The weather this year really hasn’t been kind to us – persistent high pressure conditions have meant that the temperature has been consistently higher than normal. Today for instance, the thermometer on the electronic sign opposite out apartment, is currently reading 38 degrees C (at 12:20pm, so due to get hotter still). Basically, the predominantly snow and ice routes we had been wanting to climb are not in a good state, and descents after the sun has gotten onto the snow are far riskier than normal. What with Alpine climbing already being an activity full of objective dangers, we basically made the decision that the increased risk levels - high temperatures leading to unstable snow, unstable seracs, crevasse snow bridges collapsing more readily etc, were not really acceptable, and so our objectives changed.
Not willing to head for the routes we had originally had in mind, our last major effort was to head up the normal route on Mont Blanc du Tacul, an easy and straight forward ‘plod’ up a 4000er. But we wanted to start really early in the morning – hence we decided to bivi up on the Vallee Blanche.
I must now admit that this was in actual fact my first real ‘bivouac’. Sure, I’ve wild-camped before, but I haven’t ever simply settled down for the night in a bivi bag, and certainly not on snow, so it was an interesting experience, and not one without its ‘moments’.
Sleep doesn’t come easily to me at the best of times, so why I should have thought that I would actually reach the land of nod after eating a packet of rehydrated mush and a lion bar and then listening to the faint thuds of a distant electrical storm that provided the backing track for the unrelenting audible intrusions of my beloved partner, I do not know.
Anyway, we survived the night, ate our somewhat squashed ‘jam-o-laits’ (pain-o-lait with jam in), failed to get any water to boil properly for tea, packed up all our slightly soggy kit and began to scrunch our way across the snow toward a 3 hour uphill slog.
To be fair, there were a couple of interesting bits to negotiate – a few crevasses and the bergschrund provided some brief respite from the monotony of just plodding ever upwards, and the final rock step up to the actual summit contained a couple of slightly hairy moves in a short iced up chimney. The views were utterly spectacular.
The descent was pretty uneventful and we were back down on the flat glacier in just over an hour. Unfortunately by this point we had basically run out of water (idiots), and I had all but run out of everything. A night with no sleep, a long slog at altitude and the baking heat of the sun served to mean that the hack back across the Vallee Blanche and up the ice arete (or smushy snow arete) to the Midi station, was utter torture. Patrick compared it to one of the levels of Dante’s vision of hell (along with Ikea Birmingham on a busy weekend, and Snowdon on a bank holiday). The slope just seemed to go on forever, and my legs didn’t want to work anymore.
The relief on actually getting up into the Midi station was immense. The hell was over and we could finally relax – so we did. Lying on one of the wooden terraces, bodies in the sun and heads in the shade, with a stunningly refreshing drink of diet Coke, truly was one of life’s pleasures. Bliss. Or at least it was bliss until we got talked into filling out an electronic questionnaire that had obviously been written by someone aspiring to be a caretaker down in Dante’s labyrinth of interminably long winded and stupid questions…