Touched for the very first time by Chamonix – Part 2

So, our week of climbing continued. So far it had been three days of excellent climbing and there was more to come, though, the weather did look a bit iffy towards the end of the week.

Climbing Day 4

The next day we were picked up in the morning and we drove over (or under) to the Italian side. From there we took a lift to the Helbronner station or to Torino hut, which ever you prefer as they are right next to each other. The all the areas up there and on the way was one big construction yard. This is because they are building a new lift and a new station called Pointe Helbronner and which should be ready at sometime in the future. There will also be a tunnel which will give direct access from the station to the refugio, bit like something they have at Midi station.

But we weren’t there to just check up on the construction progress. Our goal was to do a new classic, a traverse of the Aiguille d’Entrèves. We did it from South-West to North-East and it is rated something between PD and AD-, but if you compare this to the Cosmiques Ridge which is also rated PD by the guidebook, this is definetly much easier. First we had about an hour of walking to the base of the ridge on a rolling glacier. Few crevasses here and there, but the path use well worn and easy to follow. Before heading up to the ridge we packed the crampons away as the ridge was totally bare from snow. For a change Lauri was taking the lead and I had a nice relaxing day of just following the rope. The difference in the mental and physical taxing between leading and following is quite huge. At least for me it was quite a relaxed day out.

Mont Blanc du Tacul from Aiguille d'Entrèves

Mont Blanc du Tacul seen from the Aiguille d’Entrèves. You can see the Midi station and the Cosmiques ridge in the far back.

The is mostly easy scrambling kind stuff, but there was few trickier places. There was one akward chimney you had to downclimb and near the summit there was the crux, a two move slip up a smooth face with a crack. That section had some aid in it, though, if you would need it. The few trickier bits, and the fact that there were quite a few groups on the route, made some queues. We did not mind the waiting as we could spend all that time learning a lot of small tricks on belays and between them. The Aiguille d’Entrèves has a double summit which are separated by a short ridge. After those the ridge descend quite steeply onto a flatter section which you follow all the way to the point where you descend to the glacier again. The last bits of downclimbing were quite tricky, especially with the crampons we had put on already. Following was actually a bit more scarier as you did not have the belay from above anymore. We did manage to get safely back down to the glacier. When there, we headed directly back towards the Helbronner and the lifts back down. On the way quite near the station we met two other Finnish guys who had been thinking of doing some ice routes on the Tacul, but the all of those were in quite bad condition. We wished them luck and took the lift down.

Traffic jam before the crux of the d'Entrèves traverse

Traffic jam before the crux of the d’Entrèves traverse

The mandatory summit shot

The mandatory summit shot. Tour Ronde and Mont Blanc du Tacul in the background and helmet tilted as usual.

We packed ourselves again into the van and drove back to the Chamonix. A dinner, some baguette and cheese and a lot of sleep.

Check the video of the traverse from tvmountain.com though we did not have that much of snow on the route and neither we did arrive there with skis.

Climbing Day 5

For Wednesday the forecast had predicted a bit unstable weather starting from the afternoon. This stormy weather was supposed to last for few days which didn’t sound so nice in climbing wise. The morning though was shady, but ok in mid elevations and we aimed for a route starting from Plan du l’Aiguille. This time either we did not got for the actual Arêre des Papillons, but on a route on its flank. This was named in the same theme as Les Lepidoptères which translates to lepidopterans which is a common word for all butterflies, moths and such. There are two versions of this climb (I’ve heard): a bolted version and then the mostly trad original version. We took the original route which has a maximum grade of 5b, though, most of the route is just 4b/c. The crux section is a short overhang which you kind of swing over, otherwise it is slabby cracks and small ledges.

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons. The Les Lepidoptères goes diagonically up the right edge of the lighter grey face area.

So, we started by getting a téléférique up to the Aiguille du Plan station. From there it was about 45min to 1 hour approach first trough some rocky grass fields and later through bouldery path and up a easy chimney to a higher ledge where the route actually starts. You might want to use a rope for the chimney part. We had taken the big big boots and axes for the descent if there would have been some snow on the way, but it was all bare. We dumped all the excess gear at the bottom of the route and started climbing. The route starts first with crack next to a pillar and continues on a slab and then again on some cracks with odd ledge here and there. The first three pitches follows this same line until it reaches a moves on ten or so meters to the right through some bouldes onto belay ledge. So far I had been focusing on speed, which is essential in alpine climbs, and that meant very few gear placed. I believe the fewest I had was just two pieces on almost a full rope length pitch. Easy ground yes, but still there would have been quite big drops if one would have slipped.

