Friday 15 October 2010

Croz Spur

Got a text of Dave Almond the other day, saying could I meet him in Chamonix?
That was on the Saturday and by midday Sunday I was on the way.
The plan was the Croz Spur via the Slovenian start and with a great weather forecast we were confident we'd pull it off, but you never know with alpinism until its in the bag, so we weren't gonna get too excited.
My summer this year has mainly consisted of sport climbing in a bid to improve my rock grades, so by the start of September it was time to get some endurance fitness in, as the focus swings towards winter and  big days in the mountains. For me this means loads of days out in Wales, and this year I finally knocked of the Welsh 3000's and with 12000ft of ascent and 25miles in under ten hours, I felt ready for the Alps...well OK.
The Montenvers train was closed so we took off on a leisurely stroll up to the base of the Grande Jorrasses, and after 7 hours came across a small serac near the start of the route that would make an ideal bivy.
We settled in and then the snow started.
You can't control the weather, so Dave set the alarm for 3.30 and we agreed if it was still snowing then , we could go back to sleep and come up with a new plan, as we wouldn't be getting on the Croz.
I was using a very light sleeping bag along with a belay parka that wasn't keeping me that warm so tied to the fact I don't sleep great on first bivies, I was waking regularly, and witnessed the perfect weather arrive way before 3.30, so no excuses, game on.
I awoke to the sound of voices, another team coming our way, they were early. I dosed back to sleep.
Later more voices, I stuck my head out and said hello. Something wasn't right. I checked my watch, 5.45. Shit, Dave's alarm hadn't gone off, time to get the skates on.
A quick brew, some chocolate and we were on the way. By 7am we had crossed the shrund and after years of thinking about it I was finally on the face that had occupied so much of my thoughts.
Following the rope snaking out in front of me, the doubt's crossed my mind. Was I capable of stepping off a plane and climbing a 4000m peak? At that moment I wasn't sure and when I got to Dave at the first steepening, I was happy to let him continue in front.
I'm sure if I'd felt better I would of enjoyed the climbing. The Slovenian section linked together the lower snowfield's via steeper gully climbing with the odd delicate move on thin ice until we arrived at the top of the second ice field.
A rock wall split by a vertical fault leading to a large roof was the line of the Slovenian and about 20m up this, an icy ramp led out leftwards to some snow ledges, above these a steep ice fall led directly to the upper snow slopes, this was the way of the Croz and the line for us.
Looking up I was in my place, mixed climbing, a jigsaw puzzle to be solved inch by inch. I changed gloves and racked the gear as all thoughts of tiredness miraculously disappeared. Straight away it was technical. Two thin seems led upwards to a peg, something to aim for. Pick's just catching I torqued my mono's in to the seem and moved higher, left foot on a small edge right bridging out I hit a patch of ice in the crack only for it to fall away, but this cloud had a silver lining and with a bit of chipping another peg was revealed giving me the confidence to move higher. This proccess was repeated again to a third peg but this time I could only clip the old tat that hung from it.
With calves burning I looked up at a ten foot section that would require full on commitment. I knew it was the right way but wasn't ready to commit, so looking left I attempted a tension traverse to reach some ice in the next groove. It wasn't happening and in the back of my mind I knew were I had to go, straight up into the unknown with full commitment but no falling.
This is what climbing's about for me, intense moments of pure focus where every move is controlled and precise. Even when I reached the ice and it shattered away, I found enough to get the pick to hold and pulled up, to the reassuring thwack of solid ice above and I could breath again.
I placed a screw and moved leftwards onto the icy ramp where the brilliant mixed climbing continued to the belay.
Dave led through across the snow ledges and up the ice above, continuing to the top of the third snow field. From here a gully led in two pitches to a notch on the ridge which we followed to the final rock tower. It was slow going and difficult to protect, with powder snow over loose rock, so it was getting dark when we reached the final section. Here we decided to take the righthand variation. This started with a pitch of delicate climbing at about Scottish 6, moving rightwards across slabs, to reach the exit gully, all quite tricky in the dark.
Dave took over the lead again. Moving across into the gully he clipped a peg on the left and got a wire in the right wall. The ice in the gully was to thin for screws and he couldn't see any more rock pro above, I watched, heart in mouth as he started up the 10m of unprotected thin ice, wondering how I would deal with the situation if he fell. I relaxed as he pulled over, into the easier gully above, then later as the rope came tight I followed the pitch, scrabbling my way up as blunt tools and monos struggled to penetrate the hard ice.
One final pitch led to a breche on the ridge. It had taken us four hours to climb the last three pitches and 16 hours in total for the route. I was hoping there would be a bivy spot on the ridge  but out of the option of climbing along it to see if we could find something or abbing down, we chose down, by four slow abseils and finally some much needed sleep in the burgshrund at 2.45.
I was pleased to find that although I was moving slower than I would of liked, I could leave home and climb a 4000m peak via a technical route and get back in a round trip of four days. Hopefully this will open up some more oportunities in the future.
Bring it on.