Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Rose Marie, Triolet and the Refugio Dalmazzi - Part 3

After sorting ourselves out switching alpine equipment for climbing we did a bit of ad-libbing to get into the main climb with Brian leading across a 5+ shallow dihedral and me following pulling out the safety gear. We hooked into the anchor and looked up the next pitch (a 6b/6a) and set off. Brian led out again slotting in the odd piece of protection here and there going well up to a small chimney about 30m above. It started to get a bit sketchy here with Brian taking a few minutes to have a look at the chimney and then worked his way over it. A few minutes later he called down to say he was anchored in and I was on belay to start climbing. I've got to say, I was really, really happy with the way I climbed - a flake to layback and a few crimps here and there, a bit of delicate slabby stuff - was really climbing well - but tired. Pushing with the legs and removing the gear fluidly. I had to leave a cam behind because I couldn't get my fingers into the crack to release it but realised it was in our abseil path down and would be able to get it then.

Climbing up the second pitch of Rose Marie

The rock we were climbing on was the most beautiful golden colour you've ever seen with these huge crystals embedded into it. Nothing like the rock in the crags up and down the valley worn smooth by the endless sport climbers. Of course bits of it were flaky, crumbling and there was loose rock everywhere. Tapping holds before placing weight on them was the order of the day and more than once I had to brush some loose stones off hand and foot holds to get proper purchase. But the colour was the thing that got me - I don't know if we were climbing a giant vertical gold nugget but it felt like it.

I realised Brian's problem he paused at when I reached a black rock chimney with meltwater running down it and an obvious layback move required with poor, wet holds. I tried several times failing to get more than two moves up. Eventually I prussic'ed up the metre I couldn't climb before finding a solid jug hold and hauled myself up the rest of the way up the chimney then positively climbed the rest of the way to join Brian at the anchor.

I still feel frustrated at what I said to Brian next, "I'm gassed, I don't think I've got much more in me". I had plenty left in the tank - all I needed was a 5 minute breather and felt stupid as soon as I'd said it. Brian smiled and said, "well we're nearly over the most difficult part of the climb, just these two 6c slabs up here". I duly got into position and hung from my sling over a 450 foot sheer drop above the glacier to put Brian on belay to continue. He set off upwards and I could see that he was struggling with the first slab but managed to wrangle past it - the second slab was the crux. One move with nothing to hold on to. Brian tried many times, trying new ways past, trying to use gear to get past - all to no avail. Damn - it was the crux of the whole climb and we both felt sure we could go on from there as the rest was only 5+. Slightly deflated Brian came down to the anchor and we swiftly abseiled down the rest of the way to the glacier below.

I'd been seeing a few wet snow avalanches trundling their way on farther slopes away from where we were above the glacier and had been keeping a wary eye out for anything that looked dangerous. Brian had obviously been thinking the same thing and abseiled down to the side of the rock above the bergschrund to pick up the packs and gear we had left there and then performed a rappel traverse to continue down to below the bergschrund so we we didn't need to cross it on foot again.

About two minutes after completing this, a wet snow avalanche slowly trundled it's way down over the bergschrund a bit farther out from where we had stashed our gear and stopped 6 feet from Brian who was looking at the swishing snow rather quizzically! Of course we knew the safe spot (the avalanche was heading down the side of Brian, protected by the rock - and most of the snow would fall into the bergschrund) but it was still strange to watch the whole charade being played out from my rocky perch.

I hopped down the rock and exchanged climbing gear for alpine, roped up with Brian and then headed back down the glacier to the refuge. The snow had softened in the sun (hence the wet snow avalanches of earlier) and so we were sinking in deeper than in the morning ascent - sometimes up to our waists! We made good progess however glissading where possible and laughing and joking as we made good progress down past the crevasses to the moraines. We should have taken boards up there as it would have been fantastic riding!

All ready to go up the glacier

We removed the crampons and untied each other then set off to the refuge. After a nervously cautious but uneventful re-crossing of the moraines I didn't fancy the climb up the rock step we had down-climbed earlier so scrambled up a 50m 45° slope back to the path. By now the sun was in full force and was blasting off the white snow reflecting it's heat into the center of the valley. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the hike back down to the valley floor by myself. But as Brian was going to spend another night in the refuge to climb with a friend the next day I needed to set off and so after a pause to organise equipment I duly set off from the refuge. Rather stupidly - most likely from the fatigue I was now feeling - I forgot to refill my water bottle at the refuge and the walk down became tortuous with a dry mouth and failing energy.

I pushed onwards however until I came to the valley floor a couple of hours later and refilled my water bottle from a fast-flowing meltwater stream that I could see had come straight from one of the glaciers. I few swigs later I felt at least some energy return to my body and so wolfed down a chocolate bar and drove home.

It's a day and a bit later now and I can now feel my body's actually recovered from the sheer exhaustion that it's been put through. On one day there was some 8 1/2 hours alpine climbing through mixed terrain and around 3 hours rock climbing. My hands and arms are covered with nicks and cuts but are healing quickly and my head is much clearer. I don't think I've ever felt exhaustion like that after doing an adventure, I've tan stripes on my head from the cooling gaps in my helmet and my nose is sunburnt but I really can't wait to do it all again.