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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Chamonix Trip

Let me first get one thing straight. I boulder. I don’t put on a harness, or a helmet or even carry a rucksack. I have my pad, shoes and a down jacket (and an endless supply of chocolate). That’s me set. So, when the opportunity arose to go to Chamonix with Berghaus to do some beginner winter mountaineering, to say I was slightly concerned is putting it mildly.  However, I thought why not and got on my way (with 3 insulated jackets and plenty of thermals). Arriving late at the chalet I met the other lovely people who were also on the trip, but soon was tucked up in bed ready for an early wake up call.

Now I’ve been to the Alps before, but always in the height of summer to do walking and Via Ferrata. Therefore I knew how stunning it was but I had truly forgotten the sheer beauty of it. Looking out of my bedroom window the tiredness disappeared and excitement took over. After a breakfast of chocolate croissants (god I love France) and porridge we met our guides from Mountain Tracks and sorted out our gear. Helmet? Check. Harness? Check. Crampons? Check. Ice Axe? Check. Fear setting in? Check!

Into the mini bus and we headed over to Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The sky was clear and the sun was shining which means only one thing for my pale skin, so on went the factor 50 and out came the sunnies. We took a cable car from La Palud to the Torino hut and as soon as we stepped out we could all (well almost all of us, guides excluded) feel the altitude. After a short walk, and lots of huffing and puffing, we got ourselves geared up. Crampons on, ice axe in hand, oh Jesus I’m actually going to die today.  The more experienced of the group headed to The Traverse of the Aiguille du Thoule whilst the rest of us headed for a comprehensive glacier training session. We did some basic crampon exercises to get us used to wearing them, which involved going up and down a steep face whilst roped up. A couple of trips and laughs later we all felt comfortable (well almost) and confident (urm, perhaps not).

First ascent using crampons from Pnte Helbronner

After a baguette and some chocolate we headed across the glacier to do some simple ice climbing. None of the group had ever used technical ice axes before so it was an experience for all of us. To say I felt pretty professional is an understatement. In my head I looked immense: cool, calm and confident. I think the reality was a bit different though. ‘Come on Jess-really hit the ice’, ‘Jess-put more effort in, use your strength!’  One thing I have learnt-my left arm is shockingly weak. How embarrassing. Note to self- if I ever sign up for something like this again, get strong (oh and a certain amount of fitness will probably help too).  It was really enjoyable and I have to say I had a huge sense of satisfaction when I had successfully reached the top without falling and looking like an idiot. The scenery was stunning as we were doing all our ice practice just east of Mont Blanc du Taoul. I felt very lucky to be there. A windy and rainy Peak District seemed a long way away and I understood why a lot of Brits leave the rain behind to live out in Chamonix. It was certainly a tempting idea-sun, mountains, croissants, what more could any outdoor enthusiast want? Anyway, we all had a go and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and were disappointed when we decided we had to head back if we were to make the last cable car of the day. Then the realisation dawned on us that we had been walking down hill to get to where we were, which meant only one thing. We had a tough hour ahead of us.  Walking slowly and carefully, we finally made it back to the cable car station.

Ice axe work on the Glacier Du Geant

Once back down a couple of us indulged in some Italian coffee and cake then made our way back to the chalet. All ideas of a crazy night soon disappeared once we all realised how knackered we were. A leisurely walk into Chamonix to a pizzeria was just what the doctor ordered, and some tartiflette and pizza later we were all in bed dreaming of what tomorrow had in store.

Another early morning and another beautiful, sunny day. A short walk into Chamonix (with slightly aching legs from yesterday but I wasn’t going to admit that to anyone) and to the cable car station to head up to the Aiguille Du Midi. Once at the top you could feel that it was certainly colder than yesterday so, as predicted, my shivering started and out came the many layers and down jackets. I should have mentioned this earlier on but the cold and I don’t get on. In fact, the cold and I hate each other. Now, I’m originally from the south so moving up to Sheffield itself was a shock, let alone being out here. Anyway, after layering up and getting all our gear on in the (sort of) warm station and with only my eyes showing we headed out onto the windy, snowy, exposed ridge.

About to embark into the cold of the Aiguille Du Midi

The ridge was pretty exciting stuff and I felt pleased I had done plenty of ridge walking before otherwise I think some fear may have set in! Looking down to Chamonix on my left and stunning mountain scenery and glaciers on my right, I once again felt lucky to be up here. We were all pretty comfortable being roped up by now so the walking was much smoother than it had been and we were all soon in a rhythm. Having walked down the ridge we then headed towards Pnte Lachenal. After a little bit of a break we started our ascent.  Whilst walking up we heard and saw a small snowfall on the mountain face beside us. I’ve never heard anything like it before and it sounded like the deep rumblings of an earthquake. Us beginners all looked at each other in fear, but Klem (our leader) soon reassured us whilst also hurrying us along! At that point it did dawn on me how dangerous it can be out here and safety is the number one priority.

The ascent up to Pnte Lachenal was exhausting but really good fun and it was good to do some scrambling to finally reach the top. We all had a little breather, took some photos and then headed back down dreaming of lunch. We stopped by the rock face just under the Refuge des Cosmiques for our lunch and to do some crevasse rescue work. We were shown how to rescue someone if fallen, and all the necessary precautions needed in order to rescue them safely and securely. This was useful and really interesting and it was good to learn more technical details.

Crevasse rescue under the Refuge des Cosmiques

After the crevasse rescue and lunch we started our exhausting ascent back up to the cable car station. The ascent was so steep and although we took it slowly it was still a huge struggle and once at the top we all felt extremely pleased and proud of ourselves. Walking along the ridge back to the station we could see amazed Japanese tourists taking photos of us, which was an incentive to keep going and not let them down! Once at the station they wanted photos with us which was a bit of a surreal experience but quite cool. They were very impressed with us, which suddenly turned us all very modest (‘oh no, it was nothing, anyone could do it….’).

Looking pleased to have nearly finished the dreaded Aiguille du Midi ridge

After getting the cable car back down to Chamonix we had ice cream (much deserved) and coffee and headed back to the chalet. We then had an interesting slide show from Berghaus and Mountain Tracks, which I think encouraged us all to visit Chamonix again in the future and explore it once more. A tasty dinner at a pub soon lead to drinks out, but still a relatively early night in preparation for our trips home tomorrow.

Looking out over the Vallee Blanche

A fantastic trip with brilliant people and one which I will remember for many years to come. Thanks to Klemen Gricar for the pictures used here and a huge thank you to Berghaus for organising the trip and Matt, Klemen and Miles at Mountain Tracks. I’m sure we’ll be back for more.

Jess works in the Web Sales department

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012

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