Monday, 23 July 2012

Day 2: My first alpine peak!

Day 2 of Alpine climbing. Nobody except me really got much sleep in the pretty unhomely environment. I was woken at 3.30am when some climbers got up for the first breakfast serving and woke us all up. I struggled to get back to sleep again until 5am when my alarms went off, and in the barely light cabin without a sunrise we shuffled around to get ready. I was first up and out, full of energy surprisingly, and I felt pretty strong and cheerful. Only Greg our guide was up, in the dark dining area. You could only just see the shadows of the peaks outside, it was eerie and gloomy. I had the worst coffee I'd ever tasted and some cereal, then everyone else limped in with shadowed eyes, looking pretty shattered, turns out they'd hardly slept at all. There wasn't much conversation!
We left into the eerie dawn, putting our crampons on whilst on the glacier, making progress up the slope then after 30 minutes or so we separated, with me, Roger and Henrietta roped up to Phil. The rest went off with Greg to climb the Aig du Tour, which included more rocky scrambling. I wondered why I'd not gone on the more difficult climb too but with Gavin and Harry being father-son and Graham and Richard being friends it's understandable as IFMGA guides are only supposed to be roped to a maximum of 4 climbers. We headed right, with me behind Phil, up a consistent but firm ice slope opposite Aig du Chardonnet. It dipped 3 times so it took a while and I began to get out of breath again, and the other two really struggled too. We passed the Aig du Tour, which was accessed by a steep but smooth climb up a snow slope next to a rather fierce but bold rock face, like a huge tower. Phil pointed out the Petite Fourche, which we would be doing instead. It cowered in the skyline and I knew it would be a while. We'd left the hut at 5.45 so by now it was only just breaking dawn, it was spectacular and tranquil all around and as we continued towards the Fourche at a steady pace, the ridge we aimed for began to glow in the sunlight and the Aig du Tour a magnificent hue of orange-brown.

The freezing temperatures lifted and after a quick stop for a (frozen and rather chewy) Powerbar we lost some layers, and preceded upwards with Phil's promise of a proper rest when we reached the sun. It was easy going as we continued up the glacier and up ahead were a few mysterious dark holes and as I slowed to step over one on the path I looked down and saw the deep silver-blue walls of the crevasse below, which must have been 100ft deep. An accident waiting to happen. I jumped over with ease and warned the others. Shortly after to my left were two more, also huge with the massive cracks of ice disappearing into the darkness below. Caution needed, but we were in safe hands.
 After a short break at a col, we walked to the foot of the Petite Fourche, 3520m, which is the same height of the Aig du Tour so we still got the same acclimatisation. We were told it was a snow climb, and he wasn't wrong, as we approached the foot of it and he shortened our ropes. It was now a thigh-burning steep walk up the Petite Fourche, for about 20 minutes or so. It was slow, to say the least. At the top of this we left our crampons and ice axes with our packs and scrambled over rock for 10 minutes or so, still roped up, then soon enough we were scrambling onto the 'top' of the mess of rocks. My first Alpine peak. And the views made the effort worth it, with peaks surrounding and towering over, and the Matterhorn and the Eiger in the distance. I won't forget it. Stunning sunshine but a huge drop in temperature compared to yesterday. We got some good photo's and chilled before scrambling down, it was quite easy going. Some more dextrose tablets, plenty of water and a suncream top up, and we headed back down the slope to the col. Apart from managing to put my crampons on the wrong way round, I was getting used to the kit well.
We had a choice of a long walk round or an abseil from a pretty precarious looking ice cliff, which we saw from the summit was smothered with cornices. Alongside a group of rather noisy Italians, Phil chose a safe location and set up a belay, lowering us down the cliff, it was a bit daunting but it was quite fun, dodging a crevasse full of icicles on the way down, I went down about 120ft then the rope ran out near the base of the cliff. I secured myself to the cliff with my axe and feet then unclipped and guided the other two down. It was then a steep walk down the rest and at the bottom I got some great pics of the daunting cliff behind. It looked awesome and was good fun.
It was then a 45 minute trek across the undulating glacier to the Trient hut which was just visible in the distance. Sadly we got hit by a strong and freezing headwind quickly. The Scarpa Omega boots are lovely and warm though.

 It was glaciated again with crevasses everywhere, Henrietta slipped whilst crossing one and fell in a hole, which was only half a metre deep. Safe to say she got stuck, as did the Swiss guide behind her who helped her out. Was a good laugh though, for all, I think. I'd had all my supplies so it was great to get to the Trient hut for 2pm ish. Thankfully this one isn't as much of a slum as the Albert hut and it's not as crowded, in fact it's actually pretty pleasant.
We're relaxing here for the rest of the day after a non-stop 7 hours. The weather is awesome again but the strong wind soon forced us to pack our bags inside! After a traditional Swiss Rosti, to replace the calories, and a good chat/storytelling, everyone went off to bed, at 3pm! Instead I'm sat in the lovely and cosy Swiss 'Trient' mountain hut, resting and looking out across today's route in the towering skyline and glistening vast glaciers, the blue sky and amazing views, whilst enjoying a Swiss apple tarte and a cup of tea. I'm looking forward to sunset again tonight then tomorrow we return to Chamonix for the big rest. Bon appetit!

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