Adventures off the road: blondes try DIY auto-repairs and Alpinism

I drove down to France with Warrington’s finest female climber, Madeleine Cope. Even though she was crushing many hard pitches including L’ami Caouette, 8a I thought it was high time I recapture her for some mountain-based adventures. Given that the health of the car had deteriorated since last seeing her, the rescue mission was aided by Chamonix residents Jack and Sandra along with Cheddar resident Sef.

Back in Chamonix Maddy was keen to reacquaint herself with granite in a less committing environment before heading up the big hills of Chamonix. So I thought we should drive to Italy in search of single pitch granite trad. With the Desire’s exhaust last seen dragging along the ground it was clear that some sort of patch up was in order before leaving the safety of Cham.

It’s safe to say that Maddy and I know almost nothing about cars. But we do know that we can tie something up to stop it dragging along the ground… so we bought some wire. And that the more airtight the seal the better we can appreciate techno… so we bought some tin foil. And that many hands make light work… so we asked our visiting friends Clare and Helana to help us out. Unfortunately, 5 girls who know nothing about cars is just as useful (not very) as two. But Clare has got ridiculously small hands, so she was put to good use.

Back at Sandra’s and armed with a car-jack the match was on: 3 blondes, 2 brunettes, wire, wire cutters, and some tin foil, versus the snapped exhaust. After 3 hours of shuffling around under the car, we were well-primed for some off-widths and with an exhaust that looked like a fancy-dress robot we thought the girls had come out on top. Ready for Italy!


After driving for a few hours, the exhaust was still safely secured in the correct position and we were feeling pretty smug. Unfortunately, with our attention fixed on the exhaust we failed to notice that the car was steadily overheating. In fact we continually failed to notice, until the car would no longer go in third and there was a strong smell of burning!

We pulled over and after checking the exhaust – which we were pleased to see was still looking good – we opened the bonnet to find smoke pouring from the engine. Luckily a nice Swiss-German road biker and a young lad stopped by to help us out. They spoke no english, but this turned out to be OK, since all they said was was ‘Scheiße’ and ‘sehr heiß’, which we fully understood.

Anyway, we poured water into the car, called the breakdown man, who was an incomprehensible Indian-Swiss-German but seemed to think that the fan had broken, but that now it was fixed, and we could get back on the road. Hoping that we had understood him correctly, but not wanting to risk entering Italy, we timidly drove back to Cham.

“Sorry, are you speaking Hindi or German?” 

After that failed mission, we decided it would be best to stay off the roads and make the most of Chamonix. Maddy had always wanted to climb Republique Bananiere on Aguille de la Republique at L’Envers. It’s not graded super hard, with the crux pitch at 6c+, but it’s a mega route at 25 pitches long, topping out at 3305m.

Being a bit lazy,and more interested in writing about the car than climbing I asked Maddy to write a guest entry (with some editing) about our adventure:

Where is the crag?

MADELEINE COPE guest entry:

We walked the three hour approach to L’Envers the day before, leaving good time to do some cragging and find the base of the route. As it happened we did one pitch (the really nice first 7b pitch of Retour a la Montagne) and spent the rest of the evening making numerous tracks up and down and around the (wrong) glacier in an attempt to find the base of the route. How long does it take two blondes with one ice axe to find the base of an alpine route?… about 4 hours!

Shouldn’t that 12 year old boy be at soccer practice? Not running around on a glacier?

Anyway, we found it in the end and stashed our stuff (being true alpine-tacticians). In the morning we reached the base at the serious alpine start time of 7am and the two blondes set off, opting for the light and fast approach, i,e, sans long johns, sans fleeces, sans sandwiches… momentarily delayed by chasing a sliding rucksack down the glacier.

Maddy struggling with the moat-straddle/sit start crux to the 6b corner pitch

The route was really nice, with a soft touch final pitch, and some amazing perfect open-book corner climbing. Fortunately, Hazel’s light-and-fast approach made up for Maddy’s a bit lighter but not-very-fast approach and the team summitted in a ‘race-for the-nose’ style sugar-high, after chain eating 4 sweets. However, sugar highs are all too quickly followed by sugar lows and the millions of abseils passed in a blur of head ache as we abbed down the wrong couloir. When darkness came the abseils became pretty draining for team blonde but fortunately we were led by ‘Britain’s best Mountaineer’ (qoute: The Sun) and feet were firmly over ‘the moat’ and back onto the glacier, ready for chicken noodles at a good time of 10pm.

A lot of the rock at L’Envers looks quite messy and chossy from a distance, which it sort of is, but on a macro-level, when you get up close, you realise that there are big and beautiful features of perfect rock, like this 50m 6b+ corner (Maddy above, me below)

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