Sat 24th Jul - Sat 7th Aug, 2010
Present: Penny Lewis, Kirsten Mundt, Andy Grantham, Roger Daley, Roger Mapleson, Bridget Mapleson, Carys Mapleson, Owen Mapleson, Sue Marsden, Craig Marsden, Phoebe Marsden, Tom Marsden, Rob Allen, Christine Beeston, Anne Waters, James Williams, Katherine Bagshaw, Gareth Williams, Carolyn Mills, Al Metelko, Trish Cranston, Vicky Alderton and Kieran Lee.
The Marsden reconnaissance team had, thankfully, managed to reserve us a group booking on the campsite at Vallorcine having found it to be full earlier in the week. Full of pre booked groups, despite us being told they didn’t take bookings! Anyway it was a sterling effort by them as they made the most of the last week of the heat wave that had been frying the area for months. Sadly it was not to last.
The opening day of the meet dawned fine and dry, however, and was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by most, especially the Ladies Luncheon Cub contingent of Anne, Christine, Sue and Bridget. They quickly hatched a plan and headed off to Chamonix on the train, inspired by the free rail card for travel in the valley that was issued when you registered at the campsite. Sadly for them, however, the cable car up to the Brevent was as expensive as ever. From there they made their way to the Refuge de Moede Anterne for the night.
The valley bound Marsdens and Maplesons then headed over to the Vallorcine slabs with Colin, Rob and Vic for fun, merriment and laughter, especially at Tom’s first ever leader fall; a nail grating slither down a slab that may have been a bit longer than it should have been due to his belayer, aka his Dad, collapsing in hysterics.
Sunday was another sunny day, just as the ladies had planned, so after a hearty breakfast at the refuge they set forth to the Col d’Anterne then onwards to Tete de Moede (2459m). Then they made their way along the ridge to the Tete de Villy (2481m) and back, whilst admiring and photographing splendid views over to the Mont Blanc range, before testing Sue’s recently rebuilt knee with a jarring 1600 metre descent down to Servoz for the train back. The knee passed the test with flying colours, give or take a tiny bit of swelling that was soon cured by an ice pack.
Once again the local crag, all of 10 minutes from the tent, was visited. This time by Roger, Owen and Rob, who did the popular “Retour aux ours” (90m 4b), whilst Tom and Craig ticked off a couple of enjoyable classics despite being a bit taken back by some of the “traditional” grades. As this was going on Colin and I walked up to Sector Kinou at Les Cheserys, where we did the enjoyable “La Julamie” (225 m TD 6a/6a+), which proved to be a far better route than it initially appeared, with several fine pitches and well worth the 50 minutes jungle bash from the Col des Montets.
Meanwhile, the keen team of Katherine, James, Gareth and Carolyn made their way up to the Albert Premier hut in readiness for the morrow.
Monday was a day on which the early birds definitely got the best of the fickle alpine weather. Thus the team ensconced at the Albert Premier had a fine day on La Petite Fourche (3520m) and Tete Blanche (3429m) before returning to the hut for another night. Vicky and Colin also had a good day on ‘L’ile aux Razmokets’ (200m D+ 6a) a fine 8 pitch slab route situated up the valley past the Cascade de Berard. They were swift enough to be on the final abseil when the weather finally broke.
As this was all going on others walked; in the case of Andy and Roger D that was up to the Argentiere hut all the way from the valley in order to help acclimatise. Most of the other walking that took place focussed on the dinosaur footprints above the Barrage d’Emosson. Some folk made it to the footprints, some didn’t, some got very wet and some didn’t, but people’s views differed somewhat regarding the jaunt. Those that made it and got wet rightly took the moral high ground, but still failed to keep up a united front. According to Bridget, “the way the water flowed across the fossilised ripples of the ancient beach really brought it all to life”, where as Phoebe’s take on the day was that, “we may as well have walked in the reservoir, we would have got just as wet.” She should have got up earlier.
Tuesday started as wet as Monday had ended, but patience paid off. The team up at the Argentiere hut made their way up to the Grand Montet for lunch before catching the cable car back to the valley. The team at the Albert Premier took a more laid back approach to the day and had a lie in, thus getting a route done later in the day before returning to the valley. Craig and Roger M also took advantage of the fine afternoon and made their way up to the Albert Premier, crossing paths with the others on their way down. Other than that more walking was done and the slabs were once again popular with those down in the valley, Tom Marsden now well into leading. Vic and I even managed to get a quick route done together thanks to Sue and Bridget.
