Archive for September, 2011

Spectated at Aspen’s Golden Leaf Half Marathon on Saturday.

Headed to Crested Butte afterwards for my third Vinotok.

Camp 4 coffee fueled the return trip to the front range the next morning.

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The omens just kept coming. First it was the train we missed by a scant minutes, then our expired tram passes. Maybe being out for just a simple day had our guard down, but the route we started climbing didn’t match the guidebook description and we didn’t know where we were.

Well, we could see the Index chair lift, and could easily bail to it. So what if the climb wasn’t what we were looking for, the climbing itself seemed reasonable and my pitch two connected with a line of bolts that was obviously on some route.

Some friendly climbers on a neighboring route told me the name of their climb, that still didn’t help me figure out where we were (turns out we were climbing the wrong part of the Gilière). Our makeshift route (portions of Mani pulite and Nez rouge – I think) was quite fun and not knowing what was coming kept the adventure high.

Not knowing when we’d hit the walk-off, I “led” a class 2, grass hike for my final pitch. All part of the adventure. Feeling like it was time to listen to all the omens, but it still being too early to call it a day, we hiked to the base of the Index (a formation we were at least familiar with) and repeated the first two pitches of Voie Brunat-Perroux, reversing the order we’d previously led them.

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We were on the first tram out of the valley and up to Grand Montets. After gearing up for the wind and stepping outside I was surprised to see other climbers on the mountain already.

Had they stayed in a nearby-hut I didn’t know about? Anyway, it looked like it was going to be a busy day on our little summit.

Once clear of the tram building, we completed our costume change with crampons and a rope to hike the switchbacks up and cross the bergschrund on a snow bridge.

When we hit the shoulder of the ridge, we decided to pause and let the three person group ahead of us move up a bit before starting ourselves. We generally simul-climbed the ridge (rock and snow sections both), placing gear to protect in case one of us slipped but not needing to completely pitch-out the climbing since it was easier terrain.

One 10-foot wall had a bit of 5.3 and was the crux of the climb and we treated more like a real (abet short) pitch. Afterwards we started traversing closer to the summit and ran into a bottleneck of 8+ climbers all pitching-out the easy climbing.

Jeremy and I both had the same thoughts – “This is close enough” and “we don’t wait around here all day then get behind the crowd on the descent”. A couple groups behind us had the same idea and at least five 2-3 person groups started to descend back the way we came.

The fact that the clouds were lowering also convinced us that we were making the right call. A coffee was sounding better than a few more vertical feet to claim the true summit of this not-really-a-separate-summit peak.

Picking our way back down and across the ridge through the same terrain we traveled on the ascent, we now also had to weave in and out of other parties, picking separate lines where possible and waiting where we had to.

The crowd seemed to vanish as we hit the glacier and reversed back across the bergshrund and beelined for for the tram.

We just barely missed one tram descending and after waiting for the cycle to repeat we just missed another tram at the midway station. After hiking to the train station we watched our train departing down the tracks. With a hour to kill, it was time to find an open coffee shop.

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La Somone

After taking the two-stage cable car to the top of the Brévent, Jeremy and I were just left with a downward hike to reach our route, La somone, the perfect active-rest day route. High clouds loomed over all we could see, but still left decent views.

Approaching our route we flushed another chamois who traversed right across our future pitch one before disappearing over the ridge.

After the wildlife played through, we got the base of the route and racked up (just draws) and Jeremy took the first pitch. I kept one eye on the clouds across the valley that seemed to be lowering over the summits.

Jeremy’s first pitch was a little broken up and not much to write home about. Then we had a short downclimb and walk to the base of the next section which looked decidedly more interesting to me.

This pitch followed a crack in a dihedral and actually involved some jamming. I was happy even if I was clipping bolts. Unfortunately, we got a few sprinkles as Jeremy followed the pitch.

