Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Chere Couloir - Triangle du Tacul

The Chere Couloir (II,4) The very top climber in at the 3rd belay and the bottom 2 making their way up to the 2nd.
We met the famous Dane Burns of the Coldthistle gear blog the day before on the steps back up to Montenvers, had a beer and then went for dinner with him. I hadn't had the opportunity to climb during my time out here, mainly due to lack of partners, so he offered to climb with me. We chose the Chere couloir as neither of us had done it, plus it's a ski in, ski out route so a great multi-activity day,

We met at about 0830 at the Midi and headed up. Kev, Colin and Mike had joined us for the ride up to the top station and headed down the Grand Envers. Me and Dane put skis on at the usual sport then traversed back towards the Midi to ski the slope below the ridge. Good, steep skiing on firm snow and it made for a more interesting start to the Vallee Blanche normal route. We carried as much speed as we could heading off the normal route track across the Col du Midi, heading towards the far right hand side of the triangle du Tacul, until we stopped to put skins on. It was pretty warm in the sun whilst skining but when we moved into the shade, the temperature dropped pretty quickly. Good conditions to put my Nano air to the test. The skin in was easy going andthe conditions looked good. There was a team of 2 crossing the shrund to the right of the Contamine-Mazeaud and another 2 teams already on the Chere, annoyingly. But what did we expect. We didn't catch an early bin and every man and his dog is taking advantage of the good weather.

Skiing across to the Triangle du Tacul. The Chere couloir is the thin ice streak on the far right of the triangle.

Skinning to the Chere. The lower pitches of the Contamine-Mazeaud can be seen in the centre

The Chere Couloir
Dane pulled out 2 brand new ropes from his pack and these were the brightest ropes I gave ever seen! Luminous pink and green. I can't remember the brand but they were super skinny, 7.9mm I think. As we were gearing up, the team we saw earlier, crossing the Mazeaud shrund, had traversed across and were now continuing up the Chere. Great, another team above us to shower ice onto our heads. And to make matters worse, I had never climbed in my ski boots before, and had fitted my crampons the night before but was unsure about the fit and not entirely sure how well they'll work together (Scarpa Maestrales with Petzl Lynx crampons fitted with the basket instead of the toe bail). Any way, we each took a rope, tied in and soloed up, over the shrund, to the first belay. Dane decided to just climb on the one rope, so I coiled mine up and threw it in my sack. We waited until the team ahead of us reached the belay and Dane took the 1st and only lead of the day.

The climb was really stepped out. You could hook the entire second pitch and use the steps for foot holds. Infact, you could climb it with one axe and use the steps as hand holds, as I found out after an axe of mine unclipped itself from my BD spinner leashes when it slipped off my shoulder whilst swapping Hands and tumbled back down the route and over the shrund, out of sight! Unknowingly
to me at the time, the gate had reversed on the clip. The only explanation I could think of for this to happen is when I was plunging the shaft into the snow on the way up to the first belay. Who knows, it's never happened before. Upon reaching Dane on the second belay and telling him about what has happened, he was already considering abbing off as we were now sharing a belay with the belayer of the other team and with 2 other teams ahead, it was going to become a long and drawn out day. So we bailed. Chunks of ice had already bounced off my helmet and a fist sized lump struck me in the arm, it'll only get worse. Oh, and to add to these series of unfortunate events, My right crampon was starting to come off to the side of my boot and on the ab, it came off completely! I'm putting it down to user error and will have to have a proper play around with fitting them properly to these boots. It seemed that we were destined from the start to not get this climb done, so all we could do now was pack up and enjoy a nice easy ski back down the VB normal route, which I had yet to actually do, with a heavy climbing pack.

On the ski out I had a phone call from Kev saying that he was on his way back up for a second run. We ended up waiting for him, lying in the snow below Pt.Lachenal, chatting about gear until he arrived and had a very enjoyable ski back down to the Mer de Glace where we ended up having a rather long lunch break.
Dane Burns chilling on the VB waiting for Kev to join us.

East face of the Tacul

Looking across to the Tour Ronde

The Combe de la Vierge (centre) and the Vallee Noire which follows a line from below the Dent du Geant down along near the base of the cliffs to the left of this image.

We had a pretty good day in the end, even if the climb didn't go to plan. We did a bit of skinning, a little bit of climbing, learnt some lessons and most importantly, we had fun and were safe. Not a wasted day.

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