At the end of September, Sophie and I finally made it back home to Chamonix and what a welcome home it was. After a month on the road for the Alpine Coast to Coast followed by two and a half weeks back in the UK, both of us have been craving normality, sleeping in our own bed, and not living out of a bag.
Our trip back to the UK
We had always planned to head back to the UK after finishing our epic adventure as we wanted to have a party to celebrate the achievement, Sophie had Ironman Wales and a Paris to London ride to lead, and we wanted to catch up with family and friends.
Sadly, just as we packed up to leave, Chamonix decided to shake off the long summer of unstable and poor weather and open up into stunning end of season conditions.
I had a wonderful time catching up with close friends, getting out climbing in the Peak District, and eating far too much chocolate cake but, by the time we headed back home, we were ready for a break and to get back to normality.
Getting back home, the weather gods decided they wanted to treat us and we’ve been blessed with continued good weather that, only now, two weeks later, is threatening to turn. I quickly made plans to get out onto the hill and I have not been disappointed.
Amazing autumn mixed climbing conditions
While July was a wash out and we were getting ready for our August trip, I was looking at any long term forecast I could find. New to Chamonix, I had heard a rumour;
If you have a wet August, you can get an amazing autumn for mixed climbing.
The extra snow around during this month will melt in September, filling cracks and covering slabs with thin ice, creating ephemeral and rarely forming ice climbs on the North Faces of the our local mountains . I have not been disappointed and neither has anybody else here.
A giant classic of the area, the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses, has formed with once in a lifetime conditions that sadly, this year, I’m not experienced enough to make the most of. Very hard lines are seeing multiple ascents every day with some people running laps on the 1000m face, unheard of previously.
My objectives are somewhat smaller but, for me, no less epic. I first set out to check out the Goulotte Allemands on Mont Blanc du Tacul with Charlie Boscoe, a rarely forming ice and mixed climb just one hour walk from the Aiguille du Midi lift. Nice.
We only made it two pitches up, both getting in a good lead, before the thin ice gave up and vanished leaving us with the prospect of steep dry tooling that neither of us were keen for. Upon bailing, we abseiled over a steep and very technical 15m gully that looked like it was worth a shot and so we set up a top rope for a few laps. I’m not to sure on difficulty grading just yet but the Mountain Man, Charlie, put it at Scottish grade 6 or 7. Amazing.
A few days later, I headed up to the same place with Tim Oliver, someone I met early in the summer and have climbed a few times with. He has been out a lot and has gained an enviable tick list, having been on most of the routes I had in mind. We managed to find Inadvertance, a thin line just left of the Goulotte Allemands that neither of us had climbed before and planned a two day trip to climb that then the classic Gabarrou-Albonini on the East Face of the Tacul.
We set off but it never felt right. first my crampons broke so I needed to spend 20 minutes fixing them while everyone rushed down to claim their routes of the day, after that, I just wasn’t feeling it. Something didn’t feel right about the climbing and, when we bailed after two pitches to find the local choucas (crows, to you and me) eating all of Tim’s food for the next two days, I took it as a sign and said I wanted to bail completely. Tim was understandably disappointed but I knew it was for the best.
My Route of the Summer
In June, Graeme Barr contacted me on Twitter asking if I wanted to get out on a climb. Graeme runs a construction business with his brothers in the South-West of Scotland and owns a flat in Cham Sud with his wife. They aim to come out here as regularly as possible, mostly for skiing but he is a strong climber and was eager to get out on a route.
Our first climb together was an attempt on the Papillons Ridge on the Aiguille du Peigne, a stunning rock climb that, due to a lightening storm, we only made it halfway up. Even with the failed attempt, I had a great time climbing with Graeme, his cool head and friendly banter meant I just had a great day on the hill and a good feeling about climbing with him.
He messaged me a few weeks ago saying that he was coming back out and had one day to get a climb in. His eyes were on the Profit-Perroux, a striking ice and mixed climb in an area I had wanted to climb in since I first saw it.
The route is on the Aiguille du Midi’s North-West Face and to access it you have to make a rather thrilling 40m free hanging abseil of a bridge filled with tourists. After this it is 5 more abseils to the base of the route. I have been nervous about the first time I headed down here for a number of reasons but mostly, the commitment. Once you abseil off, there is no way out but to climb your way out. Uh oh.
As we set up the ropes for the first abseil, I was ready before Graeme. I carried on pretending to sort my gear out in the hope that he would finish so that he could go first. Enough was enough though, and I knew I just needed to get on with it. Stepping over the barrier was pretty exhilarating and swinging free once you commit to the abseil was awesome, especially with everyone taking photographs.
After an hour of abseils, we made it to the base of the route and it looked to be in perfect conditions. Graeme set off on lead first and we were not disappointed. As we made I made it to the second belay, and my turn on lead, I looked up and a steep and thin ice wall. I suddenly lost all confidence and started to make excuses. This looked pretty much vertical with ice so thin you wouldn’t be able to get any protection in. Graeme graciously recommended me to get a little closer and see if it looked easier once up close and that, if I want, her would take the lead if I still didn’t like it.
As I got closer to the ice, it did indeed lay back more and, once at the foot of it, I got super-psyched to start climbing it. It was stunning. Much thicker than it looked from afar and not as steep, the climbing was brilliant and I was off.
Arriving at the belay I made a very rookie error of taking off a glove and not zipping it properly in my jacket. It fell. Damn.
We carried on, swinging leads for a two more pitches after this; Graeme getting the amazing crux mixed pitch, and me finishing off with a 55m couloir onto the Cosmiques Arête with short steps up to 90º.
Topping out, both of us had massive grins on our faces. Without a doubt, this was the best climb I’ve had all summer; a great partner, perfect conditions, and hard climbing. I say hard, and it was definitely challenging, but it felt like it was a difficulty I should be on. A step up in any route I’ve led before, I still felt comfortable and in control the whole way up. I see this route as another benchmark in my climbing progression, a proper route that I climbed in good style, and confidently.
After an amazing summer, it is easy to forget how far I have come. This route sums it up perfectly as I not only climbed it well but felt I truly belonged on that sort of terrain, a long standing dream of mine. I feel like I am becoming the alpinist I want to be, climbing the routes I’ve dreamed of, and loving every second.