I've been back in the valley almost three weeks now. Amongst some work and some training i've managed to get out and climb some routes.
For some reason that i'm unable to fully explain, i've had a growing urge to solo some routes for a while now. I used to solo a fair bit, and when i first came to the Alps i soloed some stuff i probably shouldn't have. However over the last few years i haven't wanted to do it at all. Winter faces are stressful enough places as it is, without wanting to have twice the decision making and other brain-zapping factors than normal. But as i say, recently i have felt that urge, to be on a big route on my own, feeling small, vulnerable and at times scared.
After arriving back home in Cham mid January, a lap of Nuit Blanche (the classic Chamonic 6), a solo of the Verte via the Couturier, a group romp up the easy classic "Fil a Plomb" on the West face of the Plan, and a solo of the "Col Du Plan couloir" found me looking at a 100% blue sky forecast for Tuesday.
From looking over at it from the "Cold Du Plan Couloir", i had wondered what a winter ascent of the "Tournier Spur" would be like. I hadn't heard of a winter ascent before though i'm sure there has been. The Tournier is the Frendo Spur's lesser known sibling. It's pretty similar in style/difficulty as far as i can work out, i.e. a 1000 metre ice and rock summer route of moderate difficulty. Sometimes climbed over two days but normally one long summer day. Obviously its not summer at the moment, but i thought that the first day of February would make for an interesting ascent with lots of trench digging on the ice-slopes and some awkward mixed/drytooling where the VS rock climbing is in summer. It turned out exactly like that!
Once again i managed to miss first lift so arrived at the mid-station at about 9.30. I started up the route at 10.30, teetering across the untracked bergschund unroped was as always, pretty unenjoyable, but once across i could get my climbing head on properly. I decided to try and climb the goulotte/offwidth rubblefest created by the meeting of the col du plan serac with the spur's rock, rather than climbing the spur normal route. It was a bit of a gamble as i didn't know whether it would go, but i was forced to as the schrund was more passable at this point. In the end it was mostly nice neve, bulging at 90 degrees. I climbed this for about 100 metres, with the odd spooky section where i could put my foot straight through in to a crack seemingly to the centre of the earth. After a tricky bulge of brittle, black serac ice i gained the huge couloir which splits the spur in two. This consisted of deep powder well bonded for a good foot or two. A steep skiers dream. I dug a trench through this for the next 300 metres up to the col, and in theory the start of the rock crux.
I spent about 30 minutes or more here. Routefinding was a problem; i could see where the summer route went, but i couldn't find a suitable wintery variation on either side that i could take. After much thought i made a 25 metre rap down the west (midi) side of the col. From here i could just make out a way through some ledge systems which looked dry-toolable, after which i could join the crest again. It started with a steep 10 metres of loose flakes and carried on in much the same way for about 50 metres. This felt quite scary. Some irreversible ledge shuffling later brought me to a steep thin crack, good for axes but steep and extremely exposed over the serac-ridden couloir 100 metres beneath. I had a couple stern words with myself then committed up it. It was probably worth 6 in the scottish sense, and once in the right headspace felt great to cruise. This thankfully landed me on some easy ground which i tunneled up to the next notch on the crest, regaining the summer pitches.
Here i had a quick drink and a "block" or two. The pitch straight after this notch was possibly the "5c steep crack with pegs". I climbed it by balancing up a mushroom on the slab to the left, before squeezing myself in to a chimney. I had to take my bag off and haul it from my belay loop on a 120 sling so i could get in the offwidth properly. At the top of this i latched a good chockstone and pulled through. Some awkward powdery gendarmes were then traversed and then i was deposited on to the upper glacier/snowslope. 30 minutes later i was on top.
I took 5hours 20, which i'm pleased with. It certainly was an interesting thing to do in winter.
On wednesday myself Jonny and Karl took advantage of the still-brilliant weather, and spent a relaxed, sunny day at the Haute-Savoie's answer to Ceuse. Bionassay. As ever it made me realise that sport climbing is definitely what we should all stick to. 7C+ was a shock to the system though, and needless to say i didn't get it........
Photo's, top to bottom:
- Myself on the Summit of the Aguille Verte, after a morning burn on the Couturier. (taken on my phone).
- Somewhere on Fil a Plomb. (Credit Jonathan Griffith)
- A terrible solo shot, looking down a steep offwidth on the supper section of the Tournier. (also taken on phone).