Contamine-Mazeaud (AD+, 350m), Mont Blanc du Tacul

Contamine-Mazeaud was in really good condition. The extended period of poor weather through the majority of summer had brought a lot of snow to the high peaks but fortunately things had settled down prior to our trip. Now there there was an unusually large amount of snow for late August but an abundance of beautiful firm neve in wait. What's more the temperatures were holding well below freezing for the next few days. It meant harsh conditions for high rock routes but excellent conditions on moderately steep snow slopes.

The Tacul triangle in excellent condition

We initially moved together with 60m of rope trailing between us. Anna at the front crossed the bergschrund with ease and then continued without runners for maybe another 60 metres before the fear-o-metre tripped into the red. Herewith the snow was becoming more icy but inadequately so for ice screws so we descended down and left to some in-situ belay nearby tat.

Anna leading the initial snow slope

With one of us now secured to the mountain I took the lead with an assortment metal-wear clipped to my harness that would prove largely redundant during the climb. The climbing was steady but hard enough to warrant the belays. Every axe placement felt great although care was needed where a little more icy. The initial climbing on the second pitch from the initial belay was maybe the crux. It was steeper than the previous pitch but still easier than the sections on Chèré Couloir. The snow slopes funnelled gently into a narrower channel of steeper snow before the route opened out into much broader snowfield above, interspersed with isolated blocks of granite. From here the climbing became a little easier. I lead each pitch with little care for runners until maybe 50 metres had passed. Then came the challenge of finding some tat or a crack hidden beneath the snow where I could slot a cam. Sometimes we would need to move together a little distance but generally a belay appeared just when needed. Another British pair were matching us pitch-for-pitch so the chore of finding the next belay was also split depending on started up first.

Towards the top of the snowfield

Following the route to the top of the triangle looked a little discontinuous and contrived so we swung right towards the top of Chèré Couloir. After some moderate difficulties finding the couloir, followed by a stuck abseil rope (fortunately easy to retrieve), we were soon linking the abseils with ease. I knew from previously descending this way that it paid dividends to ignore many of the premature abseil points and aim for a full 60m each time. My previous descent this way it had been with a single rope and so had required a tedious ten abseils. Half ropes definitely hastened the progress. The crux pitches of Chèré Couloir were looking very easy compared to when I climbed it a few years previous with shallower channels of stepped-out ice markedly reducing their steepness.

Descending Chèré Couloir

Anna managed to find the bottom of the bergschrund toward the end of the final rappel. Then back to the Cosmiques Hut. Yes, the Cosmiques Hut! After many trips camping on the col below the hut I thought it was time I treated myself.

In the bergschrund


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