Monday, 17 March 2014

Two very different alpine days - the Rébuffat and Gabbarou-Albinoni

Psyched frenchman...
Sometimes all you need in life is a super psyched Frenchman... When Arthur rocked up from Grenoble saying that he wanted to climb the Rébuffat rock route on the South face of the Midi, I had my doubts. I had so many doubts that I insisted we take along crampons, technical axes and a full set of screws as well as rock and ski gear, just in case we had to come up with another objective. It just seemed very unlikely that we could actually go granite climbing at 3800m in March! Even though several Vallée Blanchers declared that we would definitely get frostbite, we chose to ignore them and have a look at the Rébuffat anyway. As we were gearing up, Arthur said he was glad I was British as none of his french friends would have followed him!

The route looked good from the bottom with only a few patches of snow about. Choosing to leave our skis midway between the start of the route and the abseil descent (I have climbed the Rébuffat once previously in 2012) and then stomp up the snow was probably a bit of an error. The slope turned out to be pretty well consolidated icy neve which wasn't very pleasant in rock shoes or trainers. Traversing a final snowy ledge saw us onto the actual rock and life got a lot more fun!

Some snow negotiation...
Other than a few more snowy ledges the rock was clear, dry and warm in the sunshine. Although I was wearing ski pants and two synthetic belay jackets, we weren't anywhere near getting frostbite PHEW! The ski down the normal route on the Vallée Blanche was fairly horrific, but Arthur and I had a good walky pointy session and got a good look at what routes may still be in.

Looking down from my shady pitch to our skis.
I was wearing a lot of clothing!
The start of the rock climbing season made me realise how pitifully little mixed alpine climbing I've done this winter. As Sam felt similarly we decided to remedy this by go having a look at the Gabarrou-Albinoni on the East Face of the Tacul. From the bottom, the steep climbing didn't look particularly fat but we decided to go and have a look anyway.

Getting over the massive bergschrund was a little bit intimidating, it's huge! Very undercut and pretty wide with just a tiny balanced snow bridge to tip-toe across. Most of the initial couloir was uneventful, except for the one slightly steeper ice step where I suddenly got pelted with spindrift avalanches. This was then followed by quite a lot of ice and rock too! This is the main problem with being on an east face in the morning.

My psyche just about lasted until the bombardment stopped and I could continue upwards. Still expecting to get taken out by a massive rock I was surprised to see a bright orange helmet bouncing down towards me... Somehow I managed to catch it as it went past without letting go of both axes and peeling off into the great beyond. Definitely the highlight of my day, although the French climber who dropped it probably felt differently!

Once on the steeper climbing, the ice stopped being quite so soggy. Even though we were dodging loose rocks quite a bit we still thought the route was a goer. Looking up the next steep pitch, I realised that I had used up my bravery for the day in the spindrift avalanches earlier on. Thinly iced rock is not one of my favourite things to climb so I handed my lead over to Sam. Sadly on the 'thick' ice a few metres off the belay his tools were still bouncing off the rock underneath, so we both decided to call it a day and descend. The abolokov thread halfway up this pitch probably should have been a bit of a sign!

Sam questing up some steeper ice
The top few pitches of steeper climbing were pretty thin when you got to them!
After a lot of abseiling (that first couloir is long!) we got down and crossed the 'schrund without dropping ourselves or our gear in it. Shame we couldn't do the last pitches of actual climbing but good to have another good day out in the mountains.

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