All of us adventurers have our favorites. One of our favorite places for climbing is Chamonix in France. A never-ending playground for any activity connected to rocks, high mountains, glaciers and snow.
We were there last year to build stamina for climbing the Matterhorn, and now we´ve just returned from another sweaty but great trip. There´s something inspiring about climbing in the footsteps of great climbers. It takes courage, commitment and good partners to finish the routes and get the pay-off. We did return to camp with some pretty good stories.
The Rébuffat route is the original line that renowned climber Gaston Rébuffat and Maurice Baquet climbed on their first ascent of the prominent south face of the Aiguille du Midi (12,605ft/3,842m) in July 1956 and we can totally see why they liked it: the ease of access, incredible textured granite and some of the best views and situations in the Alps, this is an uber classic and for good reason. As if all that wasn’t enough, the climbing is as enjoyable as it is varied, with slabs, finger-cracks and laybacks all featuring heavily. The route became well-known and quite popular very quickly. For many, ourselves included, perhaps the most enjoyable kind of climbing is found on sun-warmed rock, high about wild crevassed glaciers. The only downside is that, if you want to get the full experience and top out, you’ll need to wear big boots and crampons for 10 minutes and then carry them for the rest of the day; but this is alpinism – a heavy bag is part for the course!
The climbing is 6A max but that difficulty is keenly felt at 3700m with a large pack on. All the more were we inspired to climb another big multi-pitch later that week, and doing this trip would give us a chance to acclimatize. Little thought through, we were to experience soon after. After a quite rough start, getting used to the granite wall and pushing through the crux pitch (2nd pitch, 5.10/6a trad), our climbing partner started to complain, feeling sick. Moments after he was throwing up – trying to get rid of the sick feeling on route, the spit missing the other climbing party by inches… We understood that this was due to the quick height gain which we not had worked for (taking the gondola up gives a lazy gain of 2600 m). The best thing was of course to get him off the route, and down to the glacier as fast as possible. Having rappelled off, he recovered and had no ongoing problems for the rest of our time being.
However, the South Face Rébuffat-baquet route held a few more challenges. Pitch 1 (5.9/5c) was climbed with ease, offering a few delicate moves across the slab under an overhang. The crux pitch got us on our toes, and some screams mixed with a bit of fear were heard. Fear is something natural, and all of us have to face fear at some stage. <On that subject, I sometimes wonder if we cling to our fears a bit too much at times, giving them permission to offer us a false sense of safety>. We did at that time push through, thought happy thoughts, and felt the adrenaline shoot through our bodies. Having laid the crux pitch behind us, everything should be a lot easier now. Little did we know about the route finding in the upper sections.. it´s a bit intricate. The wandering nature of the upper section offered little ways to rappell off, overall it was bad protected and looked real hard. Here and there we found a peg, but the whole experience got a bit sweaty when they started to disappear as well..
-Eh, what do you think? That line up there? We were standing in outrageous position, straining to look for the natural route up this wandering last pitch. The way onward curved leftwards and became slabby, leaving us with few options to place protective gear. -OK, let´s climb, lets do it, there´s no option going down here. -Climbing! Momentarily body and mind worked together, knowing we needed every fiber to commit. Face our fear. Trust the rubber of our boots. One hand reached up, the other followed to a small top section. It was now we felt the joy of the hard work being put into preparations in the gym; doing pull-ups and sit-ups. Feet joined hands and the top was just a few yanks away. Yes, we did pull on some gear and did feel a bit bad about that. That feeling however was swept away when we arrived back at camp and read the guidebook again. We apparently had climbed a 6b+ and for us that is hard work!
This day left us with a sense of joy; having achieved this awesome climb together with good friends, who became even better friends by the end of this trip, is the real goal of any trip in the wild.