Shit Route

Since I made my way 2/3rds of the way up the Rebuffat-Terray route last week with Tom Grant I have been keen to get in some more mixed routes before the snow starts to fall and stick, and the approaches get longer; The Aiguille du Midi closes in the first week of November.

I had heard that a couple of my friends Alex and Ally had climbed Vent du Dragon on the north face of the Cosmiques Arete and after Tom had also climbed it last week and said it was in good condition I thought that could be my next objective.

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Vent du Dragon follows roughly the red line.

On Tuesday I bumped in to James Clapham, a very strong climber who took my up my first Alpine climb, Aiguille du tour-Table couloir, over a year ago. He mentioned that he is heading for work in Scotland on Saturday and was keen to get on one last route before he leaves.

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Pitch 3 of Vent du Dragon, perfect 75′ gully, Taken the day before. Climbers unknown.

Meeting at the Midi at 8:15 there was a lot of climbers who already had their helmets on and looked ready to go, this was a good sign that they were going to rap of the bridge and head to the same route we were going for.

We tried to be quick out of the bin and down the tunnel but despite our speed there were at least 6 teams ready to rap. Vent du Dragon was out of the question!

Climbing for me is fun, I don’t want to get involved with 12 or so people trying to get on the same route then having ice and spindrift hailing from above for the whole climb!

As I was up the Midi the day before scouting routes and checking conditions I suggested the ‘Shit Route’. I had heard about it before and had a good idea of the route; Emily had climbed it last month. It gets its name because the top pitch of ice is made from the overflow of the toilets, or so I’m told!

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The ‘Shit Route’ is the obvious gully starting up from the red arrow and finishing on the hanging ice.

There was only one team on the platform when we went to rap down the route and they took their time so we started rapping down the route. There are 2 50m rappels to the bottom of the 100m mixed gully. James did have to climb back up 10m after the first rap as the rope became stuck in a crack.

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After James had built a belay and I had joined him we started the climb. With the steep icy granite walls all around you get a true north face atmosphere.

James started up the first mixed pitch with no real difficulties.

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I then came up second, this was some of the hardest mixed climbing that I had done but I felt safe on top rope and really enjoyed the climbing.

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Meeting again at the belay there was only one pitch left to climb.

The next pitch was slightly harder with some difficult moves near the top, finishing on 15m of 85’ water ice which had a distinct smell of toilet water and cleaning products.

As James was nearing the top of the Ice he knocked down what he thought was either frozen turf, or a frozen turd. Whatever it was it hit me on the knee and drew blood through my soft-shell trousers. James then finished the ice and was onto the metal platform and started setting up a belay for me to second.

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I was quick seconding the first 20m then I hit the steep mixed ground before the ice which I found much harder than the lower section. I had one new pick on my Quarks, Snell had only one in stock and after reading my last blog my Dad decided that I could use some new ones for my birthday, I wish they had 2 in stock! Before you got on to the hanging ice there was an awkward step over some large rock bulges and you had to get some high axe holds over the ice and then pull yourself up and over, it was daunting and hard but I made it over without falling just breaking a big sweat.

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I was now on the 85’ ice and my calves were burning, James wanted me to stop for a photo and I gave him one second before moving again, so I could get off my front points and rest my legs. I was up on the Cosmiques ridge and into the sun and I could relax.

We were 2 hours on the climb plus 30 mins for the 2 rappels down. We were chuffed that we had managed to climb something even after our first choice was a no go. Finishing at midday you could still see many teams on the Vent du Dragon and I was glad not to be stuck in the thick of it on hat route with all those climbers.

Thanks to James for the climb and some photos and my Dad for the new pick(s)!

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Rebuffat-Terray, V5 M 550m, Aiguille des Pelerins 3318m

After living with Tom Grant for over a year this was my first climb with him. He could find no-one else to climb this challenging mixed route so in the end he had to settle with me, even though I thought that the route might be slightly above my level, but with nothing else to do I would give it a go! What we climbed was mainly an ice and snow route because it was so filled in; normally there is more mixed ground and ice filled corners.

The black dot indicates roughly where we turned around.

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We arrived at first bin at the Aiguille du Midi cable car at 8:30 and we were well on our way, after a quick toilet stop, by 9am.

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The nice footpath quickly changed to breaking trail through huge boulder fields in the moraines in sometimes thigh high crusty snow. After an hour we had made it through this minefield and onto the lower slopes of the Aiguille des Pelerins and we were ready for crampons to start the climb.

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To get to the start of the serious climbing we had to start up the small mixed gully to reach some 55/60 degree neve slopes that took you up to the first pitch.

Once at the start of the first pitch I could get a grasp of the extremity of the climb and it didn’t look too difficult, I changed my opinion after the first pitch difficulties though!

