Monday, October 29, 2007

Chamonix: A Sweet Finale

After our Walk of Shame to the Cosmiques hut following the abortion at the base of Mont Maudit, we ordered a bowl of soup and a panaché (lager and lemonade), and then I took a two-hour nap. I woke up for a cosmic dinner and then went right back upstairs for a blissful 10 hours in the rack. In the morning, I was a new man.

Anything we could do on our final day in Chamonix would have to be short and close to the hut because we had to catch the last lift down in order to make it to our flights from Geneva the next morning. The night before, we’d had dinner with Kathy Cosley, an American guide who lives in Europe and was heading up Mont Blanc with a client. I was eager to get her opinion on what to do, in part because I'd already studied the website that her husband, the guide Mark Houston, had put together; this superb site is packed with detailed route descriptions and photos from many Alpine classics, and I highly recommend it to anyone planning a trip. Cosley recommended the Chèré Couloir on the Triangle du Tacul for a good quick route, and so, as the morning clouds lifted and a stiff wind buffeted the hut, that’s what we did.

The Triangle is the site for half a dozen “sport ice” routes, including several short but very beautiful goulottes (narrow couloirs). Although the climbing on some of these is difficult, and the approach and descent are threatened by serac fall and all the other dangers of Alpine routes, they’re “sport ice” because they’re so close to the hut and lift, and because you can just rap down whenever the going gets too tough or you run out of time. John and I climbed three long, excellent pitches of sticky, one-hit ice on the beautiful Chèré Couloir. We had planned to continue up the easier mixed ground to the top, but at the third belay, after all the steep ice, John suggested we might just have time for another route if we rapped now.

Specifically, we thought we might just have time to climb the Eperon des Cosmiques (Cosmiques Spur), a five-pitch rock climb that leads to the upper Cosmiques Arête, a classic easy mixed ridge which in turn regains the Aiguille du Midi summit, where we had to go anyway to ride back down to Chamonix. It would surely beat a snow slog. John, for whom the easy way is never sufficient, suggested a mixed "shortcut" along a ridge to return from the Chèré Couloir to the hut instead of the easy snow walk, and by the time we got there it was after noon. The last lift down from the Aiguille de Midi was at 5:30. We could not afford to miss this lift and bivouac again. The rock climb was looking a bit dubious; perhaps we ought to just climb the more straightforward Cosmiques Arête and make sure we caught the lift.

“We've reached the age that we don’t have to do stupid things that we’ll regret later,” John said, ignoring the fact that we’d already done one stupid thing on this trip that we’d regret later.

But when we walked down the hill from the hut, we hardly needed to speak to make the decision to walk over to the base of the bigger climb, the Eperon des Cosmiques. John quickly did the math: If we could clear the crux roof halfway up the climb by 3 p.m., that ought to give us enough time to finish the route and the ridge above and still make the lift. If we weren’t there by 3, we’d rap off and slog up the snow slopes to the lift station. The race was on.

Climbing granite in big boots while wearing a moderately heavy pack is never much fun, even if it’s relatively easy, well-protected granite like our route on the Eperon des Cosmiques. But, although we were huffing and puffing as we hurried up the steep jam cracks, John and I were having a blast: At last we were moving well and feeling somewhat competent. We quickly caught and passed a pair of climbers on another, easier route to our left. With a quick yank on the sling conveniently dangling from the route’s big roof (5.10), we were past the crux. Two more pitches brought us to the snow at the top.

Here, we were about midway up the Cosmiques Arête. A huge line of climbers had started up the route earlier, and we could see many of them ahead of us on the finishing pitches. But, with our late and unorthodox approach, we found ourselves all alone on this crowded classic. In mid-September, the ridge wasn’t as pretty as it might have been when covered with more snow. But it was still great fun weaving around the huge gendarmes and climbing up and down steep little steps, one foot on rock, one on ice, in the classic style. Nearby we could see two climbers perched dramatically on the main south buttress of the Aiguille du Midi. We moved together with a shortened rope between us, and soon we were at the base of the final step, where a short, fixed aid step off a giant bolt and a little chimney pitch gained the final moves: a steel ladder bolted to the tourist complex on the summit ledges of the Aiguille de Midi.

It felt good to have actually climbed something, no matter how trivial these climbs had been compared with our original goal. John, to his everlasting credit, was all smiles. I was psyched, too, but also a bit sad: My unexpected European vacation was over.

To read the first of these reports from the Alps, click here.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dougald -long time no see. Nice TR. Tom, Brian Kelleghan (Bison) and I did the Chere one year after doing Mt. Blanc. Very fun climb, awesome view back to the Midi. Tom and Brian climbed together and I solod towing a rope for a kid from Israel. Fun times. Met two guys that were rapping down, "Florian", the guy from Boulder that used to sew climbing clothes and an American that I have remined climbing buddies with. We all went to the Dolomites, fleeing bad weather and did some nice long routes in the Tre Cima. Nice blog, maybe I'll see you at the gym this winter or in the hills...
Mike Carr

Unknown said...

Awesome photos. Great blog.

Teddy B said...

I love this blog - mine is a little 'comic book' in comparison.

Fabulous posts and great images. Your blog just can't be beaten.

I've put a link to this blog on my page - I hope you don't mind.

keep it up my friend - magic, just magic.


bara larson said...

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