Wednesday was a busy day on the hills with Roger and Craig loving every second of their trip up Le Petite Fourche and Tete Blanche on a perfect day, after just one false start, returning for crampons left at the hut. Rob, Christine and Tom were also making the most of the conditions by parking up at the Barage d’Emosson and making their way up Mt. Buet (3096m), before descending back to the campsite down the Berard Valley. Colin and I slogged up to Praz Torrent where we did Voie Parat-Seigneur (250m TD 6a), a classic according to one guidebook whilst being ignored by others. We enjoyed it and the views across the valley were stunning for all of the 8 hour round trip, that included a visit to the local hostelry where a young lady offered Colin her cherry; one that had been marinated in alcohol of course.
Not that Duncan noticed much of the view on the walk in. Kieran had hardly slept a wink and Duncan truly looked like death. The two hour approach felt remarkably easy with Duncan trudging along in my wake. The one and only time in twenty odd years that I’d beaten him to a route. Great kid, Kieran; the only thing to ever slow Duncan down. Plus, for once I found the booty; a shiny new shunt. After all that the ten pitches of fine slabs, cracks, corners and chimneys were a bonus.
Thursday was pretty much a wash out for everyone and come the evening fresh snow was visible on the Aiguilles Rouge . The only people who got anything done were Carolyn, who nipped over the border into Italy for a spot of cragging in Valle d’Aosta, and Katherine who headed home for a change of clothes before flying on to Iceland.
Friday should really be glossed over for the sake of some, but their exploits are the stuff of KMC legend. Failing to find a crag that is 150 metres high and nearly a kilometre wide is a good effort even by the navigationally challenged standards set by others. To quote one of the party, “In Colin’s defence he was the first to realise”… that they had walked in completely the wrong direction for 50 minutes. Whoops! Suitably chastened they beat a retreat to the slabs behind the campsite.
The guidebook had encouraged us to park over the col and follow the Lac Blanc path. No mention, of course, that there were two ways to the Lac Blanc! But once the map had been found, handily concealed in the previous section of the guide, a horrible realisation dawned. “Oh god, he’s going to be unbearable!” “Who?” “Duncan.” “Oh god!”
To be fair, he wasn’t. In fact, to quote Duncan, back at the campsite, “I suppose I can’t say much, seeing as I once got the wrong mountain.” To be absolutely fair, I suppose I should also point out that the mountain he’d failed to locate was only 2471 meters higher than Les Chesery!
Meanwhile, Al, Trish, Andy and Roger had all found their way to Les Cheserys, by the other Lac Blanc path and enjoyed some good routes. James and Penny got in a bit more footage on the slabs and Roger and Owen Mapleson had mountain biked from Le Tour over to Switzerland with just a little help from the ‘frique. Good effort.
Carolyn and Gareth managed to find and climb the Cosmiques Arete (260m PD+), enjoying the experience immensely, even the minor inconvenience of the door into the telepherique station failing to open. A problem that was solved by a member of a team behind them who beat it open with his ice hammer. Once back in the warmth they settled in for the evening.
Being in the ideal position Carolyn and Gareth were out early on Saturday and made the most of a glorious day on the classic Midi Plan Traverse, which they found to be a bit more taxing in a few places than they expected, but once again the big grins would suggest that they had fun.
The near perfect triangle of the Aig de Loriasse dominated the campsite. For a week it had teased us from behind an almost permanent veil of cloud. The compelling line of ‘Loriaz Express’ (650m TD 6a+) taking the centre of the lower wall and the upper central rib direct to the summit. Duncan had pointed to it in a conspiratorial manner on the first day, clearly seeing it as a must do enterprise. Finally the forecast was fine and I was instructed to pack my sack for an early start. Oh, bugger!
“How many pitches is it?” enquired young Thomas Marsden.
“Hmm. Good job my dad’s not going. Each pitch on the slabs took him about an hour yesterday.”
6.10am the following morning and we were on our way. Kieran hadn’t done his job properly, but we kept apace and around two half hours saw us at the foot of the face. Starting where the photo diagram clearly indicated we commenced the climb. The guidebook declared it to be a well equipped route, but there was no sign of anyone’s passing. Three pitches of something akin to new routing passed before we finally found a bolt belay. Later research revealed the guide to be 30-40 metres out.
From there on the route was well equipped and the Lee/Maddison direct start behind us, swinging leads, things now went smoothly. It was a surprise when we realised we were three quarters of the way up the route. Five pitches to go and soon we were scrambling over easy rocks to the top, arriving at 3.40pm after about six and a half hours of climbing.
