Our last few days in Chamonix have seen us attempt a few adventures, but for one reason or another have not seen any major successes.
On Thursday we went in search of rock. We’d picked out Cascade de Doran which is on the south side of the valley from Sallanche, because it required a fairly short walk after a bit of off-road driving.
The journey was great, and on the walk in we came across some deer (sorry, no photos because they ran off after watching us get the camera out), but the crag was a bit underwhelming. It all looked a bit scrappy, or too hard. There was one 5b and one 5c, a few 6’s, but mostly big 7’s and 8’s. Unimpressed we decided not to even bother getting our shoes out and we went home.
On Friday my ankle was playing up big time so I thought it needed a rest. By the afternoon I was bored so we went to Gaillands. We chose L’arête: “one of the nicest climbs in the area”, according to the guide. It was nice, but I had to tackle it one footed with a tight rope for support.
Despite my ankle still really hurting we decided to go for the Supercouloir on Saturday. After an early start and with huge packs (carrying climbing gear and mountain boots) we skied from the Aiguille du Midi to just before the Pyramid du Tacul. The weather was perfect, but unfortunately the Saturday crowds had beaten us to it. We could see a couple of teams in the couloir, but we decided to continue to make our way up towards the bottom of the route anyway. We left the skis, changed into our mountain boots and started the long slog up the snow slope. Half way up we spied another team just starting the first three pitches of 5c rock. They weren’t moving very fast. We continued up, hoping they would make better progress, but they were still on the first pitch. We had a quick debate and realised that we would never complete the route while we waited for the team in front, and it would be very uncomfortable being so close to a team on the ice.
We looked to our left for plan b, Lafaille Gully, but a team were already heading towards that, so there was nothing left but plan c, ski down.
An early lunch break was enjoyed in the sun while we watched the many skiers making their way down the Vallée Blanche. After lunch we joined the crowds, just as the snow started to turn to mush. By the time we got down to the valley I thought my ankle would explode. I was sure I must have broken it. 😮
A quick consult with Sally that evening convinced me that I should dose up on ibuprofen.
The weather wasn’t forecasted to be good on Sunday so I dosed up on the vitamin I, but on Monday we had a promise of another rain free day. Pete had had his eye on an a particular arête on the north side of the motorway just before Sallanche for years, and now, thanks to our new guidebook, we knew there was a good 220m of mandatory 5c (6b free) up it.
The approach is extreme in itself. After driving up a windy road to a small pretty village, Luth, we took a deceivingly pleasant path into the forest. Then, as directed, we headed straight up the hill. This was seriously steep, 60 degree loose mud and dry leaves – crampons would have helped! But we made it by holding our breath and clinging on to the trees.
Standing at the bottom of the route we felt very intimidated. We started the first two pitches which were very dirty and loose. I wasn’t happy and my ankle was hurting. I knew the rock should get cleaner as we got higher and closer to the arête itself, but I persuaded Pete to retreat. We abseiled off and made the death defying decent through the trees.
We weren’t very happy, another failed attempt, but we enjoyed a picnic by the La cascade de l’Arpenaz near Sallanche – the one on the left that seems to flow horizontally, and looks like it should make an excellent ice fall, but never seems to come to anything.
We were going to start our journey home on Tuesday, but despite a poor forecast we thought we’d try the Supercouloir again. The first lift was oddly quiet (the poor forecast no doubt). We made it to the bottom of the route in record time, and no one was in front… but it had started snowing. We spent a few minutes debating whether we should risk continuing, but in the end we decided we should turn around and ski down. It is a long and technical route, but that wasn’t what we were worried about. It was the skiing down, or skinning back up in a white out that made us decide we should take the safe option.
We felt a bit dejected, very un-Alipninstic, but there are risks and there are risks. The mountains will be there tomorrow for us to enjoy.
So, there we were, once again, skiing the Vallée Blanche with huge and very heavy rucksacks. Thank goodness the ibuprofen had kicked in.
Well, maybe we didn’t have any great peaks to celebrate, but we could celebrate a good holiday. We had dinner in a lovely French (not all melted cheese and ham) restaurant L’Atmosphere.