Jeremy set off on pitch three and ended up linking it (just barely with our 60 meter rope) to pitch four. Pitch four was the crux of the route (about 5.9) and by linking the pitches Jeremy didn’t get stuck with just another so-so pitch.

After following the combined pitches, we did a very short rappel off the mini-spire we now inhabited.

Another short hike got us to the base of our pitch four. The clouds didn’t look any more threatening, the pitch was short and it had ceased to sprinkle. Game on.

We ended up at the top of a rounded cliff with an easy walk off the back. The route still had two more pitches, separated from us by yet another hike and we seemed to have the weather for it. Post-walk, Jeremy got ready for his last lead.

I again kept an eye on the clouds, as they concealed and revealed the Dru and other summits.

One more easy pitch deposited us just off the hiking path to the tram.

It was windier now that we were on the crest of the ridge, and we quickly packed up and picked up the next cable car down.

Another pan chocolat and Americano warmed us up back in Chamonix.

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I was amazed when Jeremy and I scored the first spots in line for the Aiguille de Midi tram. Unlike most passengers, we got off at the mid-station and started our hike north towards the “M”, so named because that letter well describes how it looks from Chamonix.

We were quickly schooled by an older lady who knew all the shortcuts and kept ahead of us (she was a pretty fast walker too), but we finally overtook her in time to scare up a herd of Chamois.

Shortly thereafter we found the climbers access trail that ascended straight up a gully towards the Aiguille de I’M.

A little under four hours after leaving the tram we were gearing up for our climb.

The start of the route was still in the shade and Jeremy offered me the lead on the first pitch. The advantage was that I’d get into the sun quicker and not stand around chilling off any more, however, I’d also have to lead the pitch with numbing fingers.

After one balancey slab move, the pitch got easier and I was extremely thankful to hit the sun for my belay stance. Jeremy followed and also looked happy to reach the light.

Switching leads he took the next pitch up through some more delicate moves then easier slab and on to a huge belay ledge.

I was psyched when I saw pitch three and what looked like a great crack/corner system. It turned out to have a few finger jams low down, then solid off-width climbing.

After following, Jeremy took us up one more shaded pitch and back into the sun.

A speedy group had caught us and we hung out in the sun for a bit while they worked on the next pitch. When their leader (who basically hiked up the 3rd pitch in mountaineering boots) slowed down a lot I probably should have taken the warning. I moved left and started a slightly easier variation to a ledge that rejoined their route just as their second was coming through. Giving him some space I followed him and found some delicate moves up thin cracks and not as many jugs as I’d hoped. Near the top I ran out of alpine draws and cannibalized some of my anchor webbing. About now I started thinking that the climbing would have been very enjoyable without the large pack holding crampons and an ice axe.

Jeremy followed, having to squint right into the sun then set off on our last pitch – a fairly easy traverse with decent opportunities for natural anchors.

At the summit we took a brief break, then started the first of three rappels (the last was the longest at 30 meters) each broken up with a bit of scrambling.

After packing up our harnesses and ropes, we started carefully making our way down a rubble-filled gully. Thankfully we could keep to one side and out of the main fall path most of the time. Also, we were well ahead of other groups descending behind us.

The bottom of the fully terminated in cliffs, but cairns and a trail led us to a section of metal rails, steps and ladders.

A lot of loose scree and talus over melting glacier and unstable moraines greeted us next as we traversed our way around the south side of the “M” and eventually back to a climbers trail below the peak.

We picked up a second path heading in the direction of Montevers (where the train to the Mer du Glace runs) and intersected the main trail which warned that it was a hour and 10 minutes to Montevers! It was now 4:45p and the last train ran at 5:30p. We started hurrying (as much as possible with all the gear we were hauling) expecting we’d be hiking all the way back to Chamonix. 20 minutes later we arrived at Montevers just as the penultimate train was departing. That “hour and 10 minutes” must have been in metric.

Feel a little worn out from our first-tram to last-train day, we shuffled a few blocks to the Micro Brasserie de Chamonix for more of their excellent stout.

