Samstag, 19. September 2015

Central Pillar of Freney

Time passes fast in Chamonix and my departure was getting closer and closer. I had climbed some nice routes during the last month but I still wanted to do at least one long and committing climb. Isra and I had already talked about a route we both would have liked to climb: the Central pillar of Freney



The last week of August, my last week in Chamonix, finally seemed to offer some really good weather and I was very motivated to take the opportunity to climb as much as possible.
On Tuesday it was still a bit cold and so I joined Isra and his girlfriend to climb a nice and quite easy route on the Montes Rouges (Curaçao, 180m, 6b - 25.08.2015). 

On Wednesday Isra and I took the cablecar to the Aiguille du Midi and climbed the Super Dupont (220m 7b - 26.08.2015) on the southface of the Aiguille du Midi. We abseiled down the face and started climbing in the scorching heat. The route seemed super hard to me. Already the first 6b+ pitch was incredibly hard and slippery due to the sun.

super hard 6b+


One of the last pitches, the 6c, A0 (7b) pitch seemed unbelievably hard to me....I managed to free-climb the short A0 section but as I got o the crack (apparently 6c) I gave up and started to aid climb... Compared to other Piola routes I would have given it 7b!
Nonetheless it was a very good climbing day, even though it turned out to be a little bit harder then expected and therefore we were not exactly as fast as we thought we would be. 

On Thursday I went to do a bit easier climb on the Croix de Fer (Ni dieu, ni maître, 250m, 6c - 27.08.2015) together with Jorge Valle. After a one hour drive and a 1.5 hours walk  we were at the top of the southface of the Croix du Fer. Like on the Aiguille du Midi we abseiled from the top to get to the start of the route. To be honest I didn't expect the rock to be that good. It really is one of the best and more compact limestone faces I have climbed on. The climbing and the grading should not be underestimated...for a rest day route it wasn't easy at all - very technical and quite obligatory sections. 

crux pitch - not easy for 6c

Main course - Central pillar of Freney (500m, 7a+) - 29.08.2015

After getting back from the Croix de Fer I had not only to pack the backpack for the Central Pillar of Freney but also all the rest of my stuff - to pack and organize stuff under time pressure is always a challenge -  it's like playing Tetris :-).
Isra, Silvia and I had dinner together - fortunately Silvia cooked for us, otherwise it would have gotten even later - It was already about midnight when I went back to my tent to sleep, this time without the more comfortable boulder pads as mattress- I had already packed them into my car.
At 4 o'clock in the morning we started from the camping and headed to Val Veny where we left the car at the parking of the Monzino hut.
To get to the Eccles bivouac you first have to pass the Monzino hut, already a nice two hours walk, about 1000 meters. We stopped there for a coffee break and then moved on because we still had a looong way to go.  The approach to get to the Eccles bivouac is probably the longest approach I have ever done in my life: 2300 meters from the parking. It is recommendable to start very early from the parking in order to get to the glacier before the snow gets to soft unless you don't like to make some extra effort ;-) (obviously less complicated in spring)
The Eccles bivouac (in fact there are two bivouacs - one shelter with nine places and another one a bit higher with 6 places) is mainly used by climbers who want to climb the Innominata ridge and therefore it is also recommendable to get there quite early in order to find some place.   
The conditions on the glacier weren't perfect and so we had to wend our way up through the crevasses. At half past one we were at the bivouac, so we had plenty of time to melt water, eat, dry our clothes and shoes and rest a little bit. After a while some other alpinists got to the bivouac and finally we were six people sleeping in the lower bivouac and four sleeping in the upper one. 

We got up at about half past three and started from the bivouac at 4.20. Some climbers had told us that the direct access to the Col d'Eccles wasn't in good conditions and that therefore it was better to climb the Pic d'Eccles and then abseil down to the Col. As we were the last ones to start we lost some time waiting and so we got to the Col at the first light. The conditions to get to the base of the rock face weren't good at all. According to the Batoux-guidebook the approach time is two hours. In springtime, or when all the loose rocks and the ice-slopes are covered with compact snow it possibly won't take you more but as the conditions were not perfect it took us almost four hours to get to the start of the route. From the Col we first had to do two 25 meters rappels (on the rocks a bit to the left of the couloir that descends from the Col towards the Freney glacier). Then we traversed about fifty meters to the left on quite easy terrain and then we did two fifty meter rappels (one abalakov) to get to the bottom of the ice-slope. To us it seemed the safest way because otherwise we would have had to do a quite long 50 degrees traverse on hard ice.

