It seems that everyone who has been mountaineering in Chamonix has done the Arête des Cosmiques, well not me, until today that is! It’s a classic route that is a short walk from the lift station, and after a few ups and downs ends back at the station. So it is obvious why it’s popular, but I needed to find out for myself, and that’s what happened today.
As usual for a day trip we set the alarm for 5.30 and checked the weather the day before, it seemed to be ok, with sun and cloud, which should be fine to do the route. When the alarm sprung into action, the first thing I ever do is look out the van window and up at the mastiff, and today it was all clear! So let’s get ready!!! (In reality, at this time in the morning, the enthusiasm is a lot less than three exclamation marks!)
We managed to get on the first lift up, and with no hanging around made for the ice tunnel where we prepared our kit. Once ready we set off down the ridge, and quite a bit had already changed from our last trip up here (Lachanel Traverse), as some of the patches of snow had gave way, leaving large holes, that said the snow felt firmer under foot so gave more confidence. Also some of the crevasses have become clearer, and those that were once just a hairline crack, are now spreading.
The clouds were spinning up and over the mountains and ridges, flowing across the plateau all around us; this was great as it gave a different view compared to that of last week. Sometimes throughout the day, the cloud would completely engulf us, blurring the view ahead, but never as bad as a white out. We made good time on the way to the start of the ridge, and initially decided that there was enough snow for crampons. Although this decision was changed after a short while climbing as the snow disappeared and all was solid under foot.
Early in the climb we were scrambling up the route, when a guide said we had gone the wrong way, and said that we should head to a piton on the right, not one to question a guide I thanked him and started to my right. This route was harder than the direction we were going and Jess lead up a tough pitch of rock, until the guide ‘innocently’ claimed that it was the wrong way. He and his clients went up the way we were originally heading, whilst Jess and me scrambled our way back to the correct route. What a dick move, another run in with a guide who has been an utter c u next Tuesday (I save this word for special people I promise!). If a guide recommends to a layman mountaineer, such as myself, that he should take a route, I would assume that he is helping someone who has not done the route one million times before, it is to assist and help, not so he can get past us and put us in danger. So far I’m massively unimpressed with the ethics and behavior of the guides I have come into contact with, the massive amounts of respect I had for them and their trade is massively waning.
We continued up and tried not to get riled up, and made good time, always on the heels of those in front, although always patient enough to let them move off, before we continued. Once at the abseil there was a queue and we waited our time, and eventually got on and made 2 fast abs off of fixed gear. Again, we moved forward, over easy ground to the next abseil, this time a guide and his client reached the point at the same time, so I offered for him to go in front. Only for his mate with another client, to come down 20 minutes later, walk past us and just joined in with their belay, no ‘do you mind if we go ahead of you’ in a blatant queue of about 4 teams? No, they just walked past us and cracked on, again, WTF? Am I too polite, if he had asked, I would have let him, but just to push in? I did loudly and blatantly bring this up with Jess behind, but they just ignored us? I know the British like a good queue, but this was just rude.
We finally got to the abseil after waiting longer than we should, and smashed out the ab as quick as we could, two experienced climbers moving off fixed gear, easy! We then moved around the first of 2 major rock buttresses on the route, before climbing a small chimney, again, we were moving together, and continued this up and over to the next buttress. Once we were past this we stopped for a couple of photographs, as we tried to recreate the Rockfax cover photo, although ours are not as good! At this stage, with a few climbers on the crux slab and no one behind, we had the time.
The crux slab would have been great fun had it not been for the polish, from this point on it was more climb than scramble, and we took this in pitches. I also led the second pitch, which wound its way around the buttress, although unlike the climbing the other day (North West Ridge) it was easier to find the route, as everything was well worn. We were again, on the tail of a couple of German climbers, who we had tailed at the abseil choke points, but had now caught up. The climbing was big bulky moves on solid rock for the most part so well within our grade. Once we rounded a corner, there is a block perched between two boulders, which drops off the side of the Aiguille du Midi, this was the moment that my pocket decided to unzip itself and my keys jump out. They landed, petering at the right hand edge of the block. I started to shout at my keys, every name under the sun, like they had done it on purpose and were not an inanimate object, only after this tirade did I pick them up from the patch of ice they had perched themselves on and resumed the climb. I believe this and a couple of other bursts of anger were vented towards other things, instead of those it should have been.
Jess led the next corner, until finally we started on a more vertical pitch of rock, a chimney and an abundance of holds and spikes. By now my hands were freezing cold as the wind was gusting directly on the face, the climb even had the air of a winter route, as the wind buffeted us time and again, and the cloud sank low to dull the sun. Once I got moving and I started to warm a little and I even got hot aches in my hands. Again we were trailing the German pair, and even though they were a little slower, I allowed them to climb ahead, as changing leads in a chimney would be awkward for both pairs, and I do not cross over ropes. Eventually after a bit of waiting they topped out and we followed. I started to belay Jess up, and then another climber came up first, I did not understand why, as Jess would be moving? It’s safe to say, by this time I was pretty annoyed, but let the guy get past. He tried to belay over me, with his rope running over mine, and over me, so I pulled his rope off and pointed to where he could belay, he did so. I later found out that this climber had climbed on even after Jess had said there was traffic and I was pretty much at the top, they ignored her and moved on. What happened next? Unbeknown to me leading ahead, our rope was catching on him and his his ice axe, which meant Jess had to feed out way more slack rope to allow it to be pulled and eventually to be released once the climber realised, all the while I’m leading ahead with enough slack in the system that if I fell I would be having a bad day indeed!
Jess eventually showed through the chimney followed by the other climbers second, once at the top, we quickly sorted ropes and moved off, to the final easy scramble and the wobbliest ladder, whilst tourists were snapping away at me like the paps! The ladder was the scariest pitch of the route in my eyes! At the top, the German climbers had waited for us and we all shared a handshake and high fives, congratulating each other for the route and agreeing on how bad the ladder was! This is one of the reasons I love climbing, you meet some great people, and it was a nice moment that made me forget some of the negatives of the climb almost immediately. That was until me and Jess got talking later and unleashed a barrage of anger and annoyance that had been pent up for the best part of the day!
It’s weird how all these days in the mountains are being tainted somewhat by others, and their disregard for manners, or what I would call climbing ethics. I fully understand that speed is of the essence in the Alps, but this can be achieved without what I have experienced so far on this trip, especially as this has often lead to safety issues, which is just as important as speed. In the U.K, and elsewhere I have never encountered this, if someone is quicker I will always let them past at the next safe point or belay, I just don’t understand it? In all honesty this/these experiences are starting to tarnish my affinity for the Alps in general, I’m never going to be an amazing climber and my grades will always be stunted compared to others, so to move away from routes where the guides are not, is not really in my limitations. We shall see where this dissafinity leads in the future, but for now I will leave it at this.
With all the negativity in this post it could be assumed that I had a bad day, however looking past those things… I added another fantastic route to my logbook, which was great fun all day, mixing in a variety of mountaineering skills in one brilliant route. It deserves its place a classic route of sorts, and its obvious as to why it is so popular. ‘Some’ of the mountaineers we met today were nice and also helpful, and we shared broken conversations at the choke points and belay stations. The weather was a bit mixed, but this just added to the ambience of the route. Finally this afternoon, we have got back in time to watch the IFSC sport climbing World Cup, which is being held in the town square in Chamonix, we streamed this when we lived in England so will be great to watch live, so this was a fitting end to a successful day!