Training - An Epic - Part One
Written by Ross Cooper
As part of our Himalayan bid in the coming
year, and with the small winter experience
I held, I announced to Chris that we we're
taking a summer trip to the alps to get some
rock and ice in on the bigger scale. I had
already sampled the bigger scale with several
ascents of the East face of Tryfan, which
totalled in 1600ft of rock being climbed over
two days, but all along it had felt without
commitment. Brisk retreats could be easily
employed, and rather than the standard decent,
hurried rushing down scree gullies promptly
saw us back at camp within an hour and a half.
We'd also ventured out on winter walking in
Scotland, but that
trip within itself had been a mixed blessing,
with me missing out on the big push on the
Ben due to rubbing boots and a lack of confidence
in my own stamina. The question of stamina
was to be very soon answered.
We booked the ferry to take us to Cherbourg
on the 9th of July, with the prospect of driving
down to Font, to a hotel, and then on down
to Chamonix the following day. Needless to
say by half past midnight we'd failed to find
the Hotel Ibis, and frustrations were showing
with 9 hours driving behind us that day.
On discovery of the hotel, which did itself
no favours in revealing it's location, we
were faced with the next frustrating event;
finding the only room left in the hotel (does
this sound familiar...?) being mistakenly
booked by the agent as a double bed. Too exhausted
to care we got a few things from the car,
which had done amazingly well considering
the hammering it had during that day, and
we both proceeded to pass out on the oversized
bed. I failed to even wash or take my shoes
off, and was surprised to wake finding it
gone half nine in the morning.
Unsure of how long exactly it was going to
take us to get to Chamonix, I bustled Chris
out of the room, and downstairs to have a
quick 'all we could eat' breakfast. Swiftly
followed by us falling back into the roller
skate of a car and promptly set off to get
lost around the back roads again. Making good
time, and being able to average over 80mph
on the main roads of France helped us make
a good recovery and saw us at the Molasses
camp site before 7 in the evening.
I found myself to be pleasantly surprised
the next day. With the early morning haze
clearing to reveal beautiful corniced snow
slopes, and intricate blue glaciers. Also
an amazing complexity within the crevasses,
that they encompassed.
The cable car which ran up to the Aiguille
du Midi disappeared into soft grey clouds,
and a warm feeling of success fell on me,
with the previous doubts that had ran through
my head on the journey down being dispelled.
There was obviously no exaggeration of worthy
of these lumps of rock and ice!
We drove the short distance to the centre
of Chamonix, and spent an hour or so shopping,
picking up a map, and guides to the area.
The remainder of the day was spent enjoying
the valley sport routes, pushing grades of
6b+, and heights in excess of 250ft. Our confidence
soared, with reliance and trust in the widely
spaced bolts as we went on to do overhanging
and sustained routes.
By the time the first weekend was coming around
I was beginning to really want to get on some
ice and mixed ground, so we planned to take
the cable car up on Saturday morning to the
Aiguille du Midi, and climb a classic, not
too difficult route.
When we reached the telegraphique station
it was already gone ten, and we knew we'd
made a late start. It didn't deter us, and
by 11:30 we were kitted up, roped and ready.
A natural order of progression followed suit,
and I felt with the slightly higher experience,
at least with climbing and rope-work, that
I should be responsible to take the lead.
We emerged from the ice tunnel at
the end of the South Piton, half blinded from
the flashes from Japanese tourist groups.
To the tourists we must of given a real sense
of bravado; the way they posed with us for
photos, and pestered us with questions. Embarrased
and slightly annoyed we pushed out through
the gate, and let all the frustrations lift
away with perfect snow conditions as we plodded
down the sharp decent ridge.
Leading down the slope I passed by a guy,
who appeared to be a guide, with his second,
or client following, and looking near total
exhaustion. I stopped, and stepped down off
the ridge onto the sheer side of the snow
slope. He acknowledged us warmly as they passed
by, with the client hardly raising his head.
The ground eased, and the caution we'd exercised
on the exposed part of the ridge lifted from
us. We ditched slow plod for a speedy glissade
down the gentle soft snow embankment down
to the glacier proper, cutting ten minutes
from the difficulty. Continuing our walk across
the glacier was so memorable. We stopped,
and took off our crampons - they balled up
too frequently, and quickly crossed the glacier
until just short of the climbers hut.
