Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mt. Aiguille, La Tour des Gémeaux.

Before I move to the actual post of our really cool climbing trip way back in October, I'd like to just quickly write a few words about my super long winter hibernation :).  As you've noticed the blog has been silent for 4 months.  Essentially I've been alternating between being way too busy or way too sick, but as spring approaches, I hope I will be more active again in my blog writing and sharing with you what I've been up to!  So stay tuned.....


Mt Aiguille (2085m) is a prominent, limestone mesa in the Vercors Plateau, just 58 km south of Grenoble (lucky me!).  It is regarded as one of the key birthplaces of mountaineering and comes with a very interesting history in that sense.  In 1492 Charles the VIII ordered one of his servants, Antoine de Ville, to climb up the mountain using ladders, ropes and other tools (sketchy aid climbing anyone?!!), and so the mountain was finally conquered for the very first time, which is absolutely impressive.  In 1957, the flat table-top feature of the mountain attracted stunt pilots and fly-in tourists after a runway has been built on the plateau.  And today?  Well, today it's a climber's paradise of course and the first minute I laid my eyes on Mt. Aiguille, I knew I had to climb it sooner or later.

You can imagine how exciting it was when we finally started to plan the trip.  And you can imagine how disappointed I became when I got sick.  But luckily, I got over the illness fast enough, to be able to make it at the end - and I did not regret it one bit.  This has been one of the most memorable climbing trips I've done (maybe I say that very often now, but it's true!!).

Mt. Aiguille can be enjoyed by the novice climber as well as the expert climber.  The easiest route is 3c.  We decided to go up one level to challenge ourselves of course :) and so we chose the beautiful route des gemeaux (Trad/bolted climbing, 8 pitches, 275m, 5c difficulty [5.9 US]), located on the northwest face.  It is a classic route and quoting mountain project it has "neat features. A variety of fine climbing, from face, to overhangs, stemming, cracks." (last two pitches are scrambling at the top, not seen here)

So FINALLY the morning of the big day came, and there was nothing stopping us.  The forecast called for decent weather in the morning, with possible rain in the afternoon, hence there was no room for slacking around and we got on our way fairly early with a quick stop to pick up our good friend and climbing partner, Robert S.  We were all pretty damn excited, and as we got closer to the looming giant, I felt a sense of fear, beauty and respect for nature.  First thing's first, we had to organise our gear and then we were on our way, hiking up to the base of the climb....the autumn display of colors was surreal and so was the scenery. 


Staring directly at the multipitch climb called Le Pilier Sud, one more level harder than tour des gemeaux.  Next project? :)

Safety first.

Color madness.

After a very pleasant hike, chatting and warming up, we finally approached the base of the route.  There was a group before us, but at least we had an idea what to expect ahead of us and where to go.  It was decided that Jakub and Robert would alternate leading, and I was the piggy in the middle, happy to just tag along.

Almost there.

The scenery on the way up.

Our goal!

Jakub is first to go for pitch #1.

Robert, Pitch #2.

Just chillin'

Sometimes there is waiting during climbing.  This was my "examination of the flattened croissant" interlude.

This had to be the best day of the year to climb -- look at those colors!!

Pitch #3.  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

Hanging out..... Photo courtesy of Robert S.

A little hiding place before the overhanging crux and traverse.

Let's just say that I had a rather exciting moment when I was going over the crux move because I forgot to unclip my quickdraw.  I think I was just too eager to get over this part :)  I was already well above it when I noticed my little issue.  However, when I yelled "slack" at Robert who was belaying me from above, he heard "sec" which in French means "take", so basically the opposite to what I needed!  So as the rope got tighter, I was being pulled downwards, and I could not remove the quickdraw at all, at this point.  The more I yelled slack, the tighter the rope became.  I was hanging just above the crux move with one arm, while still trying to fiddle around with the other arm, not to even mention the exposed view below me :)...finally Jakub yelled loud enough SLAAAACK, and Robert gave me some rope.  Note to self, communication is very important when climbing and even though we said at the very start we will use English, mistakes can still happen.  Nobody is blamed and Robert did a good job keeping me safe in any case!  Good teamwork at the end.

Pitch 4, the crux.  Robert about to start.

Talk about exposure.  I am feeling pretty uncomfortable right now :)

End of pitch #4.  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

The crack, pitch #5.

Vertigo anyone?

Last but not the least of the "real" pitches, pitch #6.

The cool arch in the distance.

almost there....

the last scrambling bit....

Robert reaches summit.

The plateau.  Meadows, summit, great feeling to stand at the top (of the world:).

Comemorative plaque of the first ascent in 1492!!  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

My two "leaders".

The summit photo :)

Quick picnic as thunderstorms gather around us.  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

Looking over at the other end of the plateau.  Black clouds rolling in, but still sun shining on us to make this moment of victory sweet.  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

Photo courtesy of Robert S.
But guess what came at the very end.  You would not believe it if I didn't have the photos, and even then it doesn't look nearly close to what we saw :)  Even though the black clouds rolled in, the sunshine kept illuminating the plateau and we saw an amazing rainbow just above Mt. Aiguille.  At start it was small, but then it grew into a perfect semicircle, just above the summit.  And we were standing there gazing in awe, frozen in time, admiring this once in a lifetime scene.

The pot of gold must be in that village down there.... :)  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

What a neat little treat we got!  Photo courtesy of Robert S.

The closest depiction of the best moment we experienced.  Photo courtesy of Robert S.
After some delay admiring the rainbow, we decided it was time to "run" as the storm seemed to be coming in and getting wet on the descent didn't seem very appealing.  To our amazement, Mt. Aiguille remained untouched by the sporadic weather patterns and we safely made it to the car, dry and content.  A couple of beers on the way back made for a perfect finish of the day and even though we were soon back in the city, I was still up on the mountain in my mind, feeling perfect peacefulness, a light breeze playing with my hair, standing there like a little ant, under a colossal rainbow dome :))

~~~~~The End~~~~~