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David Rae's Reports

Edition of 9/9/2003


Bregalia, Chamonix & Fontainebleau, David Rae, September 2003 (from 2002)

From: David Rae
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 03 September 2003 14:16
Subject: TR: Bregaglia, cham and Font 2002

New poster grabs one from the archives. Hope you's like it.

We were on the road for two minutes when we broke down. Despite this we still managed to make our ferry and were sleeping in a field just outside Switzerland by five in the morning. It rained, and Chis got wet.

Not the best of starts to our European adventure, and we were just beginning to get on each others nerves when mountains started to rise up before us. Before we knew it we were enjoying a bottle of plonk with a couple of English guys in Bregaglia, talking about politics and, erm, cricket.

Which was fine. Or it would have been fine if any of us had the slightest interest or knowledge of the game. Still it kept the bloke that would never keep quiet happy, and the wine flowed. Until it started raining again.

This time it really rained. None of the 'slight but persistant drizzle' the UK is famed for, but a full-on, torrential, bone-soaking downpour. This caught us a bit off guard, as it also brought snow above 2,500 feet. Which didn't bode well for the routes we were planning to do - North East Ridge and North Face (Cassin Route) of Piz Badile.

Still, we thought, give it a couple of days for the famous Alpine sun to work its magic and conditions would be perfect. Or something like that anyway.

The next day we decided not to have that rest day I was gunning for and went for a reccy instead. Unfortunately the reccy turned into a walk, which turned into a slog, which turned into a monumental pain in the arse. No, not really, it was very pleasant and allowed us to enjoy our first beer at an Alpine hut.

It was a stunning place, with granite spires in every direction. The North Face of Piz Badile was directly in front of us (still snowed up, and looking a bit daunting). We decided then and there not to attempt it unless the conditions improved and headed back down to the valley to open another bottle of plonk and eat loads of food.

This went very well, except the bloke still wouldn't shut up. So, we decided to go climbing. Not then, that would be stupid because it was dark, but the next day.

And so we caught that lovely cable car up to the dam, and wandered over to a crag called the Spitz something or other and set off, very confidently I might add, up the classic of the crag: an eight-pitch, granite-fest with no hard moves but fantastic exposure.

Again, this went well. Until, that is, I accidentally wandered onto a little-known climb which I was assured came in at about 7a. Cue the first fall of the holiday. And a lot of swearing. And tangled ropes. And being stuck on a belay ledge. And an increasingly grumpy climbing partner.

Still the rest of the climb went without too much mishap, and we were on our way to our second Alpine hut. There we ate loads of food again, and crank a few beers. This time we didn't have to worry about the bloke never shutting up because he wasn't there. Until he appeared out of the darkness while I was smoking a fag.

The next day we sat around and felt miserable. It had rained overnight, and left another route we wanted to do out of nick. So we waited for the day to warm up and headed over to the Spitz something or other to try something harder. This didn't go very well. And I yellowed after the first pitch. Which, in hindsight, was a very good idea - no point exerting yourself too much this soon into a holiday.

I think this pissed Chis off a bit, and conceding defeat over the conditions at altitude we decided then and there to go to Chamonix. Which was the best idea ever.

Leaving a passport on the roof of a car while you drive at 60 miles an hour along Alpine roads, however, was not.

And so there we were again. Herming along continental motorways at 100 miles an hour, with a destination in mind, but very little organisation to go with it. Still, at least an old geezer found the passport and repeatedly hit Chis round the head with it for being such a twat in the first place.

And then we were in Chamonix. Again. It had been a while, mind. And this time we meant business. After pitching the tent in Las Molinas, we opened another bottle of plonk and ate loads of food.

The next day wasn't raining, but it was foggy. And the campsite decided it would shut for the season the next day. So we checked the weather forecast and decided to get up into the mountains.

But not before we got drunk. Very drunk. And Chis pulled a really ugly bird.

The day after we got very drunk and Chis pulled a really ugly bird we wandered up to our third Alpine hut with a geezer we had met in the camp site. He wanted to do something, and his climbing partner never did, so he gladly accepted our offer of tying onto our rope.

Getting lost on the drive to the Dome De Miage did not bode well for our route-finding challenges the next day.

Still, after a brief tour of the limestone outcrops of lower Chamonix we were safely parked by the obviously closed cable car. Which didn't bode well for our preperation skills.

Chis had got his way afterall. He was desperate to do the route from top to bottom, without relying on anything as soft as a cable car. I was gutted. And so was Dan who seemed to be a little more concerned about what the hell he had got himself into.

Being experienced Alpeenists and all that, Chis and I were aware that glacier travel after 2.00pm was a distinct risk, so it was with mild concern that we finally set off from the valley floor at 11.00am. A mere five hour walk to the hut lay in front of us.

Not a problem we thought and set off walking. The first bit was blissful: a gentle twisting ascent of a forest trail which led to the Chalet-Hotel Tre-la-Tete. This took just over an hour, and we were making good time.

But then came the morraine, the glacier, and the steep chossy shit which led to the Conscrits hut. Thankfully the glacier is a friendly one, and a few hours later we were sitting in the hut with very sore feet but a big fat plate of meet and rice. So, obviously, we ate loads and drank a beer.

We rose at 4.30am the next morning and actually managed to start walking by about 5.00am. Which for us was something of a miracle.

Thankfully we got lost again, which put us right back on track.

Despite this we arrived at the glacier just as it started to get light which was, of course, perfectly implemented Alpine expedition planning. For some reason it was decided that I should get the lead. Chis got the rear of the rope, with Dan in the middle.

