With a month spent rock climbing in the middle of winter (Thailand/Jordan), I feel like winter has eluded me. So, despite summer like temperatures in Chamonix this past week, I was excited to swing my tools a little more into some sweet alpine ice.
A week earlier, my partner Tania and I had tried to climb the Supercouloir but it had just snowed and huge snow mushrooms were looming high above us, making the route impossible to climb. We resorted to climbing the nearby “Goulotte Lafaille”, a 400m long ice route on the Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m). We made quick work of it, simul-climbing most of the route. The next day, I left on a Haute Route, guiding 4 amazing British lads from Chamonix to Zermatt. Upon returning, the weather proved to be – yet again – beautiful and we decided to get back on the Supercouloir.
The Supercouloir was first climbed in 1975 (before I was born!). This rock/ice line is the most striking feature on the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. It is nestled between two beautiful pillars, one of which is the worldclass Gervasutti pillar. I had climbed this route in 2003, via the direct start, which is no longer in condition at this time of year. It was my partner’s dream to climb this route and I was excited to do it with her. Tania is full time doctor and was on the guide course with me in Switzerland. We have climbed extensively together in the past, but since my departure to the States, we were lucky if got to do one outing a year together. Recently though, we have made up for lost time.
We slept at the Cosmiques Hut – a beautiful refuge only 15minutes away from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car. We reached the base of the route by dawn. The sun hadn’t touched the rock yet and it was very cold to touch and was still covered in ice in places. I had to resort to using an ice axe to make it up the iced up slab/super thin crack. I led two pitches in one and reached the now bolted anchor, greeted by the sunshine. We climbed in rock slippers, hauling a pack loaded with our ice climbing gear: crampons, ice axes, boots, ice screws, jackets, gloves, etc.). We made quick work of the remaining 3 pitches taking us to the bottom of a left slanting snow ramp, which took us to the ice. We switched to our ice climbing gear, left the rock gear and climbing slippers at the anchor and made our way to the ice. We climbed the 300m long ice climb in two pitches, simul-climbing 3-4 pitches at a time. By noon, we started rapping down the route, excited to get back to the sun. Although temperatures were nearing 80F in the valley, a cold breeze running down the climb made it feel like we were in an icebox.
We skied down the classic Vallee Blanche in order to catch the Montenvers train. This is the first time that I had to carry my skis to reach the train. Because of the incredible heat in Chamonix right now, we have lost 10cm of snow per day and the mountains look like it’s mid-June! But ice conditions up high are still good and am excited to have a late warm winter season, making ice climbing just a little more pleasant.