As November arrived and the Indian summer waned I prepared myself for a month of rain and wind having not planned on heading away anywhere sunny or warm before the onset of Winter. A last minute suggestion from Dave to head to the Alps for a week didn’t take much thought and with a week of stellar weather forecast it was easy to make the call to jump on a flight to Chamonix.
With most of the lifts closed and okay but sporadic reports of conditions in the mountains we figured we would get something done. Arriving in Chamonix we made a quick turnaround and began the long slog up the Plan d’Aiguille hut to climb the Carrington-Rouse route the following day. On arriving at the hut it took nearly as long to find water, the effects of the hot summer were evident. It was second time lucky for us on this route as we had tried a few years previous but not got very far due to various reasons, however the conditions were good and the climbing was great, well worth going back for!
That evening and the next morning where spent hmming and haaing about what to do next, four days of great weather were forecast and the potential for good conditions up high gave the potential for something bigger. Really, despite the procrastination, we knew all along what the plan was.
Last Autumn when the Alps seemed to be plastered in styrofoam neve and hero ice numerous hard and impressive ascents were being done, one ascent captured the imagination the most for a cool picture of a French guy (Ben Guigonnet) leading a crack in a corner with ice tools and rock shoes. They (Ben and Fred Degoulet) went on to enchain that route, the Gabarrou-Silvy, with the Bonatti Vaucher on the Grandes Jorasses. All very impressive, so impressive I didn’t think it was in my league but nonetheless the seed had been planted. A couple of weeks later friends Calum, Tom along with Jon Bracey climbed the route using the same tactics and again the photos grew that seed.
Having breakfast in Chamonix on the Wednesday morning all the chat pointed to giving it a go. A couple of Slovenians had climbed it it two weeks previous which really told us nothing as they were Slovenians.
With heavy and tired legs (turns out ascending from and back to the valley in 24 hours is rather tiring…who’d have thought!) we made the approach to the bivvy on the rognon below the Dru. The following morning at first light we picked our way across the chaotic Nant Blanc Glacier and trudged through crusty snow to the base of the route which, thanks to the wonders of 3G and Google in the bivvy site, we had an idea of what we were looking for!
The route was first climbed in August 1978 and the first half climbs a prominent series of corners and grooves on a 300m rock pillar directly below the summit of the Aiguille Sans Nom arriving at a snowy arête leading to the ice and mixed climbing on the upper headwall. The pitches on the rock tower are around 6a-6c and would have been climbed as rock pitches to give a route of two halves, rock climbing followed by ice and mixed. Comparable to the NE Spur Direct on Les Droites but harder and more sustained. Climate change has undoubtedly affected the ability of teams to climb this route in summer so it’s now considered an ideal autumn/winter objective with the lower pitches being mixed climbed/dry tooled…call it what you like!
A reasonably warm and comfortable bivvy that night set us up for what turned out to be a long day. The top half of the route serves up a different day to the first with fantastic ice and mixed climbing to the top of the Aiguille Sans Nom. Thin but good conditions provided some interesting, thinky climbing and with good ice and mostly good rock we were approaching the ridge where we turned left and headed off to the top of the Aiguille Verte.
Topping out on the Aiguille Verte in the cold, windy dark there was a quick handshake for Dave becoming a mountaineer then it was off to find the top of the Whymper Couloir. Time disappeared into the black hole of a cold November night as we did rap after rap down the very dry and rocky couloir to finally exit on the glacier. Once again I found myself wandering around on the Talefre Glacier in the dark and, some time later, we exited onto the moraines and made our way to the path leading to the Courvercle hut where we immediately lay down and fell into the kind of deep sleep that only comes when you know that it’s finally over and you can relax.