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

From there started the crux pitch. First there was a bit trickier crack and then the overhang crux. This far Al, our guide, had been soloing all the way :), but now he tied into the rope. The crux moves we could protect with a piton and a threaded sling. Getting over the overhang wasn’t actually kind of an overhang at all as you basically first inched your feet as high as possible while having them on spread wide on either side. Then you just kind of rolled over the spiky bulge that was there until you reached a good jug and pulled yourself up. From there the rest of the pitch and the final pitch up to the ridge above was quite low angle and easy going. Lauri lead the final pitch and got do his first trad leads of his life.

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

That was the end of the actual route, but we continued up the two final pitches of the Arêre des Papillons up to the face of the Aiguille du Peigne. The first pitch first a traverse on the side of the ridge and then a bit scary move or two up a quite thin crack back to the ridge. The finger jam I managed to do there was quite painful and it didn’t help that I had very gear placed before the move. Then the ridge was easier again filled with large flakes and spikes. At the end we abseiled down the Papillons gully and the Voie Normale of Peigne, but climbed a again an easy pitch back to the ridge and the top of the Les Lepidoptères. Once there we remembered to take the mandatory summit pictures, though we were not on any summit, and started the abseil back down the route. The weather started to looked worse by every minute and we had not too much time to loose. It took first four abseils to get back to our stashed gear and then another one to the path below. This last abseil saved us the scramble and downclimb of the approach chimney and detour. We didn’t actually have in the end any slack on the walk back as it started to rain more and wind took up the closer we got the lift station. As we got there, the personnel was calling everybody to hurry up as the storm was fast approaching and the lifts might not run much longer. You can’t run them in high winds.

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Despite the detoriating weather we got nicely back to the valley. We stayed in the valley for a pizza dinner, shopped some late evening snacks and wine and took the bus back to Les Bossons. On the way back, though, we took the bus just to the Les Bossons village itself and thought of walking from there. The bus that ran next to our lodge didn’t go that often in the evening. Otherwise it would have been just fine, but it was pouring with rain and on top of that we managed to first get ourselves a bit lost and had to back-track our steps and just follow the main road. We were wet and the baguette was wet, but still edible. Shower, clothes drying up and some wine and cheese. It wasn’t so bad after all in the end.

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style. This place was by far the best pizza place in the town.

Check the video of Les Lepidoptères from tvmountain.com.

Climbing Day 6

Al had told us that he would send a text in the morning what we’ll after he had got the latest forecast. The start was postponed first until nine and though he did arrive, we still had to skip the morning as it was still raining all over the place as we spoke. He said he would come back an noon and we would then do something. One idea was an ice cave somewhere nearby, but it had to be seen. We took a lift to the center for a morning stroll. We tried to find just a café where they would serve croissants, but we actually ended up eating a second breakfast in true hobbit style. This 6,90e French breakfast included some tea, baguette, croissant, juice, butter and jam. Not sure whether there was also something else, but it was way better deal than just having the croissant and tea for 5,50e. Rest of the morning we spent in various gear shops they had there and even bought a few postcards to be sent back home.

Prussikin on a tree branch

Prussikin on a tree branch. Some of the hardest move we did on the whole trip 🙂

At noon we were back again waiting with our packs as Al curved into the yard. We would not go to the ice cave as it could be too dangerous in heavy rain, but would go to local crag to do some crevasse rescue simulation. We ended up prussikin in various ways up a rope setup on tree branch and later on doing some rescuing on the actual wall. It was good stuff eventhough we did not get to climb much more than that tree branch. After the late start the training took pretty much the rest of the day and it was time for early dinner in the town and back to the lodge to relax the rest of the evening.

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta. For future reference… don’t eat pasta in a pizza place. It is crap. The wine was ok, though, and cheap.

Climbing Day 7

When we looked out of the window in the Friday morning it didn’t look too good. We did have some hopes for a climb still, though, as Al had sent a text message in the morning about an 9am pickup. When he showed up, he said that the weather is as bad as it looks, but surprisingly down the valley on the Italian side it looks just fine. So, we drove again through the Mont Blanc tunnel and continued then about an hour down the valley past Aosta and down to the castle of Bard where we turned to hillside and to a small village or Albarda. Here were some nice multipitch routes tucked in between the chestnut trees. Nearby there are some “bigger” crags, but many of the routes in those are quite hard. Our chose route was called Dr. Jimmy and had 9 bolted pitches of maximum of 5b+ in grade. It would continue for another two pitches with a short crux of 6a, but Al told that it is missing some bolts now and it is not that great climbing anyways and you would need to abseil down those same to pitches to the descend path. The last kilometer or so of driving was on some small and steep roads and if someone goes there for the first time, enough time should be spared for the drive in and also for the approach walk which was also had a quite discreet start.