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With low clouds and Chamonix still soaked from Sunday, Jeremy and I traveled with guide Adam George through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy. After a stop for the best gas station coffee I’ve ever had, we found the parking area for Corma di Machaby and started to hike up through the woods.

Our goal was the Il Paretone wall with dozens of multipitch sport routes.

The routes were all well signed with information on their length, number of pitches and difficulty.

Adam led us off as Jeremy belayed and I snapped photos.

Once Adam reached the pitch’s anchors, he’d belay Jeremy and I up and we’d repeat the pattern.

The Italian side hadn’t escaped yesterday’s rain even if the sun was out now. A major wet streak had us rerouting mid-pitch towards drier rock.

Coming here had been a good choice, it was both a way to salvage a climbing day and a chance for me to visit another country (even if only for a half day).

Still, the type of climbing (slab! sport!) certainly ranks low in my preferences and I had pretty made made up my mind to “French free” (pull on quickdraws) through the crux before even leaving the belay for that pitch.

The upper pitches were easier and I didn’t need to resort to such tactics again.

From the summit we followed a pretty well marked trail back down through forest, past some old homes and down rock outcrops with mini via ferratas.

Before crossing back into France, we stopped in the lovely town of Courmayeur for gelato, a brief stroll and some beer.

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After a train, a cable car (la Flégère) and a ski lift I was ready to start climbing. We still had a short hike to the base of the Aiguille de I’Index, but somehow managed to beat out multiple other parties to get on the route Voie Brunat-Perroux first.

Jeremy led the first pitch (one of the 5b crux pitches).

I drew the much easier second pitch which ended just below the long grassy ledge splitting the east face of the Index.

After a short hike up and a consultation with the guide book, Jeremy led us up pitch three. I got the next even-numbered pitch as multiple groups started to converge on the grassy ledge. We felt some pressure to move up rapidly and not delay so many groups.

Besides drawing all the even pitches on this route, I also somehow ended up with all the pitches having a bolted crack. I couldn’t complain too much in this instance, as we’d only brought a set of stoppers and no cams.

For our sixth pitch I ended up merging with the much easier (and extremely popular) SE Arete. Finding myself behind a guided group with a slow client I belayed in the first semi-reasonable spot. By now the Index was reminding me of the First Flatiron: short approach, easy climbing, but multiple routes all combining at one narrow ridge and a rappel.

Jeremy’s final mini-pitch took us to the summit and then a short downclimb to some rappel anchors.

With only a 60 meter rope, we found we had a bit of scrambling to do after the rappel and then the loose rock gully to hike down.

We hiked partway back down to the ski lifts then snacked (American style peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – yes we had to bring the PB with us from the states). Refueled we decided that the crowds had largely done their route and departed so we decided to do the SE Arete since it was mellow and we just barely had the rack for it (a set of stoppers and alpine draws is plenty if you’re comfortable with the grade).

This time I took the first pitch which was well protected with a few bolts and pitons. No need for the nuts at all.

Jeremy took the second pitch and actually used a few pieces of our light trad rack.

For the third pitch I stayed at or near the ridge crest most of the way and found reasonable climbing, but it appeared like most groups traversed just below some of the steeper climbing. I reached a level stance and a bolt plus two pitons but liked the look of the more vertical section just above so I decided to link these two pitches. Jeremy quickly followed my “enduro” pitch and set off for the summit again.

By the time I reached him for the descent, we were feeling a few sprinkles and got into a cluster at the rap anchors with 4 total groups coming and going. Everything sorted out with a few shared words and some hand gestures, we were soon on our way back down the lift and the sprinkles had ceased.

Unfortunately, we saw a train pass as we were still on the la Flégère cable car and had an hour wait for the next pass.

Debating weather to sit and wait or start walking we came up with a third option involving a nearby restaurant.

Shortly after getting back to our Chamonix apartment, the rain started in earnest.

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