For a while now I have moaned about the weather here in Cham, it’s been okay, however I’ve always wanted it to be better! So the other day we got a window of what looked like good weather and we were going to take it! I started looking into routes in the mid mountains, as there was cloud higher up and I eventually decided on an AD route on the Petits Charmoz (AD 4a) that I had overlooked previously and thought it would be a good day out. Later that day I was waiting for Jess to finish up some work and started reading a few climbing blogs and posts on UKC and all this started to get me in the mood for something a bit harder, so I went to my wish list and found the Voie Ravanel route (D 5b) on the Pointe de Bayere, and so made the proposal to Jess that we should climb this instead.
Jess trusted my judgment and agreed after looking at a couple of different guidebooks, one placed the hardest climbing at 5b the other 5c, after doing it I think I agree with the latter for one pitch… but maybe that’s because I’m not very good. We drove that night to Argentiere and after a bit of faff (work/prep) got our heads down for the night.
After getting our kit ready that morning, we managed to get the lift up in good time, although it was pretty empty compared to the other days that we had taken the lift. This slight worry turned a little to apprehension when we got on the second lift, as it had to slow right down to a stop due to the high winds, and clattered its way into the station. As soon as we were out, we could feel these high winds and again, I wondered if this ‘good’ weather report had been a little white lie (to be honest I did not remember checking the wind speeds). We kitted up as usual and added extra layers, I’m usually a stickler for wearing a helmet on a glacier, however today I wanted as many layers on the bald patch as possible, so ran the risk without the helmet (I’m still here so it was ok mom…).
The approach for this climb is all descent; you literally walk to the end of the glacier and then scramble for a decent period of time, following an indistinct path, that is guided by cairns every so often. The guidebook said 45 minutes, and apart from stopping to take rope and crampons off, it took us nearly an hour longer, I don’t know how they could cover that distance so quick without running? As we descended from the higher ground the wind started to dissipate, and left a breeze for the whole day; its turns out the weather report was pretty much spot on! Once at the foot of the climb we had caught up another group, who were obviously slow and we tried to get ready as quickly as possible, as they were a group of three and one was overweight and evidently slowing the group down. We were simultaneously ready, but the guide started up first. I was willing to wait, however he stopped at the first belay 15 meters away and clipped in, so I thought sod this and started climbing; after the amount of guides that have crossed over my ropes, why should I not climb and do the first 2 pitches in one and we could overtake this much slower group from the off, in my opinion as we had already caught them I thought they might suggest we go first…(ha, good one!), so I set off at the speed of one thousand Gazelles up the climb.
I ran out of rope just short of the belay so made an improvised belay at en route and brought Jess up. On second thoughts, we should have simul climbed for a few metres as the ground for both of us was easy, however it’s always easy to see mistakes in hindsight. Unfortunately as Jess approached the first belay, the guide set off for their second pitch and Jess had to follow, and was massively slowed by the pace, and therefore me blowing my arse out to climb like a sprinter and stay in front of the other group was kind of wasted.
From this point on we shared belays periodically, until about the forth pitch when they descended with a problem, as we later saw one of their party get picked up by a helicopter, and we continued up. The guide and me had a chat at one belay, and as he was literally hauling up his client on a pulley system, he continued to apprise me, as he had Jess earlier, that I should not have set off when I did and tried to take the lead, however I reiterated that this had happened to us time and again, and it seems that its one rule for one and one for another. Realistically I was only doing what had been demonstrated by other guides throughout all my Alpine climbing, and therefore felt I was following the mountain ethics demonstrated by others in his own trade. He did not have an answer for this one. I would usually feel rude at this point, however after two months in Chamonix I’ve kind of had enough of saying sorry, and being typically polite and British, so said what I actually thought. I did make a point that I would never do this In the UK, as it’s against climbing ethics, plain and simple, again to a silent reticent reply.
Aside from this I climbed an amazing layback crack, this was the one that was 5b in one book and 5c the other, as I said earlier I believe its more the latter unless you are a crack master! Once past this Jess lead off and we struggled to find the route, and eventually she found a crack that would go, and took that. It turned out that this was off route, but either way it was a good traditional lead, and easily in line with that of the higher grades on the rest of the route. The route (when we were on the route that is) had a good amount of pegs, although they were spaced and supplemented with our own placed protection, so this was a good indication of being off route. Once I climbed up, I made a traverse to get back on route that was not overly easy either…once back on the route I made my way up of more of the same, awkward crack moves until a slightly overhanging section threw me for a while. I eventually found a few good holds and a peg hiding in a corner that was a very welcome sight, as I was getting the worst rope drag and had to pull it through before setting off up the next set of moves, so always having slack in the system. I aced the move and was at the belay before no time.
I brought Jess up to me, and she had to also traverse the unprotected link between the off route and the actual route. Add to this, that the blue rope had snagged on something, so I could not pull up on this, so Jess needed to take coils while climbing, until she eventually freed the rope, and I could protect her on both ropes.
The next pitch was the final one; these were grade four pitches, across a cracked slab system that Jess lead and I seconded, easy climbing for the most part and a nice dial down after some tough climbing and route finding earlier. Once at the top we had a couple of summit photos and set off over the ridge on easier ground. We pitched this, as at some point I had damaged my ankle, probably jamming it in a crack and weighting it, not something I have done often and I reckon I have done some minor damage as the pain has not left since, and was a nightmare on the decent.
We did the whole route in five hours, which with the slow start and going a little off route, was not too bad. We then had the decent to think about… now, as we had been nearly an hour slower on the approach; I thought we could match the decent time of 45 minutes. As said earlier, I half joked with Jess that you would need to run the approach to match the time stated, so we did some running on the decent and we still only managed 1.15, half an hour slower than the guidebook, therefore it might be confirmed that you do need to run to match the times?? Either way the descent was tough, although when not suffering with my ankle and tiredness, the views were pretty good and varied from glaciers to green slopes roaming with sheep. We also just made it on the last lift down! Which proves that if we had waited, we would have been left with three hours extra walking to the valley, so I’m happy I made the choice to overtake the slower group, as I was already super tired and a little in pain when I got to the lift, just look at my face below!!
I feel so tired writing this at the end of the day, and as we ate so little en-route, and it took all day, I feel like a rest is well deserved. All in all, this was a cracking day; we have both just completed our hardest Alpine route and climbed well throughout, we have the scrapes and scratches that are sometimes the signs of a good days climbing. This is another route that has been ticked off the wish list, and as we might soon be closing this chapter of our trip we have started to reflect on some hard days graft on the hills and have some fantastic memories that will last forever! Hopefully with some more good weather and some healing on my ankle, we will add to these memories in the coming days…