The best laid plans of mice and middle aged men often go awry.
With just over a week off work and the Grandes Jorasses seemingly in mint condition myself and Dave Almond made plans for a quick Alps hit, booked some flights and began our tick list. Each tick big and maybe a little ambitious but its true what they say "Aim for the Stars".
On arrival the weather was on the turn, storms were rolling in but we chanced a brief window for a quick warm up route. We chose the Eugster Direct, Aiguille du Midi north face. Arriving late at the halfway station due lack of early morning lifts we met with a couple of Brits who had just turned back from our route. They told us that the ice was rotten and the lower section had not touched down. Keen to get on something we decided there was no harm in taking a look and reached the base around 12 noon. The first pitch was wet and what ice was available needed to be treated with respect but nothing we weren't used to and we made quick progress up the first half of the 1500m route.
At this point we were utterly convinced we would catch the last lift home. As we reached the steeper sections the weather closed in, the storm was upon us and our window of opportunity was closed. The gully began its torrent of spindrift avalanches forcing us to climb in 12 second bursts before bracing against the downpour. This went on ... and on ... progress was tediously slow.
Eventually we reached the upper slopes, now heavy with fresh loose and deep snow. We swam, stepped and dug our way to the midi station and glancing at our watch realised we were a long way past the last lift, but on the up side not quite so far off the first lift down. Not the ideal start !
The storms went on for a couple more days and the more digging into weather reports we did the more disappointed we got. People were being rebuffed from the bigger routes on the Dru and Jorasses and reports of loaded slopes and slow progress did nothing to enthuse us. We are no Ueli Steck after all and if we were going to get our objectives done we would need a decent window to do it in.
Eventually the weather broke a little and with our friend and gracious host, Tom Coney, we decided to go and take a look at a few lines Dave had spied on his last trip. The lines all climbed the South facing wall of the Aiguille du Midi and surprisingly had what appeared to be decent ice seams.
Dropping in off the Midi bridge we hit the first of our lines via a couple of raps. With tricky slab section and a hanging chandelier the fist pitch impressed us all. The two pitches that followed didn't disappoint either and as the morning progressed the sun eked around the Midi bathing us in glorious sunshine. Smiles reappeared on our faces and we may have sang a little.
Club Tropicana (Almond, Garry, Coney)
Rappel into Passerelle Couloir from the bridge. One further rappel brings you to a niche with a chandelier of ice on the right hand side.
Pitch 1 :
Move in to the niche and traverse with torques to the left under the chandelier. Move up and into the obvious groove until a slab is reached for a good belay.
Move diagonally rightwards along shelf to a corner and straight up crack system and belay at the start of a leftward diagonal crack line leading to an icy corner.
Climb icy corner and keep moving up to the top of the wall. Belay off steel sticking out of the wall and rappel back in to the gully and exit up and out via ice cave.
The storms once again had us Valley bound for a couple of days but the weekend looked good so we thought we would have a crack at the other line we identified before our flight home. Again we weren't disappointed.
Double Dave (Almond, Garry)
Rappel from the bridge plus a further one and half rappels to a vertical wall with a sentry box on the right and a banana shaped crack on the left.
35m M7 (Scottish VII/8)
From the bottom of the sentry box traverse delicately left on to the wall gaining crack lines. Follow these with increasing difficulty directly to icy ledges. Belay on large flakes.
50m V ice.
Follow steep icy corner to chandelier and belay a further 10m on flakes.
Follow deep groove for 10m then trend right up to top of wall to belay on steel. Rappel back down to couloir (2 Raps) and climb couloir to exit via ice cave.
We are still waiting for confirmation from the High Mountain Office that these are first ascents but our research so far shows no routes on this wall, so we are fairly confident that they are.
Thanks to Dave Garry and Dave Almond for the words and images, and also to Tom Coney and Ben Tibbetts.