After coming back from the UK on the 15th I was keen to start some alpine climbs. Going up the Midi on Sat 18th and being put off by howling winds and cloud I decided to give it a miss, and then with over a foot of snow falling at 3800m it was definitely a no! The following Monday we saw there was some good weather but I only had until 1:30pm to do anything because of work so decided to ski Grand Envers which turned out to be really good considering it is nearing the end of May.
After skiing Monday with Alistair we decided that because the weather the following day would not allow us to ski again, despite there being a couple of feet of snow up there now, we would aim for the Chèré Couloir on the Tuesday.
It was another work day for me but I managed to change with work and start at 3:20am and then have my second pick up at 6:10pm, this would give us all day for the climb, which we needed!
Tuesday morning we met up at the Midi at about 9 with the first lift going up at 9:30. Walking out on to the arete at 10 there were no tracks going down and alot of fresh snow, this already started to slow us down. After some whiteout navigating we arrived at the start of the climb at 12:00 with only two people just starting the 3rd pitch, there was so much snow!
My 100m trail breaking, with Ally doing the rest, as usual!
Just approaching the start, The Chèré Couloir is the obvious Ice route up the centre of the photo. Difficulty D 200m
Ally on the second pitch.
The conditions were excellent, with really good ice and snow for climbing. We didnt place any protection until I led the last pitch, just clipping on to a couple of pieces of cord on the side of the route.
Me leading my first big alpine route, I placed a couple of screws on this pitch as it was near vertical. Throughout the climb we were being pelted by powder snow avalanches and big spin drifts which resulted in us being very cold all day long and experiencing my first climbing hot aches and screaming a little!
After reaching the top of this last pitch it was on with the down jacket to wait for Ally to top out and start the decent.
To get back down you rappel the same couloir using the bolted belays on the left hand side, opposite side from the accent. There were a total of four raps with the fourth taking you back over the bergschrund way below the start of the climb.
Ally on the first of four rappels.
When we got back down over the schrund we had noticed that our track that we put into the climb had now completely disappeared and that we would have to put another one in to get back to the Midi. We had 2 1/2 hours until the last bin at 5:30pm left so we thought this would be plenty of time. Once again we only had a rough idea of where to go as it was still a complete whiteout with only the Cosmiques Arete coming into view every so often. The snow was even deeper than the morning and the going was slow and tiring.
The snow was over Ally’s knee and he isn’t a short man!
As we slowly got closer to the Midi we could start to hear the announcements over the tannoy that the last departure was in 30mins, then 15, then 10. At this point I rang the office to say that I might not be able to make my pick up at 6:10! This didn’t go down very well, and with a call back almost straight away saying that there was no one else to work it I knew we had to dig deep and get up the arete quickly, this was very hard work as there was no track in and well over a foot of snow. We made it to the top and into the cave at 5:28 and with a quick dash we just made the bin with moments to spare. Down the cable car and into my van and straight to work. This was a very long, very good and very challenging day of Alpine Climbing. Although there was a great deal of suffering throughout the day I loved every minute of it!