Alpine Training - An Epic - Part Two
Written by Ross Cooper

...he's broken his leg... I stared down in disbelief with the rope locked off in the belay device, grit and snow running down where it'd thawed from the friction in the fall. A flush of panic came over me. What do I do? What will people say? Even there I could remember Barney's joke from college of us falling for eternity to our deaths. It was comical there, but not here. I could feel a wave of 'I told you so's' coming over me, and the news reports on the BBC reporting a dramatic helicopter rescue of two English students from a high peak. Just like the one we'd seen from the glacier earlier that day.

Have you broken it Chris?! Don't know!!

What do you mean you don't know! You can either walk on it or you can't. I was getting snappy - an instant sign that I was getting scared - 'are you bleeding?! No, but I've hurt my arm too...!

I couldn't believe what I as hearing. This wasn't supposed to happen. Not here. Not like this. I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer to Jesus. I didn't want to die, I didn't want to have to be rescued.

Chris made his way up and over to me, taking only a few minutes. I was surprised to see him walking and moving quite normally, although slower, and more stiff than normal. His face looked ill, and it concerned me. 'can you carry on? It's not far now to the station.!

Yeah, but I'll be slow.! That's alright, just move as fast as you can!!

I untied from the rope, and threaded it through the bundle of tat that adorned to bolt. I nervously leant back, on the thin rope, and slid down it on my belay plate to the bottom of the wide chimney. Chris followed, and I was relieved to find that the rope didn't jam as I pulled it through and down.

We regrouped our composure, I snapped at Chris to hurry up. I was now getting scared, clock watching my wristwatch, hoping we could complete the final rock pitch in time for the 6:00 cable car. We had just over an hour.

I re-roped, and moved as quickly as I could moving down and under following footprints until below the golden pillar. We then moved up and out rightwards on steep snow. Chris was slow. I didn't blame him. I called myself names, said prayers, and wished that we'd chosen something easier to start with. Less committing.

We moved up the next section, I moved quickly, plunging the shafts of my predator's deep in the snow. The snow was bad, collapsing under foot, not allowing us to move easily upwards. Soon Chris was out of sight. I was below another rock pillar, and could see the final section of rock. Relief of sorts flooded into my head. I settled with biving in the corridors of the Telegraphique. At least there we wouldn't freeze to death, and we could take the first car down in the morning.

I tried moving ahead, but found rope drag impossible, moving back and forth. Pacing like a soon to be father, I tried to mentally urge him on. Will him with a psychic link. I cursed Michel Piola for not giving more detail in the guide book. By the time Chris reached me it was gone 6. We were faced with a difficult decision. I didn't know where to go; up and over the ridge and climb from the left, or to the right, near a big chimney. I tried to pass the buck to Chris, unload the responsibility: I couldn't. I felt I started it - I will finish it.

We moved down and right, and promptly were presented with a ferocious looking corner with a peg in a crack, and a bundle of slings hanging down from the corner. The choice was made. I thought to myself that this must be the final F4 pitch to lead us to the station. I selected a number of wires and moved awkwardly up the corner. I placed a wire, and clipped the peg, along with the bundle of slings. The tat disappeared into the black depths of ice and grit which combined with the granite corner to give this unwieldy task to climb in 4 season mountain boots. I scrambled frantically to gain height to my left, but failed with the wet cold rock making my hands unbearably cold. I tried to use the slings for aid, unsure of the stability. I stood in them, without warning I found myself flying backwards, and stopping
with a hard 'thwunk' as the peg held true. The slings had all but come free from the crack in a bundle of ice, and grit which hit me in the face. I wasn't having it. But then a sudden thought dawned on me. 'Try round the corner?' With amazement, and a complete understanding of where previous attempts had gone wrong. A steep slab, with a crack and a peg in the corner flagged the way. Fighting immense rope drag as it fought back round thecorner, I balanced up with complete faith in my Vegas on a 4b slab. I reached the peg, after a couple of desperate pants, I managed to force a clip, with the dying efforts in my arms. I wobbled up the final couple of moves, and fell over the top end of the slab into a recess at the base of a chimney.

