with my project in the bag i got to reinvent myself but Chamonix has plenty of potential mixed free climbing projects! No rush or race for these projects when the only other person around who is interested in  collecting them is actually attached to your rope. Thanks god gas and autoroutes are expensive so the Slovenians are not here too often.
Conditions are quite dry but since early winter it seems that the Czech Route on Les Droites might be formed. I believe is not in a particularly good shape maybe is always to be found like that at some point of the winter but everybody me included seems more interested in the real Droites North Face, route 99 (ah the hype..) The Czech route is actually more interesting and technically more challenging than the north face. The ice crux is at the end of the lower third. A long exposed and at some point very steep snice bulge.
Jeff and me started late in the afternoon from the Grand Montets and set up a camp on the glacier some 45 minutes away from the base of the route. 1h30 AM i wake up (later i'll find out i didn't) and prepare some tea, i accidentally drop the Jetboil right into my sleeping bags but who care that's the only night we spending in the tent ,but, i was sitting on my two pair of gloves and now are completely soaked with tea. I try to recover at least one pair trying to burn them with the jetboil, fortunately we are not in AK but still we are going to climb a long north face difficult route. We started not really sure how long it will take before i'll froze my fingertips after twenty minutes i enjoyed the first of many hot aches,who in the end seemed to help drying the gloves. A 3am conclusion is "if you're dry you are getting wet, if you're wet you gonna get dry" at least on paper and on the Argentière basin. Jeff did a 200 mt pitch then a 150 mt pitch and we were at the base of the ice crux it was still dark but by the moment i was atop of it the sun was not far. The route being NE facing it take a fair amount of morning sun and it was welcome. We entered the upper bowl after some couloir and mixed climbing and we ended at the base of the steep and dry upper wall. Curiously the many belaystations we encontered went missing after the route actually got quite interesting. Jeff did a chimney and some loose corners, i did a last pitch who took us on the ridge of Tournier Spur from were the route was far from over. i climbed up on the funny steep crest of the spur then traversed into a beautiful gully. This gully was really cool with a little overhang on good ice. another couple of pitches of mixed and black ice and we were back in the crest of the Spur from them it looked like the terrain would ease but it wasn't the case it was low angle but covered with sugar snow a very annoying mix. We were adamant about descending the Lagarde downclimbing and doing rappels and it looked like we would have to do that by night if we tried to summit. A quick inventory of the gear we could use to undertake such a long descent by night showed the luck of a few essentials: knife ,V thread hook, pitons. I know is mainly my fault so let's descend into the Lagarde now so that at least we would use the remaining of the afternnoon avoiding further bullshit. The descent was in the end not that obvious and we were happy to avoid to do that in the dark. We got back to the tent at 18h45 and skied out before we had to use the headlamp.
A few days later i made some plans with Ben O'Connor Croft , Griffith and Colin to go climb the North Face of Requin a long mixed route i longtime wanted to try. We skied down vallée blanche and went sleeping at the nice Requin Hut. The next morning we woke up and walked to the base. The recent snowfalls made the climbing very tricky as the snow was very sugary and since we really wanted to avoid to spend too much time crawling we traversed int the Baumont Gaby gully. It's a very nice line who offer some Chamonix style steep mixed pitches. We topped out in early afternnoon and got down to Montenvers confortably. Very nice day out with the guys and cool to climb with Ben for the first time.
Some days later Jeff and I decided to give a go at one of our most unlikely drytooling projects. It's the huge corner in the West Face of Aiguille du Plan. Some people love flowers others love clouds i love dihedral. Some of the biggest ones in Patagonia for instance are my craziest Alpine dreams, so the obviuos one i see from home is also on top of the list. We secretely hope the route would go free even tough the topo talked about big chimneys and micro cracks,who generally translates into pain in the ass while dry tooling. We were thrilled about the fact first ascensionists Sir Bonington and Lito Tejada Flores did encounter a lot of ice in summer they couldn't use it because it was in the 60, well before carved tools and camalots were invented.
We started on first bin Jeff was wearing a set of cams and a shopping bag it was quite funny. We raced to the base and the old Jeff was there well before me which made look the shopping bag tactics quite good. Snow and ice conditions were very good we started on the obvious gully just aside of the spur who the first ascensionist used in summer , spur that by the way collapsed a few years ago. We quicly made it to the base of the massive corner it looked rad! splitter cracks around hard nevé gullies we were stoked. The route is dead vertical. I was thinking that it might felt frustrating for people who climbed hard on pitons and wooden wedges to discover it could have been so much funnier later on when cams were invented , i mean by then some people already walked on the moon and people were still struggling try not to kill themselves on a size 3 crack. We had some really top of the fun scale piches it could not be any better. Maybe for those who are not used jamming and handling double sword techniques it will look crazy hard some maybe it will be wise for those interested ,to pack a pair of rockshoes just in case. We used no pitons, we used more stoppers than usual the cracks being really stoppers friendly. When the route was over i still could not believe we had such a cool day out, sometimes you gotta be lucky. We descended to Requin Hut and were greeted by Delphine the Requin is a very cool place to stay both in winter and summer. Might that be for descending the VB by full moon or going to take advantage of spring sun on the Fou south face or obviously for the many gullies in the backside of Aiguilles.
Droites Czech Route

    Aiguille du Plan West Face Bonington Tejada Flores

Bonington route Vid: 
Droites Vid:

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