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N face of Grand Charmoz


1800 feet above the "Mer de Glace" in complete isolation, a hovering helicopter wakes up our drowsy sense of reality. I have just recovered one of my tolls, which nose-dived rope length down the snow-field below the crux section. Long have gone late winter days of super stamina and fitness. A long approach, cold open-air bivvy and 6 hours of mixed climbing has burnt a steady fatigue into our limbs and concentration. Two thirds of the way up the face, just in front of us, waits the ultimate test for an exceptionally good alpine mixed climber. In rare reasonable conditions the next section would not present too serious a problem. Either well plastered with ice or as a bare rock this section is graded 5 ice or HVS rock. Now with fresh powder snow, Andy has to look for scarce pockets of thin ice. They provide just enough of support for his tools to carry on a full split acrobatic dance, up this vertical wall. I am patiently watching him from below, waist covered in spindrift trying to warm up by dodging ricochetting debris. "The intensity of the climbing overcame my fear of falling," he tells me later. After an hour of his magnificent, all absorbing mixed climbing, I hear Andy's delighted voice shouting, "safe". It is my turn to learn what a VII7 Scottish mixed climbing means. As hard as this pitch is a familiar numbness in my toes is not going away. I take over the lead and we move together remaining 600 feet up to the crest. Following the ridge for half an hour we arrive 400 feet from Charmoz-Grepon col and realise that it's to late to safely descend.

Faced with a second bivvy without food or drink, we silently build a snow wall around the pit. I am close to cry with fury and misery when I discover that my toes are frozen. It is the third time and I know that next time I will be more prone to it, even in less severe conditions. "Fucking Hell, why this shit happens to me over and over again, will I ever learn a lesson?" - I ask myself. I hesitate whether to thaw them out or leave frozen. The former requires staying awake and moving for the whole night just to make sure they don't refreeze.


Covered with a space blanket* I sit in a Buddha position warming up my feet with hands. Every time my bent back pain becomes unbearable I stretch and Andy kindly takes over massaging my feet. As a result of me growling in pain and despair my partner doesn't get much sleep either. I start getting dressed and prepare for descent after the first dim morning light hits the summits of the 4000ers surrounding us. We make a dozen rappels down from the col to traverse the Nantillons glacier, thanks God well-filled at this time of year. As soon as I am off the snow, I take my boots off and finish this 48 hour round-trip bare-feet.

It was classic mountaineering union - exhilaration of success blended with anxiety over remoteness, our vulnerable position and emerging partnership.

Summary:


  • Listen to early warning bells ringing
  • Experience is the result of poor judgment, good judgment is the result of experience
  • Your mind is only interpretation it's not your memory
  • Regularly update and read your log book