Sunday, 8 July 2012

Alpine Dispatches #3

The longest day. When we decided on tackling the Aigiulle Du Chardonnet we knew is was going to be an epic climb but we probably underestimated what a long and exhausting day it would be.

Bivi on the Tour Glacier Morraine
Plan A was to stay in the Albert Premier hut, however being Friday it was fully booked so we headed up, carrying the tent and provisions for a bivi on the moraine next to the Tour Glacier. The forecast for Saturday was for the bad weather to lift giving a clear day but with strong winds on the tops. Biviing on the Friday night saw the tail end of the storms with strong winds, thunder and snow until about midnight.

01:00am was the set off time so reassured by the improving forecast we set off across the glacier in pitch black with the thick low cloud preventing any ambient visibility. This made navigation somewhat tricky and we ended up skirting around a far wider loop than necessary ending up near the Petite Forche before realising we were at the base of the wrong mountain. A quick correction of the compass bearing and we made it to the start point of the Chardonnett. On the walk in we met up with Matt and Jack, two guys from the Lakes heading to the same objective. Although climbing independently we consulted each other at several points through the day and it was reassuring to know there was another similar team to ourselves on the mountain.

Heading up the steep slopes of the Chardonnet in the dark

The route runs up a complex series of slopes and ice fields to gain the Forbes Arete that runs up to the summit. We were the first on the mountain and the fresh snow had covered any previous tracks. The combination of steep ice with a fresh covering of snow made the going tough. On the steep face the darkness and cloud suddly become our friend as the view of the drop below us would have been terrifying.

The Forbes Arete, Aiguille du Chardonnet
At about 05:00am we got the Forbes Arette. The ridge is a mix of snow and rocky outcrops that either have to be climbed over or skirted around. In places it is a true knife edge, having to delicately put one foot in front of the other as though walking a tightrope with a 2000ft drop on either side. The rock was tricky in places with some awkward moves, made all the more interesting having to do them with gloves and crampons on.

Dicey traverse on the Forbes Arete
By this point the sun had risen and the cloud had cleared as hoped, we were pleased to have persevered through the night to get up on the mountain. Continuing on up the summit ridge finally making the top at around 09:30.

Ollie on the Summit
Feeling exhausted the summit was a bit of a non-event. We were keen to crack on with the descent so after a quick swig of water and an energy gel we set off. We made four 50m abseils down an icy couloir to a hanging snow field then a further four 50m abs to get back on to the snow slopes leading down to the glacier. After a long haul across the glacier we made it back to the bivi at 15:00.

If only the day was over at that point! We were both exhausted but very aware the last lift down the valley was in an hours time. We packed up as quick as possible then ran for the lift. With full packs, mountain boots and having been on the go since 01:00 in the morning this absolutely broke us. We got to the lift station just as it ground to a halt, missing it by two minutes. We now faced the prospect of a two hour walk back down to the car in the valley. With no choice we got on with it, finally getting back and collapsing in the car park after an 18 hour day.

Aiguille du Chardonnet from our bivi
Definitely one of the longest days I’ve ever had in the mountains. We still had time to squeeze in a quick pint before crashing for the night. Having been fearful for our lives all day with a constant fear of danger it was now that the accident occurred. Stumbling with lack of energy Ollie tripped over his flip flop entering the pub which resulted in a nasty stubbed toe. He maybe should have kept the mountain boots on a bit longer!

I’m now writing this over a well earned carafe of wine watching the Wimbledon final. Tomorrow we head back up for more punishment maybe in the form of the Aiguille Verte.

Until the next post… common Murray! 

Cancel that he's just lost....

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