Tuesday, 16 August 2011

alpine epics

So i returned sucessfully from the alps.. I was somewhat aprehensive about this trip (considering last time i was in the alps i broke my back - long story which I may tell later). But had saturday to chill, have a BBQ/party and send off a friend who's emigrating to NZ. That went fab, and collecting one of the army guys who I was going with from the park (where he'd bivived the night before) added a bit of spark to the evening and was a general all round good guy.

However, time was passing on and as other army chap, Jon, was seriously delayed we decided to get some kip. Around 2am he arrived, so we loaded up and got the hell out of dodge.. What followed was an epicly long drive down the length of France to get to Gran Paradiso in Italy for 9pm.. at which point we checked the forecast with the campsite owner and collapsed into our sleeping bags.

So begins the pain... Monday we woke to a great day, showers, brekky and a nice gentle walk into the hut. Oh no.. not when your with two army guys, one who trains the TA and the other a PTI (personal training instructor) the guide book time of 3hrs turned into an actual time of 2. By which time we were all sweating profusely and my boots had decided to strike and give me blisters (arse, RIGHT at the beggining of the trip!). Nevermind I had compeed, the wonder invention, and left the other 2 to recce the path and get some glacier practice. This was a good all round decision as I was a bit fresher and we knew where to go first thing for tues.

400m of ice? yes please..
Tuesday was a 3am start, a normal time for the alps but still lovely.. Brekky wolfed down and walk into the NW face of Gran Paradiso. I was a bit slower than i'd hoped but not all that bad and the compeed held up fine. We crossed the bergshrund and then began the 400m 50 deg ice slope. This was an ice climbers paradise and was front pointing all the way. I did about 100+m of this and enjoyed every min of it (well apart from the calf burn). But was totally bushed after and handed over to Jon who go us to the top of the slope in style. By this time we were the only ones on the mountain which probably meant we were a bit on the slow side! We then bagged the summit, said hello to the virgin mary and continued on the descent. Unfortunately we came down on the wrong side of the glacier and so missed the easy path back to the hut. Instead having hell with scree and loose mud at the base, before finally crossing over the river and to the chabod hut. So back where we started,, 15 hours later. A quick sprite and then a lovely little jaunt back to the valley in 3 hrs. Arriving there we grabbed some strange pitta/ham/cheese grub and then collapsed into bed for 12hrs.

Wednesday began with shower, brekky and more food. Over which we decided to move to Barre Des Ecrins and get that one underway. So jumped in the car and got going. What should have been a 3 hr drive turned into a mad one and we didn't get to Ailefroide till 7, a quick pizza and check with the hut that we'd still be ok to arrive late. Non? Whaddya mean NON! You'll wake the other guests... ARSE! So we decide a bivi is in order, grab the gear and start walking, 2hrs later and we're near the old hut so find a spot and bed down for some kip.
Barre des Ecrins, the final rocky bit, luckily without the crowds

Thursday - 3hrs later, 2am,, we wake and pack up the gear to leave there. On-y-va. Past the Glacier blanc hut, past the Ecrins hut (just when some people were leaving) and continue on. Dawn arrives and with it a veiw of a snake of people going up the mountain. Still at least we wont get lost! I'm suffering on this and have no power in legs. But on we plod and reach the col  (Dome de Neige to right) before the rocky ridge. It's carnage above us, with the amount of people. But leaving packs there we get going and shimmy past as best we can. This part takes a lot longer than expected, but the weather is awesome, if a bit windy, and so summit bagged, back down we go. By the time we've hit the col again the wind has picked up and clouds have come in. I'm on point and so slip and slide my way down the mountain barely able to see the path (joy). We hit the glacier with sounds of avalanches all around us and crack on. All of us are feeling it by now as we've been on the go for 15hrs ish but we plod on and follow the path through the glacier & crevasses. We get off the glacier and pass the Glacier blank hut just as sunset is past giving it's best show. But no time to stop we pick up our gear and then headtorches on stumble on down the path. By this time we're the walking dead. Concentrating on avoiding rocks, trying not to crash on feet crying out for it all to stop and get out of these dammed boots. We finally cross the bridge and have the last shimmy to the parking. No camping allowed, so we have a quick blast down the road until a opportune place and pitch up. It's midnight by now and sleep is all that matters. 21 hours on the go... by far and away the longest day i've ever had in the mountains and it felt like it too.

Friday is a well deserved rest day, food, food, showers, kit sort and relax. However, it's also time to think about the next route. Thankfully the info centre has guides (in French) but it produces a little gem: puiseaux pelvoux (Couloir Coolidge, PD). A lovely 3hr walk to hut and 4hr route.. Awesome that'll do nicely. So afternoon beer and then an early night.
Sunrise alpine style

Saturday is another 2am start, a quick pack up again, you have to pay the same for camping whether you're there or not. Then crack on. Not much to add on the ascent to the hut. But once there we're treated to an awesome sunrise and get some more grub in. The only way is up from here. Climbing and scree till you hit the glacier after the col. Then turn right and look up the couloir. That'll be it then, another awesome ice route but another knackered Dave. Still summited with sunshine and great views. Slide back to the top of the couloir and then have a decidely dodgy descent as by now it's fully in sun and slushy as anything. After a bit of a wobble we start pitching it which slows us down even more, but finally get to the bottom and pack up. Back onto the scree, hmmm lovely, short abseil onto more scree, joy. and blat away to the hut (don't feed the Marmots). Getting there by 7pm that's a mere ~15hrs of moving in the hills, but Mr proprietaire pops out, are you partie 3? Yup that's us, and knackered we are.. dinner? Yes please! He saw us coming and luckily although we were late it was all ready to go, lots of soup, lots of rice and Chamois bourguigon (a local type of mountain goat), peaches and chocolate followed by cheese.. wow we're stuffed and tumble into bed, after telling him about the piton found for the abseil.

Waking late for a hut, at 7.30 we grab some brekky, pack up our gear and head down the valley being followed by the storm clouds. 2hrs later we're there and showering feels like bliss. Gathering up all my gear i'm done. These two have more via ferratta and new people arriving, but i'm glad in a way i don't, my feet are mullered, i could sleep for a week and food is high on my priorities.

All that remains is 4hrs of travelling, flight, train, tube, Wifey taxi and bath, food and bed. Work monday was hard, my feet are still in peices and somehow, oddly, illogically, I entered for a traithlon this sunday. I SOOO hope my feet recover in time.

Climbing with two army guys (one trains TA peeps, the other is a personal training instructor) is hard, hard, work. Mind you even the PTI said, " The first 10-11 hrs of these apline days are enjoyable, after that it's just endurance" To which I kind of agree, but it's not going to stop me coming back for more!

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