The Pointy Red Rock, The Aiguille Rouges

By Christ the weather has been a big load of manure for a few days, and this time it’s was wet, cold and just plain horrible for days on end. As we are tighter than tight, we can very rarely do anything, as everything here costs money, so we spent a good period of time cooped up in the Tourism Office, that has power points and free Wi-Fi, so is a great place to kill some time and surf the net! One good thing, or potentially good thing is that this bad weather has coincided with a drop in temperature, which might allow for the snow to freeze and condense on Mont Blanc and let us have a go at getting up. That said, I’m not holding out too much for that and plan to either climber a longer and easier route than we have been doing so far, or to push the grade up one notch for one last finale in Chamonix.

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A break in the rain for a rainbow!

However, before this happens we have been blessed with a weather window of five or so days, so we plan to fit in as much as is possible. First off we had a lazy morning, so did not fit much in then, but we felt that most of the routes would still be damp after four days of ‘big old fat rain’. That afternoon we decided to set out for Chezerys slabs, this was the first place we climbed when we arrived in Chamonix just under two months ago. It took an age to find a parking spot, due to it being so busy and the first day of sun, it seems that we were not the only ones to have the brain wave to get outside for the day! We set off up the picturesque path that lead to the foot of the climbs; we had done this route a few times before, but it is still nice views all the way.

Once at the foot of the climbs we sat back and had a look at the mass of other climbers who had come to this south facing crag, again, it seemed many others had done the same math and worked out that this crag was a sure bet for a couple of dry routes. Therefore we were looking to find a part of the crag that was less busy, so we were not fighting for position or belays en-route. We eventually settled for the Voie Blanche, which was a classic… supposedly?

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Mont Blanc with its cloud hat on!

We got chatting to a couple of British lads who were bitching about guides and French climbing ethics etc. So we joined in and together we had a good old session comparing stories of fucking idiots we had encountered on routes over the last few weeks, ‘good times!’ I eventually started up the alternate start as it was harder at 5c, and this was ok, apart from a bit of pain from my ankle, it seems to dislike slabs and smearing.

The rest of the climb was pretty similar story, there was a nice third pitch with some steeper moves, although this was ruined by a traverse that was made a lot harder by all the holds being wet and seeping, so more smearing and crap holds. This all led up to the final pitch, the 5c. Although I think the route may have lost this pitch, as it was easy, more grade 4 than 5. Not sure where the 5c bit was, Jess wanted to carry on after the last bolt, as she was sure she had not done the 5c pitch? Who knows? Some of the grading we have encountered so far has been a bit off point this was just another example.

We sat and had lunch at the foot of the crag after abseiling down and eventually made our way back down the path to the van, it was only a short afternoon jaunt, but its just amazing to have these kind of routes on the doorstep so to speak!

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Enjoying a spot of lunch!

That night we chilled out and I treated myself to a trim, as I was starting to look slightly homeless, and also I think people going bald should be bald and not try to hold out, as you look ridiculous, and I was starting to go that way!

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Chopping the mop, Barbershop Vanlife style!

The next day I managed to stir myself at the alarm (plus a couple of snoozes), and get ready for an early day and one of our final trips up the lifts. We were going up the Planpraz Lift, halfway to the Brevent to climb the Cocher-Cochon (TD- 6a) route. This had been recommended to us by the British guys we had met yesterday, so we thought we would give it a go, and at 6a it would be at the higher end of our current ability. However now my ankle is better (ish) I would like to get back to climbing harder, as everyday we do simpler routes like the one previously described, its just not as fun!

The approach was a little crap, up a scree slope, but was easy to follow a vague path that occasionally had red dots to follow, we had decided to bring a plastic bag for some of the kit that did not fit in the bag and after one walk up the hill, this ‘bag for life’ was dead. After this, the first pitch was kiddie’s play, but was a great warm up for the first pitch that was a well graded 5c, spot on. It was good to lead this, as I planned to be leading the majority of the harder pitches on the whole climb.

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Jess approaching the belay

We alternated leads, with similar climbing over the next few pitches, and each time we caught up with a guided group in front of us, although as they were five to a rope we were never going to over take, luckily enough we had a couple of French guys behind, who seemed to have a normal climbing ethic and were happy to wait, as we were at each belay for their turn. This made what was a busy day on a busy route into a good day, which could have been so much worse, and has been in the past due to impatient groups.

After these pitches is a short abseil and a stroll across some grass to what is an amazing spike and the summit pitches, I climbed the 3a slab to the foot of this, and again waited as the group ahead, were evidently struggling with the climbing. Watching the final climber struggle and fall a couple of times actually made me wonder if I could make it up.

Once he was far enough above me not to fall on me, I set off and it was hard going for the first few moves, there was two cracks and one was 5c the other 6a, I just kind of went straight up, which seemed the logical route. At one point I was struggling so much that I reached for a bolt and nearly cheated, I was so close to taking hold and then sense took over and I found an adequate hold to move upwards. I’m glad I did not use the bolt, however it still annoys me how panicky I was and that I nearly did.

