Steve Pardoe's uk.rec.climbing Trip Report Archive Pages

Martin Carpenter's Reports

Edition of 1/8/2005

[Editor's note : Martin's report was originally posted to rec.climbing in July 2005, but I felt it deserved to be immortalised in the uk.rec.climbing archive. So here it is.]

----- Original Message -----
From: "Martin Carpenter"
Newsgroups: rec.climbing
Sent: 21 July 2005 21:28
Subject: TR: The anger of the skies

I'm tired (okay, jealous) of the TR's of warm granite and sandstone, so here's something from a dusty corner of my hard drive from the white world.

16th of February, 2002.

Seb arrives promptly at 7am. I'm still slurping a large mug of tea. My stomach is yodelling threateningly, like a cat baiting a dog. I forsake breakfast, we throw the gear into the car and speed off through the darkness towards la Grave.

The clouds are low, and angry whisps scour the valley as if looking to prey on stray children or livestock. But I'm calm and relaxed. It's only Seb's second time on ice, and he'd like to try leading something today, so that promises a nice, non-threatening day of climbing. Even the guide book's witty suggestion to "Climb to the fall of your choice visible from the car park" evokes just a wry grin. Given that we can't see a damn thing through the cloud, we take a promising looking path upwards and head off to see what we can find.

After twenty minutes of uphill struggle, the growling down below has intensified and I escape off into the trees to seek release. Putrid. Nasty. Fifteen minutes later and again I find myself again with my arse in the snow. "Are you okay?", asks Seb. "Fine", I lie. "At least I'm two kilos lighter now".

Finally we find some ice, and we even work out were we are. It's not as pedagogic as I'd hoped - longer, harder - but the first couple of pitches sound easy enough for Seb to try his hand at placing some screws.

We gear up, and after another quick blast of hints, Seb gets going. The ice is tough, and brittle, but he works methodically through it. Down below I've tried every spot within a five metre radius to find refuge from the shelling from above, but eventually give up, and hunker down as close as I can get to the fall, with the occasional small block bouncing unnervingly off my helmet, and my vision bouncing like a TV that's been slapped.

We stop at the top of the third pitch. Seb drinks a little, but I'm nil by mouth. Two friendly climbers overtake us and we chat briefly before they head off, simulclimbing. They looked pretty good until the next step where the leader, five or so metres off the last big ledge, and with no protection, starts to loosen brick-sized blocks of ice, with little upward progress. The air turns blue. And then orange. He finally clears the lip, and Seb and I follow with more... conservative... technique. I quietly thank him for removing most of the choss.

Another patch of ice, a snow ramp, and then the crux pitch. It looks surpisingly intimidating. Steep. Our carabiners are freezing shut, but there's water running, tinkling down the obvious easy route. (How does that happen?). "It doesn't look so bad, eh?", says Seb. I blink. It looks bloody awful to me. "How do you feel about leading this one?", I ask, but without much hope. That would have been cruel anyway.

So we wait for the other team to finish the pitch, then I switch to more serious gloves, gird my loins (this is an important procedure for me) and get started. Moving carefully up to the start of the fall, I step clumsily into a deep puddle of azure melt water that slops hungrily into my boots. Damn.

My loins start to feel curiously ungirded.

In the middle of the fall, where I want to climb, the water runs freely over the lower gradient ice. I hook a couple of pockets tentatively, but the tools just pull through. Yuck. I head left to the vertical section and get going. It's tough. Vertical. I get a couple of screws in, and find there are a couple of short bulges. I'm having trouble with the tough, brittle white frosted ice. My crampons grate, spit and slither a couple of times. Seb later swears that there's a moment when he sees all three of my points of contact slowly grind through the ice and he fears that I'm going for the ride. But all I can feel is The Pump. The Pump. The Pump is coming.

So I run it out.

But now I have another problem. I can't see a damn thing - just a matt white glow. My eye gear is thoroughly steamed up, and I'm too myopic to do without it. I throw the left axe, and it bounces off something, perpendicular to the face, and it comes back towards me. I find I'm in a corner that I just can't see. There's another three metres or so of vertical frosted glass until easier ground. Squinting out under my glacier goggles, I can see that the corner goes nowhere useful. "With a bit of fire, I can make it", I tell myself. The hackles rise and the beginnings of a snarl curl on my lips.

But Mr. Confidence has chosen this moment to go for a cigarette break.

"Screw this", I mutter. And I fumble for another screw.

It takes an age. After much grunting and squirming, I abandon the first attempt and try elsewhere. The second attempt comes tantalisingly close, but chokes after only a few turns and there's nothing that I can do to get it restarted. As the long minutes trickle by, I shuffle the tools around, find a solid, could-hang-a-tank-from-it placement and try again. Finally, success on the third try and I hang pitifully from the screw with my right calf and left arm screaming silently. Spent.

I continue climbing by touch and luck. Surprisingly often, a pick will fall blind into a gaping, unseen pocket and I pull up on it gratefully. I don't know if the two guys above us were watching my performance, but they must have found it pretty weird to see me hammering the wall to my left with the side of my axe and using my tools as proboscises.

Finally, easier ground, and I traverse across to the belay. "You can use ours", one of the overtakers calls to me, "we're heading down". I have trouble traversing the 5m across to the belay. Dehydration. Cramp in my left thigh. The rope runs out, and we have to do some jiggery pokery. Finally I'm clipped in, and Seb begins his assault.

"How's the last pitch?", I ask the remaining climber as he starts his rappel. "Shit", he says. He wrinkles his nose as if he can smell something that I've left in the woods below. "The ice just gets worse and worse". So much for a nice non-threatening day of climbing.

We climbed la Colere du Ciel at La Grave, France, D-, II/3+.

Paulo Grobel's excellent site has the topo:

and I think we can even see my diedre on the left in this shot:

Damilano's guidebook remains the definitive reference.

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