Pitch after pitch of perfect snow and ice. Autumn 2014? Nope, yesterday on the Rebuffat-Terray, a classic Chamonix ice and mixed line. Current valley consensus seems to be that ice and mixed conditions are frankly a bit shit. Thinking otherwise, Alex and I decided to head up to give this route a go. Fortunately our hunch proved right and conditions were excellent, indeed perhaps too good with hoped for challenging mixed buried under thick névé, not that we should complain!
An early start from the Aiguille du Midi mid-station saw us scrambling through a snow-covered boulder field as we worked our way towards the Glacier de Blatière (do yourself a favour and approach via the Lac Bleu, not via the Peigne. On paper the approach is longer, but I reckon it’s quicker than going through the boulders and you’re far less likely to injure yourself). Arriving at the base of the route a bit too early, in the darkness we struggled to work out the best way to get onto the route. We ultimately decided to try and climb the first pitch of François Marsigny and Thierry Renault’s One Step Beyond. It turns out their route is pretty tricky and halfway up the first pitch Alex decided a retreat was the best option. After getting back to firm ground, it had brightened up and we could now clearly see the normal approach gully. We made a move towards this gully, racing up it as quickly as possible, conscious that we were almightly exposed to the hanging seracs of the Plan Glacier above us.
Now established on the route, we looked up to see it covered in ice. Perfect! Finding deep névé, we easily moved together up the first couple of hundred metres to the base of the difficulties. What should have followed was 6 long pitches of sustained and challenging mixed. However, these difficulties never appeared and instead we just found pitch after pitch of excellent snow and ice. Protection was sparse, with generally only a few runners a pitch, but with conditions as they were it would be hard to fall off. Half way up Alex managed to spice things up a bit after missing a rightwards traverse. Instead he led his way up a thin, delicate and very bold ice smear. This was probably the most committing lead I’ve ever seen in the mountains, with Alex risking a good 60m fall before he finally managed to find himself a piece of gear far up the pitch. Climbing up to join him, I was glad to be on a top rope and just enjoy the moves – thin torques, shallow hooks and deep lock-offs to small blobs of ice, it offered just enough to be climbable but little more and was definitely the pitch of the day. On reaching the top of this pitch, we realised we had climbed ourselves into a bit of a dead end and so launched a small retreat to rejoin the normal route. Back on route, the conditions continued to be parfait. A short while later we topped out at the Col des Pélerins, psyched to have got the route in the bag but just a little disappointed that it didn’t put up a bigger fight. One to come back to in drier conditions!
A true five star bivi site! 30 seconds from the lift, chairs, tables, a perfectly flat surface to sleep on and a cracking sunset. There’s even a bin for your rubbish. What more could you ask for.
Alex making his way to the start of the climbing proper. We comfortably simul-climbed the next 200m, mostly low-angled with just a short pitch of 70 degrees and another at 80 degrees with a small vertical step at its end.
Alex back on route climbing a brilliant iced up corner.
Alex further up the corner. Usually the corner is mixed but we found it fully formed in ice and goes at around 4+/5. As was typical for the route, the gear was pretty spacey.
Alex working his down the Glacier des Pelerins on the start of our long walk back to Chamonix.