I hope I'm fit enough for this

Trip Start Apr 23, 2005
Trip End Mar 31, 2006

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Thursday, June 9, 2005

It was a late start from Ebbw Vale. Steve was working till 3:30pm so we didn't leave till 4pm. We were driving in Steves van all the way to Chamonix via Dover for the ferry across the channel. And of course there was an accident on the M4 which close the whole Motorway and left us stranded for an hour before we were diverted. Luckily the ferry was also running late and we got there there in time.

The rest of the night was spent driving through France, arriving at Chamonix at 11am the next morning. First impressions? Wow!!!! nestled in a spectacular mountain valley under the shadow of Mont Blanc (4800m - highest in Europe), the place just oozes adventure! The plan for the next 2 weeks is to get as much climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and anything else in as we can. Of course, there is a lively (and exorbitantly priced) nightlife which must be sampled as well.

Day 1:

We are all busting to get climbing so its off to the local crag called Les Gaillands to do some warm up climbs. Nothing too stressful, but I managed 5 climbs of grades 4b-5c including my first multipitch climb (climbing in more than 1 stage on longer climbs). I finished on a cool overhung 5c:

We then headed back to camp, got cleaned up and hit the town with our team mascot Scooby Doo in tow. Some of the fellas had been in Chamonix the year before, so we had a clue of where to head, but being early season, alot of these were closed. We ended up having a few drinks at a local Irish pub before heading to a surf themed pub called bar'd up where scooby-doo managed to get his photo taken with everyone in the pub thanks to the antics of Woollie and myself. I think scooby is a bit like old Grabby - outgoing and a complete flirt!!! We also got to know the bar manager Chris and the owner Graham - both English blokes who'd given up the quiet life in England and now live full-time in France.

Day 2:

Feeling a little bit tired and emotional, we headed back to Les Gaillands to climb more of this huge crag. After the warm-up yesterday we went for some harder climbs - Steve started on a 5c and I tried my hand at a 6a, or at least that`s what we thought. Due to a small map reading error (which was belatedly pointed out by Mary who seems the only one in the group able to read a climbing guide) Steve was actually on a 6a+ and I was on a 6b. No wonder it was so bloody hard. I didn`t complete the climb (no-one else did either), but I did manage to completely exhaust every ounce of my upper body strength while trying. I then tried my hand at the 6a+ which Steve had now successfully lead. Bad idea - there was a tricky and very pumpy (requires upper body strength) move in the middle and my poor arms and back were just not up to it. The move was positioned about 2m above the last clip-in point and it was the sort of move you just had to go for - there was no turning back! So there I was, weak as a kitten, 2m above my last point of protection which was holding me to the rock and committimg myself to a move I could not turn back from. In hindsight,maybe I was being a bit ambitious. So heres what happened:

I positioned myself, took the move which had ok handholds but no footholds and found myself unable to pull my weight up for the next holds. The little strength I had was quickly ebbing away and all I could do was desperately hang there hoping for some magic hold to appear out of nowhere. It happened so quickly, I didn`t even know until I was already airborne! My hands let go without warning and I was falling. Now as I was 2m above the last point of protection, I had 4m to fall (2m above and below the last clip in). That's 4 metres straight down before the slightly elastic rope I was using finally took my weight leaving me shaking and wide eyed hanging in mid air! What a rush! That was my first major fall and although I wouldn't like to do it again, it was an exhilerating feeling falling that far.... and surviving! Poor Scotty who was belaying me isn't a big guy and when I hit the bottom of the rope, he found himself yanked 1m straight up from where he was sitting.

So day 2 ended with me not having completed 1 single climb! Despite the thrill of the fall, I went home feeling a little bit depressed. I hate failing.

