I guess if you have ever been to the Alps and not done a climb you will definitely have it on your adventure list to go back and do one, much was the case with me. As a mountain biker at heart every time I have been to the Alps has been in the summer and I’ve been concentrating on finding trails to ride. However I have always been drawn to wanting to do a climb and really get on the rock properly.
The opportunity came this March when I went out with Berghaus to do a photo-shoot and managed to add on an extra day for doing something in the mountains. I hooked up with Olly Allen as my guide from Mountain Tracks and he had a few ideas depending on the weather; Cosmique Arête on the Aiguille du Midi, Pointe Lachenal or possibly the Cherie Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacule. None of which I was that familiar with so gave them all a good google. All are good mixed climbing routes (ice, snow and rock) with big views and big drops – I was pretty stoked to do any of them!
With a few weeks until I was set to go I decided to give our Extrem account manager Greg Stokes a call, Greg lives not far from Stirling and is always out and about in Scotland climbing in the winter. I twisted his arm to take me out on to Ben Nevis for a bit of an introduction and also just to give me some confidence for a few weeks’ time.
Ben Nevis is a pretty cool mountain!! Often deemed as quite boring as most people seem to approach it up the donkey track and to be fair that way is a bit boring, I’d previously gone up and along the CMD Arête which is when I first saw the north face proper, since then I had always fancied getting stuck into a route up that side. I imagined it to be much more of an achievement topping out and knowing you’d done it the hard way so to speak.
Greg and I had planned to go up Castle Ridge but since there was an avalanche down point five gully the week before and it had been fairly warm with some rock fall we decided it was probably safer to go up Ledge route a winter grade 2 so fine for a beginner like me.
I found the climb quite easy and felt at all times comfortable which was a good thing as it left me itching for more which I was hoping the Cosmique Arête might give me. The views over onto Orions face were fantastic and seeing other people on the routes looking like the size of ants really gave the climb some perspective. An awesome view of the route can be seen here from a drone’s point of view.
A week later I arrived in Chamonix and met with Olly the next morning, the weather was spot on, blue skies and pretty calm really – I was SO EXCITED!!!!!!!. We decided on the Cosmique Arête, a Chamonix classic AD route with stunning views. We got the first lift up the Aiguille de midi which was rammed full with skiers, got our crampons and harness on and walked out the station, I’d never been up the midi before due to bad weather so got a fantastic view all around, I was so giddy and excited, did I mention how excited I was?
Olly was really good with me as we walked down behind all the skiers who were gripping onto the rope for dear life as they trundled down on to the vallee blanche. We roped up together and Olly went ahead, I kept going too fast and needed to slow down a bit (that’ll be me getting excited again ) in case I got a headache with the altitude and we were also walking over crevasse territory.
We reached the Cosmique hut and started the climb, weather was still great and there was no one else around. Apparently during the summer there are hoards of people on the climb and you have to queue to get on, I was so lucky in that we saw 2 people the whole time.
The first abseil came and it was a bit of a diagonal one in that I had to go straight down and then move across to the right, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to let go of the rock as I’d swing out, all fine though just felt a bit clumsy with crampons on. Second abseil was down a chimney and onto a ledge, both about 20metres in length.
Next up was a tricky climb; it looked like nothing but with it being that cold (approx. -15 with the wind chill) and having big crampons on it was quite hard. Trying to pull the gear out from the crack was probably what it made it hard actually; I ended up with a disco leg going on.
About two thirds of the climb done and the weather started to close in with clag and some snow, by this point my arms were getting pretty tired, but I didn’t really want it to end. We got to the top of the final pitch and I was pretty happy to have a rest by then, even if I did look like Alice Cooper, maybe I need to invest in some waterproof mascara. Who doesn’t wear make up in the mountains?
The last part of the climb was to get on to the station itself, up and over some lairy ladders that were moving in the wind and covered in ice, I’d say the ladders were the scariest bit of the whole climb. I honestly papped my pants.
Olly Allen from Mountain Tracks was amazing with me and I can highly recommend him for anything you want to do in the mountains from alpine climbing to off piste skiing. A great experience and can’t wait to do some more of the same, bring on next winter 🙂