The views were fantastic in all directions. Far to the east we could see the, Dent Blanche, Weisshorn, Monta Rosa and many more peaks. Photographs, posing and lunch and so to the descent. The first three or four abs went well, but then my belay plate somehow disappeared whilst pulling a particularly obstinate rope.
It was shortly after this that Duncan’s alter ego, Mr Grumpy, put in a not altogether unexpected appearance. He did not like the hitch I’d used to abseil on, as it put numerous kinks in the rope and made it hard to pull again. So we plumbed the innermost depths of Duncan’s mind (not for the faint hearted) to see if he could remember how to do a karabiner brake. Then an abseil later we plumbed it again to see if he could remember how to do it properly! With me now properly instructed in the art of the Chinese puzzle, it was several more abs and a scramble. Mr Grumpy turned up again on the last abseil when he found a gash in the sheath of his rope. But by 6.40pm we were back at the sacks and at 8.00pm ordering two grand biers.
Le Buet once more saw a KMC ascent as Kirsten made light work of the trip from the Barage back to the campsite. Rob, Vic and Kieran visited the boulders up at the Col des Montets, were a few problems were climbed in between trying to stop Kieran from fully immersing himself in an adjacent stream.
Sunday saw a rematch with Les Chesery and Colin managed to redpoint the approach, followed by Vicky and Rob. Sensibly, James, Penny and Carolyn had already made their own way there. Andy and Roger D were also in the vicinity on the picturesque and highly photogenic Aiguillete Argentiere and later Les Chesery.
Twenty pitches and a 14 hour day didn’t seem to have earned me a rest day. Despite various tactical manoeuvrings, an odd numbered climbing party saw Vicky dragging me to the crag .... albeit by some way to the rear. ‘La Voie de L’EHM’ (150m D 5b) and ‘Voie Blanche’ (150m D+ 5c) provided us with ten pitches of fine climbing. While Vic swore her way up the thin, slabby first pitch of the latter I’ll swear the Chamois walking head first down the adjacent slab was just taking the piss. Meanwhile, Rob and James savoured ‘Voie Bleue’ (150m D- 5b), billed as the classic of the crag and certainly looking to have some excellent pitches.
Al and Trish headed up the Vallon de Berard and, after a little trouble finding the start of the route, enjoyed their ascent of ‘L’ile aux Razmokets’, though the soaking on the descent was a tad unfortunate.
The ever energetic Kirsten ran up to the Barage, to collect her car, where she bumped into the Maplesons who were on a mission to walk up Bel Oiseau. Still full of beans she joined them for what was described as a most pleasant jaunt. But the day ended with a bang for all, well lots of them actually, as a big thunderstorm rolled in during the evening.
Monday was not at all promising, but Gareth and Andy were keen and made their way up to the Cosmiques Hut for the night, navigating through thick cloud all the way. James and Kirsten also flogged up to a hut, the Albert Premier, but in their case only to retrieve a pair of gaiters left there earlier in the trip. Heavy rain once again rounded off the day and provided Gareth and Andy with lots of fresh snow to battle through on their way back to the cable car the next day once it had finally stopped snowing.
Those already in the valley on Tuesday contented themselves with a spot of bouldering at the Col des Montets and visits to the local crags once things had dried out a bit. Barberine was streaked with water, but Le Passet Du Bas provided with us enough pleasant single pitch routes to pass the afternoon.
Wednesday started bright and early for anyone within earshot of Kieran, but most people were placated by me taking him for a torch light walk around the forest in order to get him back to sleep. Sadly, you cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try! At a more civilised hour Colin and a bleary eyed Vicky headed off to the Aiguilles Rouge.
Kieran had indeed done his job well once again and Vicky dragged herself wearily to the train station for her big day out. But by the time we were boarding the second ‘frique to the Index, she was more into the swing of things. Our objective, the Aiguille de la Floria was a short bolder hopping walk from the frique station, trainers a bit short on grip as we crossed the remnant snow field. The south face offered three or four routes, but with teams ahead going for the others, we opted for ‘Fraises des Boatchs’ (D+ 5b) which gave us around 280m of climbing.
Early morning mist swirled around and it was a bit chilly at first until we climbed up into the emerging sunlight on the second pitch. The views across the Mont Blanc range were breath-taking; the cirque of the Argentiere Glacier, the Vert, the Dru and the north Wall of the Grand Jorasse stunning. We took an early lunch after seven pitches of fine climbing and watched in awe as a chamois bounded down a near vertical face, leaping from one small ledge to another, before wandering nonchalantly off across the col. For ourselves, a long and less sure footed descent on scree and back to the frique. Back at the campsite for 3.00pm, it was early enough for Duncan to force me over to the slabs for a quick four pitch route. Enough!
