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!    

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