Alpine Dreaming – Pointes Lachenal Traverse (AD II)

Ever since the beginning of this trip I have had one dream, the Alps. To get stuck into the mountains for no other reasons than I absolutely love it. I don’t know why and I have no answer as to why, it just is amazing. I have been flicking though the Chamonix guide book for over a year, eager to get out and climb some of the routes, I have also read Alpine Mountaineering a couple of times, so I just want my crampons on, ice axe(s) out and to be in them mountains!

This is why, in recent weeks, I have been feeling a little let down by the weather, as it has stopped me from enjoying the mountains for the past couple of weeks. That said, there have been opportunities, that had I been on a one or two week trip I would have gone, however as we are here for the long haul there seems little sense in wasting our expensive lift pass (which we have 15 days) on half arsed, or poor weather days, so I have been saving it for the best, and today was definitively one of those.

We woke early, as in 05.30 early, and after clearing my groggy eyes, pulled the curtains aside and peered outside, and what greeted me was a fine summers morning, with hardily a cloud in the sky. This added to yesterday’s weather report meant that today was a goer! After completing a somewhat rushed morning routine, with extra double and triple checks of equipment, we were off. We walked through town, where restaurateurs were placing tables and chairs outside to welcome the throng of tourists who were a couple of hours sleep away from visiting, and made our way to the Aiguille de Midi station. Once there we joined the queue, and managed to get on the second lift up!

 

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Getting ready in the ice tunnel

Once at the top, we followed the pack of troops dressed for the mountains and made our way to the ice tunnel. I had read, many a time, of those who have slept unplanned here, when missing the last lift down, so it was good to see it for myself. Everyone was prepping ropes and crampons and so on, so we joined in the throng and started to get our gear ready.

 

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At the foot of the snow ridge

Once out on the snow it felt great to feel the crunch of snow and ice below my boots and crampons, although the exit from the Midi is a bit of a baptism of fire, from the off, you are on an exposed ridge, that drops down onto the north face routes of the Midi! We took this slowly and did not let anyone rush us down, however once on the easier slopes below we made better speed towards our destination.

The route we were aiming for was the Pointes Lachenal Traverse (AD) and to get there we had to swing a right at the foot of the ridge and walk below towers of granite that’s form below the midi station. These contain some of the climbs I have wished to do for many years, but do not have the skill or experience as of yet to attempt them and it was good to look at them in the flesh!

 

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Jess walking towards the Tacul Triangle, before we turn left for our route

Our path started to lead away from the Midi and across the glacial plateau of the Col du Midi, to the foot of the climb. On the way we checked guidebooks and took some obligatory photos and therefore took somewhat longer than the recommended guidebook time. Jess led up the steep 45-degree slope, which made both my calves and lungs burn, up until now I had not thought of the altitude gain. Once on the ridge at the top we took a break, and replenished ourselves on snacks and water.

 

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On the ridge

We then moved off and again with Jess leading, made our way over some mixed terrain, that lead to the central summit. This was an easy enough scramble and soon we were near the belay, however before this, there was a left hand traverse to get there that was quite exposed, and left little wonder as to what a mistake here would mean. Whilst on this, I heard a crash behind me as an avalanche flowed down the face behind me, I guess that one of the seracs had broken off above, although it was far enough away not to worry us and only deliver a spectacle. Its weird how avalanches have the power to kill you, however at a safe distance you marvel at their grandeur.

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On the exposed part of the traverse looking at the avalanche behind

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We waited at the abseil station as a father was going down with his son, and once he was clear, we made our decent. Our rope was a couple of meters short of the flat ledge that led to the next traverse, so I stopped just short and awaited Jess. Again we were plagued with a group, with whom I guessed was a guide/leader who lowered his clients down together and as they were flailing around on the face, one stepped on Jess’s leg, and was lucky not to cause injury or damage, especially with crampons on. Once jess was at my position she started to work her way down to the ledge with the other clients, however when I pulled my ropes down they got knotted in those of the guides and we spent the best part of ten minutes sorting out the faff of rope that had tangled all over Jess, it was a cluster fuck on a part of the face when no one is protected, all for no reason. Its crazy to think if they waited for 5 minutes, as I had for the previous group, for Jess to finish her belay and for me to pull the rope through, we would have all moved quicker. Patience in the Alps is not a virtue I’m quickly learning, although I will continue to buck this trend.

 

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Jess at the abseil station

After the short traverse we approached the crux of our route, a mixed section of climbing. I sorted out my equipment and set off up the route and although there was a little apprehension at the start. I began to work my way up, protecting here and there, although not too much, as the route was maybe a grade 3+, which even in crampons was easy enough. I tried to place a cam that slipped out immediately, so I pushed on from that point without protection. I soon found my way to the top and began to belay Jess up. There was a mass of guides, clients and mountaineers on the route and it was a bit of a mess in all honesty, but the rope moved freely and soon enough jess joined me at the belay.

 

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Climbing the crux of the climb!

At this point we made a beeline for the actual summit and once there slapped a big high five and set down to eat and drink again. After some obligatory summit shots, we made our way down another steep slope, moving as quickly as was safely possible, as there was a serac to our left, and this led to the floor of the climb. We took a slight detour home so we could see the approaches and routes of the Arete a’ Laurence and the Cosmiques Arête, this also afforded us a grand view back to the climb that we had just completed. We had time to do one of these routes, but decided that for one day, this would suffice and there were plenty more days to come! We slogged our way back up to the Midi, which is hard work and again, I felt I was blowing a bit and had a tinge of a headache.

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Sitting atop of the summit with parts of the routes in the distance

On the ridge we waited for a guy to come down who was a double leg amputee with crampons on the stumps, massive respect to that guy, it’s hard enough when fully able. I hope if ever I’m injured to any extent, I will have the balls to crack on and exceed and not just give up!

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At the end of a successful day!

After this we sat on one of the terraces on the Midi and had lunch and a break, before heading back down to the valley for pizza, cola and some well earnt rest!

Jess has never really understood why I like mountaineering so much, however, this route and day have gone some way to convincing her of why. She kept on throughout the day about the surroundings that are just magnificent. Everyway you turn you are adorned with the whitest snow, with rocks protruding out to form summits of all shapes and sizes. The route itself, was also really interesting and included many different aspects of Alpine mountaineering all rolled into one; glacier crossings, steep snow slopes, ridges, exposure, scrambling, abseiling and climbing, all topped off with a summit that allows you to drink in the views. It sits as one of my favorite days in the Alps, and that in itself is great!

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Although my body is a little sore, I cannot wait to get out again and hopefully experience the same, time and again. I already have plans rolling around my mind, and when the next one comes to fruition, I will let you know!

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On the ridge between summits
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The scramble up to the abseil
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Jess at the top of the crux climbing pitch, happy to be on flatter ground after climbing in crampons for the first time!
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Looking back at the route on the way home
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Making my way down from the summit
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A view up to the granite climbs on the Aiguille du Midi
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