Monday, 20 July 2015

THE ALPINE MEET - Mid July

Once again we were privileged to join the Alpine meet of the Alpine Club, Climbers' Club, FRCC and the Wayfarers'.  

Ken Fyles and Helder Machado were first to arrive at a very hot Chamonix (37 degrees).  It had been hot for six weeks and the snow routes were in very unstable condition.  All routes to Mont Blanc and most of the 4000+ metre peaks were closed as were some of the lesser peaks such as the Chardonnet. 

Ken and Helder's first route started from the Albert Premier Hut to the summit of the Aiguille de Tour (3544 metres).  This was a good route choice yielding glaciers and snow in reasonable condition and a fine scramble to the summit of the Tour.

Temperatures dropped in the valley and the weather became unstable giving several rainy days.  Our next big trip was to the Argentierre hut with the aim of doing a new rock climb behind the hut called "Gateau de Riz".  We had no guide to get to the hut but we were advised it was easy - just take the two cable cars to the "Grand Montet" and walk down towards the Argentierre Glacier and cross it to the hut. 


Ken with the upper reaches of the Argentierre Glacier
Simple but when we reached the cable car station we found the upper cable car was closed due to high wind.  What to do?  We took the first cable car then notice footpath signs to the Argentierre Hut.  The path led to the lower part of the Argentierre Glacier.  
Not knowing what to do, we started to walk up the glacier.  Then we spotted a large group in the middle of the glacier walking at a quick pace.  What luck, they must be going to the Argentierre hut, so we followed.  Just by the start of large crevasses they stopped for lunch so we continued getting increasingly lost in the maze of ice and crevasses. 

Then we looked down to see that the large team we'd followed weren't going to the hut at all but had gone to the part of the glacier with the most crevasses to practice crevasse rescue techniques!
Helder just after the difficult pitch on the Gateau de Priz

What to do - the ascent through the maze of crevasses had become impossible.  So we decided to descend and traverse all the way across the glacier hoping to find a point where we could cross the bergschrund onto solid rock.  It wasn't easy but we finally got the chance to cross to some boiler-plate slabs and climb two rope lengths to a path high above the glacier.  This had to be the path from the Grand Montet cable car so we followed it until the glacier became less crevassed and crossed to the hut.  It only took us six hours.

The following day we started early for our rock climb.  Only ten minutes walk from the hut and already in sunshine at 9 am.   The  climb was about 200 metres long and given as 5a (about 4a English grade and well within our capabilities).  It was a new route with traditional protection only between belays.  It was much harder than expected and the crux called "Lucky Luke Crack" and the slab beyond were a good VS grade.
Dave Connelly looks out from the Albert Premier hut.
Descent was by a 25 metre abseil, a V. Diff. traverse and a long, unstable rock gully.  It was already 4 pm when we reached the hut and we had to get down to the campsite as Helder was leaving the following day. 

John on a precarious part of the Via Ferrata
Meanwhile, other St. Helens Mountaineering Club members Dave Connelly and John Hollands were having a very active time on the rock routes of the Aiguille Rouge.  In particular they climbed "Modern Times" (5b) and "Gespard" close to the Index.
Dave and John then took to the modern climbing of via ferrata. 

Dave also teamed up with Wayfarer Terry Kenny to climb Tete Blanche (3429 metres) from the Albert Premier Hut.

The six weeks of extremely high temperatures in the Alps resulted in the strangest climbing season ever but at least by grouping with the Alpine Club and others we were always able to get  first hand information and make the best of it.

PS Dave had the most luxurious tent on the campsite with blow up armchairs and sofa as well as a full kitchen range.  That’s the way to do it!

Article - Ken Fyles