This years Alpine sojourn was split into two separate parts, week 1 climbing led as ever by Tim Blakemore & with Judith Leslie who last tackled Alpinism almost 30 years ago. Week 2 having been joined by Judy’s husband, Steve Jones, aka SPJ, would see Steve & I attempting to run the 115 mile Tour du Mont Blanc over 5 days. This blog covers Judy’s & my climbing but for ease of reading as well as it feels practical in how our week was spent I’ll split it into two parts.
Having set off on the afternoon of Thursday 11th July only days after organising the Siabod fell race it was a relief to simply close the roofbox & say if it’s not in there I can buy it in Chamonix. Upon arriving at Judy’s it was obvious she’d had the same packing ‘shall I or shan’t I’ dilemma’s so I was able to say I’ve got my Kitchen sink so we don’t need yours. The roofbox closed again but only just.
An overnight at Ashford was followed by a tunnel crossing just after 3:00 am which gave us time to meet up with Kean & Sandra for a late lunch at the ‘Chicken’ Services just before Bourg en Bresse. Here they sell chickens in glass cabinets as if they were jewellery at getting on for €40 a piece, we didn’t eat chicken. It was good to catch up with the Rowland’s & I promised to keep Kean updated on the vertical challenges that lay ahead.
We arrived at our Les Bossons camp site by mid-afternoon, there then followed the bonding teamwork aka I’ll help you put up your tent if you help me put up mine, soon followed by community shopping & cooking, basically Paul cooks whilst Judy washes up clearly trying to be seconded to the Café pot washing position upon our return. She has not been seen since our return so looks like she’s had a change of heart.
Saturday dawned fair so we were soon off on an acclimatising run/walk up to the Belachat hut, a bit cool up there so before the customary photo’s of the Mont Blanc massif we re-fuelled inside the hut. From here I carried onto the Brevant at a little over 2,500 metres whilst Judy descended but with clouds building & to be truthful feeling a bit heavy in the legs I wisely pulled out of my plan to carry on to Lac Cornu & after my 1,500 metre descent knew I’d made a good call.
Sunday was pretty much a rest day but I did get out for a steady 10K but avoided hills wisely. That evening we met up with Tim, I was nervous about my hand & what it was capable of, Judy was nervous about her return to Alpinism so our plan was hatched in two parts which I think we were all as happy with as we could be. The first part was based on my thinking, Day 1 the Cosmiques arrete, Day 2 Mont blanc du Tacul. The second part came from Tim, Days 3 to 5 on the less visited Western side of the Mont Blanc massif focusing on or near to the Domes des Miage.
Day 1 – No need for an early start, Tim picked us up & we were soon on the near vertical cable car to the stunning Aguille du Midi, a first visit for me despite having been admiring it from afar for 5 of the last 6 July’s. Soon the climbers & sightseers went there separate ways (with poor visibility & overnight snow there weren’t too many of either). We donned crampons, drew out our ice axes & tied on to each other. Tim sent me out first, the heart raced as I was immediately on a narrow snow arrete that clearly steepened & got icy within 50 metres or so, thoughts of why (never too far back in my thinking) almost overcame me but gradually the difficulty moved behind us & the safety of the stunning valley blanch lay before us. We eyed the Cosmiques hut, ‘coffee’ Tim suggested as he surged passed clearly knowing what he wanted, it was a good call.
Soon we were back on the snow & making our way to the Cosmiques arrete. I had first heard of this spectacular climb from a café customer many years ago, this was my chance to climb it & climb over the final railing in the face of dozens of sightseers cheering & photographing our feats but I’m running ahead. First things first, conquer the nerves & be slow & deliberate with each move, I think Judy was having the same thoughts as well as, ‘am I still up to this’ despite her climbing CV being streets ahead of mine.
I really enjoyed it & felt I moved very well (relative to my ability) albeit my abseiling still leaves a lot to be desired. In particular a rock climb section where three brits were struggling (well the middle one in particular), Tim eased past them with me watching his every move, ‘will my crampons hold on that, will my hand pull me up that sideways crack’. Was it the audience, sheer adrenalin, who knows but I was soon past the brits & had done it almost in style. From here we left the ‘crowds’ behind & seem to rattle up the final sections with ease, the final obstacle saw Judy somewhat hilariously get stuck in a grove she could have avoided & right in front of the sightseers viewing platform, but there were no clicks, no cheers or laughter, the crowds were not out to watch on a dismal day that was simply great to be part off.
Day 2 saw Tim pick us up earlier at 6:15 but despite getting to the Midi cable car far earlier the sun was out so the crowds were out too, we awaited our turn.
Once again I led us down the snow arrete marginally more confident than the day before. Then we began our crossing across the Valley Blanch towards the steep glazier climb of Mont Blanc du Tacul & it’s obvious crevasse problems. We’d seen a large group the day before make very hard work of the largest crevasse, in truth I’d thought they must have been recovering a victim from it’s jaws, what would we find when we got there? First things first there was time to take photo’s of the massive North face of the Gran Jorrasses as well as our South ridge of the Aguille du Midi aka The Cosmiques arrete.
It was a steep climb to the crux first crevasse, a rope dangled down from above & a study of Tim’s technique soon saw first Judy & I then try to replicate his movements whilst Tim belayed from above. As Judy struggled thoughts turned to my hand, should I give her a push & how is my right hand going to pull me up that. As with the crux from the day before it went better than I could hope & no I didn’t give Judy’s bum or foot a push, the girl did it on her own.
From here the steep climb continued, we were in shadow, my glove choice clearly was wrong as frozen hands yearned for us to reach the sun line above but after a 2nd crevasse crossing we eventually reached the warming rays (be careful what you wish for would be hindsight’s answer). Next we traversed to a final crevasse crossing (traversing never my favourite manoeuvre as it opens you up to the exposure below. A final steep climb brought us onto a flat snow plateau giving us excellent views of Mont Maudit & Mont Blanc & with it the higher sections of the Tres Monts route to the summit of the Alps, big day that would be but that was for others. After a brief stop we moved up easy ground & soon showed another group (with a slightly annoying girl chattering away) the tricky icy & rocky climb onto Mont Blanc du Tacul’s summit at 4,248 metres, my 19th 4,000 metre Alpine peak. I felt like phoning Kean & singing Paul Hardcastle’s song from the 1980’s to him but I’m not that crass so waited until the evening to do that.
We rested & took in the stunning view before I saw a high point far way but on the same summit ridge as us, ‘that looks higher Tim’, I consulted the map, thank god it was one metre lower.
The descent went smoothly & soon we were re-crossing the Valley Blanch which would lead to a frustratingly arduous 300 metre climb back up to the Aguille du Midi’s lift. Then it hit, the heat of the early afternoon sun reflected back onto us. Judy’s discomfort was almost immediate, mine would creep up later. Soon Judy was needing to stop & at one point was physically sick. The climb slogged on for her, I supplied Jelly Babies but then as the climb steepened towards the arrete she buried her head & pushed on stoically to reach the safety of the ice tunnel. It had been a technically relatively easy Alpine route but we felt we’d had a proper mountain day.
That night we ate out for the first time to celebrate our achievement, clinked glasses but as the sun sank my arms began to ache, I began to shiver, the heat stroke had arrived. Later I could be found sitting in my tent wrapped in my sleeping bag, shivering whilst trying to read, it would be a lively night stomach wise but enough of that crap two good days were behind us, hopefully tomorrow I’d feel better.