Contamine-Negri (AD+ / II 2, 350m)

Temperatures dropped to below -20°C during our first night's camping on the Col du Midi at 3500m. I slept with all my clothes on, which was far from comfortable. I woke in the night with a sore head, took some aspirin and tried to sleep again. Mike was as restless as me by the early hours with both of us feeling the altitude. By the morning everything had froze; water, sun cream, and even toothpaste. With high pressure was prevalent it was essential that we spent half an hour melting snow in order to thaw the sun cream before any climbing could commence. By now the sun had risen.

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.

The abseil tat that I had used to descend the right hand side of the triangle (in 2006 when last stood on top of the Tacul Triangle) was no longer present. With some searching I found another ab point hidden a short distance below the triangle's highest point. 60m lower we found another ab point that was leading us towards the right hand side of the triangle. I had been keen to aim for the top of Chere Couloir but was now unsure of its exact location. We bared right and soon enough we were following ample tat placements that extended down the right hand side of the triangle to the glacier floor. Mike's head was spinning with the altitude sickness. We trudged back to camp to make soup and tea.


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