Cham… (part 1)

At the start of the summer I had the plan of trying to climb in parts of the Alps other than around Chamonix. The reasoning being that I’d spent far too much time in Cham and could do with exploring the rest of the Alps a bit more. That plan hasn’t gone so well.

The Frendo Spur (avec mon Tod)

The Frendo Spur (second spur from the right)

The Frendo is the archetypical Chamonix convenience route. Where else can you get lift to the base and off the top of 1200m alpine route. It’s bit of joke really, but it it means you get to do the most fun part of alpine climbing (the actual climbing bit) without having to bother with any of the faff.

I first climbed the Frendo in 2010 with my friend Howard at the end of a pretty intense 3 weeks alpine climbing. We had climbed the west face of the Petit Jorasses, Gervasutti Pillar and North East spur direct on the Droites. And had epics on all 3. The frendo was supposed to be fun easy warm down, but black brittle ice and deteriorating weather at the top slowed us down and quickly moved the fun rating from 1 to 2. As Howard entered the lift station I congratulated him on having survived his first alpine season. He looked pleased to be going home. We had missed the last lift down, but fortunately we had large chorizo and a public toilet to keep us going though the night

Howard tucked up with the large chorizo.

Four years later and I was determined to have more genuine fun on the route. And I did. Setting off from the third or fourth bin I reach the start at about 10. The rock part of the route makes for really fun soloing: good rock and easy slabs and corners. I put rope on for the crux as it was a bit snowy and awkward. On reaching the top of the rock stopped for leisurely lunch. Annoyingly I had let my blood sugar get high as I had been moving constantly and not stopped to check it. I had only brought a litre on water and with my high blood sugar I had drank most of it and weed it out again. I always feel annoyed with my self when let my blood sugar get out of control throgh neglect like this. I paid for it on the upper snow/ice section. In my dehydrated state my legs started cramping and I had to stop and un-seize them regularly. I clipped into my axes to check my blood sugar, which fortunately had returned to normal, and ate a gel with electrolytes in it. By the last little steep section I seemed to have the cramp under control. And before knew it I was sitting on the top admiring the Jorasses.

Courtes North Face Swiss route (avec mon Tod)

A few days later at around 5am I’m on my own again. This time negotiating the bergshrund at the foot of the north face of the Courtes. I get the feeling that I always get when passing through these icy chasms in the dark. The feeling that this isn’t really a place for humans. that I really shouldn’t be here. Being alone excentuates this feeling. Scuttling across a narrow sliver of ice betwwen two gaping chasms, I imagine i’m in some kind of Tolkinesk epic, approaching my peril. The shrund proper looms. An overhanging rockover mantleshelf presents itself. I try for while to place a screw to provide some kind of rudimentary self belay, but eventually just have to commit. It’s fine. I’m in! 800m and 4 hours later and i’m on the summit, feeling satisfied, admiring the Jorasses again. No leg cramps this time.

The North Face of the Courtes from the Argentiere hut.

Colton-Macintyre (avec Tim)

A few days later and i’m admiring the Jorasses again. This time from much more foreshortened angle. As we reach the bergshrund there are many other teams faffing. Tim quickly throws the rope round block of ice quickly gears up. I’ve never tied on with Tim before and this seems like pretty crazy place to do so for the first time. But with his good humoured and positive character and aesthetically pleasing rope coils my trust is already total. Tim launches through the bergshrund and were past all the other teams. Giving us a clear run. Second bergshrund is past by a 20 metre vertical ice chimney feature and feels completely insane to climb at that time in the morning. At the end of the first big ice field we bump into two other Brits. Tom and Ben. I’ve met Ben before, the last time was on the north face of the Jorasses. Maybe he lives on the face? The rest of the route passes like a dream. Sociable belays and top quality climbing in an amazing setting.

I’m doing it, I’m in the photo,” I think to myself as I lead the famous crux pitch that I’ve seen so many great pictures of. As I test my blood sugar every time it’s good.

Amazing” Tim comments.

It’s not always like this,” I tell him. We top out in good time and make it all the way back to Cham for around 10. Hazel is surprised to see me back on time. I never come back on time! I fall asleep feeling very satisfied with one of my most fun weeks of alpine climbing ever. Chamonix hasn’t lost it’s magic. Sometimes the best places really are the best.

Possibly the best mountain crag in the world…
Ben on the crux.

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