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Supercouloir, E face MB de Tacul

Physically the first hour of climbing brings us on the sixtieth meter of the Gervasutti Pillar and psychologically on the verge of where we have never been so close to. For the last fifteen minutes we've been feeling increasing fear of falling and nerve-racking hopelessness. Standing in big boots on one inch wide ledges we are trying not to put any weight on dodgy belay. In front of us an unprotect able granite slab, behind us a year of partnership preparing us for this top notch climb. It is behind our technical skills to traverse the slab in big boots without using the fixed rope. Yet Vincent is too afraid to pull on remaining few strings of frayed rope. Finally, after several attempts he gives up. I decide to give it a try. I leave my rucksack with Vincent and tension is raised by our clumsy lead-swapping manoeuvres. I feel like an elephant on a wire. Pulling on the shreds of rope for additional balance, bit by bit I move my, lighter I wish, body up the slab. I leave black smudges on the line of crystals, which provide just enough of friction for the tips of my big boots. Past the edge that frayed the rope I arrive below an overhanging chimney. I go a few meters up the chimney and make a bombproof belay. Vinc follows, loaded now with two heavy rucksacks. A moment of triumph shining on our faces gives us each much-needed mental support but physically we feel quite drained. One rope length on mixed terrain leads us to the main gully, which is filled with hard ice. Now my partner takes over and leads swiftly a couple of pitches. When its my time to lead again, I find the ice too brittle for my blunt tools and old crampons. This causes considerable slowness. Two pitches before the end of this superb gully the watch shows 5p.m, it's our pre-arranged turnaround time and we agree to abseil.


On our second day we decide to climb a new line on the "Pyramide de Tacul". From here we can watch a progress of a lone party struggling somewhere in the middle of our yesterday's route. Belaying Vincent on the first pitch I notice a big avalanche rolling down the Supercouloir. I hope the unfortunate climbers to be on a good belay* and thank God we made a good decision to retreat yesterday. A few minutes later two dots reappear in a diagonal rappel* trying to avoid the direct line of avalanches. Vincent, focused on leading does not notice the accident. It's the end of a day when I tell him what I saw and a week later he tells me that the leader took a forty meters fall in the avalanche. Skiing down the "Glacier du Geant" we witness a man being rescued from a crevasse* in the area of the "Seracs du Geant".

Fifteen minutes later skinning* up the "Glacier des Periades" we are heading for tonight's goal, the "Bivouac des Periades". This, the sexiest hut in the Mont Blanc range, is situated on a narrow ridge with superb views of the Grand Jurasses on one side and the "Envers des Aiguilles" on the other. Its tent size wooden interior offers merely enough space for three people but it immediately makes a complete stranger fell like home. It has dry blankets and facilitates cooking, exactly what we need before tomorrow's route.

At five, morning light and crystal air paint our whole world orange. To reach the skis we retrace our steps from yesterday's ascent of the "Couloir Puiseaux". Skinning up and along the E face of "Les Periades" in a search for a route in good nick, takes us to the foot of Fifi gully.

After a short consideration of remaining strength and daylight we both agree this moderate goal should give satisfactory blend of safety and danger to remember it as a small adventure. We decide to move together the first 450 feet. Vincent finds a belay and makes himself safe. I follow and after a glimpse of inspection clip my cow's tail*. At the same span of time, as if in slow motion and almost as if Vinc anticipated it, he reaches out and grabs his ice axe as we flip over ripping the belay out of the crack. We roll in endless circles in a desperate attempt to arrest. Faster and faster spinning down, tied together by embolic cord we pull out each another's tools, which blindly grip frozen snow. At last our ice axes catch together and we stop. Heavily gasping, trying to calm down we check for bruises and examine two rotten knife blades* which popped out of the belay and are now dangling between our harnesses*. We shake our heads and laugh. We climb back to investigate a paper thin crak which was a home to two rusty pegs. Manically hammering in every piece of "in situ" gear we finish the route as rarer patches of blue sky announce that a storm is brewing.

Thanks to slick rope management, the night-fall and strengthening blizzard catch us only on the last rappel. Without delay we stuff our rucksacks with bivvy gear, put skis on and make a precarious way down the "Glacier des Periades". One hour later we have absolutely no idea where we are or how to escape the surrounding maze of crevasses.

We are unable to tell where the glacier goes up, down, and where it stays flat. A boomerang couldn't find its way back in this mind numbing whiteout, never mind two wasted men. We are confined to next to zero visibility. With reluctance we finally decide to dig a snow hole and wait until next day. As we wished for the next morning brings better weather and a safe but arduous descent home.

We made it again, because we had learnt to be responsive. Each day we acted and reacted instantly as situation changed.