Our (Mikey and I) adventure on the Monte Rosa Massif… To be clear, The Matterhorn is not on the list, and in fact the peaks we’ll be doing are best classed as ‘snow plods’ with one exception. Despite the lack of technical climbing, this trip is going to be a huge adventure for 2 reasons – this is the first trip where I’ll effectively be leading (no guide) and we’re going to bivvy out. As with many aspects of mountaineering, bivvying out promises to be sustained, abject misery somehow overcome by the sense of adventure and the ability to immerse yourself in incredible surroundings by doing so. Basically, this is type 2 fun; things that are only fun in hindsight but not at the time. I must admit that part of my motivation is to use our glowing alpine shelter as a foreground subject.
Back to the former point of being ‘expedition leader’… this is new to me, having been under instruction from a guide or experienced climbing partner on previous trips to The Alps. Aside from calling on a whole range of skills you can blissfully ignore (if you want to) when climbing with a guide, like navigation and route-finding, being leader introduces a whole new mental challenge. There’s an implicit trust when climbing with a guide and a sense that everything is completely under control all of the time. The reason is simple – it is. On that odd occasion that they might say, “okay so there is no protection here so aah… don’t fall”, (yup, it has been said) you still play down the risks as being externally mitigated somehow – they wouldn’t let you fall, right? That’s not to suggest there’s room for complacency, inattention or carelessness – there really isn’t, and being tied to one another means there is always some element of mutual reliance. Where this implicit trust comes in is when you become acutely aware of the precipitous nature of your position and begin to question the seriousness of your next move. The comfort of a guide so easily curtails this cycle of doubt (at least for me). Last year my guide and I soloed (no rope) a short spur on the Lagginhorn south ridge approach. I understood that this was because it was relatively simple climbing (let’s say II (2) – a scramble) and faster to move without being roped together but noted that a fall wasn’t an option. At the time, the fact that he thought this was safe weighed far more in to my mentality than something seemingly more tangible and rational like being able to climb well into the 6’s in the gym.
That’s gone now, and that is ultimately what I want. For the last few months I’ve been running over scenarios in my head, thinking about how we will deal with them so that when the time comes we can be in control. Control and risk management must remain, obviously. What changes is that now it’s in your own hands, also obvious. You make decisions and implement protection as necessary, and then put your faith in it. What is less obvious is why this makes a given climb more difficult, but it feels like the difference between walking along a chalk line on the ground and a 10 storey tight rope. The perceived stakes and technical difficulty can’t be delineated. But now returning to the fact that risk mitigation measure No. 1 in this case is easy climbs, I’ll leave the mountaineer philosophising to the many out there actually pushing the boundaries.
The climbing itinerary starts off at the Gnifetti Hut on the Italian side of the massif. There’s a number of fairly straightforward peaks reachable from here. We’ll start with the Piramide Vincent before traversing the Balmenhorn, Corno Nero, Ludwigshohe and Parrotspitze on the way to the Signalkuppe summit. Maxing out at PD+ (petit difficile / a little difficult), with well worn tracks almost a certainty at this time of year, it promises to be a sensible starting point for us. From there we’ll hop across to the next valley (Saint Jacques), heading up a different flank of the massif to take on Castor and Pollux. Castor is another snow plod, but things get a bit more interesting on Pollux by the south-west ridge – a route I’ve done before. It’s a scramble for the most part, leading to a vertical step which makes up the crux; short but surprisingly strenuous. Next is The Briethorn… it’s basically a highway in summer due to its ease of ascent and adjacent Klein-Matterhorn lift. The less said the better – it’s nearby and we have time.
So amongst all of this is an excuse to post a whole bunch of climbing related photos to the website and blog. That will bring everything pretty much up to the current day (hold for some photos of Oxford which I’ll save for another time) and from then on my posts will actually be of recent events – yay.