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Jess climbing the end of the two linked pitches 5c + 5a

I was supposed to stop in the middle of this rock buttress and use a hanging belay, however this looked uncomfortable for my ankle so I continued up and linked the two pitches together. Not only did this mean I clipped every other bolt to save gear, but also gave a little resistance and drag to the rope, as it was now making its way around a corner, although this did not seem to matter too much. Next up was ‘THE PITCH’ as the guidebook puts it!

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Jess nearing the top of the final pitch

And it bloody was! Tough I mean, it was bloody tough, at 6a, each phase of this forty meter pitch was sustained, with only occasional let ups where I took full advantage and had extended rests as I was starting to feel a little tired. However, the pitch continued and with each obstacle overcome, including a lack of quickdraws, I eventually topped out, feeling very good in myself for leading many tough pitches today, although this one would definitely sit up near the top of one of the best I have done on this trip, as it was on the cusp of my ability and was tough (not sure if I mentioned that yet?), it felt even better when I asked Jess if she felt it was tough and she agreed! There is nothing worse than feeling like you have just lead a tough pitch and the second comes up and lets you know it was a piece of piss! So that was it, ‘THE PITCH’ was done.

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A fantastic summit!

We abseiled off and the same as yesterday we sat and had our lunch at the foot of the cliff, looking over Chamonix and Mont Blanc. After this we followed a pretty cool descent route/path that was exposed at times and was quite varied for just the descent, it was certainly more fun than the crap approach!

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The descent path

Once in the valley we spoke to the Mountain House and asked about Mont Blanc, however there was no up to date information, so who knows? We planned to go back the next day, however that night we decided to skip it altogether and wait for another year. We planned to do another route on the Brevent, called Fison Roche as this is described as a classic and was again a grade 6a multi-pitch. At the start of the trip I can remember looking at this route and thinking ‘I hope I will be good and confident enough to climb that at some point’ and here we are.

Once we got to the climb there was already a queue in place and we just joined in, expecting a day of crossed ropes and mess, although to our surprise the whole route went off without a hitch, apart from waiting at belays for the next group to move off. The first pitch was easy initially, although soon it came to a blank steeper face, and after a few rumblings around I found a few holds that worked perfectly together and soon I had my hands on a shelf and past this 6a move and once again moving up.

The next two pitches were easier and Jess led these for me to second, Although I could feel they were easier, I had noticed that I was finding the climbing harder than I should have done. The next pitch was again a 6a pitch and again I was leading. Initially it was simple enough, with nice hand and foot holds, however as I entered a large layback crack, I started to feel weaker, and although I found I was at 100% concentration I was starting to feel weaker and less effective.

This was made worse when just before the crux of this section, I had a bomber hand hold and ok feet, but the rope was dragging and was an all mighty fucker to haul up, I was taking bites in my teeth and I could feel the rope pulling my teeth and to top this off I also decided to take a chunk of my lip in my teeth with the rope on one of the pull through, which just added to the situation. In the end I moved on and took a rest at the next bolt. My arms were pumped and I felt drained. After a short rest I was able to move up and onto some nicer positive holds and out of this section of climbing.

At the belay I felt spent, my whole body felt tired, the last few days of non stop activity had taken its toll and now I just wanted to rest, although there was one pitch to go. I was lucky that Jess climbed the previous pitch better than I did, and she felt ready to lead the final pitch, which was described as a classic at any crag, from the bottom it did look like a tempting climb, although I was more than happy to let Jess crack on.

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Me seconding up the steep crack! Despite the smile, I soon told Jess to stop taking photos, as I felt so tired I might fall at any point

She climbed this pitch well and I followed, again trying to remain 100% concentrated. Although this had little effect as even on jugs and easy moves I felt weak and unsafe. Once I topped out I was glad it was over, my body aches all over and feels as though it needs a day off, and luckily enough it seems as though the weather is going to comply for once. Don’t get me wrong, even though I struggled with this route I still had a great time, and the route itself was great, and deserving of its popular reputation. Although if it continues to have the traffic of today I’m sure it wont be long until the slight polish that is on the route is shining bright and the route wont be as fun anymore.

I am glad to have added these good and popular routes to my logbook, as each of them show a progression in my climbing, and the potential to progress further. I need to be more aware of rest, I know I need it, but sometimes we have tried to take advantage of multiple good weather days and as before by the last day (3-4 days on the trot) I’m knackered and not able to climb as well I should. Hopefully this will be less of an issue when we move on, as I’m sure the weather will always be amazing??

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The view from our van a couple of nights ago!

Either way, the Chamonix chapter of the trip is nearly over and new locations are on the horizon, Verdon Gorge, a beach (any beach), and then the Dolimites. However, before this there is one last send off for Chamonix 2017, I just do not know what it will be yet, either way the Cocher-Cochon and Fison Roche routes were really good and they’re definitely worth three stars in my money and were a great way to spend one of the last days in Cham this year.

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On a rainy day outside the tourism office, some highlining!
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The summit of Clocher Cochon with a climber on the 6a arete
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A helicopter in the process of rescuing a climber at the foot of Chezerys Slabs
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Always this amazing view from the Aiguille Rouge!
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Jess before the 5c (ish?) pitch at Chezerys, with a lovely view over chamonix below
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The end of one pitch on Clocher Cochon
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