It must appear to some that each of these climbs/posts are starting to roll into one another, however this could not be further from the truth. Each of these experiences is unique to one another. Sure, there are similarities, but each adventure has its own personalities, its own take on a similar story, and todays adventure was definitely its own story.
I have recently been suffering with a bit of a dodgy ankle, and had decided that we should try and climb easier climbs so as not to irritate it any further. After a little discussion Jess and me decided that we would go up to the Midi lift and do the Lawrence Arete. Now this route is something of a pointless aim in itself and is most often climbed as a secondary route after completing something else nearby, however it should serve our purposes of continuing to climb with my ankle as it was.
This plan was about as motivating as getting up for work in the morning, seriously, compaired to some of the routes we had been climbing this was going to be a plod and a pretty short and boring one at that. So later that night I suggested that even though my ankle was in a bad way, we should still try and do something with a bit more oomph! We have one climb left on our original tick list that I made on our arrival in Chamonix, the East Ridge on the Tacul Pyramid, and so our decision was made and my motivations rose with it, this was a route that had something to it and although easier in the grade, seemed like a great day out.
We arrived at the Midi lift station at 06.20, ten minutes before the first lift, we had done this on our previous Midi outings and had got up on the first or second lifts, however today was manic, there were queues everywhere, and they were not short. We joined one that gave a token to get on a certain lift, and even though we were there early, we then had to wait for over an hour for our lift at 07.40. We later met a group that had arrived at the lift at 08.00 and could not get up the Midi until 15.00, a seven hour wait, so maybe an hour was not too bad after all? In reality though all this was a nightmare; we knew that we would need all the time, every hour, from first lift to last to complete this route as we are not the fastest. I had been a little prudent in the planning for this, and we both had a sleeping and bivi bag, just incase we got stuck up for the night. What irritated us both was that the majority of the queue was tourists (I know we are tourists as well), who could go up at anytime of the day and visit the same exhibitions, look out on the same vistas and take all the same photos, however, we want to get up when the snow is still firm from the overnight freeze, snow bridges and bergschrunds are stronger, and also the earlier you get up the more chance of getting down before the last lift.
Once we were at the top of the lift we kitted up at Mach ten speed, and raced down the ridge and onto the … once here we set the pace that would be endured for the whole approach. We were passing other groups on their approach, time and again, and catching others, we were making good speed and time, although I was suffering with a slight headache, which was not helping matters. We made our way two thirds of the way across the Midi- Hellbronner traverse and only stopped once on the approach for a toilet break, and eventually made it to the climb in around 1.30 hours. Once there we had to navigate the Bergschrund, which we had read was tricky! This was also a section that needed to be passed quickly due to serac danger from above, and we could see boulders and stones strewn all over the ground and pock marks in the snow, this was no place to take a picnic. I tried a couple of approaches before finding the right one, and even this one was not easy, with a knife edge ridge feel about it, with added steps up and down onto snow and ice that was perched in thin air, above a drop, big enough to make you think twice. Eventually we both crossed and we were safe, although I was dreading going back across later in the day, when the snow and ice would be weaker and the chances of something crashing down from the serac and bergschrund above were also increased.
We continued our haste onto the climb, and after getting ready set out on the route, with the plan to try and link the first couple of pitches, as the climbing was easy. This nearly went to plan and 40-50 metres of rope later I was forced to stop due to rope drag, which made sense due to a major change in direction after the first pitch. Luckily, at this point and throughout the climb there seemed to be an endless choice of belay stations that could all be well protected.
Jess continued on up the easier ground and the next few pitches got lost within themselves. We were referring to the guidebook for direction, but often just ended up following our noses as we could not pinpoint our location. We followed the route most obvious, whether looking for old pegs or tat that had gotten stuck or left by previous climbers, the path most travelled or the one that looked the best option.
Although there were other parties ahead of us, they were far away enough to feel that we had the route to ourselves. At all the belays the views were amazing, with a panorama from the Midi station to the Hellbronner and everything in between, I really felt in my element. The climbing was pretty easy throughout, and although I had had little pain in my ankle, it was a constant worry, as well as this, my headache had not yet subsided and if anything seemed to be getting worse. It was fine when still, but the tension when climbing seemed to trigger it throughout the climb.
Eventually we pin pointed our location on the climb to the guidebook, and I set off for what seemed to be the hard pitch of the climb, only a 5a, which is funny as I was hoping that I would skip the crux moves due to my ankle, however fate seemed to have led me to lead the pitch and so be it, it was easy anyway and I did not seem to remember any niggles from my ankle. I managed to link two pitches here and ran out the rope fully (60m), so we simul climbed for a short while before I found a suitable belay as I had also ran out of gear. We pitched the next two pitches alternatively and this ended with me at the summit, which was a perfect point at the top of the pyramid! Jess arrived at the summit and after taking photos I checked my watch and it was 14.30, which was the time I thought we would turn around, wherever we were on the route, to give us a chance of getting back to the lift in time.