We'd made up good time, and at half twelve
we were stood at the base of the magnificent
rising snow slope which led up to the start
of Cosmic Arete. I felt that Chris was feeling
the altitude, going slower then he normally
seemed to. I felt fantastic, barely noticing
the thin air at 3800m; odd for me to have
the stamina I thought.
We front pointed up the slope to an apex in
a ridge, where the first rock section started.
I quickly led off, whilst Chris secured himself
into the belay. Finding the rock difficult
and cumbersome with all my winter kit, and
a weighty pack on
my back majorly changed perspective on alpine
climbing. The difficulty probably being only
Vdiff was very awkward, and found myself lurching
up the rock, and throwing myself at big granite
cracks, hoping I wouldn't topple out backwards.
I scratched my new watch, which ****ed me
right off; and I tucked it away safely into
the chest pouch on my salo's. Chris followed
up and led through on easier rock and secured
another belay at the beginning of another
mixed section. We moved on further, both quite
enjoying the change of the ordinary scenery
we were used to on Dartmoor - 'just a bit
of a change eh?
The next pitch looked a bit intimidating,
climbing up and over a small ridge I was presented
with a 70ft steep 55 degree snowface, which
was at a bisected angle to a gully shoot that
ran off the steep side of the face with several
hundred feet to the bottom. I nervously kicked
steps into the soft snow. Then thinking better
of it knocked a peg in a thin crack, and extended
a long sling out to act as some sort of runner
if I came to slip. I traversed out with a
new sense of confidence, enjoying the warmth,
but cursing my thirst.
A knee-jerk reaction saw me trying to ice
axe arrest as without any warning I shot down
the gully towards the huge drop. The axe was
useless, and only the snow digging in to me
stopped me before any weight came onto the
rope. Slightly shaking, realising
there was only a very little amount of slope
left before I would of been hanging upside
down on the end of a 8.5 mm rope 400ft from
the glacier. I quickly moved back up my slide
path, taking more care with each foothold,
and moved to the base of the steep snow slope.
Chris moved over, none the wiser for my escapade
down the gully, and suggested that I took
the lead to be quicker. I didn't fancy the
prospect of moving up the next section. There
was no hope of any runners, and it would've
of been very painful if I'd slipped. The neve
was very crisp on the surface, good snow underneath,
but like a layer of ice a centimetre thick
on the surface. I got to the top quite quickly
and found myself on a magnificent saddle of
snow, with a bigish drop down the far side
broken up by gravel and dirt covered ledges.
The South Piton shone like a golden Oscar
calling me to victory and sanctuary.
A golden bronze shield lit by the sun, standing
strong though ages long. I was feeling worried.
Usually an omen. Time was getting on for 3:00
I worked out that we must be at least half-way
with the hardest ground behind us.
The last cable
car was at 6:00 we thought. So three hours
to complete 50m ascent, and 150m of traversing.
It'd be tight, but I thought we could make
it ok. I took one look at the next section
and it concerned me, looking steep, and time
consuming. I moved up, and made an awkward
undercut move on wet rock round a corner.
Crampons grated and skidded on hard dirty
granite. I could see where to aim for. Footprints,
and more further down on clean snow where
we were to traverse under a golden pillar.
I fixed a nut, and shouted to Chris to give
me slack as I climbed down. I touched a ledge,
climbed up and right to where I could see
a bolt for the rappel, I thought. 'Safe, come
on quick mate, were tight on time. Chris followed
quickly round the corner muttering that I'd
missed a bolt or peg or something, and that
I should've gone up. 'just come on, never
mind which way, I'm 'ere now, so it doesn't
lent back on the nut, and with a very sudden
graunch it ripped out the crack and the great
mass of Chris and his bag disappeared down
and away out of sight. I whispered to myself
in disbelief. He'd come tight on the rope,
but not tight enough: he must of landed on
a ledge, 'Chris...?' I yelled as loud as I
could muster. A quiet response wafted back.
'Are you okay, Chris? Yeah, but I've hurt