Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Aiguille DiBona 3131m, arĂȘte Nord (voie normale)

Aguille DiBona.  A magnificent needle that we managed to conquer.

After aligning our schedules with Jakub for this summer, we figured out that we have two weekends together -- which means that no time wasting is allowed.  Our first weekend was definitely well spent in one of the most superb granite climbing areas near Grenoble.  The area itself is known as "La Berarde" providing an abundance of climbing opportunities including trad climbing, multi pitch crag, or sport climbing, of more than 100 routes, from 3c to 8a, spread over many crags.  Of course mountaineering is also an option for the more ardent adventure seekers.

Initially we were set out to meet some friends in the campsite and climb some multi pitch crags in the area, however, Jakub opened our "easy climbing guide" and found a very cool project for us called "Aiguille Dibona".  All of the planning was done on the go and last minute, pretty much when we arrived to the Veneon valley.  Even the dinners were planned to be done on the fire or involved a lot of prep, so all of this had to be modified and improvised for the new chosen destination.

We ended up sleeping at Etages the first night, where we made our final decision to hike up to Aguille DiBona.  We found a very nice spot to pitch the tent  and while Jakub dozed off to sleep I decided to snap some photos.


These butterflies were dead asleep.  Nothing could make them move.

Veneon river.


Once the night fell I also crawled into the tent as we were planning to have a very early start in the morning.  At around 6:30 or so we woke up to the very cold morning and made ourselves a huge egg omelet (this was originally supposed to be the dinner but who wants to bring 12 raw eggs to 1200 meters?).  We then stuffed our tent, sleeping bags, food for 2 days, stove and climbing gear into a 60 liter and 30 liter backpack (I still don't know how we managed that).  And yes, both bags were super heavy.  And then we set off to do the 1200m hike to the refuge before the sun would catch up with us.  After some time, the pack didn't feel as heavy anymore and we enjoyed the fact that we were hiking in the shade, with fresh mountain breeze and a stream below us. 

Mountain orchid.

Finally, after more intense hiking we were rewarded with a view of the needle.  When Jakub pointed it out to me, I thought he was kidding that we were going to end up reaching its summit.  From the distance it just seemed too steep and tall.  Eventually, the sun caught up with us, but at that point we were more than half way through.  After roughly 3+ hours of hiking, we reached the refuge du Soreiller (at 2730m).

Aguille DiBona

Sun rise over the mountains.

A very determined person :)

Looking behind us into the valley below.

Once at the refuge, it was clear that this was a climbing mecca and a very popular destination for climbers/mountaineers.  There were climbers hanging around at the refuge sorting out their gear, there were climbers hiking to the face of DiBona, and finally, the face of DiBona itself was peppered with climbers.  It appeared there were line-ups on the routes.  It was quite a surprise to us, as we had no clue this was so sought out.   We took a small break for lunch before completing our quest and finishing the remaining 400 metres of elevation to reach the summit.  The access to the granite blade that was awaiting for us was a bit more challenging than regular hiking, however, we left some of our gear at the refuge, so the load was at least lighter.  We first passed over some loose boulders following a sheep path, and then had the choice between hiking through relatively steep slushy snow or scrambling over small cliffs.  I preferred option two, as the snow was very slippery and I had a feeling that a minor mistake in footing could result in some very fine body surfing in the snow.  When we actually reached the base of our climb, the air felt thinner and the exposure was evident.  At that point, some basic fight and flight response came about and I was hoping I could weasel out of the climbing.  I think the fear came from my loss of confidence as a result of my shoulder injury and the fact that I have not done any climbing for the past two years (inside or outside) and this was a big jump all of a sudden.  Jakub had to give me a pep talk and a stern look to convince me that it was all worth it.  While doing that, we realized that we would have to fight over the summit with the large number of climbers who were going up the face because the route we chose to go up, was also the route taken down by everyone coming up from behind.

The needle from behind (the right cliff is the summit)

Two pitches of climbing to reach the summit DiBona

The summit as seen from a slightly different view.

And so we took off.  The rock felt great to the touch.  After doing majority of climbing on limestone, the granite was very grippy and assuring.  The first pitch was totally fine - an easy traverse.  However, with the second pitch I got more shaky, as it involved using the edge of the needle for the right hand and below the edge was a gaping hole of course :).  I somehow managed to get up to the top where Jakub was already waiting for me.  The summit fit probably four people max, so we had a few minutes for ourselves before another party came up to boot us out.  I didn't mind because I wasn't feeling like hanging out there for ages anyway, but I do admit that I am glad I went up there to experience this and to see the spectacular view from the top and have the feeling that we achieved our goal.

The summit selfie.

Looking down from the summit of DiBona.

Another view of what we climbed up showing that it's very simple climbing.

Looking down into the valley.

One last look back at the summit.
After safely rappelling down, we chose the snow route to return because it's much faster to slide down on snow, than to hike or down climb.  

The snow patch was a fast route down.

Too bad we didn't have a sled or skis :)

Jakub's technique involved using several different body parts (sometimes unintentional).

Back at the refuge we found out there is room for us, so at the end we stayed there for the night which also included a dinner.  The dinner itself was interesting because we sat at the table with two very hardcore Austrian climbers who have seemed to have done lots of crazy climbing in the past and some first ascents in Greenland.  They said they waited 5 weeks for good weather to come to DiBona to do the most popular route (visite obligatoire), and drove 10 hrs from Austria to do this one day climb and then were driving back home the next day.   We realized how lucky we were to come here in this particular time frame if other people had to wait so long.

The next day, we set out to do yet more climbing (even though I was totally dead after the 1600m from before).  This time around, we went to do the Breche des Clochetons which was five pitches of IV + climbing of 150m.  The approach here from the refuge was shorter but at the end turned out a bit harder because there was once again a very steep snowy section which involved scrambling onto a smooth slab and I found this a bit sketchy.  Jakub had to throw me a rope at the end to make sure I did not fall and slide down the snow.  We also thought we'd be here alone as all people go on the main needle, but to our dismay we had several groups ahead of us and a line up was starting to form.  We waited almost an hour to sart climbing and with the forecast of rain for the afternoon, I was worried we'd get caught by a thunderstorm in the middle of our climb.

Once we finally started climbing I had some doubts again.  The start was a traverse and I did not feel so comfortable with it.  I cheated a little bit once to get over a ledge but after this pitch I got in the groove and really enjoyed the rock and the moves.   As we reached the top, light rain came upon us...

The approach (the steeper snow section is not visible here).

Spanish dudes before us at the start of the climb.

Oh granite, how I missed thee.

Pitch four.

Goodbye to the needle...

We then re-packed our belongings and carried most of our food, tent and stove back down - a great muscle building exercise! :)  After the loooong descent (it felt much longer than the ascent).., we reached the car and lucky for us, it was full of beer.  The beer actually had a refreshing temperature, so we took our time to relax at the parking lot while I was being attacked by a butterfly.  Either he was really addicted to my post hiking odor, or he was out of his little insect mind.   After the beer session, we drove to visit our friends whom we were initially going to climb with to at least say hello, and finally, Jakub still had the energy to paddle down a III class section of the Veneon river on his kayak.  We then headed for home, as the forecast called for thunderstorms and persistent rain which is not compatible with climbing anyway.

I hope to have more weekends like this.  It's moments like these that are engraved in your mind forever. :)