Day 3: Bouldering

We had a late start that day due to being exhausted from the last 2 days climbing and also having had a few commiseration drinks last night over my abject climbing performance. We haeded up to a small town at the top of the valley called Argentiere and then to a cool bouldering area. Bouldering is a form of climbing done on boulders close to the ground which doesn't require ropes (as you don't have far to fall). Usually bouldering climbs are much more technical than crag climbs as that's where the fun is. Some people love it - lots of cool moves, lots of technical difficulty and a great way to show off. I'm not that fussed but it is good practice for the real thing. It was a good day and Scotty and Steve got a good chance to show off.

Day 4: Lets get these bikes out!

The Welsh guys all have Mountain bikes - Woollie is a bit of a fanatic and has a agro looking dual suspension jobbie, so we took them with us to explore some of the trails. Mary and I headed into town in the Morning and hired our own. The hire shop bloke pointed us to some trails which went all the way up the valley and back down again. It was a little ambitious as it covered a total of 40km with 1000m in ascent (it had 1000m in descent as well but I didn't mind that bit). Little did we know that Chamonix doesn't have mountain biking trails as such, it has walking trails which can be used with mountain bikes. Some of these are well suited to biking and some (namely most of the ones we went on) are just not. We constantly found ourselves on steep, uneven slopes which were difficult enough to walk up let alone cycle up. We spent a lot of the morning pushing bikes up hills. Not fun! Mind you, the surroundings were beatiful and the exercise was top quality! We finally got to a small town right at the top of the valley called Le tour and caught a gondola up 300m to the top of a ski resort. Climbed another 200m and sped down the other side of the valley on a proper downhill track! That was REAL fun!!! We even managed to stop into switzerland (about 5m inside the border, but we went to switzerland). We then had another 300m gradual climb on road back into the Chamonix valley. My legs were like lead, but I was determined not to get off and push. It took ages and I had to just sit there and keep peddling through the aching pain in my thighs, but I did it! I finally got there. From there on it was downhill all the way back to the campsite which we did in about a 20th of the time it took to get up there.

I slept very very very well that night!

Day 5: Rest day

We were buggered. Having gone hard for 4 days straight, our muscles and bones were whowing the signs, so when Steve suggested we take a road trip into Italy we all jumped at it. So we all bundled into the van and headed through the tunnel that links Chamonix and the Italian Aosta region; destination: Turin. It was only a 2hour drive and spent the day wandering around, eating some amazing pizza and playing frisbee in the park. But the higlight really had to be the gelati! Genuine home-made Italian Gelati! Is there anything that beats it? The other 4 hadn't been to Italy before and it was just so cool to see them eat their first spoonfuls and watch the look of sheer esctacy wash over their faces. And then would they shut up about it?

Great day and a welcome break from the activities, but not for long....

Day 6: The glory climb - L'Aguilette D'Argentiere

Leafing through the climbing guide a couple of days back I spied this great pillar of rock standing by itself amongst the cliffs overlooking Argentiere. It is about 25m high and Narrows to a small 1mx1m platform at the very top. Simply put, it's spectacular and we can climb it. Also, it is on one of the big tourist tracks so there are always a lot of on-climbers walking by amazed that people are climbing (it's not actually a very hard climb - the hardest route is 5c, but they don't know that). I decided then and there that I had to climb it. It looks cool, it is a fun climb and I just love showing off!

Day 7: Gutentag Switzerland

Mary and Steve were doing their first real Mountain climb today with an overnight stay in a refuge up in the mountains so we dropped them off at their starting point and then headed with the bikes up to a dam in Switzerland where we'd been told there was some good riding. The crossing into Switzerland was straight forward and immediately we noticed a change in terrain. On the france end of the valley the valley floor is nice and flat so al lot of development has gone on there. Once we got into Switzerland it was obvious that the valley floor had dissappeared and there was just dramatic gorges with little hamlets clinging tentatively to the sides of the valley. The dam we were headed to is formed of two walls and lakes and is called Lac D'Emmosson. The scenery as always was spectacular and the ride was nice and flat.... until we got to the second dam where it suddenly got evil on us - nice path, straight up. Yet again I was resigned to pushing my bike up hill. The upper lake at 2000m was surrounded by snow and still had a lot of unthawed snow in the lake itself. I'd suggested that once we get to the lake we take a quick dip, but on arriving we saw that the lake was full of snow and ice and our resolve to take a cold swim quickly vanished. We had a look around and then headed back to town to party!!!

