I left for France in late July with plans to meet up with Jonathon in Chamonix, a mecca for world class and accessible alpine climbing. Jonathon has spent the last four summers guiding in Chamonix but has spent limited time doing any personal climbing. I had been there two years ago for a brief trip but was excited to see more of the range. Plane tickets were purchased, gear was packed, dollars were exchanged into Euros and logistics were finalized. We had two weeks to play in the French Alps!
We had a couple goals and peaks in mind but were ultimately most excited to take advantage of climbs that were in the best condition. Knowing that France had a very snowy winter, we knew that north facing rock climbs would likely not be in condition. However, snowy winters also lend itself to less complex glacier travel. I tend to be drawn to long rock climbs that climb high above glaciers. Unbeknownst to me, the options were unlimited in this realm. With a weather forecast calling for primarily high pressure for the next several days, we packed our 40 L backpacks full of rock climbing gear, clothes, topos and snack food.
Alpine climbing in France is a unique experience and quite different from the climbing common in the United States. One main difference is that lifts or trams are used to access the majority of the terrain. For our first mission, we rode up the Aiguille du Midi tram for 6000 feet depositing us at 12,605 feet. After getting off the tram, we harnessed up and got our crampons on and walked down onto the Vallee Blanche glacier. A pleasant hour-long walk on the glacier brought us to the base of our first objective, the Contamine route on Pointe Lachenal. Jonathon led up through the 5.10+ cruxes as I struggled to catch my breath still not quite acclimated to climbing at 12,000 feet.
later, we were on the summit after climbing one of the best crack climbs we had
ever climbed. The climbing combined with
the sunny weather reminded us of climbing in California. Unfortunately our sunshine ended on the
descent as we rappelled back to glacier.
The skies opened up and it hailed on us as we completed our final
rappels. There was lightening off in the
distance and we quickly packed up our gear in preparation for the uphill slog to
the Cosmiques Hut.
|Jonathon on the first pitch of the Contamine route|
|Midway up on the Contamine route|
|Following the upper crux pitch on the Contamine route|
The next day we woke up to gray skies and we slowly packed up our gear in preparation for the trek to another hut across the valley. The sky's began to reluctantly clear and we decided we would try to fit in another climb on the Chandelle du Tacul. After climbing four fantastic pitches full of great cracks, we found ourselves off route with absolutely no idea where we were on this granite spire. Feeling motivated, Jonathon forged ahead on loose terrain eventually finding an overhanging offwidth/chimney system that contained an old wooden ladder attached by some old pins. Who knows how long that had been there, but we both pulled on it to get ourselves through that burley section. After a much longer day than expected, we found ourselves perched on top of a tiny granite spire. We rappelled over our intended line and we both felt like kicking ourselves after seeing how clean this route looked. At the bottom, we re-examined our topo and realized there was some blatant errors in the topo. Note to self; do not trust topos from Mont Blanc Super Cracks.
|Jonathon following pitch two on Chandelle du Tacul|
|Jonathon leading pitch 3 before we were lost on the Chandelle du Tacul|
|Beginning the rappels from the top of the Grand Capucin|
|All smiles after finishing an awesome day! The Swiss route goes up the left most part of the spire.|
We had about four more days until I had to leave and Jonathon had to go back to work. Hoping to squeeze in a couple more climbs, we hatched a plan to head up to the Envers Hut, known by the French locales as a little Yosemite. We took the train up to the top of the Mer de Glace. The French know how to make terrain accessible and sturdy iron ladders and iron structures have been drilled into the vertical rock faces leading down onto the glacier. These via ferrata type structures make passage onto the glacier possible. After walking through the glacier, there is another ladder system that leads out of the glacier. The hike to the hut concludes with switchbacks through beautiful alpine meadows.
The sky's teased us that day, clearing at times but ultimately we arrived to dreary and overcast weather. After getting our stuff situated at the hut we picked n small objective that was just a mere 5 minute walk from the hut on Tour Verte. While the climbing was just average, the route involved walking across the bridge of sighs. Essentially, a large granite block is wedged precariously between two granite spires, with an impressive amount of air below to add to the exposure. Jonathon and I both marveled at how wild it was that this block was still in this unique position as it’s only a matter of time until erosion works its course. We both quickly tip-toed across the bridge. We continued climbing the route in a light drizzle and topped out as the skies were starting to clear.
|Tip-toeing across the bridge of sighs|
|A better view of the bridge of signs from our climb the next day|
The next day we prepared for our longest objective of the trip on Aguille Roc on a route called Pedro Polar. The approach was 30 minute hike up the steep and firm glacier cumulating with a challenging step across from the overhanging snow slope onto the rock formation. Jonathon led up through a couple tricky slabby pitches and finished his block with a super classic 100-foot hand crack. I then took over for the crux pitches beginning with a challenging finger crack, some run out traversing slab climbing and a beautiful pitch of primarily well bolted 5.11 face climbing. I was in the zone and all the stresses from work and life were forgotten for those moments. At that point, life was simple and the beauty of the mountains and athletic nature of the climbing motivated me to push myself. It is this sort of meditative focus that keeps me coming back to the sport for more and more. Jonathon and I smiled and laughed after the crux pitches were finished knowing that we were both thoroughly enjoying our time with each other in a beautiful setting. We finished the remaining eight pitches of mostly 5.9 - 5.10 crack climbing to the top of the peak. We snapped a few photos and hugged and began the rappels back to our boots. Everything came together for this day of climbing; a great route, a great partner, and splitter weather.
|Jonathon leading on the first pitches on Pedro-Polar|
|Jonathon leading the splitter 5.10 hand crack midway up Pedro-Polar|
|Leading one of the crux pitches mid-way up Pedro-Polar|
|Smiles on the upper part of Pedro-Polar|
In fact, just two weeks later we began a different sort of adventure when we celebrated the beginning of our marriage with our friends and family on the coast of Maine. The lessons we take away from our climbing partnership easily translate to a partnership between husband and wife, where teamwork and an ability to provide uncompromising support are of utmost importance. This trip and many of our other experiences together have built a solid foundation upon which to build a lifetime of dreams, goals and adventures together. Jonathon, I can't wait for the next one!