After skiing the valley blanche yesterday, today I got my first climbing day in. My newly found friend Simon and I climb the Cherri Couloir on Le Triangle du Tacul. The climb is rated “II+, 4”, whatever that means. I am still trying to figure out these new grading systems here (maybe a post on that shortly?). Either way, it was a great day on the ropes, and the wind and weather turned on around 2pm to provide just a bit more thrill factor.
As we did the day before, Simon and took the Aiguille du Midi Telepherique (tram) up to the Mer de Glace. Depending on the time of day, the crowd on the lift seems to be a varying mix of tourists who “ooo” and “ahh” at the rocking of the cable car in the wind, and climbers looking for another adventure. We were of course a later of the latter faction. The folks in this group were adorned with either snowshoes or skis given the amount of new snow, full packs, and harnesses jingling with ice screws and carabiners.
With a few tricks and a strong itch, Simon and I were able to be the first ones skiing out of the ice tunnel, onto the glacier, and to the base of our climb. We were at the base of the climb by 930am after breaking trail on steep, slabby slopes up to the bottom of the first pitch/belay.
To save time, Simon and I soloed the first three pitches as listed in “snow, ice, and mixed” Volume 2 (Francois Damilano). This put us at the base of the two remaining ice pitches, of which Simon led the first and myself the second. The soloing was fun and safe, and the ice pitches were well stepped out.
Apparently most parties stop here before the mixed bits above. We continued along behind the Italien party shown in above photo. The climbing varied between steep snow and poor ice over loose rock. I found protection via cams and nuts in the exposed rock during my final lead. Simon led one last pitch up a steep face on the far right side of the Triangle and we turned around for the descent.
With incoming clouds, we starting down at 2pm via a series of full 60 m rappels. We collided with another party (the last to start up for the day) and ended up waiting behind them at each station, which burned time as the weather loomed in. By the time we reach the base of the last rappel, the wind had really picked up. We racked our gear, ropes, threw on skis and headed across the glacier as the wind grew worse.
Up until now, I hadn’t put it together that like any other chairlift, the Aiguille du Midi tram can close due to poor weather. It also makes a last trip down around 5pm (depends on the time of year). We were all saddled up by 3pm, and headed across the Mer de Glace on skis. After gaining the arrete, we switched to crampons for the last 100m, and made it onto the 430pm. Boom!
- 815 am: On the first tram up
- 945 am: Base of the climb via skis
- 10 am: Starting up the steeper ice pitches
- 2 pm: Our highpoint, 8 or 9 book pitches?
- 3pm: Base of the climb and getting back on skis. The rappel descent was greatly sped up by the in-situ anchors.
- 420pm: Walking through the ice tunnel at the Aiguille du Midi station.
- 5 x screws: 1 22 cm, 3 16 cm, 1 13 cm
- 4 x 60 cm slings w/ 2 x biners
- 1 x 120 cm w/ 2 x biners
- 3 x QDs
- 1 coordelette
- Personal glacier racks, which included the above screws in addition to some extra slings/coords/prusics.
We talked about it after the fact, and would replace the 22cm screw with a 19cm, and swap a 16cm for the 13cm screw. The ice on both of the more sustained pitches was thin and pocketed behind. We did well with a 1L of water and less than 600 calories each given that the approach and descent were minimal from an effort standpoint.
Pretty excited to have an had an awesome day out with Simon. He and I are looking at bad weather projected for the next 4 days or so and excited to get back out after that. We seem to be definitely enjoying the other’s tolerance for risk, climbing abilities, and attitude (and indeed the conversation). He is English, so as he would say: “Cheers!”