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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,