Chris followed up with great difficulty, pack and all. I took the rope in as tight as possible, to help him, almost yoyo-ing up the route. Making it with a frantic bridge and following my lead, falling virtually headfirst into the recess which I'd body belayed to.

I'd left my pack at the base, whilst trying to lead, and hoped to haul it up. We promptly found it was stuck under the lip of the slab. I hooked a sling over a point on the slab and lowered myself back down, with the rope running from me up to the sling, then back down and through my ATC.

The bag proved stubborn. Giving it a good kick made it pendulum away, and as it swung back I gave it a shove in Chris's direction as he pulled on the rope. It moved free and we dragged it up the slab.

Not wanting the predicament of climbing back up the slab again, I used the rope system as a pulley, moving in a jerk and tighten action. Pulling the rope that ran from the sling to my belay device, then taking the slack through it with a quick action
of the rope, and locking off. It proved to be a good technique, and slowly I moved higher at first, then quicker, and soon I rejoined Chris at the top of the slab.

We recomposed again, and I encouraged Chris to climb the chimney to check out the top section, and we hoped, to the shelter of the telegraphique. He climbed with difficulty, making some awkward moves high up without gear.
Immediately at the top, he turned and down climbed, shaking his head, and I knew it was all over. Above us was a sheer face, bolted, and clearly un-climbable for us. I became assertive; 'right, straight down! We'll Ab this section, then use the rope down the snow to the glacier. Then to the hut or the telegraphique.!
Chris nodded his agreement, we arranged a sling over the same rocky spike I'd descended to retrieve the bag. I moved first, running the rope out to the max, about 80ft down the rock, to the start of the snow section. The complexity of the slope only then revealed itself to me, with difficulty in choosing the right direction, and to descend safely.

We tied into both ends of the 8.5mm line, which gave us 170ft difference, and I headed off down the slope, first straight down for about 40ft, then over to the right. We approached a number of boulders, then some thinner sections. It was either to move left or right, so choosing what looked like deeper snow, surrounded by boulders I took the lead again and moved down and right. The slope had started to change character. it was steeper down here, I turned and faced in. Looking up Chris was well above now, at least 60ft difference. I shouted to him to stop, and let the rope come tight between us. at least if I went he might be able to help stop me. If he slipped there was no way I could protect him. The snow stakes too, proved useless in the loose snow, being too steep to offer security. Now it was getting dangerous. We both knew it. At least the slope wouldn't slide, we knew that! The boulders held it together. I led out and down. My feet slipped a couple of times. I fell forward immediately, burying the shafts of the ice axes, and stopping the slide before it went anywhere.

Below, we could see what looked like the top of a serious crag, which we planned to skirt to the side of. So facing in, and now well over 100ft from Chris I moved leftwards into a slight groove of snow, only acknowledgeable by a foot's difference
in height. I looked up with sweat running into my eyes, a dry mouth. This wasn't fun! I climb for fun, but this wasn't! Now I'm scared, so scared. I didn't want this. No. Not this! I slammed my feet into the snow as firm as possible, and slowly, gently rocked over from one foot hold to another. 20ft and safety by that boulder; I could put a sling round. Chris was moving again
now. The rope would slide towards me a couple of feet at a time. I couldn't see him. I stepped down again. Looking where to aim for, another slide of the feet. 'No this isn't stopping, s**t! Axe arrest, no nothi... urrmph!' My feet dug in, and I flipped violently. I started tumbling badly. I waited, and shut my eyes. Waiting with the immense quiet of snow pounding down
over me. I couldn't see, couldn't breathe. I was in it - an avalanche, It dawned on me. The time was so slow. This was the end. This is it! I could see from one eye, one of my axes flew past my head, and away towards the edge, tumbling
faster than ever, faster, faster, then everything around me accelerated away. My crampons ripped from my pack, and flew away, light spinning round, white everywhere, white, rock, white, rock, white.

Silence.