Monday, 23 July 2012

Time to kick some ice!

Well it's probably unsurprising but basically each blog I write is one day behind, so I'll write two tonight so I can catch up. On Saturday we spent the night in the Adventure Base lodge in Chamonix, really nice place. Woke at 8am knowing that I had to sort out kit for a 2 1/2 day trip. Dave who i'd stayed with the night before had promised me that on the Saturday morning when I woke up at their apartment, I would look out of their window and say 'oh my god'. Excited, that morning I looked out to see forested hills but no peaks except a slight glimpse of the Bosson Glacier. The cloud was low and the sky a mood-dampening grey.
But this morning, he really guaranteed it would happen. I'd had a good night's sleep and looked out of the curtains and for sure I said 'Oh my god!'. It was stunning, crystal clear and deep blue skies against the snowy peaks which towered above the town.

I got packed quickly, leaving a bit of stuff (including the costume), because I was pretty eager for breakfast.

Went upstairs to find everyone having a pretty impressive looking breakfast, and in the dining room was a huge window, so whilst we sat and ate croissants we were all in awe of the peaks ahead. What a way to start a trip! We saw Mont Blanc nestling in between Mont Maudit and the Dome du Gouter. There she was. What I'd been waiting to see! It looked intimidating, yet beautiful. In 5 days I would hopefully be atop the summit. I was awe inspired. Rich and Graham hadn't actually turned up until the night before so I only met them at breakfast. It was now that I spoke to Greg and Phil over coffee and cereal that they'd climbed Mont Blanc over 150 times between them, so I'd be in good hands.

We checked kit and then got in two minibuses and drove to Le Tour which took 30 minutes or so up a scenic valley. Roger forgot his harness so his bus turned back whilst we waited at Le Tour, admiring the Le Tour glacier above, glistening in the sun. Awesome.

We then got onto the cable car, which was literally a mad dash into a cramped little cart with space for 4 people max. It went surprisingly quickly, then as we literally had to leap out, we got onto a chair lift this time, 2 people in each. This was even better, pretty windy and the air temperature plummeted rapidly, so I was eager to get off. Quite therapeutic though, perhaps.

Then it was gearing up and walking along a steep valley on rocky paths. I was pretty amazed at the scenery so far but knew it would only get better. My handy little Garmin told me we were at about 6000ft. The walk lasted a few hours or so and the numerous breaks for food and water came as relief on my feet. As awesome as my Scarpa Omega boots are, they're not very comfortable for long rocky approaches, the fronts of my feet started to hurt.

We finally reached the Albert 1er hut, as for an hour or so it sort of hovered in the distance but didn't really get any closer. A few little steep sections got the thighs burning a bit, and about 20 minutes from the hut my head began to throb. It was a relief to get to the hut and stop for a good hour for some tea. It overlooked the Chardonnet and le Tour glacier, it was absolutely stunning, albeit a little cramped. By now it was 2pm so we ventured down from the hut as a group and onto the Glacier. My headache returned promptly but I battled through it then remembered I had Paracetamol in my rucksack. It was then the first bit of 'teaching' on the course. We put our crampons on and practiced walking round in them on all sorts of terrain then started increasing the gradient, walking up and down slopes of ice, following each other in a sort of 'conga' dance.

Then we got our ice axes out too and joined in the fun. We had to practice the same manoeuvres but with the use of the axe. I was pretty surprised at how easy they were, and they gripped the snow like cement. Phil made us traverse across a ledge of fairly steep ice, with a pond of blue, ice-cold water and about 2 metres deep, directly below us. It was unroped so it forced us to focus on what we were doing. This was all in gorgeous sunshine and awesome views of Aig du Chardonnet ahead. Then we were led round the 'pond' and one by one tied into a top-rope where we ice climbed the slope, front pointing and really smacking the axe. That really was good fun, pretty straightforward and after I abseiled back down the 25 foot slope I got the camera and got some great pics of everyone else. I was getting weary and as the time flew we got the crampons off and walked back to the hut. We passed an impressively intimidating crevasse, keeping well clear, so deep that you couldn't even see the bottom.

The rest of the night was chilled. We packed kit again then after dinner, in which we were cramped like Sardines in a retro-feeling hut, it was a few drinks outside. The air temperature dropped rapidly, and nearly everyone went to bed, leaving just me, Rich, Henrietta and Graham, and some dog wearing socks that liked the leftover salami on one the tables. We didn't wait in vain though, as with our cameras at our ready, we got the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. I was absolutely blown away as the glacier turned pink and the light disappeared behind the distant peaks.

We then hurried inside for warmth, and if I'm honest the dormitories weren't brilliant, we were cramped up once again. The toilets were even worse. In an uncomfortable fashion I got to bed for 10pm, set my alarm and upset some Russians with the noise of me sorting my kit out. Happy days.

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