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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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Jeremy had booked some guided days with Caroline George, so we decided to use one of those with the half day climb of the Arête des Papillons on the Aiguille du Peigne.

After picking up the second or third tram up towards the Aiguille du Midi, we disembarked at the halfway station and started hiking uphill.

It was difficult not to stop on the hike and take in the scenery.

The ridge started with some scrambling that Caroline short-roped us for and used multiple terrain belays. As the climbing got more difficult we started to pitch out the route.

The ridge seemed to gain definition as we moved up in height.

The exposure also increased accordingly.

Where the terrain warranted, we reverted back to short-roped scrambling.

Jeremy and I could have led this route, but we certainly would have been far slower and less efficient than climbing with Caroline. We also might have learned a few tricks along the way.

We saw two other groups on the route, but they were spread out ahead and behind us and so we didn’t have any pressure from behind or delays from above during our trip up the ridge.

Probably the most interesting pitch was the mailbox, which involved a fun crack to a crawl-through slot then some exposed slab moves out of a dihedral into a sea of weathered fins.

Caroline led the pitch in her approach shoes, but I was thankful to have just switched into my rock shoes while waiting at the belay.

I think Jeremy wished he would have switched shoes for that pitch, but he still seemed to have enjoyed it.

One more crux pitch separated us from easier climbing, which again Caroline impressed by styling it in her approach shoes.

Featured and easier ridge scrambling led toward our descent.

One rappel dropped us into a gully with some loose rock that we carefully descended.

A late season snowfield provided one final obstacle before we hit easier paths leading back to the cable car.

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Mer du Glace

Wanting an “active” rest day after the Chèré Couloir and unsure of the weather’s intentions, Jeremy and I settled on a “hike” up the Mer du Glace, France’s longest glacier. In a bit of a snafu, I wasted some of our morning resizing my mountaineering crampons for my boots and we ended up missing the first train to Montenvers by only 5 minutes.

Having an hour to kill, we relaxing spent the time acquiring Americanos and pan chocolates.

Train finally boarded, we arrived at Montenvers and started the hike down to the glacier level.

The descent involved several ladders, and hand-rail/foot peg assisted traverses to get down the glacially scarred rock.

A bit of hoofing it over rocks and gravel-covered ice finally got us to exposed glacial ice and it was time to put on our crampons.

We wandered vaguely uphill and stopped to check out whatever caught our interest – like glacial creeks and large moulins.

A bit prior to noon we decided to stop for a snack and then to turn back afterwards.

In the distance we could see groups of students being taught ice climbing along some glacier walls, so we headed over that direction for our return.

We were glad we did, because those walls turned out to be portions of a “canyon” carved by a glacial creek into really strange forms.

After taking our fill of photos, we returned to the cables and ladders to climb back up to Montenvers and catch the next train back to Chamonix.

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Feeling pretty good after our first full day in Chamonix, and with a great weather forecast we queued up for the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi and got in the first car.

Crammed with alpinists and guided walkers everyone rushed out at the top to rope up and don crampons for the exposed snow rib descent leading below the south face of the Aiguille du Midi.

With the exposed snow rib done, we motored across the glacier towards Mont Blanc du Tacul.

One group started up the route just before us so while waiting Jeremy and I played Ninja-Grizzly-Cowboy for the first lead. Jeremy’s Grizzly beat my Ninja and he took the ice screws and sharp end up with him across the closed bergshrund and toward the first belay at the rock.

A third group came up and got in line. I was at least happy that both groups on either side of us were friendly Brits, making multi-group communication easier. Soon I was following Jeremy’s first lead and shortly to take the next pitch.

Jeremy arrived at the top of pitch two not feeling super great. The group above us had done only a short pitch to the next anchor (about 50 feet), so I suggested he lead that and if he wasn’t feeling better I’d take the next pitch (one of two crux ice pitches). When I got through the mixed ground of our short pitch Jeremy had perked up and was ready to take on the next pitch. Our pitches 4 and 5 had the crux ice sections of about WI3, they were steep enough, but plenty hacked out to feature plenty of pre-kicked footholds.

The main attractions of the couloir complete, we decided to do one more short pitch before beginning the raps.

With several near 60 meter pitches, we needed to deploy our tag line to make the rappels.

Things went smoothly until the penultimate rappel when the rope got stuck while pulling. We discussed options to fix the issue ourselves, but knew one of the other groups was rappelling right behind us and they were willing to help us out from above and get us back on track for the final rap.

After packing away most of our rack of ice screws and the tag line we rushed back to the Aiguille du Midi not remembering exactly when the last car returned to the valley.

We were plenty early and made it well before the final cars. As we left the car down in Chamonix a couple tourists asked if they could take our picture. I found it funny that after our first real alpine day in Chamonix we were already serving as the poster children for “climbers”.

A little tired from the day we skipped cooking for a quick take-away meal of pizza and decided to do a semi-rest day tomorrow.

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