So the “what next” turned out to be the Cosmiques Arete. A classic entry level alpine route which starts from the Aiguille du Midi, standing at 3842m.
It is alpine grade AD 3*** but the approach to the route is a little bit scarier.
The snow ridge to the glacier is exposed. On your left is a one way ticket back down to Chamonix, and on your right is a crevassed glacier. Shakey legs on the decent aren’t really an option but having a cool head, deep breaths and steady legs are easily obtained by not looking down.*
(*not included in your annual pass)
We had decided that this was the best day, for the weather window, and for work. Running a bed and breakfast, working up to and including seven mornings a week, leaves time for longer adventures and early starts, somewhat lacking.
The skies were relatively clear when we got on the lift, but the winds predicted at altitude left a level of uncertainty to a successful attempt. When we reached the top, the strength of the winds (literally) hit us. We scouted round a few of the view points, and I was getting more and more nervous the longer we stood there.
Unsure of what to do, we walked down to the start of the ridge, where tourists stood admiring the view, most of whom, are unaware of what adventures lie waiting past the barrier.
Fear rising in the pit of my stomach, I started to calm myself and break down the route, and the conditions.
- The wind was westerly, and for most of the Cosmiques ridge, you are on the east side or climbing up in between flakes.
- Standing just past the gate, you can’t feel the wind, and there are groups coming and going.
- An 11 stone person is hardly going to get blown off (or so I told myself, with 70km winds)
- Break it down into parts – don’t think of the whole route. There are get out options. We can walk down the ridge, see what the wind is like. Then walk over the glacier and to the bottom of the arete. If, at any point, we realise the wind direction is not going to play ball, we retreat. What’s the worst that can happen? We try again. It was attempted, conditions were bad, we turned back. No one wants to be that high, in winds that strong just for photos on social media of you freezing cold, miserable and looking shit scared.
Extra layers were put on and after a few photos with tourists who thought I was a hero, we set off down the snow ridge. The word “snow” being used lightly. The summer here in Chamonix has been warm. Too warm. A few times on the ridge I would find a secure foot placement on spring slush, check it and then feel it slip as I put my full weight down. Not the best fun looking at a giant slide back down to your studio apartment.
Taking my time, with words of encouragement from my usual buddy, we made it onto a small plateau where the wind hit. The second gust had me crouched down thinking “it’s a long way back up”. We scuttled off round the corner, and for the second time we had realised the wind direction was working in our favour.
The walk along the glacier is phenomenal. You are truly immersed in the mountains, and all the worries in the world seem insignificant in the endless mountain peaks that are within your grasp.
Reaching the bottom of the arete, we realised the chance was worth it. We were fully protected from the wind, and thankfully, as it had partially clouded over, the exposure couldn’t affect me. The clouds were stuck on the west side of the arete, and shielded me from the 2000+m drop back down to Cham.
Oh. My. Word.
It was amazing. 2+ hours scrambling (due to dry conditions) up an amazing route. Half way up there are two abseils. On the first one, my partner went first. Me being me, upon trying to take a photo of him doing an epic abseil, I dropped my phone. Which is not mine. It is my work phone and 10 minutes of panic ensued.
My climbing partner, already on the abseil, tried to look for it. But to no avail. I was only attached via slings and couldn’t move far.
“What will I tell my boss?!”
“I can’t afford to buy another phone!”
“All my photos are on there, and what if my mum tries to call?”
Eventually, I realised nothing could be done. Olly had reached the bottom, and I set myself up to abseil. Prussic secured, I grew curious. “I’ll have a look” I thought.
Setting off, I got down far enough and I ventured in between the flaked rock to check if I could see the phone. After a minute or so of looking I could see a small glowing light. The screen was still on! I took my gloves off, pulled all my layers up and squeezed my hand in between the rock.
Satisfied and slightly smug, I got myself down and told him of the find.
We continued on, aware that the weather report had put off the usual clientele, and we had only one group ahead (who we passed) and no one behind.
Feeling alone on the exposed ridge, we clambered into the cloud for the rest of the arete, with brief glimpses of the sunshine filled valley below before we reached the final ladder back up to the viewing point that I had stood on a few hours before, being battered by the wind.