With the expedition nearing I teamed up with Chris Andrews. Despite him living,talking and joking with us throughout the winter and summer we still had not climbed together. We needed to remedy this situation right away.
We both needed something long and more cardiovascular based was preferable, however all Alpine Climbing is, so we were not really in any shortage of good training routes.
Having not climbed together before we decided that climbing something big would be a bad idea so we opted what seemed to be a certain decent day out considering the weather conditions.
The Traverse of the Dorees is relatively low down in the Massif and would provide an excellent way to get to know one another moving together and setting ourselves up for bigger objectives in the future. It would be also a good base to acclimatize for a few higher objectives just before we both go away..
We headed up through the woods in shorts and t-shirt, through the idyllic alpine setting that is Champex Lac. I had an excellent ski day over the winter and many beautiful days on the Tour of Mont Blanc so it is always great to be back here. I had already made plans to be back in the bakery to eat their great blueberry vanilla flan by the lake in the sun after doing the route.
The clouds rolled in and the wind picked up as we emerged over the moraine and the temperature dropped considerably. The summer conditions rolled straight into winter.
When we got to the Trient Hut the snow was falling thick and fast. It is always a fantastic feeling entering a hut with a log burner and plenty of friendly voices inside. We also had a room to ourselves and we had nice clean duvet bedding. Luxury! We sat down for the meal in the evening with 3 Dutch climbers who had been doing some glacial trekking around the fantastic basins and cols the area has to offer. One had been an expedition doctor on Everest so Chris picked her brains for a bit of “high altitude beta”.
Looking out towards the Dorees the buttresses emerged and reemerged in the Cloud. Maybe we should have chosen something icey in the massif? The traverse looked very snowy. We will just get on with it in the morning and set the alarms for 4.50 am before Breakfast.
I had a great sleep, the weather was still and clear and stars slowly disappeared in the morning light as we traversed the glacier. The first few sections were iced over and covered in snow, but with plenty of bomber gear we were able to move together and up to the ridge to be greeted by the warming glow of the sun.
Route finding on the Dorees is challenging but the climbing is easy. Conditions out of the sun became very icey and a few easy rock steps were time consuming. The first third of the climb was quick, Chris despatched the 6a iced crack in big boots was a good effort.
Climbing dramatically slowed down soon as we arrived at the Col Copt. The slope was completely loaded with very unconsolidated snow on top of granite, so both of us could have easily turned around at this point.
We decided that the route around the col would be completely safe if we stayed around the rock, which we could load with gear. The snow slabbed off everytime we stepped on to it but the security of the rock made our passage safe. To our disbelief the French team we passed on the way up came up the Couloir and luckily for them it did not avalanche!
The climb on to the Tete Biselx was massively loose and both of us were relieved to pass this, as we both climbed 100 metres trying not to pull and testing every hand and foot placement. Within about 5 minutes Chris took the piss how many times I shouted “watch it here its a bit loose”
I guess the Tete Biselx marks about a 1/3 of the distance but about 1/2 of the route. As long as you are careful with the choice of your route the rest of the climbing is quick. There were a few abseils we down climbed, which arguably would have been safer and as fast if we just set up an abseil.
The 4c chimney was a memorable thrutch and just as you think you are finished there is a small abseil and a short pitch before making your way around the Aiguille de La Verappe. The abseils are easy to find and with a 60 metre rope can be done in about 10 abseils back to the glacier.
We got back to the hut to pick up our stuff and headed down back to Champex. 4 hours in the headtorch tunnel of light made me go slightly crazy. Chris’s headtorch was completely terrible so he made his way down in the umbrella of my light, tripping over his own shadow in the process and for about 2 hours we were convinced we were on the wrong path to La Fouly instead of Champex.
As we got back to the car in the early hours in the morning we both agreed we worked well as a partnership. Route finding decisions were always good, and if one person had a crazy plan about getting around something a voice of reason always delivered from one of us.
The route in dry conditions would have been pleasant, however for becoming slick at moving together the route was perfect training. The snow made things very time-consuming but we would like to think it was because of the conditions and not because we were completely incompetent.
Personally I was pleased that we cracked on with a route we could have easily bailed on because of doubting the conditions. The traverse is one of those routes which is long but not very committing and it is easy to say “OK I have had enough lets abseil”
Chris will be climbing Makulu next month, more details on his trip can be found here.