Al had climbed it earlier had knew way, which was quite helpful for finding it. We devided the leading so that I lead most of the pitches and Lauri did three of the easier ones. The first pitch had a steeper start and then a easy ledge hopping to the belay. Lauri led the next one, which nice and easy slabby and a bit grassy pitch. The third was again mine and it started with an 15m traverse to the left and then some tricky moves up the face and then followed some cracks and holes up to a belay. The pitch was easier near the end, but it still quite a hard work as there was a horrendous rope drag because of the initial traverse. Furthermore, just about 5 meters short of the anchor they yelled from below that the rope is running out. We had the full 50m of rope in the system and still 5 meters to go. Well.. they asked if I’m good for a few minutes and they took of the belay and moved few meters closer. After this shuffling I got to the anchor just fine. We should have had a 60m rope or better yet, we should have done a short traverse pitch first and then start directly up the rest of it.

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy. From left to right: Lauri, Al and Me.

After the rope-issue pitch it was Lauris turn again to lead. It was again mostly easy, but had a quite a few tricky moves in between. That was perhaps the hardest pitch he had ever lead. The next was again for me as it was dubbed as one of the harder ones in the route. Otherwise it was pretty straightforward going except the small roof you had to climb over, or actually hop onto from the side, and the steeper section right after it. Then there was a short walking section and again a harder pitch. This was by grade the crux pitch, though, Al had said that the last pitch was also quite hard despite the easier grade. The hardest part was the couple of first moves as you had to pull yourself onto a ledge up a vertical wall, but there was a good jug to help you out. The rest was cracks and flakes with lot of good holds, altough it was quite steep. At this point the wind started to really pickup and it was quite hard to communicate from the top to the bottom. Again we had a small walk and the Lauri did a short traverse pitch to the acrossa the bottom of the final face. I took again the lead for the last two pitches. The first was good going up a big crack and then a traverse to a big bowl and the anchor. We took the usual summit pictures there and we all three cramped into a pose up there in the middle of the face. Then the final pitch. I lead this one too and Al was not wrong saying it is quite hard. First it was few moves up a crack and some flakes, but then it shifted into a crimpy and steep and I could barely keep off laughing when I saw that monopocket there in the middle of it all. The ever increasing wind did not help in this quiten delicate section and Lauri told me that they had been laughing about my trousers flapping in the wind while I tried to hold my balance during the gusts. We did get to the top, though, and did not waste much time before wrapping thing up and heading back to the car. The sky around us looked like it would start pouring in any monent.

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy. There are some hard routes on that big wall on the right.

Check a video of the Dr. Jimmy from Youtube.

With all the climbs now in our bag, we drove back to the Chamonix and our lodge, though it took a good while longer in this direction as there was the normal Friday evening traffic jam in the tunnel. At the lodge it was time for the celebration beers and in the meanwhile Al gave us some tips what to do next. It was all great though I’m not sure how much I still remember of it all as there was much of possible things he suggested we could try next. We shook hands, farewelled each other off and after a refreshing shower we headed to the nearby restaurant for dinner. We had already decided that we would eat fondue on the last evening and that we did. Big bowl of melted cheese was just what our bodies needed after a week of climbing. Stomach full we retired back to the lodge we had some wine stashed and celebrated all the accomplisments we had done during the week.

Happily munching the fondue

Happily munching the fondue. Om-nom-nom…

The next morning I had a transfer back to Geneve where I took a train to Paris where I would meet my wife, but that is another story. Lauri spent another night in Chamonix before heading home. In the end I can only say that the trip was very succesful and we got to climb loads of stuff, more than we had hoped for. As it was the first time in the Chamonix, the mecca of climbing, it did not at least diminsh the thirst to go there again. I already have, actually, the next climbing trip booked, but not any alpine stuff this time, but just a lot of sport climbing. So, I’ll go with another friend for few into Spain and somewher in the Montserrat, Siurana, Terradets zone, but haven’t decided which one yet. So, there will be some more climbing to be done!

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