The Triangle du Tacul was the natural place for an acclimatisation climb due to its close proximity, relatively short routes, and easy abseil descent. Contamine-Negri, which skirted the left-hand edge of the triangle, sounded worthwhile and chartered territory unfamiliar to me. We had brought snow shoes but the snow was firm and our intended route only a short distance away.
The lower slopes of the triangle was stripped of neve. I crossed a broad snow bridge spanning the bergschrund and then trended left towards a short gully that skirted beneath an ominous serac. The climbing was moderately steep but the exposed ice was hard. Axe and crampon placements needed to be placed with consideration but the protection was safe as houses.
|Climbers on the lower slopes of Contamine-Grisolle (AD)|
I was out of screws by the time I had reached the seracs and so set up a belay safely to their right. I passed the rack to Mike who had the misfortune of leading the pitch beneath the serac roof. 'Climb as fast as you can' was the only useful words I had to offer. Mike´s appendix had been removed only a couple of weeks prior to the trip so I was thankful to have a climbing partner. He cautiously moved into the exposed line and placed a couple of screws for good luck. Each time externally rotating a limb in order to relieve the strain in his calves.With only a weekend's climbing in the Lakes Mike's 'hill fitness' was playing catch-up on this trip.
|Mike beneath the serac|
The climbing was not steep but very unnerving. Loose blocks of ice were jammed in the gully beneath the serac creating instability and lack of trust on my part. I slammed an axe into the ice only to see a loose block easily detach and tumble to the glacier floor. I climbed a quickly as I could, albeit compromised by altitude, and was relieved to join Mike at his belay knowing that the objective dangers were now below us.
|Aiguille du Midi as viewed from low on the route|
Mike handed me the rack and we once again moved together up the hard neve slopes interspersed with harder sections of ice that provided welcome protection. My lungs were working in overtime. Focus extended no further than the immediate placements above my head. I aimed for a vague ridge line above which I anticipated the triangle summit to be near by. Rope drag forced me to belay a short distance above the ridge. The summit was now only a short pitch away. Mike traversed through the deep snow in its direction. I waded behind.