Friday, 5 September 2014

English route - Aiguille Sans Nom

Ben checking out the conditions on the face.
Many years ago... Christ that feels old speaking like that! Anyways, years ago when I first started doing some Alpine climbing. My first route was Petit Aiguille Verte, just next to the GM lift station. I remember whilst climbing on the upper part of the route, asking my Dad what that huge face was with all the snow and ice on it. He then informed me that it was the Sans Nom face on the Verte. Immediately I asked, 'Do people climb on that?'. I was shocked and confused to how you would go about climbing on that.... Now I know!

Carpet of evening cloud.

The Sans Nom face is something I've wanted to get on for a long time. For some strange reason I never really looked at it properly and wondered what routes I'd like to do on it. I suppose most of the time I've been focused on other things like the Dru and the Jorasses.

Sans Nom face.

After the recent rain and snow we've been having all this Summer in the Alps. Things are looking very good on the high North faces. Some of the lower parts to the faces can do with an improvement, but not too bad for the start of the season. There is some funky patches of snow on some aspects of the north faces. As last week the isotherm jumped up to 4000m with some rain, then dropped down to 2500m with snow. So we encountered some funky crust in places, but on the whole things are good. 

Amazing sunset.

Ben O'Connor Croft and myself headed up to the top of the GM lift station where we spent the night. We had checked out the face and got treated t a spectacular light show on the face. Starting with a bright intense white that made the Sans nom face look like some big Himalayan face with it's snow spines, rock buttress, seracs and big open snow fields. Then within a hour it changed to the warm reddish glow you get in the evenings here. We checked out a few options on the face, but after a while we decided the best option might be the 'English route' IV 5.

Heading down the death gully.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft

Ben approaching the base of the
Sans Nom.

After a good nights sleep we set of around 6am. Then we had to descend down the horrible approach couloir which we did in 60m, 30m, 30m(V-thread), 30m then some down climbing to the glacier. A quick walk around the crevases brought us to the bergshrund for 7.30am. I started up first and simul climbed to a small rock step. Then carried on over snow and ice to the exit onto the big snow field where Ben took over for his block.

Me climbing the bergshrund.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft

Starting up the first ramp after the bergshrund.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft

Myself climbing a small rock step on the first ramp.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft

Ben exited the next mixed step onto the huge snow field. About 300m long. Once you pull around onto the field you get an amazing view of the head wall. Which is in spectacular condition right. Looks like the icing on a lemon drizzle cake, just smeared and dripping from everything.

Ben on the first field before the exit to the main snow field.

Ben on the main snow field. The upper head wall looming above.

I then took over for the next 200m of steady climbing which brought us to the steep upper ice pitches. Which were formed perfectly. Good thick runnels of ice formed over rock so that you could place rock pro as well as ice. We swapped gear, had some water and food. Then Ben set of up the ice.

Myself at the belay below the main ice pitches above.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft

Ben always with a a smile on his face.

He was enjoying himself. I knew this cause he was telling me! Then after about 15 minutes into it I heard this high pitched metallic noise, ''TING TING TING''. At first I thought he might have dropped a screw or carabiner, but couldn't see anything flying down the face. Also I didn't here any swearing from Ben which is what usually happens when someone drops a piece of gear in the mountains. So I just presumed it was some piece of ice or rock. Then a few seconds later he shouts out a large naghty word. I immediately ask if he's ok, but he doesn't reply. Instead just quickly puts in an ice screw, clips the rope and shouts 'take'. Once on the rope he tells me that the front bar on his crampons has snapped. Shit!! This is pretty bad I thought. 

Ben on the main ice pitches before the crampon malfunction.

I lowered him back to the belay and we set about trying to fix it as best as we could. Ben always amuses me in many different ways, but the one thing I always find funny is how he always has loads and loads of small different bits of cord and tat tied in so many different ways to so many different things. He'll have a knife tied to something with small string, then a knife tied to something else. He always reminds me of a boy scout. Prepared for any eventuality. Not mocking it at all as, well like I say he's prepared for anything. So as he assessed the crampon situation, he sent me rummaging to the bottom of his bag where he knew some cord was lying. He managed to do a really good job of keeping tension on the broken bar and tying it to his crampon, then tying it to
the crampon strap and around his boot for good measure. It also just happened that the cord and tat was fluorescent pink and yellow... Looked fabulous!

Ben developing the pro model.

Mega ice conditions.

After Ben redesigned his new pro model crampon. I took the gear back as we both agreed it would prob be wiser if I did the rest of the leading in case the crampon didn't hold. Not that I doubted it for a second. The next few hundred meters consisted of a few ice bulges along with some mellow slopes between them. So I climbed a bulge then put a ropeman on a solid piece of gear then carried on to the next bulge where would make a belay. Then do the same again. After the last steepish bulge it was a long slope to the Sans Nom ridge. I had done this ridge in the Spring whilst climbing Naia. But there was a lot more snow just now. Luckily a team had topped out on another route before us and had put the track in up to the summit of the Verte.

Ben on the Sans Nom ridge.

Ben on the final snow arete to the summit of the Verte.

Like I said in the Naia blog post, the Aiguille Verte is probably one of my favourite summits in the Mt Blanc Massif. This time was probably the best I've ever had it. Maybe the best route I've done to the top of the Verte. Plus there was not a breathe of wind. Sunbathing on the summit in just my Baseline hoodie was pretty special. Especially as we could see big thick clouds rolling over the Jorasses from the Italian side.

Chilling on't top.

Summit shot.

We summited around  5pm. We sat around for a bit to mainly take the weight of our feet, but we also munched on some bread and cheese that Ben brought. Then headed off down the Whymper couloir towards the Courvecle hut, where we enjoyed a few cans of juice that tasted soooo good. After a great night sleep, and waking up at 10am it was down the ladders and Mer de Glace for us.

Ben heading across to the top of the Whymper couloir.

Was great to finally climb a route on this face. Cheers Ben for a great and entertaing time. Next time maybe have a pair of crampons that stay on the feet.

Evening view whilst approaching the Courvecle hut.

B.O.C pro model...

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