Cosmiques Arête

After yesterdays big day I woke up pretty late so only had the afternoon for some climbing. It was still great weather up high so I teamed up with Owen to finally get round to climbing the Cosmiques Arete. This is a very popular route and is so easily accessible from the Aiguille du Midi lift.

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This route is a round trip from the Aiguille du midi, down the east ridge and back up the west ridge back to the top station. The guide book says allow 45mins for the approach and 2-3 hours climbing. we did the whole thing in 3 hours, which wasn’t that bad as we did meet a couple of teams, stopped for a sandwich and placed a lot of gear pitching a few of the sections.

The climb starts next to the Cosmiques refuge on the obvious rock and snow ridge leading back up to the Aiguille du Midi. The route was very well travelled so the path was easy to find.

IMG_0051Owen starting up the first snow and rock slopes from the Cosmiques refuge.

There was plenty of places to place gear on this initial slope, it is not essential but the snow was getting very soft by this time, 1:30pm, and we felt safer with some gear in.

IMG_0052There are some very exposed ridges and some great views on offer.

IMG_0055After the first small summit there is a small 20/30m rappel, there is a bolted belay so the rap is fine and quick to set up. It is awkward as there are a few steps on the rappel that you have to climb over with the rope still in your hand.

IMG_0330Following the obvious route you come back around onto the south face then start to climb again back up to the west ridge, this section is also exposed but once again you are rewarded with some great views back down the Chamonix valley and with Mont Blanc behind.

IMG_0057 The second rappel is a little trickier, you have to sit in a difficult position to set it up then squeeze yourself through this narrow hole to get down, a prussik is advisable, as you need two hands sometimes!

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Owen climbing up the first of the rock crux’s, there are some big foot holes, there are two bolts just above Owen and we set up a belay from here to pitch the next couple of moves.

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After a short very exposed traverse you reach the final chimney that leads you to the viewing platform of the Aiguille du Midi. This was the highlight of the climb, nice mixed climbing with plenty of places for gear. It is a challenge climbing with crampons on and is harder than rock boots, you have to rely on your points and trust they will hold!

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Looking back down the exit chimney at Owen, he was very hot at this point after deciding to put his down jacket on for some reason!

After climbing back up the ladder to the viewing platform you are done and can walk straight back to the lift que. A classic route that was great fun, will definitely be doing it again.

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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!

Mont Blanc du Tacul Summit 4,248m

After turning back from the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul on saturday I was determined to go back and bag it. Finishing work early on Wednesday I headed up the Aiguille du Midi to bivi at the Col so I could get an early start. I was thinking that if I was feeling good I would have a crack at Mont Blanc!

After skiing down the arete I soon found a nice bivi spot that someone had left and settled in for the night with a wake up time of 3:45am.

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The Bivi gave me plenty of time to look at the face again and scope out the best possible ski line down so I could get most of the untouched snow. My decision to bivi was rewarded with a stunning sunset, with all the higher peaks turning their usual pinkish red.

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It rained earlier in the week and this put down a fair bit of snow up high and a friend had skied the Gervasutti Couloir on the Tuesday and said it was nice powder up on the north faces of the Tacul and Maudit.

Leaving the bivi just after 4am there were already dozens of head torches working their way up the Tacul, mostly on skis but there were some parties who were heading for Mont Blanc on foot. I made quick progress in the dark and soon reached the Bergschrund.

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Starting off in the dark is great. You have more of the day and you don’t get too hot starting out. It does mean you have to take more care in your route as you may not see things that you would in daylight.

Just over a third of the way up the face I was having trouble with my skins sticking and my skis staying on the skinny track, after using a lot of extra energy trying to pull myself up I decided to just put crampons on, skis on the back and carry on up the walking path which was firm and well travelled.

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The sun started to rise about 5:30am when I was just over half way up the face, this was nice as I could see better and the warmth gave me a little extra spurt of energy to push on to the top. I hadn’t settled to the altitude as well as I would have hoped to and was starting to get a headache so made the decision that I would just go to the summit of the Tacul and then head back down.

There is a small mixed climb to get to the summit, about 50m, and as I was on my own with no rope I did bring two axes which made it easier as there were some tricky moves with long run outs below, two axes also made down climbing after a lot easier and safer.

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A small part of the summit climb, photo is taken with GoPro which takes away some of the steepness.

On the summit for 6:30am I found I was quicker than saturdays attempt and the sun was well and truly up by now and I sat on the summit for 20 minutes soaking up the sun and taking in the views.

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I was pleased to have climbed the Tacul after failing due to weather on saturday. Next comes what all the effort was for…The Skiing!

Putting my skis on just below the rocky summit the snow was hard pack and quite wind affected for the summit ridge, this soon changed as I dropped into the North Face, It was two day old powder with a very thin breakable crust on and there was loads of fresh! As I was on my own I didn’t get a photo of any skiing and as I went light I didn’t take a helmet so no p.o.v pictures. All I managed was a little photo of some fresh turns I made on the lower half of the face.

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It was a little less deep here than up higher but it was really nice snow, I didn’t want to attack it with full speed as the parts that I had decided to ski were above the larger parts of the Bergschrund and some large seracs, but that was where the best snow was to be found!

I was back down to the bivi about 7:45 and after packing up my gear headed up the arete to the Aiguille du Midi to go back to town. There were hoards of people coming down the arete and thankfully they all gave way to me, partly because they could see I had little energy to notice them let alone move aside! On to the 8:45 bin and back to town for just after 9am! Is it too early for a well done beer?

I am glad I set off early as I am writing this at 12pm and its over 25’c in Chamonix, It would be roasting if I had set out from first bin!