Pictures of alpine climbing look great but seldom express the discomfort involved in it. It is all about making yourself comfortable in really unpleasant situations and still smile for the picture. You are often under stress, carrying heavy rucksacks, feeling hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, tired sometimes all of them together or in quick succession.
Everything gets wet, humid and smelly. We sleep with gloves, insoles and any wet piece of clothing inside the sleeping bag so that they are “dry” or at least warm for the following day. Tip: loosen up your boots before hitting the sack or risk them being too frozen and impossible to wear in the morning. Put frozen tight boots is a real challenge!
To avoid missing the alarm every day one of us would be the “bitch”. The one in charge of respecting the clock, waking up ahead and melting water for our bottles and breakfast. At such an altitude, making 4 litres of water can take up to an hour.
We had a lazy start on the first day and after some wondering around went to Cosmique Ridge which is a fairly easy but pretty climb, ideal for a first day of acclimatisation. As usual there were loads of people and queues at the abseiling points but we soon were climbing the railings of the Midi station where crazy tourists started asking Nikola for pictures. As usual he went the extra mile and let them handle his axe for the shots. Hilarious!!
The weather was perfect and warm all day but as soon as the sun disappears behind the mountains the temperature drops and all you want is to be inside your warm sleeping bag with a pan of hot grub. Mash and chorizo always an all time favourite!
Tour Ronde, Decorps-Perroux (North Couloir)
After a gentle start we headed to Tour Ronde. Since Nikolay had already done the standard normal route we decided something a bit more exciting and went for Decorps-Perroux (North Couloir) D/D+ (II 2/70o). The route has very interesting mixed moves, but pretty dangerous in summer. We had constant blocks of ice and rocks falling under and above us all the time and it like the whole mountain was loose and would crumble at some point. We had to take extreme care on where to step or what to pull to avoid dislodging a big block towards the one bellow. Very stressing. Abseiling would be even trickier due too a of anything solid so we pushed on and managed to get to the summit without any major incidents. Great day.
On the way back to the tent I started feeling my flue, lack of acclimatisation and mountain fitness hitting me really bad. Nikolay is in excellent shape and not being able to keep up with him makes me a bit depressed to say the least since I hate being the liability of the team. My chest was full of “stuff” and every time I coughed it would never stop. I had to dig deep to keep going uphill for hours and only managed to get back to tent an hour after Nikolay who, top bloke as ever had lit the stove inside the tent and build a mini sauna for my arrival. After 16h on the go with minimum water and food I could not hold anything on my stomach. Not pleasant night.
Knock Knock. Who’s there? It’s the Gendarmerie!
We woke up by the sound of the Gendarmerie outside our tent. I tried to play dumb that I was not aware of camping restrictions but he would have none of it. Yesterday I counted 13 tents in the glacier so it was easy to understand why the guy was slightly crossed. We were both tired and after a some discussions we decided to dismount the tent and stay put in the glacier, sun bathing all the way until the last cable car was gone and pitch the tent back again.
Mont Blanc Du Tacul, Cheré Couloir (II D)
We woke up before the sun rise to avoid queues and went straight to Chere Couloir (II D), another classic that was on my wish list for ages. Good climbing, mainly at the steep 2nd pitch which Nikolay was fortunate enough to lead but even after that it keeps getting interesting. Contrary to the other times that I have being to the Tacul this one we walked a further hour and got to the summit. Boom! Awesome day.
Rebuffat Route (TD, 6a)
On our last day before heading down we decided to give a brief try at the classic Rebuffat route. Nikolay went up and after several attempts at a tricky move decided to come down. I went up and with the flue still getting the better out of me decided to leave for another time. We packed our stuff and headed down to the city. With a 30kg rucksack going up the Midi ramp was not an easy task. I need to stop every few steps to recover and cough. Essentially we got our assess kicked and ended up seeking comfort into some city burgers.
Great food soon turned into a proper drinking session. France had just wont a match on the Eurocup so the city was on fire. We were soon sharing the table with new friends and I had cramps in my stomach of so much laughing!
I just love this place!