David recently competed a 9-day guided and instructional course aimed at building up skills and knowledge to be able to tackle alpine north faces. We had a challenging week at times, with unstable weather patterns and conditions making planning difficult. But in between storms, we managed to blast up into mountains to climb some great routes.
First up was an attempt at the classic Chere Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul. I knew that conditions were quite thin in the Chere, but that it would probably go. The ice proved to be brittle, thin and hard, and provided a physical challenge on the first day! The Pellisier Gully on Pointe Lachenal gave more technical mixed climbing the next day, after an early start from the Cosmiques hut, but without the bullet-hard ice..
The following day, with fairly restricted options on the ice and mixed, we decided to grab the rock shoes, and headed up the Midi again for the Contamine route on Pointe Lachenal. Our chances seemed slim as we trecked down across the Col du Midi in semi-whiteout conditions. But the skies slowly started to clear as we pulled onto the route, with sun warming the granite. The Contamine gives around eight pitches of stellar crack climbing, and is one of the finest rock routes in the Mont Blanc massif.
After some valley-based cragging and dry-tool training in less than perfect weather, we decided to head up to the Torino hut later in the week to hit the north face of the Tour Ronde. With Scottish 3 ice at the crux, the 350m-high north face has fairly modest technical difficulties. But the face provides the perfect learning environment for practicing the essential alpine skills of fast and efficient movement.
We climbed the face in two big pitches of moving together, and stopping to belay only when the gear ran out. Although tiring, this ate up the ground efficiently, and we summitted 3 hours after crossing the bergschrund. Thick cloud billowing over from Italy kept us on our toes for the descent. But overall, a great training climb, and valuable learning experience.