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The first mixed pitch. 65/80 degrees of mixed ground.

I was still feeling ok after this first mixed pitch and then there was another 60m or so of open neve to climb before the next mixed pitch which was steeper than the first one.

We had a little trouble when Tom was trying to get over a 80/90 degree ice bulge which did not look very safe, and three Italian climbers were rappelling over him and kicking down a lot of ice and spindrift. He made it over after a short wait hanging from his tools and then it was my turn to second it.

The next pitch was the hardest climbing I have done on rock or mixed. I really had to trust my front points and tools as I tried to reach over the bulge and get a strong hold before putting all my weight on two axes, which are very blunt and in need of new picks!

After I managed to use brute strength and no technique to overcome the crux move I had to stop for a minute or two to regain my breath before joining Tom at the belay.

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Me just after the vertical wall and just after my five minute breather!!

The next pitch looked very manageable but I insisted to Tom that we head down, I was pleased to have made it as far as we had and I really didn’t want to miss last bin at 4:30 and have to walk from the plan down to Chamonix! We had climbed about 350m of the 550m route.

Tom was fine with this as I only agreed to climb with him if I decided when were done! So with this we started the 5 or 6 rappels we did to get back down to the start of the route.

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The next pitch above where we turned around, The route is in a much fatter condition than Tom remembers it the last time he climbed it about 3 years ago.

The rappels went smoothly and we made quick ground back down.

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Me on one of the last rappels, you get a feel for how steep this route was.

We had a much quicker walk back to the Plan as there was a more established path in by this time. We made last bin and I still had a smile on my face!

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Thanks to Tom for the climb and for wearing my GoPro and getting some cool shots!!

Contamine-Grisolle, Tacul Ski descent

Contamine-Grisolle. II AD. 350m

Initially I wanted to go up and climb this route on the Monday with the intention of skiing powder on the North Face of the Tacul. However when checking the webcams on Monday morning at 6:30am you could see nothing but cloud so we decided to bail on that idea looking at Tuesdays forecast we thought it would be a much better option.

Rising early on Tuesday there was some cloud visable from the valley floor but upon viewing the webcams and seeing no cloud up high I was straight on the phone to Emily and arranged to meet at the Aiguille du Midi at 7:30.

We were at the top by 8:30 after a slight delay and down the arête with our skis on by 8:45.

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Skiing from half way down the arête we already had some nice powder turns with just over 6” of fresh snow. Skis on our feet made the approach to the base of the triangle very quick and we had our skis on our back and crampons on by 9am.

The start of the Contamine-Grisolle is on the far left of the Triangle behind the lowest rock spur.

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To start there is a 150m 50’ slope to climb before you hit the first rock step and mixed gully.

Emily climbing the lower snow slopes before the first rock step.

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The first mixed gully was easy to protect and we moved together up it fairly quickly, we were slower than other groups but they didn’t have 188cm planks of wood on their rucksack, which made negotiating some of the narrow trickier sections of mixed quite a delicate operation.

A couple of hours in and the wind had picked up and it was really cold, struggling to keep my hands warm I was in and out of hot-aches and cursing a lot!

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There was a lot of mixed ground in the middle of the climb then a few snow slopes that had changed into bullet hard ice in places, which made moving very precarious and slow going. We tried to place protection as much as we could but there were some places where it was not possible so extra care had to be taken.

The exit mixed gully was knackered, a combination of little or no ice and what was there would break easily or was slushy, this coupled with little protection made the last pitch take a while and we were both pretty tired by this point.

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Finally on to the ridgeline and a small mixed climb to the summit slopes.

The wind on these exposed top slopes was blistering and we tried to make a quick pace to get some relief but the altitude and our tiredness made the last 200m very hard. As we had both summated the Tacul in previous weeks we decided to just head down without topping out as by this point it was not looking like we were going to make last bin.

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Above the clouds on the summit slopes to Mont-Blanc du Tacul, with Mont Maudit on the left and the Dome de Gouter ahead.

We walked down the the lower ridge of the Tacul before putting our skis on as the snow was heavily wind affected and didn’t make for good skiing.Watching skiers come down the north face of the Tacul on our ascent we could see some great snow and some nice big powder turns, this is what kept us going throughout the climb. The ski down was amazing, and not just for the end of June! Nice powder and so much fresh to be had as only about 3-5 skiers had been down.

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We made a quick descent of the Tacul and tried to carry as much speed as we could off the bottom so we had less walking to do back up the arête. It was hard going because of the long hard day we had but we just made it to last bin, a couple minutes late but we were on it!

Thanks to Emily for another fantastic day Climbing and Skiing, and another Epic!