Meanwhile, Rob, in search of solitude, took a solo trip via the Col des Possettes and Col de Balme and on to the Croix de Fer (2343m), passing Roger M and Owen out mountain-biking again en route. Andy and Roger D walked up the Vallon de Berard for a crack at ‘L’ile aux Razmokets’, but unfortunately found it wet and so retreated to the ever popular slabs. Higher up the hill, Carolyn, James, Penny and Gareth took the opportunity to get in some glacier practice below the Grand Montets.
Le Buet got another hammering from the club, this time by Al, Trish, Bridget, Carys and once again, Kirsten. At least she didn’t run back to get the car this time. The whole expedition did give Bridget lots of time to wonder why she was carrying lots of Carys’ kit, seeing as she set the pace for most of the day.
Thursday was a wash out that saw most folk head home, but those that stayed were rewarded with sun on the Friday and made there way to Les Chesery, where Vic and Kirsten did Voie Rouge (160m AD+/D 4c) and Carolyn, James and Gareth did ‘La Voie de L’EHM’ (150m D 5b).
The final day of the meet was again bathed in wall to wall sunshine, but lots of fresh snow on the higher hills forced us to head into the Aiguilles Rouge once again. Aiguille de Gaspard proved to be popular with Carolyn and Gareth ascending Voie Premier de Gaspard (250m 5c+), whilst James and I did the excellent Lady in Black (TD 6a+). James particularly loved the two traverse pitches. We all met up on the summit for a late lunch. Carolyn and Gareth then nipped up the popular 4 pitch Robin Wood (D+ 5c ), whilst James and I retired to a nice little bar in La Praz. Job done, meet over.
Thanks to everyone who turned up and helped to make it a most enjoyable trip.
Same again next year? In a different part of the Alps of course. We’ve put it on the 2011 meets list as 23rd July – 7th August. Details to follow in due course.
Duncan and Colin
I'm sure I don't have to say anything about this stunning range in order to sell this meet so I will leave that to Colin, all I will say is that the planned campsite is "Camping des Montets" over the Col de Montets from the hustle and bustle of the Chamonix valley. Anyone who has climbed on the Vallorcine slabs (routes from F4 - 6c and up to 4 pitches ) has walked past the campsite and will know that the nearest crag is well worth a visit despite being a bit busy at times. The peaks at the northern end of the Aiguilles Rouges, such as Praz Torrent and Cornes de Loriaz, are also accessed from here, as are several newly developed multi-pitch routes on some of the crags in the side valleys. There is also lots of fine walking in the vicinity of the campsite as well as mountain biking, bouldering and horse riding. Check out www.vallorcine.com for more details.
If all that is not enough it's only 20 minutes in the car, or a couple of stops on the train, to the Chamonix valley and all that it has to offer.
The campsite has 50 pitches for tents and it is not possible to pre book these, we tried. The owner gave the impression that if you turn up in the early afternoon you would be very unlucky to find them fully booked. Otherwise, there is a larger campsite down the valley towards the Swiss border and the delights of the fine crags at Barberine.
How do you sum up the Mecca of alpine climbing in a paragraph or two! Well, let's quote my guidebook:
"There is no doubt that the Mont Blanc Range provides the alpinist with some of the finest quality routes in Europe, whether it be along the delicate snow crests, on rough granite or steep ice."
Mont Blanc Massif, Vol 1, Alpine Club, 1990.
There is something here for everyone. Some 4000 routes according to my guide; and that's 20 years old! From classic introductions to alpine mixed climbing such as the Cosmiques Ridge on the Aiguille du Midi, to the great north wall of the Grandes Jorasses with its magnificent Walker Spur. Major high level alpine rock routes like the Gervasutti Pillar or the shorter modern rock climbs around the Envers Hut.
But that's just a tiny flavour. Take a look at the guide. The Alpine Club Guides give a wide selection of routes throughout the massif, but there are also a number of topo guides to the rock routes. To get a good flavour of the range try and get hold of a copy of Gaston Rebuffat's "The Mont Blanc Massif - The 100 Finest Routes".
But please remember this is a major alpine range, with all that means in terms of altitude, objective dangers and unpredictable weather. Competence on snow, ice, rock and glacier terrain are essential depending on your choice of route.