2011 Autumnal Alpine Adventures

Or going round the Frendo

The English countryside lay under a torpor, the summer was spent, autumn was waiting to happen but didn’t seem to be able to get its act together. Entropy has taken hold and was unraveling everything, slowly. The grass, no longer green but golden waved at the sides of the road, the leaves on the trees glowed like Josephs coat. It was infecting me with its sluggishness.

Maybe it was because I was just returned from the excitement and freshness of Ladakh but I needed an escape.

Ally Swinton had been living out in Chamonix for some time now and it seemed like the perfect time to go visit, it also seemed like a perfectly good time to go given my five weeks at altitude in India and my current level of acclimatisation. No more excuses, Easyjet tickets in hands and transfers booked Jane and I drove through the first of the Autumn blows to Bristol airport and we were off.

90 mins to a different world, Geneva sunshine greeted us and snow covered alpine slopes shone in the eastern distance. Mountain drop offs did their job and we were in Chamonix with Ally setting plans for the next few days by early afternoon.

Early discussions had hinted at an ascent of the Shroud on the Jorasse but conditions were not ideal so we decided on a bash at the Frendo Spur which lurks on the northern slopes of the Aig de Midi.

The Frendo is a magnificent and classic alpine mixed route which is easily accessible from mid way station of the Midi lift.

1200m of climbing, 700m or so of rock with a 5c crux followed by 500m of steepening ( to 85 degrees) ice.

Ally had done the route some weeks previously so armed with his knowledge we arrived at the plan station to bivvy for an early start and a one day ascent.

Unfortunately work being carried out on the lift station and a full moon conspired against my sleep so by the time the 0300 ( stupid o’clock ) alarm went off I was less than happy. Ally got the porridge on but wasnt happy with my putting salt in the mix, I must have a word with his Dad, imagine bringing up a lad in Scotland and not having him put salt in his porridge!!

However all these disasters aside by 0400 we were on our way, head-torches lighting the moraine under our feet.

By 0500 we had climbed the initial snow slope and via a delicate snowbridge and a rotten rocky traverse were established on the easy rock scrambling that took us first up to the right and then the left to gain the steepening climbing that leads to the ridge.

Sunrise

Ally’s prior knowledge of the route was a massive help as this enabled us to complete these early sections in the dark. The climbing to gain the ridge was never difficult and we completed most of it quickly moving together only stopping to pitch a couple of delicate slabby moves.

0700 saw us onto the easy section of the ridge and the sun cutting a slash through the clouds above the Cham valley. By 0800 we were at the crux 5c pitch and having dispensed with that relatively easily were soon breakfasting on Cadburys boost bars (luxury) on a nice fat ledge above the main rock difficulties.

Crux 5c pitch

After the crux the rock became a tad icy and progress was slower as we pitched more and more of the sections.

By 1100 we were at last at the start of the ice. I was tired of the rock by then and found the last few pitches a bit tedious. Ally’s previous knowledge of the route was a great help as route finding was not obvious.

The snow/ice sections above were a delight despite our earlier concerns over the possibility of hard black ice being predominant on the slopes. The initial 45 degree section was quickly dispensed with and by 1200 we were sitting in the sun on the knife edged ridge with a completely different view on life.

50/60 degree section below the crux

We were now romping up the slopes, the neve was great, the sky was blue and by 1400 we were hanging from the two bolt belay on the LHS of the rock rognon underneath the final 85 degree pitch.

There was a little sting in the tail with a 70 degree water ice section to be crossed but once established in the little gully that led to the top the climbing was almost idyllic.

Perfect neve, great ice and we were over the top into the sun and the crowds heading back from or to the valley Blanche.

10 hours end to end, nowhere near a record but not bad for a route that many parties take two and even sometimes three days to complete. (I know this as one party we saw at the bivvy we met coming down three days later).

This route is sometimes underestimated and has a record of many epics and occasional disasters. It is a long and quite a serious undertaking, route finding is not obvious and some of the rock sections outside of the crux’s are a bit delicate and awkward. The ice at the top is continuously steep although the main difficulties on the LHS of the rock rognon can be avoided by traversing to the right.

Approaching the final and crux pitch

Rightfully chuffed we made our way down to copious amounts of cold beer.

Next day, despite my aching legs, Jane and i made our way into the Aig Rouge for a long walk. Cable car to the Index we set out for Lac Blanc.

The sun was shining hard and the slopes were relatively quiet as most of the holiday makers and students had by now left. A welcome breeze was blowing and by lunchtime we were sitting in the perfect picnic spot with a view that cannot be rivalled in Europe.

The perfect lunch spot

With the Belvedere, the highest point in the Aig Rouge behind us, we could look over to the the main Chamonix Aigs and play a game of name the peaks, puerile maybe, but what better way to spend your lunch break.

Choire on the Belvedere ridge from a previous trip

Refreshed, relaxed and at peace with our world we made our way back down to Chamonix for more cold beers, what else.

Day four, we knew the weather was due to “crap out” in the next day or so, so Ally and I headed back up with the first cable car of the day to the Plan d’Aig and from there across the moraine to the foot of the Blaitiere pillar.  A five pitch rock route in our sights called Majorette Thatcher.

I found this hard, I found this bloody hard, maybe I am not used to Chamonix granite cracks and the jamming skills required but the 6b French sections were to me British 6a and the French 5+, British 5b/c. After many a call for a tight rope and with my ego and hands in tatters we topped out, abbed off (via a tag line process that had me sweating at first, every days a school day) and made our way back to the lift station and a consolatory (for me) few beers at the appartment. A great experience but give me crimpy limestone any day.

True to form the weather deteriorated and caught Jane and I out on our way to the Brevant the next day.

Still five days of activity under mostly blue sky’s out of a week long trip is not bad, especially for the Alps.

Thanks to Ally for his route finding on the Frendo, his hauling my ass up Majorette Thatcher and for getting me psyched to get back for more routes in the coming winter.

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