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Preston Mountaineering Club

Newsletter extracts

The Chamonix Meet - August 1999

by Dave Hallmark

I'll apologise now for the length of this report, but a lot of people did a lot of things. So let's get started.

We left Preston on Friday afternoon and arrived in Chamonix Saturday afternoon to be greeted by Mick and Gary, they had arrived a couple of days earlier. On their first day they did the Midi-Plan traverse (PD) descending by the SE Face of the Aiguille Du Plan (PD). They must have gone at Mick's pace because Gary had the next day off while Mick ran up to "La Jonction". We arrived just after his return, one mini-bus, seven people and enough equipment for a year in the Himalayas. As we started to unpack Jeremy appeared, closely followed by the owner of the campsite who was carrying most of Jeremy's possessions. By 6 o'clock nine people had their tents up, gear sorted and brews in hand quizzically watching Jeremy erecting the "chuck wagon" - the name his tent quickly acquired.

Alpine starts, up at quarter to five, muesli and a cup of tea, off you go and drag your rucksack to the telepherique in time for the first one at six only to find it's delayed for an hour, it had snowed overnight! What kind of an excuse is that in the Alps? British Rail would have been proud of it. So it's 8.30 now and there are nine of us at the start of the Cosmiques Ridge (PD+), axes and crampons sharper than a surgeon's scalpel ready for off on what was for most of us our first alpine experience.

I'm on a rope with Mick but I'm in front this time, I thought this would have made for an easier pace. Wrong -I've now got this voice constantly from behind like a coachman's whip - "Go on get past this group", "You can overtake these if you keep going", and "Don't stop now they are catching up". This is acclimatisation! Acclimatisation for what, Hell!!?

Cosmic Arete, Aiguille de Midi

Just behind us Jason and Alan, having completed one abseil, tied on again and coiled up the rope only to find another abseil ten feet further along the route. Further down the line Dave Hewitt tried to ski off the side of the mountain when his crampons balled up with snow! However we reached the top without too many incidents and everybody had a great day.

The next day the same nine set off again, this time to bivvy above the Argentiere Hut. We spent the night in a pretty spectacular location. We were up at half past two in the morning and started the dark trek to base of the Y Couloir (AD). At this point I didn't feel too good and decided to go back and Gary, who didn't like the look of the weather came down with me. Thanks Gary, I didn't fancy the descent alone.

Mick, Mike, Jason and Alan ascended the couloir and Jeremy, Barry and Dave Hewitt were on the other side of the mountain climbing the SW Flank (Milieu Glacier) (PD).

Ropes, crampons and ice axes came into use on the steepening snow slope up to the start of the couloir which ended in a near vertical ice wall. A 20 foot section of mixed climbing led to the bed of the couloir and from there 3 hours of climbing on 45 degree snow to a final section of rock at the top. A 6 - 7 foot deep runnel in the centre of the couloir provided some entertainment as its vertical sides were crossed several times. A final rock rib led to within 15 minutes of the summit (13000 feet) which was hidden in the clouds. A few minutes to catch a much needed breath and then down the SW flank and across the Milieu glacier brought us back to the hut.

Aug 5th, Mick and Jason got an early start and climbed the Chere Couloir on Mont Blanc Du Tacul (D). The rest of us set of for Le Index, a popular rock climb further up the valley.. We got off the telepherique, walked to the base of the route and prepared to climb. This is when we realised how popular it was. Four leaders on the first pitch at the same time! Ropes everywhere and seven members of the PMC right at the heart of it. Mick, Jeremy, Jason and Dave Hewitt then headed up to the Couvercle hut and climbed The South Ridge of the Aiguille Du Moine. The next day they attempted the Whymper Couloir on the Aiguille Verte but retreated due to due to bad weather (rumour has it that they went up the wrong couloir in the dark of the 1am start).

Argent

The rest of the group added La Chapel and Le Brevant on the opposite side of the valley to the growing list of climbs. It was on the latter I spent three hours staring at the Aiguille du Midi and the Frendo Spur (D+). Back at the campsite it was decided, Mick, Jason and myself would give it a go over the following two days.

The first day on the Frendo we climbed a rock buttress for approximately 2000ft which passed off without much incident and we reached the bivvy ledge by about 6 o'clock; had something to eat and settled down for the night. What a night; perfectly clear above and storms flashing all around in the distance. Modern technology allowed us to speak to the rest of the group at the campsite in Chamonix by Jason's walkie-talkies, and Jeremy gave us a run down on the weather forecast.

By the time we were supposed to leave the ledge (4am) the storms weren't in the distance anymore but crashing over our heads and the weather forecast plainly wrong, so we delayed and delayed. Our nice rocky ledge was now covered in snow. At 7am we decided we couldn't wait any longer and we prepared to continue climbing,as it looked as though the storm was easing a little. As soon as I stood up a bolt of lightening crashed over my head, there'd be no breakfast this morning, "Let's get out of here"!

Hands already cold from packing up we set off up the snow ridge, axes buried deep in the snow, hands buried deep in the snow, all the solid stuff was under a layer of new soft and very cold snow. Round about now I came out with one of those statements you never forget, "If I ever get of this mountain I'm selling these axes and crampons". All the talk was of reaching the Midi station and who would buy the coffee - "I'll pay" "no I'll pay". Strange, it's usually the other way round. The Midi station looked really close and we could see people watching us, but it wasn't that close as it took another four hours to reach, but we didn't care, we we're having fun on the ice couloirs of the top section. We reached the top at two o'clock, shook hands, and took a couple of photos then grabbed the next telepherique down, all a bit smelly, so everybody gave us plenty of room. We didn't bother with the coffee, - "Trois formidable biere s'il vous plait". The satisfaction of sitting in the sun with that beer can't be put into words, we all felt about seven feet tall, even Mick.

At about the same time Dave Hewitt and Gary were making an attempt on Mont Blanc itself, but were turned back after reaching the Dome de Gouter by deep fresh snow and bad weather. The next day Mike, Barry, Alan, Sheena and myself went to the Mer De Glace playing in the crevasses. Mick and Jeremy had time for one more route, Les Lepidopteres on the Aiguille Du Peigne, and one more experience of abseiling off the mountain in yet another storm, while the rest of us had to pack up and say farewell to Chamonix. I have a feeling we'll be back next year.