The route starts at about 4000 meters. The first pitches were quite easy and thanks to the warm sun it was very comfortable to climb (except for some sections with a bit of ice and a few meters of full-shower on the last 5c pitch. About 12-14 pitches lead up to the foot of the steep rock pillar called " la Chandelle", where the main difficulties start. As we climbed with our backpacks on, until the last four pitches underneath the Chandelle I preferred to climb in my alpine boots. At about half past two we were at the base of the Chandelle. The sun had turned the corner and a gentle breeze was blowing - it got freezing cold. I took the opportunity to do a short striptease to put my long underpants on. 

The first pitch of the Chandelle is a nice 5c crack. The following pitches are the hardest ones: a 7a pitch where you first have to climb up for about 20 meters and then traverse to the right for about 20-25 meters. If you want to free climb the pitch you better stop after the first few meters of the traverse. There is a good belay and if you would climb on probably you would run out of gear unless you have 20 quick draws. Anyway you would have to deal with some rope drag. I am not really sure if the topo in the guidebook is correct, as it really seems way more logical to me to do two pitches.
Even though it was really cold and I don't like to climb with cold fingers at all, I wanted to try to free-climb as much as possible. I was almost a bit surprised but also very motivated as I managed to on-sight the first traverse pitch (until the first anchor -  hard sequence before the anchor). After Isra had got to the belay I started to climb the second traverse pitch. My fingers and my toes got colder and colder and there was no way to warm them up. It felt a bit like climbing with claws and the more further I got the less I knew how much further I could go. Finally about 2-3 meters before the next anchor I had to grab the last two slings that were hanging from the pitons - probably it would have been possible for me to climb it if it would have been a "bit" warmer, but in that situation it was the only thing I could do. The freezing cold didn't leave any space for disappointment. I just wanted to get out of these pitches and put off my climbing shoes. While Isra seconded the pitch I started to swing my legs and arms to regain some sensibility. Endless minutes hanging in my harness - a feeling I will never forget. Isra started to climb the next pitch, the famous chimney-pitch: first you climb up a crack with a small overhang for about 15-20 meters and then you have to squeeze yourself up the chimney. Still swinging and clapping hands and feet I belayed Isra . Than it was my turn. I managed to free-climb the crack until I got to the chimney. I tried to climb as fast as possible, screaming like a bear as I couldn't feel my fingers anymore. In the chimney I grabbed everything there was in order to get to the belay as soon as possible. If you wanted to free climb this pitch it would be essential to get there with sun and haul up your backpack! 
at the base of the Chandelle


start of the first hard pitch

7a - pitch

second 7a pitch if you split up the pitch

7a+ pitch

the chimney

After these hard pitches we had to climb another four pitches to get to the top of the Chandelle. A nice cool down compared to the hard pitches :-).
We got to the top of the Chandelle at about six o'clock. It was a big relieve to put on the hard boots and and slip into the down jacket.
From the Chandelle we had to do one 20 meters rappel and then we quickly climbed up to the summit ridge. From there we walked over to the Mt. Blanc de Courmayeur and to the Mt. Blanc. We reached the summit at 20.20, sixteen hours after we had left the Eccles bivouac.
We decided to descend the normal route via the Gouter refuge. We did a short stop at the Vallot bivouac and then went down to the Gouter where we cooked something and then we kept on descending to the Tète Rousse refuge. We slept there for some hours and then descended to the Nid d'Aigle where we took the train and then the cablecar to descend to les Houches.

top of the Chandelle

top of Mt. Blanc

top of Mt. Blanc




Now we had reached the summit and descended to the valley, but my goal was to get back to Bolzano the same day, it wasn't really easy as we didn't want to spend much money and so we had to find someone who had the pass for the Mt. Blanc tunnel - not that easy, at least not on a Sunday with good weather, believe me. But in the end, not as soon as I hoped, we found someone and so Isra drove me to Val Veny where we had left my car and finally at five o'clock I started back home.
There are things that make you grow - this one certainly was of them!    

