I guess it must have been summer `85 or there about, anyway it was my first trip to the Alps. Dave and I got the bus to Chamonix. and went on up the valley to Argentiére. We did the usual Petit Verte to warm up and then the North Face of the Col du Plan. Nice route, rock, ice, great end onto the Midi-Plan ridge. So now that we were warm, what next? Dave had Les Courtes in the back of his mind. We debated, poured over guide books and eventually he persuaded me, the Swiss route it was to be. This is a classic mostly ice north face with a grade of TD. Now Dave being one for value for money wanted to fit a rock route in to. So the plan was Les Courte, down to the Couvercle hut and the South Ridge of the Aigulle du Moine, an easy PD, the next day. Good plan, but rock gear, a second rope and other bits and bobs meant that we were carrying heavier packs than was ideal.
We crossed the Argentiére Glacier the next afternoon. The views of the north face were superb, but for my somewhat inexperienced eye, scary! The usual lousey hut night followed, damp blanket, snoring, some idiot with a plastic bag which he rustled and rustled.
Alpine starts, your body says to you that this is sleep time but the hut warden says it´s 2.30 and north face time. We plodded over the glacier, following other head torches. There were already people going for it too.
The bergschrund was large that year, but the earlier parties had already found the way over. We followed. Then started the endless, or so it seemed, routine, left kick, right kick, left axe right axe, left kick, right kick, left kick, right kick. It was still dark and all I could see was my light cone and all I could hear was my breathing and whirring as ice from the climbers above flew passed. A piece broke the spell, and nearly my nose as it caught me in the face. When the route got steeper we decided to pitch it. And so the routine changed a bit, it was still left kick, right kick, left axe right axe but with a pause after half a rope for an ice screw, then left kick, right kick, left axe right axe until the rope was out, quich chop out of two foot holds and two screws for the belay. We only had five with us, so it was always four belay and one pro. Screw. Then the other climbed up, through and led the next rope length.
The morning dawned fine and clear, the view down below us more impressive as each rope length passed. We were climbing too slowly, our packs were too heavy, our inexperience showed. We climbed and climbed and reached the steep narrow section of about 60 to 70 degrees, it was brittle here and caused us some problems. We pulled over to some rocks and had a break, a little water and a snack. It was then that clouds came in. We pushed on higher up the wide ice basin above. At last, around 3.30pm we pulled out onto the ridge, really too late.
Then followed the ridge traverse with I think two absails, passed the impressive Aigs. Ravanel and Mummury to the Col des Cristaux.. Cracked it! The guide book read easily but we lost our way and wandered through broken rocks looking for a continuous descent. It became clear that we would have to bivvy. We found a spot just as it was getting dark, filled a water bottle and waited for morning. As if by magic the clouds lifted affording us a wonderful night time view of the heavens. Accordingly the temperature dropped like a stone and there then followed one of my coldest nights on a mountain.
At first light we got ourselves together, roped up and stumbled off… to find the decsnt in a matter of minutes!! We quickly gained the Teléfre Glacier and walked down to the Couvercle hut. We were too shot after the freezing night so we continued down onto the Mer de Glac. It was just ice at this time so we un-roped and made our way separately, jumping crevasses, to Montenvers and the rack and pinion train back to Chamonix. I´d lost sight of Dave, but he eventually turned up at the tent. We emptied a number of beer bottles and binjed out on pitzas in Argentiére.
I learnt a lot from our mistakes on this route, for example only take what you’ll need and climb fast in the Alps. It was my first big one, it was a fantastic route, it was scary and I´ll never forget it!