Scotland has had one of the driest summers I can remember; the Alps on the other hand have had one of the worst summers in twenty years! Typically I had big plans for my summer Alpine trip this year however, in the last ten days we have managed only two Alpine routes followed by a retreat south to the Verdon Gorge. I am now enduring in every climber’s worst nightmare, sitting out the pouring rain in the van……….
I arrived in Chamonix last Monday, met up with Ken and Hannah before getting straight into an Alpine bivi on the Tuesday night ready to tackle our warm up objective – La traversée intégrale des aiguilles Dorées (D-)
The ridge itself is quite short but quite involved; it includes many optional climbs and plenty of exciting abseils to negotiate the summits along its crest. It wasn’t busy by any means but we did have company most of the way, even though us ‘Brits’ just about managed to hold onto the lead leaving us with a bit of a jog to enjoy the final téléphonique back to Champex.
Between a bit of moody weather and a little rest Duncan and Adam turned up fresh from the Dolomites and keen to get up high. Having read reports of ‘superb conditions’ we decided to climb as two pairs on Triangle du Tacul, a bit of guidebook/route finding error meant we climbed a route named German Assassin (II, 4). On the day it was more likely mixed Scottish tech 6/7 climbing with a few ice runnels thrown in for good measure. Fair play to Adam who followed Ken and I through the crux pitch with a massive smile on his face, having just a few Scottish winter ticks to his name and his highpoint being a grade IV on Aonach mor,– a bloody good effort!
With the weather returning to pouring rain we packed up Duncans van and drove south, each of us keen to experience the delights and exposure of the Verdon Gorge. Our first acquaintance was the nine pitch Arête du belvedere (5+, 6a+, 3, 5, 4, 5+, 4+, 5+, 5), a nice route but we all felt it was a bit of a soft touch for the grade, very enjoyable nonetheless.
Day two Ken and I decided to get right in the mix and climb Les Deux doigts dans le nez (6a+, 6a+, 6a+, 6a+, 6a+) a sustained and excellently bolted route at sector Riviere d’Argent. The abseil approach met the Verdons reputation with insane exposure dangling over roofs and crazy limestone features hundreds of meters above the torrent of water in the gorge. We left Duncan and Adam on the final hanging abseil stance as they fancied trying the four pitch Riviere d’argent (6b+, 6a, 6b+, 6a).
Being typical Brits enjoying the sunshine (at first) the heat soon became unbearable. Adam and Duncan bailed off their route unable to make significant progress and joined Les Deux doigts dans le nez just as Ken and I were three pitches up. As we approached the fifth and final pitch I was unable to get my right foot in my rock shoe having taken a chunk off my big toe swimming in the gorge the previous day. Ken took up the lead and I had to follow in trainers, yarding up on ever weakening arms in the scorching sunshine. Meanwhile a mini epic was developing below as Duncan appeared to be suffering with heat exhaustion. Adam pulled it out the bag keeping things together until finally I dropped a rope and set up a pulley system whilst Ken translated commands from a clearer position across the cliff! Tired but with enough energy for a smile the boys clambered over the final wall well and truly aware they had experienced Verdon climbing in the mix of powerful summer sunshine – quite the day!