California Dreams - Pointe Trélaporte and República Bananera - Pointe de la République

Pointe de Trélaporte - California Dreams -11.08.2015

After having climbed the American Direct even though the weather was still good we had to rest a bit. That meant sleep and eat a lot. Then, (how else could it be?) it started to rain, but just for two days. Monday morning Thomas returned to Italy by bus and train. Fortunately I stayed in the same camping as Isra, a Spanish friend of mine.
We decided to climb two routes, the first on the Pointe de Trélaporte and the second on the Aiguille de la République. The advantage of climbing these two peaks was that they are really close to each other and that we knew a perfect bivouac place where we could spend the night and quickly get to the base of the routes. 
So on Tuesday we took the first train to Montenvers at  8 a.m., our backpacks filled with our climbing gear, sleeping bags and food. We didn't hurry up too much because we wanted to avoid to get to the base of the route already tired. After about two hours we got to the bivouac cave, where we left our stuff and ate something before walking up to the base of the route.

bivouac cave

 To get to the route you have to walk up a snow-ice slope that steepens up towards the end. In order not to have to carry to much weight we just wore hiking shoes and our crampons were not exactly designed for that kind of stuff, at least not mine. I had never tested those rubber crampons with some kind of of spikes underneath (yes...the ones you use in the city) before. I think the next time I'll take some better ones. They work until the snow surface doesn't get too soft. Fortunately we each had brought a walking pole and a light ice axe, so somehow we managed to get to the start of the route. 

very nice and clean 6b pitch in the lower part

the 7a pitch

7a pitch

6c+ slab at the end

This 12 pitches-route has been first ascended by Michel Piola in 2005 and follows a line of cracks and dihedrals to the top of the Pointe de Trélaporte.  The climbing is really good as in most Piola routes and offers pitches up to 7a. The slab pitches are quite well bolted while as the cracks are mostly clean. As we started quite late we got to the summit at about 19.00, after about 5 hours of climbing. From the summit we quickly rappelled down to the base. We didn't directly go to the bivouac as underneath the glacier we met two guys with whom we  started to talk a bit (they also were going to do the República bananera the next day). Perhaps it would have been better to go directly to our bivouac cave as afterwards, in the dark, we had some "route-finding" problems what means that we got there at about 11. At the bivouac we cooked some rice and finally went to sleep at about midnight.
We had to get up early because the route we planned to climb was quite long and the descend on the normal route takes some time. 

Aiguille de la République - República bananera - 12.08.2015

We got up at half past five and started around six o'clock. We passed by the bivouac where Jorge and Fabio had spent the night and at about seven we were at the base of the face. There were already two other guys at the start - or perhaps it would be better to say they tried to figure out where the start was. The problem is that there weren't any bolts in view and so it wasn't really evident where the route started. It was already quite late, almost half past seven, so we decided to skip the first pitches by going up the normal route and rejoin the Bananera underneath the old refuge. After a few pitches on snow and quite easy rock we left all the stuff we didn't need for the route at the first bolted rappel anchor. 

at the base

overneath the old refuge

We already heard the voices of Fabio and Jorge higher up and that reassured us that we were on the right route. The route, like most routes of that style doesn't always follow the easiest and most logical line, even though some pitches are very logical indeed because you follow straight cracks or dihedrals. All in all it is a superb route and the climbing is quite sustained as most pitches are 6a to 6c. The route finishes some pitches underneath the top of the Aiguille de la République where you join the normal route. The last pitch to get to the top is a short pitch with many bolts that can be aid-climbed, but it's worth to free-climb it as it isn't that hard (6c+) and offers very nice slab climbing. 

awesome - the 6b+ dihedral

one of the 6b+ pitches

the 6c+ pitch that leads to the top


We topped out at about five o'clock.
We thought the descend would be a nightmare and would cost us a lot of time but actually it didn't find it is that complicated, at least compared to other descents in the Mt. Blanc range or the Dolomites. We descended quite fast, basically down climbing almost everything (we did 5 rappels). At about eight o'clock we were on the glacier again. It had been a long day and we were quite tired but I had to work the next day so we descended to the Montenvers train station. Isra decided to spend the night there and descend by train in the morning. I had to return down to Chamonix by foot, as I still had to prepare my stuff for the next day :-)