The Black Crows posse of Bruno Compagnet, Minna Riihimaki and myself headed up to stay in the sweet Couvercle refuge for a night. The team excited about a trip to the mountains and the beautiful Couvercle refuge. Bruno pointing out lines Still some good flat snow with no sastrugi on Gros Rognan. Beautiful late afternoon light on the Mer de Glace. The 2016 Corvus Freebird and the Navis Freebird, both amazing touring skis. They say you should always be doing something with your hands in a photo, the weirder the better! Some people still dispute climate change. Here we have June snow conditions in mid March! The last rays of the afternoon before the sun sets behind the Chamonix Aiguilles Minna on the boot pack to the Pierre a Beranger. I’m getting on well with these glue less Evotec skins – time will tell for the final verdict. So much faster putting skins on and off without the cheat sheets. Hut nights at the Couvercle, Bruno enjoying a glass of red. We were joined by French Alpinists who had been on Viva Gel and Whymper. They were obviously feeling the cold and put a lot of wood on the fire. It was so hot that I went to bed on my boxers and couldnt sleep until 3 am. A bit of digital art to show off the partial eclipse of the sun
I am currently doing a block of work in the UK and it gives me little time to get out in the mountains so I’m playing the weekend warrior game. I was really motivated to have a proper adventure and craved the solitude of the big mountains so Philippe Gatta and myself made plans to climb Banana Republic on the Aiguille de La Republic or “Soleil” on the Grepon.
After walking into the Envers hut we sat on the terrace discussing plans in a remarkably chilly autumnal wind. In the end we decided to go for Soleil as we would be able to move faster in the cold and stay warm. The only thing was Philippe was mad for the traverse of the Grepon so we would carry crampons, axe and big boots up 25 pitches in order to descend the Nantillions Glacier.
After a noisy nearly sleepless night at the refuge we got up at 430 and started climbing at 6 though the second 6a+ slab pitch had us waiting for a little more light to see the crystals in the rock. The morning dawned with low cloud that had locked in some warmth and we moved quickly despatching 5 pitches in a hour. Then we climbed into the mist and tricky route finding slowed us. As we climbed higher I put on my light down jacket then my heavier one as the temperatures steadily dropped. After pitch ten I got my first dose of screaming barfies as the touch of cold and sometime wet rock made itself felt. We still hoped the weather would break but it seemed to be getting darker and on pitch 18 we started to find ice in the cracks. Then on pitch 19 lots of snow barred the way with only 6 pitches to go. Frustratingly it was time to bail and leave the summit of Grepon for a glorious sunny day. We didn’t make the summit but we climbed some fantastic pitches and I got the adventure and solitude I was looking for in the austere surroundings created by the poor weather.
On the walk down to Chamonix we passed the Montenvers Hotel and stopped by for some food. If you havent been in there I highly recommend it with its beautiful panelled wood interior and similar prices to the refuges.
Summer weather has returned to the Alps which enabled Dave Searle and myself to go to Envers des Aiguilles for a couple of days. The approach has got a bit longer over the years with the level of the Mer de Glace constantly dropping and added ladders to descend and climb again on the glacial slabs. Its been a long time since I had been here in summer and I have to say that the Mer de Glace looks a bit sad all covered in rubble and disappearing fast through climate change. About 5 years ago I did some ice training on the fins of ice over on the Charpoura side and you can see in the photo below that all there is over there is piles of rubble. For the city dwellers out there its quite difficult to grasp the concept that the world is a warmer place since there isn’t any visual evidence. Here is the Alps the level and volume of ice is a direct indicator of the average annual temperature and its and every day reminder that things are changing. They are not only changing but it appears that the change is accelerating. Maybe its already too late for us, but why not ride a bike or walk to work just in case you can make a difference. The death of the glaciers fills me with a sense of loss and I feel sad that the future generations won’t be able to experience the mountains as we knew them.
On the approach to the Envers hut we slowly started to melt as the temperatures soared and quickly decided to go for a couple of the shorter routes rather than something like the 850 m ‘Soleil Rendevous Avec le Lune.’ After a quick look at my guide we set of up the classic 12 pitch ‘Bienvenue.’ A couple of pitches in and things were feel very familar but then they share the same start with Les Fleurs du Mal that I had climbed before. A few more pitches in and it dawned on me that I had climbed this route a decade ago but somehow not ticked it off in my guide book. It was unfamiliar enough though and the climbing good to still be as much fun second time round.
Dave had talked me into staying in the refuge because it was pretty cheap with an alpine club card and as it started to rain in the evening it seemed like a good idea. I normally don’t like huts and haven’t stayed in a European hut for years. They are cold, noisy and on several occasions I have had someone mistake my kit for theirs and disappear of into the mountains with it. And so it was with no surprise that when I got up my mountain boots had gone. Someone had mistaken my faded old size 44 Trangos for their relatively new size 45 Trangos. I can only imagine this person still lives with their mother who dresses them every morning. The sun was rising and with the peaks glowing I decided to go take some photos to let my frustration vent but my camera wasn’t cooperating and gave up the ghost. All that was left to do was make the 5 minute approach to Pyramid and get on it. The rock in this sector is much more sustained and the climbing just brilliant. I found it pretty hard too, but then granite crack climbing is always a fight.