Saturday, October 20, 2012

Climbing in France

I felt like a salmon swimming up stream.  The snow was pouring over us in a constant flow bringing with it the occasional chuck of ice.  I climbed as fast as I could with hopes of passing as many people as I could.  Jeff and I simul-climbed passed two parties hoping to get above the snow and icefall, but it continued to rain down.  After a long pull I spotted an anchor and headed straight for it.  As Jeff climbed up, another party was rappelling towards our position.  It was a nice couple and I struck up a brief conversation with them.  They told me that there were more parties above us still.  I could hardly believe how many people where climbing the line and mention to the gentlemen that I had never been on such a crowded route.  He responded, “Then you have never been to Chamonix!”

French countryside

France was amazing.  The climbing was fantastic and the country beautiful.  I just had to get used to the fact that it was crowded.  Our trip began in Chamonix, a town rich with the history of Alpinism.  It is a small town nestled in a beautiful valley below the big mountains of the Alps, made incredible accessible by cable cars and trains.  This of course brings the crowds.  Nowhere else can you have a casual start, climb a big route, and still make it back to town of food and beer.  Jeff and I embraced the casualness and made like the locals; rack up at the car, cross the street to the tram at 3,400ft, and fifteen minutes later, step out at 12,500ft on the glacier.  It was kind of awesome, but did come with a price.  We were surrounded by people and quickly realized that in order to climb anything, we would have to climb routes that already had people on them.
Aiguille du Midi

Damien Tomasi recommended we climb the “Chéré gulley “ to warm up and acclimatize so we headed straight for it.  It is a beautiful ice gulley that is just an ultra classic.  Unfortunately it was crowded making it difficult to really appreciate the climbing.  We climbed as fast as we could while being hit by snow, ice, and rock.  Eventually we topped out and had a chance to enjoy the view.  We hung out on top for a shot bit then began the descent.  Several teams followed us, making the descent even scarier than the climb.  For fear of being knocked unconscious by rock or ice fall caused by parties above, we fashioned prusiks on the brake hand side of the rope to act as auto locking backups.  Despite Jeff being tagged by a rock in the arm, we survived the descent back to the basin.  After a short walk, we were back on the tram on our way to town and dinner.

Jeff in Chamonix

With the next weather window forecasted to be too short to accomplish anything big, we left Chamonix for the town of Magland and sport climbed.  The rock climbing around Magland was incredible.  Cliffs just off the road offering a multitude of short six-pitch sport climbs.  We picked out a nice route and spent the next two days working the route.  After two days of thin limestone sport moves, the weather began to improve and we made our way back to Chamonix.

Home sweet home

Conditions had settle and the weather was looking good for a bit.  We decided to pack up and head onto the glacier for a few days with hope of climbing a few routes.  When we approached the tram, we discovered a mistake had been made with our passes and we were forced to straighten things out at the desk.  We learned that the passes would expire that day and we had already wasted valuable time straightening things out.  Disappointed with the way things were going, we ditched our overnight gear and jumped on the tram.  We were hoping to get two routes in but being late in the day we were pushing it.  We motored for the Cosmic Ridge with hopes of cranking it out quickly then moving on to a more difficult rock climb.  Within 30 minutes of climbing we ran into the traffic jam.  It was late in the morning and there were already was too many people on route, including the French army.  We did everything we could to move fast, but it wasn’t enough.   There were too many people to pass and the climbing remained slow.  We eventually reached the Midi decks with too little time for another route.  With the sun still high in the sky, we had no choice but to head back to town.

Self portrait on the glacier

The next forecast predicted rain every other day so Jeff and I decided it best to pack up and head south.  After struggling to alpine climb, it was time to clip some bolts in the sun so we left Chamonix for Ceüse.  The climbing in Ceüse was amazing.  It is a beautiful limestone band capping the mountainside and littered with pockets.  Most of the climbing is overhanging, but covered with huge pockets to hold on to.  Jeff and I blissed out for a few days, clipping bolts in the sun and getting worked.

Jeff nearing the top of the Chéré gully

Ceüse was a great way to finish off a wonderful trip.  We had an amazing time in France.  We got to do some great climbing, meet wonderful people, and saw the beautiful countryside.  I’m already looking forward to going back. 
 Aiguille du Midi

 Jeff rapping (Magland)

 Cosmic ridge

 Cosmic ridge