We down climbed the top pitch and started to belay from there on fixed belays, as ever we made good time on the abseils and there seemed to be an endless choice of ways down, however I wanted to make sure that we were on decent bolts over crappy bits of old tat, and one time I must have missed a set of bolts and ended up dangling just above a set by a metre or so, I steadied my feet on ledges and untied the knots at the end of the rope, and after feeding through a little more rope clipped in my sling and then down climbed to the ledge. Jess when she arrived, completed a similar down climb. Following this we just continued to abseil until a short down climb, where we had left our boots and crampons. I think there were five abseils in total and by the time we were down it was 16.00, so these abseils had took longer than I had intended. I was seriously doubtful that we could walk uphill in two hours, what had taken us one hour and thirty minutes downhill on the approach.
Added to this we had to get over the bergschrund, which as I had predicted earlier was in a worse state, with a whole section that this morning I had stood on with all my weight, completely missing. This made sense as throughout the day we had heard the rumbling of the mountains as snow, ice and rock move, fall and tumble over the different areas surrounding us. This time, on the return we had to straddle the crest of the bergschrund like a horse, just to get a decent enough purchase and to feel a minor amount of safety. We used an ice screw as protection, just incase one of us did fall, or the bergschrund gave way.
Once past this we started what was to be a biblical uphill struggle. As always we had been eating, but it had been small cereal bars and we had only brought 750ml of water each, of which we only had a small amount left, so we were in essence rationing it, as there was a good chance we would miss the lift and be sleeping out all night. From the off, I tried to make a good pace just incase we could make the lift, however I knew the pace was slow and no matter how much I pushed, the pace did not overly increase.
As time passed on, I started to feel weaker and needed more breaks in between steps. When plodding like this, you start to daydream, whilst also being on full alert of what’s ahead, to spot the route, any upcoming crevasses and dangers, shouting back to Jess when the more serious crossings were coming up. I was thinking that all this effort in the run down state I was feeling, that at least my body would be in fat burning mode, as there could not be much energy left anywhere else, we had been on the go for 12 hours in all so far, and it was taking its toll. Funnily enough, when I later spoke to Jess she said that she was thinking of exactly the same thing at the time.
As I was placing one foot in front of the other, I could also feel the drum of my heart pounding through my head, I knew I was dehydrated and all this effort and lack of food and water was not helping the way my head felt. This was to continue to get worse all the way back to the lift station. Eventually it was 18.00, and we had missed the lift. This served as a new motivation, as the sooner I got to the lift the sooner I could get into my sleeping bag and eat the remainder of our food and sleep. However, once we were walking below the foot of the Midi station, I could see plenty of people on the terraces, it was past six so this seeme a little weird, then I heard the over the tannoy system the words ‘depart’ and ‘Chamonix’, I could hear the whirring of the lift still in operation and there was a small amount of hope we might still be able to get the lift down.
As is the usual when you feel this tired, everything seemed to take an age to get to. I was a little worried as walking up the ridge to the Midi station I was starting to feel a little shakey and dizzy, this is not good when you are walking up a ridge. I kept on asking Jess how she was, and trying to be positive, although I thought she was faring better than me. I was suffering and feeling close to hitting the wall, but with such a short distance to go, it was a no brainer we would get to the lift station, although would there be a lift when we got there?
Amazingly enough, even though it was now 19.30, the lifts were still running, so we made our way down to the lift terminal, where I noticed again that there was a token system in place as there was a throng of tourists all waiting to go down. I went up to the attendant who was accepting the tokens and stated that there was no one giving out the tokens at the top (where they usually do), and he took one look at my bedraggled state and let us on the next lift ahead of all the others who had obviously been waiting for a while. This was the second time that this had happened and I am so happy it did. Once down from the lift we shared the most expensive Cola flavor Calippo on earth and even though it was now getting on for nine in the evening it was the perfect appetizer, if I had a box of them I would have devoured the lot.
It has been a long while since I was last in such a shit state; I was so tired and dehydrated. Now it’s the day after and although I still feel a little tired, I am starting to already forget the hardship and remember how good it was. I’m not sure if I would be in the same mood had I slept in the Ice cave, but as I was in my own bed I do feel much more refreshed! We were even chatting as we went to sleep of what we would be doing next, which shows that we were already putting this one in the memory banks and looking forward to the next day of suffering all in the name of fun!