Saturday, August 1, 2015

le Grand Cap!

As we exited the funicular building on Punta Helbronner I let the thin air hit my lungs. My backpack felt heavier still and I felt a bit dizzy after getting up early.
The mammoth funicular building, a hundred million euro project makes a sharp contrast with the surrounding granite peaks of the Mont Blanc massive. Riding it is surreal, it's a teleport to a different world: from the green valley with a nice climate to the big white plains of the glacier where air is thin and the elements play their own game. The luxury of gaining 2000 metres of altitude in 10 minutes is big and in such opposition with the rest you have to endure, it may even be against some strict alpinist ethic. But... we happily accepted this necessary evil :)

I panted and set into the rhythm. I saw now the glacier was a bad place to start quitting my caffeine addiction, but a few hours ago that extra minutes of sleep were too sweet to give up. The sharp sun and our goal now in sight made it easier to walk. Upon seeing the wall, we just got super psyched. The golden granite shone in the sun in a promise of a memorable day out.
seeing this after some walk, it all starts making sense
Grand Capucin is the tallest peak in the picture
The Mont Blanc massive offers innumerable peaks to be climbed, from easy scrambles to top-end alpinism in 1000+ metre walls. We were in search of pure rock climbing, but this meant we had to go here. Grand Capucin and its satellites are supposedly some of the best faces to be climbed in sport style. 500 metres of great compact granite, a steep, monolythic wall with many overhangs and hard sections where beautiful slab pitches of precarious, technical moving alternate with more or less enjoyable (depending on size - there's all) cracks that come in long pitches.

the mist rolls in, not sure if it's a good sign...
 Technically, we spent two days climbing above the glacier and camped overnight. One day we climbed in Trident de Tacul, a smaller wall to the left but equally good (or maybe even nicer cracks...), and one day, we hit the Grand one. It was a big day, we got up at five to get on the first funicular at 6.30, started climbing at about 8.30 and finished rapelling when the dusk set. We finished the last pitches in fog and strong wind, it was freezing cold. The mountains are harsh and unpredictable. But what an experience indeed! 
the Trident du Tacul - great cracks in an incredible setting!
We climbed Echo des Alpages, a 7a max route taking the middle of the tower. It took us long because of looking for the right pitches, and my trad climbing skills are not really on the level yet, while physically it was not hard. I am determined to go back one day and get stuck in something harder to discover all that incredible rock has to offer.
Dave seconding a nice dihedral pitch

the one that followed was a 7a overhanging hand crack - a bit tougher
the slabs are incredible climbing in their own right. Harder sections of rock that resisted erosion form the so-called "chickenheads" - golf-ball sized knobs to big potato-like blobs sticking out that make it real funky
It didn't go without a bit of an epic though. A broken tent, getting caught by rain, half the time spent shivering, almost getting lost on the glacier in the dark and fog etc. - no comment needed, alpinism (is this alpinism already?) is about enduring, and then enduring some more.
I am all new to this game and there's much to learn. I need to grow up and mature as a trad climber before taking up some harder climbs, experience is key. But it's an eye-opener every time. In the big wall, you'll never get the perfect conditions we look so much for when on single-pitch, hard routes. Something will be missing, either it will be cold, too warm, you'll be hungry, tired, sore feet, sore from sitting on the belay, whatever. As soon as you set off for the next pitch though, the flow takes over and you're back in focus. It's this feeling of clear focus that is so powerful - and something that is often hard to recreate on a sport climb.

genuss crackin' in a nice hand-jam

Big shoutout and thanks to the SMAR team for help, letting us stay in their tents and good company. You saved our asses! Thanks Petra for the few photos I posted here! Now it's a month of studying and training, and then... onto the next!

crazy clouds above Mont Blanc. we didn't feel the heat wave