Stepping onto the first real glacier of the holiday was a great feeling. Hearing a block of ice the size of a car dislodge itself somewhere beneath our feet certainly wasn't. So, in true Alpine hero style, we ran away like girls.

There was no further set backs that morning and we were soon sitting at the foot of the ridge eating jelly sweets and letting the first sight of the sun warm our backs.

After gaining the ridge we could begin the real purpose of the route. The ridge provides an absolutely stunning line and has a bit of everything you would want. Brilliant exposure on knife-edge snow ridges, the same level of exposure on moderate rock scrambles mixed with fantastic pointy summits.

The ridge has three actual summits on it. The first is more of a sub-summit to Pointe, which is the main summit of the ridge which then leads along to the final peak known as La Berangere.

After a steep, but mercifully quick descent from La Berangere we were back in the Conscrits hut supping a well-earned beer, and dreading the walk back down to the car. Which, as it happens, turned out to be every bit of a nightmare as we feared it was going to be.

Chis kept whingeing about his sore shins. I kept whingeing about my sore feet. And Dan (the 21-year old) walked happily along without a care in the world. Bastard.

After a rest day of sitting around doing absolutely nothing, planning a trip to the famous Font, Chis somehow managed to persuade me to do another mountain. His excuse - it was a small one-dayer: L'Aiguille de L'M.

What seemed like a very brief days rest in the valley, where we opened a few bottles of plonk and ate lots of food, was soon followed by the dawning of M-Day. M-Day was supposed to be easy.

That's what Chis told me. A one day mountain, less than 3,000 metres high, and a stones throw from the Plan de L'Aiguille.

So we set off in good spirits from Chamonix to catch the 9.30am telepherique to the mid-station. So far, so good. We could see the summit, see something of a path that led to its start, and the feet were holding up. Just.

The guide book told us the route was a walk in the park. So in preperation we took next to no gear - a couple of slings, some karibiners and a single rope.

We should of known, however, not to trust guide books. Arriving at the base of the route we were pleasantly surprised to find via ferrata ladders leading from its start to the steep, gulley that led to the top of the col and the start of the rock climbing proper.

This section posed no problems and before we knew it we were sitting at the top of the col eating soggy sandwiches and taking in the view.

From the col the route looked relatively straight-forward, and according to the guide there were only a few sections of 3+ which amounted to the main difficulties. So off we popped, brimming full of confidence and moving together.

This didn't last long. The first section was more tricky than it looked in rigid boots, and we were soon taking it in turns to thrutch our way up sections of rock which would have been more at home on a traditional Lake District VS than what was supposed to be a VDiff at the very most.

Still, we persevered until we arrived below a steep face and corner that led what looked like a sub-summit. After a bit of soul searching we accepted this wasn't the proper route and abbed back down a couple of pitches to see what we could find.

This time the guide book came up trumps and provided us with a diagram that actually made sense. A short time later we were climbing the real route, which still felt about VS, and arrived at the summit with no other problems. Apart from the alarming sound of serious rock fall echoing all around us.

The view from the summit of the Aiguille de L'M is stunning. Almost 2,000 metres below your feet lies the Chamonix valley, to the East lies the Drus massive with the Mer de Glace snaking its way up the valley in all its monstrous glory and to the South West rises the Grepon and the Aiguille de Midi.

Sitting on the summit was probably the most satisfying ten minutes of the holiday for a few reasons. We scared ourselves a bit getting there, the route had everything (via ferrata, scrambling, glacier crossing, rock climbing, a great summit, rockfall and a great view) and we could almost see the pub. Unfortunately it also allowed Chis to take an utterly gay looking photo of me trying to look like a mountaineer, but ending up looking like a gimp.

But as we all know, almost being able to see the pub and actually getting there are two completely different things. What followed was one of the worst descents of my life. A race against time to catch the last cable car of the day across huge boulder fields with feet that were quickly losing the will to exist.

Still, with very little reserves left, but huge amounts of satisfaction, we stumbled smelly and sweaty onto the telepherique along with the gaggles of tourists. (By the way, if the five foot woman who had to stand under my arm pit all the way down is reading this, my sincerest apologies).

And then finally we were sitting in a cafe happy to have bought the most expensive beer of the holiday so far. Two topics of conversation kept us going: Fontainbleu and the nights activities.

By now the car was sounding pretty awful. The only way we could make the stupid metal grinding noise go away was to drive very fast or in circles. The latter would not get us to Font, so we opted for the first.

German engineering, huh. The wheel had sounded like it was about to fall off since Switzerland. But the big red Audi just kept going. It got us to Bregaglia, it got us to Chamonix and, Goddammit, it would get us to Font.

Which it did. We arrived without a guide book, or a clue, in Font just before it started to get dark, quickly stocked up with plonk and loads of food and headed for the Tourist Information.

This we eventually found and we finally worked out the best course of action: find a campsite. Somehow we managed to find the right one, just down the road from Milly-la-Foret, and settled down to prepare for some serious cranking and sloper action the following day.

The next couple of days or so passed in a bit of a blur. The first involved us wandering around the forest in a bit of a daze at the size and beauty of the place. We had no guide book, so it was a case of finding a rock and climbing it. This didn't go very well so we decided to hook up with some of the guys from the camp site the next day.

Everyone was happy to help and before we knew it we were doing some of the famous Font circuits on a beautiful sunny day. Oh, and I stood on a dogs head.

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