Vent du Dragon: A mixture of ice, mixed and swimming

Note 6/19/2016: I’ve updated the rappel beta to include a third station on skiers right of the gully that I forgot about the first time around.

Simon and I met when I arrived in Chamonix nearly a month ago.  He had been keen to get on Vent Du Dragon.  Which is a short mixed climb just off the Aiguille du Midi.  It was a great route for a mixed weather day, given that there is no approach involved (other than a few rappels), no glacier walking, and really it would be hard to get lost. We expected it to feel a bit committed rappelling off the walkway, but with any kind of luck at all, the route would be in condition enough to be climbed.

We started the day at the typical location: the Aiguille du Midi telepherique.  Here, we ran into Danny Uhlmann who, it turns out, was climbing the route right next door (Perroux) with a client. To keep this narrative short, I’ll discuss the two things that will be important to most people, the approach and the condition of the climb.

Approach:

We understood the general location of the climb, but we were lucky to have Danny there.  Having done the route in previous years, he was at least somewhat familiar with the set of rappels that needed to be done.

Rappels/stations we used:

1: Some previous trip reports and the topo had indicated that first rappel started from the north end of the bridge. This is no longer true, and the best station seems to be on the right as you walk south across the bridge.  This first rappel is probably 50m, and the next station is awkwardly located several meters to skiers right of the center of the gully, thus requiring some traversing shenanigans.  There may be a rappel buried in the snow, but with cold hands I couldn’t find it.

Danny Ulhmann rapping off the bridge. He was kind enough to let us go first.
Danny Ulhmann rapping off the bridge. He was kind enough to let us go first. We are sitting at the first station here, which you can tell is quite far to skiers right.

2: Rappelled 30m, hugging skiers right of the gully, seemingly shorter than the 50m indicated on camptocamp.

vent - rap 2
Simon approaching me at the third rappel station.

3: A third rappel on the skiers left of the gully (~50m).

4: A fourth rappel,  full rope length. (~55m)  Neither Danny or I could find a rappel on the skiers right, so we ended at a station at a rock out-cropping near the middle of the gully (see photo).  There are several different slung blocks here. We descended to the lower of two I found, where a blue cordelette was fixed between some small rocks and a piton (or bolt – buried, hard to tell…).  There is no rap ring on this station.

vent - rap 4
Simon rappelling to me, from the last real station we found. We started down-climbing/traversing from the location of this photo. Danny is sitting at what I have labeled as station 4 in the next photo.

4: A final full rope length (60m) rappel put us on the skiers left of the gully.  Here I threw a cam in, while Simon and I pulled the ropes and setup to begin climbing.  For here, a 15 m down-climb + traverse right is required to reach P1.

 

Looking down while I made the third rappel. Shown are: the rough location of where we found the next station (4) and where we pulled our ropes and starting climbing (5)
Looking down while I made the third rappel. Shown are: the rough location of where we found the next station (4) and where we pulled our ropes and starting climbing (5)

Looking down while I made the third rappel. Shown are: the rough location of where we found the next station (4) and where we pulled our ropes and starting climbing (5)

 

Route and conditions:

Vent du Dragon has two easy first pitches. P1 was mostly snow with a couple of hooks on rocks in-between.  The ramp from P1 to P2 had nice neve conditions, and mellow climbing, through finding gear was a bit tricky (single BD #2/#3 placement half way on ramp, near the arrete).  The second two pitches each have a distinct crux, and given the snowy conditions carried their own set of obstacles.

P0-P2:

From “station 4” above, Simon and I each coiled some rope, thew it over our shoulders, and simul-climbed to the top of P2.  We passed the anchor for the top of P1 on the left, which comes after a small ice step.  The ice step can be avoided by following a runnel on the left, and is at about 30m from the base of the gully.  The P1 anchor is another 20m up and on climbers left.  I clipped the first anchor, and continued up rightwards to the ramp that leads to the second anchor on a face (bolt + pin).  Finding gear required being a bit creative given the height of the snow and lack of quality ice. Again, as mentioned in the several trip reports, rock pro >> ice pro.

Simon mid-way through P2, the P1 anchor beyond the small snow arrete behind him.
Simon mid-way through P2, the P1 anchor beyond the small snow arrete behind him.

P3:

Simon led the beautiful P3 ice runnel.   The slightly aerated ice made for great sicks, but lousy screws. Simon found a nice nut placement out right, a screw up higher, and eventually made it to what turned out to be the first of two cruxes on the pitch.  He initially tried avoiding the roof by moving out left onto the face.  This became thin and hard to protect.  After back tracking to the base of the roof, Simon was able to get some good rock pro in (BD.5 near the start, with possibility for a #3 higher).  The large icicle blocking the exit made the move a bit strenuous, requiring some blind awkward swinging, followed by very high feet. I followed this on my knees, and did some lay-backing on the rock flake within the chimney

Simon notching in a nut on the wall on the right
Simon notching in a nut on the wall on the right

After moving through the crux, Simon reached what is typically a small chimney.  When he yelled down that it was completely blocked (snow and ice), I didn’t believe him until I then saw it for myself later – completely un-passable.  He led up and left from the typical chimney move.  This and a few other spots on the route required cleaning out substantial amounts of dry powder to find rock or ice beneath.  Eventually he reached the belay with a few yips of joy.  By this point the weather had turned a bit sour and I followed up.

Simon just below the roof, the typical crux on P3.
Simon just below the roof, the typical crux on P3.

P4:

I led pitch 4, which started out nicely on more aerated ice, before quickly becoming an exercise in snow removal.  After a few shallow screws placements.  I had reached the right leaning ramp which heads up to beneath the roof.  There was 30cm of powder covering everything.  I cleared the snow as I went and found the route to be very dry underneath, rocks and cracks for hooks and feet.  With a fair amount of effort strenuously, I made it into the roof, using an in-situ sling and some cams between frozen blocks for pro.

To get to the belay, you have to make a committing move to the left, with a ledge for your feet.After some cleaning I was able to find two cam placements (#3) and (#1) to protect the move.    Luckily the snow/ice on the ledge beyond the cave held my picks firmly.  Wet like I had just gone swimming due to the abundance of snow down low, I made it to the anchor on the slab/face beyond the cave.

P5 and the rest of Cosmiques Arrete:

We finished the climb by following left out the snow ramp, and then simul-climbing/soloing the rest of the Cosmiques Arrete.  As I cleaned up the belay to follow him to around the corner, Simon yelled, “Come on around, its like a motor-way over here!”

I had not yet done the Cosmique before, and it was pretty stunning.  I am not sure if I will have time to do it in its entirety, but I can see why it is such a classic.

Looking back (SW?) on the Cosmiques Arrete
Looking back (SW?) on the Cosmiques Arrete

 

We were pretty psyched at the end of the day.  The route has been mentioned as a new classic in many places where I have read about it, and it lived up the expectations despite the snow conditions.  The good news is that we cleaned a lot of that powder off for the next party.  The bad news is it might remain a bit dry. Hopefully this report helps make your day as good as our was!

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