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Pointy needle climbing – Aiguille de la République

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There is no shortage of inspiring mountains in Chamonix, but if you spend some time here, and especially if you take the Montenvers cog train, one needle stands out among all: Aiguille de la République. The reason is simple. It is very, very pointy. As in, this pointy (on the left, shot from last winter):

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Two weeks ago, I tried to climb it with Claire. We had planned to bivy on a big ledge one third of the way up, because the weather forecast was perfect and bivying is fun. But of course, you should never trust a mountain forecast, and we got drenched in a thunder/hail/rain-storm for most of the night, with little shelter. Cold and wet the next morning, and with still unsettled weather, we decided to retreat.

Ten days later, I was back on Envers des Aiguilles, this time with Hulya and Olivier. We hoped to climb the SE ridge of Bec d’Oiseau, but a mediocre forecast and an impassable bergschrund made us reconsider, and back to République we went. The first part, well known, went quickly, but then we discovered the real difficulty of the route: not getting lost. In broken, low angle ground and with precious few visual landmarks, we made several routefinding mistakes before managing to reach the saddle between Grands Charmoz and République. All day, the skies had looked threatening, but we agreed not to bail until it actually started raining… The last few pitches to the summit, though fairly easy on paper, were surprisingly difficult and very exposed, taking us even longer than expected. Finally, at 6:30pm, in a near whiteout, all three of us stood on the much coveted summit, 20cm wide and dropping hundreds of meters on all side. Pointy indeed!

It was time for an orderly retreat. We took bets on how many abseils we would eventually need, but even my high estimate of 17 came short, as the final tally came to a round 20. Most of them happened by night, on mostly unknown and/or sketchy anchors. At midnight exactly, we finally set foot on the glacier. The choice between a 4 to 5 hours walk back down to Chamonix or a 15 minutes one to the nearby hut was easy, a wise decision as concerned hut wardens had even left us some food!

In the end, we all agreed on one thing: it’s a beautiful summit, but you have to earn it!

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Under mountains and stars – Blaitière bivy

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Sometimes, the best part of mountaineering isn’t the climbing itself but the simple joy of being in the mountains. A couple of days ago, Claire, Xavier and I headed for some of the classic routes on the northwest faces of Aiguilles de Chamonix. We ditched our initial plans of heading up Pilier Cordier on Grands Charmoz and instead went on the ridiculously good L’eau rance d’Arabie (F6b, 8 pitches), on the Pilier Rouge de Blaitière. Perfect cracks, perfect rock, some slabs here and there, super fun moves and gorgeous views.

After abseiling the route in the early evening, we settled on a flat spot on the moraine, just below the glacier, and enjoyed an amazing bivy. Since the cablecar was barely an hour away, we had even brought beers! And as soon as we settled in for the night, we were treated to a superb moonrise behind the Aiguilles, at one point perfectly aligned behind the summit of Aiguille du Midi.

The next morning, Claire and Xavier headed back up to the Pilier Rouge to climb the shorter and even more classic Nabot Léon, while I headed down to get some work done, getting in Cham just in time for breakfast…

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July skiing, Drus rockfall, crowd dodging – a busy day

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With the weather in Chamonix so unsettled in the past few weeks, it has been somewhat challenging to find routes to do in the short weather windows. While climbing on the Aiguilles Rouges yesterday, we lamented how the next day was supposed to be pretty bad, except maybe for a few hours in the morning, and how we wouldn’t have time to do anything. Then we looked across the valley at the Grands Montets resort, and noticed that above the 3300m high top station, the snow slope leading to the ultra-classic Petite Aiguille Verte looked pretty good. Almost skiable. Cross that, it was definitely skiable.

So this morning, Hulya and I headed to the top station to do what is probably the easiest and most crowded alpine route in Chamonix, the Petite Aiguille Verte ridge. With our skis on. A 200m snow slope, a good bergschrund, easy mixed ground, a few rock moves over a short wall, two tricky downclimbs and we were on top, barely an hour after stepping out of the cablecar. We could see the whole route, now teeming with people, for many on their very first alpine route!

Before we could descend, we were treated to a very spectacular show, as a big chunk of the north face of the Dru collapsed in a giant cloud of rock and snow. Luckily, I managed to capture a few shots of this sobering spectacle, especially considering I had very seriously considered climbing the very route that got erased, later in the summer!

The descent was quickly negotiated, leading to the most fun part of the day: skiing. In July. The slope was short and the snow barely covered the ice in parts, but with the heat of the day, it was deliciously soft and led to turns so fun that as soon as we got down, skis went back on the packs and we climbed right back up for another run.

A good day in the hills, for sure.

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