After doing Le Cherrurgien de Crepuscule (still can’t pronounce the name) I was ready for an adventure. I really do love sport climbing, and I especially liked this route – lots of two finger drag pockets, a cool face and some crazy moves. But I also like wild places, adventures and may I admit… a little bit of suffering? Ceuse is great, but you take the same path up, past the big group of Austrian 7 year old wads, past the rocks that everyone poos behind, and up to a project that you know most of the moves on… it was time to hit Chamonix!
Jack Geldard has usually got some sort of strange mission or adventure playing around in the back of his mind whilst he blogs and updates UKC. This new route idea on the Aguille de Saussure had been on his mind for some time and when I arrived in Cham, it seemed like the perfect mission. Well sort of… I’m not the most experienced Alpinist and as we racked up, with me a little confused about the right way to put my crampons on, I could see that when talk turned to reality, Jack was having second thoughts.
Neither were we aclimatised. The Aguille de Saussure is on the edge of Mont Blanc du Tacul and is at 3839m. It took us the best part of a day to walk most of the way up Mont Blanc du Tacul, and descend into the notch between Saussure and the Tacul. Breathing heavily on some very exposed terrain, feeling insecure in my crampons, I glanced at Jack and wondered whether he had actually tied himself to me or been intelligent enough to just loop the rope through his belay loop!
On these sort of missions, as each day rolls by I get more confident that we’ll escape unscathed and perhaps even successful. In comparison, the next day – the day we got to do some rock climbing – was a joy. We woke up late, drank vast quantities of tea, and set off around midday. Unfortunately it was too dangerous for us to get the very base of the route, three gully systems excreting all kinds of debris would have made for a suicide mission, so we decided to come from the top, and start the route at the base of the rock, not the base of the gully.
The climbing was interesting, on that sort of scrittly granite that makes a noise like your lighting a match every time you smear. But apart from that (and some choss) the rock was good. Jack started us off with some easy climbing, which led to a pitch that would maybe get lake-district E5, with slabby climbing but quite spicy in terms of gear and the space between placements. Then Jack got a beautiful splitter, tight hands crack, and I took us to the summit with a choss fest and an awkward chimney.
We then tried to sleep in the freezing snow before the crux – 250m of out-of -condition mixed climbing to get out, ergh! I was glad that Jack took the lead on the melting Scottish grade 6 warm-up pitch. This day, day 3, was definitely the hardest for me. I didn’t want to admit it to Jack, but I think I was very tired. I’ve been described as careless at the best of times, not really a ‘by-the-book’ climber, and when I’m tired this gets worse. And to be honest I’m not excited by endless Scottish grade 3 and I found the whole experience a bit of a chore. But, it was good for me, and it’s all experience in the bag for future mountain-based adventures.
So that was that! We were alpine first ascentionists! What heros! I certainly did not feel like a hero, when in my dehydrated, hungry, unaclimitised and fatigued body said no to me walking back up the midi. The crux of the whole 3 days, was not throwing up on all the tourists in the midi station. The final step up the stairs to get the lift saw me gagging and hyperventilating on the floor. What an Alpine hero!
Chamonix is one of the strangest places I have ever been. One minute you can be up there in amongst the cold mountainous world of ice, snow, crevasses, falling rock, seracs and not to mention your own personal battles with the suffering and the associated risks of being in a place that really, should not take ten minutes to get to! And then the next minute your down on the valley floor, watching fake-tanned legs waltz between overly priced restaurants and Japanese tourists baffle themselves with how to get themselves and the mountains into a camera frame. Yes it messes with your head, but I’m
not complaining either, there would be no chance of alpine heroism if I had to walk from the valley floor!