Day 8: So that's what chairlifts are for!

I got a text from Mary saying they were back at the drop off point so we put the bikes on the van and headed up. The drop off point was the ski resort Le Tour and they have a nice downhill bike track and chairlifts so we thought we would give it a spin. We got up, put the bikes on the lift and headed straight up, and then straight down at a somewhat more hectic place. I was on Steves bike which doesn't have as good brakes as the one I hired, so I had to take it easy to save me falling off some precipitous drop which was constantly a worry. I made good time down the bottom but blew my back tire on the last stretch so had to walk the bike back in. Do you get the feeling that I've been pushing bikes more than riding them this trip? Yeh me too. We picked up Mary and Steve who were exhausted from a hard walk and a sleepless night in a refuge jam-packed with snoring smelly climbers, and headed home for a quiet night in.

Day 9:

All completely exhausted, did absolutely nothing until that night which turned into a rather large affair - or so I was thinking as I wandered home bleary eyed at 9:30am.

Day 10: Back into the climbing

We headed to Les Gaillands again to try some more routes. A good days climbing except for 1 climb which I could not nail. I resolved to come back as I would not be defeated this time. In fact I was going to try again that day, but as I was chilling at the base of the wall with Steve and Woollie on climbs, there was an almight crack of lightning and thunder . As exposed cliffs are not the best place to be in a thunderstorm, Steve (the most experienced climber) quickly got off the wall. Woolie (a somewhat less experienced climber - sorry mate) wanted to finish his climb and took some convincing that perhaps it was best to just come down. Safe at the bottom, the skies opened up. I haven't seen this sort of rain for a long time and the cliff we were climing quickly turned into a collection of waterfalls. Unfortunately, we were lead climbing so all our ropes and equipment were still attached to the cliff. So we stood in the pouring rain and waited it out, all the while getting absolutely drenched. The rain finally stopped, we got our gear and then headed back like 5 drowned rats to the car. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Alps in Summer which must be considered when climbing the higher mountains as it is not very wise to get caught in one when you are clinging to some unlikely snow trail with a 1000m drop next door.

Day 11: Gonna nail that climb

The climb which had defeated me yesterday was still there when we got back - dammit!
I steeled myself for it and tried once again - in vain. There was this one tricky move which required some good smeary foot work and my shoes just didn't want to hang on. Mary had a go and of course she nailed it the first time. Steve tried - nailed it. Scotty tried - nailed it. Man Scotty was climbing well that day - there was nothing that could defeat him! I decided a different approach - I top-roped the climb first (where the rope is set up from the top so there is no danger of falling 4m because you are attached from above - This takes the pressure off and makes the climbing significantly easier, but also allows you to work out the moves for when you do it for real). Climbed it fine with the top rope. Went back to lead and finally nailed it - That felt good! We estimated the climb to be at a 6a+ which means its my hardest climb so far. Also managed somehow to comlpetely rip the pad off one of my fingers and give myself a huge blood blister on the other. Its strange how you can give yourself an injury which would normally hurt and make you stop what you are doing, but when you are in an intense (and andrenalin fueled) situation, you are completely oblivious to it and don't even notice until its all over.

A few days before, Steve had discussed the idea of doing another big mountain climb wit hme along this time. We had looked at a fairly short beginers route to cater for my big-mountain inexperience, but due to being a bit unsatified with his previous route was he was leaning towards a 4248m peak called Mt Blanc Du Tacal. Why not? I always love being thrown in the deep end and chalking up a 4000m as my first climb sounded pretty cool. The escape routes were pretty good so if there were any probs we could easily pull out. but thats for the next entry.....
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