Time spent pouring over mountaineering books which describe the majesty and lure of classic routes in the Alps, is time well spent. The one we use most commonly in the Alps is 'Snow, Ice and Mixed' Vol 2 by Francois Damilano, he notes: "whether exploring an unsung gem or sharing the joys of one of the area's many magnificent classics, every trip into the high mountains should be an experience to savour".
Reading these books, makes my spirit come alive conjuring up images of the sun rising above the cloud line, displaying a stunning array of ever changing colours across the horizon. My favourite moment is when the sun is high enough to create an alpine glow on the mountains opposite. The glow needs to be captured and admired in the moment as soon it will have given way to blue skies, bright sunshine and snow melting fast under your feet. Experiencing all of this and climbing to the summit of your mountain by 9am, feels like a great achievement and is a passion shared by many alpinists.
Here's the story of climbing my first North Face in the Alps - The Tour Ronde, June 2013.
Friday 28th June
Having spent 4 hours walking over the glacier from Chamonix, we arrived the Torino Hut at 3375m in Italy to be told that our plans for the next 24 hours would have to be scrapped - the weather was moving in thick and fast. We optimistically decided to hope the forecast was wrong and set breakfast for 4am.
That afternoon we were treated to all sorts of free drinks from the barman who seemed happy to have a blonde girl in the hut. Grappe, Martinis and even sugar cubes doused in Sanbucca - nice! The chef took pity on us when we were making our dinner on our camp stove and brought us homemade pizza. Meanwhile, the weather steadily worsened outside. Imagine being in the hills in Scottish Winter.
That evening I tried to get to sleep for hours but with my body adjusting to the altitude my resting heart rate was 11o bpm! The wind howled around the hut all night and in the morning it hadn't changed.
Saturday 29th June
Today went like this: eat, sleep, cards, eat, sleep, cards, wine, eat, sleep.
There was no chance of leaving the hut, we just had to hope it cleared for the next day as this was becoming a rather expensive trip. To give you an idea of costs:
- Lift fees £60
- Accommodation £50 for 2 nights
- Water etc £25
- Dinner £20
Everyone kept telling us it would be "Belismo" tomorrow. We actually had a really fun time in the hut - we had no phones, internet, tv or books to read - just pure, unadulterated quality time together. We planned future adventures and discussed tomorrow's objective - Le Tour Ronde. With it being my first North Face, I was apprehensive and appreciated the extra day to acclimatise at altitude.
Sunday 30th June
Up at 4am we had breakfast and were out the door by 5am. The night was incredible - the stars were bright, the wind had died down and the sky completely clear with 10 inches of fresh snow. Thankfully we had made friends in the hut with Spanish climbers who were keen to break trail to the base of the route.
The views were breathtaking.
By 6:15am we were at the bottom of the Tour Ronde, geared up and feeling strong.
The climb was amazing! There were a few times I'd had to stop to rest my screaming calves - front pointing with crampons the whole way up the 50-55 degree angle route meant huge pressure through my calves.
The snow was beautiful neve which gave fantastic ice axe and crampon placement and the weather conditions were perfect.
At 9am we were on the summit sharing high-fives. No time to relax yet, still had to find the route down and get off the mountain safely.
The route down was a combination of down climbing, abseiling and boot skiing.
Finally by 11:30am we were back on the Col and looking up at the face we just climbed. Charley gave me a hug saying "you just climbed your first North Face!" Now that's something I'll always have :)
From there, we had the options of a 5+ hour walk uphill across the glacier or a 1 hour walk back to the lift and a £12 cost. It was getting hot and we'd walked up the final stretch of the glacier enough times to know it's an absolute killer. Feeling happy with what we'd achieved we took the lift and enjoyed revelling in the satisfaction of our climb on the journey home.
It's been a long, expensive and challenging journey to becoming an alpinist. I'm not there yet! Yet climbing a route like this is certainly a big step in the right direction and makes me feel like I've accomplished something I can be proud of in the world of mountaineering.