Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix Mt Blanc

The happy coincidence of a forecasted weather window in Cham overlapping with Dave being resident in Samoens opened up the possibility of an unexpected hit of high altitude cragging – worth the diversion north from Briancon. With most of the lift systems in the valley closed for the autumn lull between the summer and winter seasons, options were a bit limited. However, the Flegere cable car was still operating and Dave and I were on the first lift at 9am with a deadline of 4:15pm to avoid a long trudge down at the end of the day.

The Dru and Mt Blanc were looking stunning as we plodded our way up the hill towards the Index lift station (sadly this lift wasn’t operating) but we made short work of the advised 1:50hrs approach past the lift to The Grande Floria, and were uncoiling our ropes at the foot of the crag in just an hour.

The only other parties we saw all day were heading for less challenging objectives and we had the whole crag to ourselves (well worth the hour’s stiff pull on foot as this otherwise very easily accessed crag has a reputation as something of a circus in high season).

Our chosen route was Soho, a two pitch direct start to Les Neiges de Kilimanjaro, weighing in at ED1 and 6b+. It takes the steep red wall in the centre of the picture below, up to the diagonal ramp and then the black rock up to and around an overhang above.

The tricky pitch is the first one, so not much chance of a warm up, and the crux arrives after about 10m with a burly pull through an overlap on an undercling followed by a couple of thin moves to get established above it. The rock is immaculate chiselled red granite, with sharp, positive holds, and the well placed bolts take any drama out of some quite tough moves. The climbing doesn’t relent much for the rest of the 40m pitch, but it was great to arrive at the first stance confident that we should manage the rest of the route. Here’s Dave nearing the top of P1

Pitch 2 gets 6a+, but this might be a typo – it’s just one move off the belay followed by a romp up to the first band of ledges and a join with the main route. Shorts and shirtless at 2,500m in October – can’t be bad.

Pitch 3 really is 6a+, and takes an intimidating looking line up the black rock, heading up to a band of overhangs, which it then traverses beneath to reach an atmospheric belay on the arete. Here’s Dave striding left beneath the overhangs.

The last couple of pitches are much more straightforward and we’d topped out by 12:45, in a little over 2 hours. Not too shabby!

Three 60m raps

had us back at the sacks by 1:30, despite a stuck rope and an unplanned ascent of P2 of the adjacent route Asia to retrieve it. Well ahead of our agreed “must start heading down” time of 2:45. The temptation to squeeze a bit more climbing into the day was just too great, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and threw ourselves at the regular first two pitches of Les Neiges du Kilimanjaro. The main 6b pitch is not quite as stiff as the Soho crux, but still pretty thin and techy. Nonetheless, we were up and down, packed up and starting the jog down to the lift at exactly 2:46. We needn’t have rushed, as we made the lift with half an hour to spare (slacking!)

A highly memorable day’s climbing on fantastic rock in a simply spectacular setting!

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