Monday, 2 April 2012

Frendo-Ravanel (TD / II 5, 500m), Aiguille Carrée

We had a classic mixed route all to ourselves today for a change. With a poor weather front imminent late in the day we were keen to get another route climbed prior. A local guide in the Refuge du Plan de l'Aiguille had recommended Frendo-Ravanel to us. Positioned close to the Grands Montets téléphérique station on Aiguille Carrée, it seemed an ideal choice of route for easy access and easy escape were the weather to change for the worse. And if the lift shut again then atleast we could walk down to the valley. We had spent last night on the floor of the Grands Montets téléphérique station, our sleep disturbed twice by prolonged machinery grating loudly in the room next to us.

Sunrise over Aiguille du Chardonnet
Approaching Frendo-Ravanel in the Argentière Basin
The bergschrund of Frendo-Ravanel was a monster. I led up a steep step of ice into a small cove in the bergschrund where I trapped myself under a shallow roof. Placing a couple of screws for reassurance I stood with my knees bent and spine arched backwards in order to overcome the overhung terrain and force my axes high. The snow conditions were poor but my placements good enough for me to stand up straight. Weight immediately transferred from my feet to wrists as I quickly searched amongst the soft snow for stable axe placements in order to move higher and overcome the bergschrund. I trusted my axes with the best placements I could find, moved my feet up and scrambled onto the easier slopes above. A quick romp up 50 degree slopes and I was at a belay and it was Mike's turn.

Mike climbing towards the bergschrund
Mike beneath the bergschrund
Mike led through some lean, delicate mixed ground before the terrrain became a bit easier. We moved together with the full rope length between us, intermittently placing ice screws. I managed to string three pitches together on the lead before lack of gear brought me to a belay adjacent to a slab. Usually the slab would be iced over but currently all that remained was a channel of intermittent ice choked in a wide crack to the right. Mike placed a cam in the crack, composed himself for a while and moved higher. Fighting with his left foot, which was scratching all over the slab trying to find any purchase, Mike frantically placed another cam higher in the crack where ice was absent. Soon he was out of my sight but the sound of scrataching continued with small blocks of ice intermittently spraying down the route. 'Safe'.

Easy ground before the crux
We were now into the main couloir and crux section of the climb. The direct finish followed a narrow streak of ice that looked 'Scottish' but doable. The ice was thin but it was hooked out so surely not too much trouble? I tapped and hooked my way up the flow, placing only a few screws where the ice would ungenerously allow, closing in on the top of the pitch that would offer up the grand finale. Another wide crack choked full of ice lay in waiting. An ice bulge granted me with the opportunity to place two ice screws a couple of body-lengths down and left from the crack. I swung my axe up and right into the iced crack, the steepness pushing my bodyweight away from the ice. What little ice there was fractured immediately away leaving my nearest axe placement now a foot higher than previous with this only being a short distance above the fracture site. One more attempt would be all that I would get. I tapped the tip of my axe into the ice more gently this time. Not daring to try and place the other axe in the ice in such close proximity I crossed my axe tips. For the first time on this trip I was gripped. I reckoned my odds to be 50/50 as to whether the ice would hold. I took one last glance at my screws below me and considered the potential fall if the ice broke off for the second time. The screws would hold but it would hurt! I released my front points from the ice and swung my bodyweight below my axes, arms locked out in a monkey hang, now fully committed to the ice crack. It held my weight. I used a blob of ice attached to the slab to my right to plant a front point. Lifting my crossed axe I gently tapped it into the ice a foot higher. The relief was apparent with every higher placement I found. Hard neve was gratefully received at the top of the crack and soon enough the belay. I was proud of my effort but hoped that I had left enough ice for my shorter partner to cope with.


Above the hard climbing - time to rap
Mike joined me at the belay. The hard climbing was over. It was mid-afternoon and our thoughts turned to catching the last cable car back to the valley. Clouds were rolling over the summits and there seemed little point in bashing up the remaining easy ground for no visibility on the ridge. The rappels swiftly began. Frendo-Ravanel had provided the ideal climax to a great Alps trip with plenty of remember. I was confident that we would be the last to climb the route this season though.

Mike abseiling down the crux pitch (slender ice on the right)

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