August was to be the month of ‘The Alps’ and so after working non stop through June and July I was relieved to get in the car and start driving south for hopefully what would be a month of sun, great rock and great routes. I got all these things in varying amounts!
Paul Swail was already out there and reasonably well acclimatised whereas I was not. So we headed to Saas Grund to make use of the free uplift to get a couple of 4000m peaks in and get my body accustomed to being knackered. The Weissmeiss by its North Ridge gave some good scrambling on good rock and then a lung bursting (for me) snow plod to the summit followed by a rapid descent down the normal route. The Allinahorn was generally just a very long snow plod interspersed with some ice plodding to a busy summit. However it was another summit and served the purpose of getting acclimmatised!
Snow plodding wasn’t on the agenda so with a dodgy forecast around Mont Blanc we headed south to the Ecrins. I had never been to this area before so when Swail suggested the South Pillar of Barres des Ecrins, a ‘classic’ route, I was keen. It is described as a bit loose in the description but we thought, well how loose can it really be!? Turns out very! The route was summed up by me having to do a very exposed traverse on shattered rock with no runners. That was most definitely ‘minus craic’ and freaked me out! I often find that alpine climbing is very much a retrospective enjoyment activity as it usually involves a bit of discomfort, suffering, tiredness etc…all par for the course really. Looking back on this climb even now I can still honestly say I didn’t enjoy it! Interestingly everyone I have talked to afterwards has had the same reaction of ‘What did you do that for!?’ It is a classic though…
With a five day weather window forecast for Chamonix we headed back north with a view to getting on the Peuterey Integrale. As one of the longest routes in the Alps we weren’t expecting to find too many others on it so upon arriving at the Borelli Hut and finding nearly 30 other people all planning on doing the Integrale our hearts sunk a bit. We decided to give it a shot in the hope we could get out front early on….that didn’t happen. After rock fall, gear fall, being used constantly as a human runner we decided to bail after a few 100m’s. The thought of getting involved in the serious rappels at the top was not very appealing with such a circus early on!
After a hit on the Blatiere to climb some solid rock John met up with us and we came up with a plan (cheers Matt) to go have a look at the Grand Montets Ridge to the Aiguille Verte with Tim. Although a bit esoteric it is the very obvious skyline ridge when looking up from Chamonix. A late afternoon start allowed us to climb the chossy traverse ledges at the start that evening. The rest of the route was on very good granite with some great slab pitches and then a straightforward plod to the summit of the Aiguille Verte. Gaston Rebuffat once said that ‘Climbing the Aiguille Verte makes an alpinist a mountaineer’ Happy that we were now mountaineers we set off down the Moine Ridge which soon turned into another chossy pile of rubble at the bottom…standard.
With John better acclimatised and another long spell of grand beau temps forecast we headed round to the south side of Mont Blanc. Having already had an aborted attempt on the Peuterey I wasn’t keen on another attempt so we headed round to have a look at the Central Pillar of Freney.
Taking two days to walk into the Eccles Bivouac gave us time to chill out, eat, drink and sleep before getting on the route. With it being August it was predictably busy and both Eccles huts were full up, though thankfully we got there early to get our beds! The next morning after some faffing around on the approach we arrived at the base of the route and started up the initial pitches. It soon became apparent the quality of this route with fantastic climbing on immaculate granite positioned high up above the Freney Glacier. As you look out around it becomes apparent how committing a place it is to go climbing as there is no easy way out from the Freney Glacier!
The pitches kept on coming and as the mountain warmed up and started to fall down the pillar became an island of calm in a sea of chaos! Arriving at the base of the ‘Chandelle’ the rock kicked back to an impressive, soaring tower of granite. Three pitches of steep, exposed, sustained climbing and traversing (aiding) brought us to the bottom of the crux pitch. This pitch, consisting of an overhanging groove leading into a chimney roof is outrageously positioned at the top of the route and provides an amazing finish to an incredible route.
A bivvy and top out on Mont Blanc at sunrise provided a fitting end to a few weeks in the Alps (the long walk down the Gouter route was not so fitting!).
At the start of this trip I was very keen to get as much in over the few weeks as possible. As the trip went on however, I found it hard to get motivated for big routes and often felt I was just on a list ticking exercise. The Freney Pillar was an amazing way to finish off the trip and afterwards I found I couldn’t get psyched to head back up to climb another AD for the sake of climbing another AD!
After what feels like a mediocre year of climbing I am keen to head into the winter season climbing fit so an Autumn of rock climbing beckons!