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Chamonix Dispatches, July 16 – Warming Up

Chamonix is nestled into the valley between the Aiguille Rouges and Aiguille du Midi. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of alpinism and is at the cutting-edge of modern mountain sports.

Gripped editor Brandon Pullan is in Chamonix for a month, at first for the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy, now climbing some of the area’s classics.

When I arrived in Chamonix, much like many others, I was in awe of the Auguille, the village, and the hillsides. I spent the first few days with team Arc’teryx and the many friends they invited for their alpine academy and shoe launch. The alpine academy offered affordable clinics to 300 people a day for four days, it was a busy and successful event.

Chamonix is surrounded by peaks and an intricate transportation system of trams, lifts and trains. The major two lifts are the Aiguille du Midi and the Brevente lift. On my first climbing day I went with Canadian climber Anna Smith up the Midi lift and climbed the classic Arete de Papillon (Butterfly Ridge), a fun 300-metre 5.8 ridge, only 30 minutes from the lift. The climb had great simul-climbing terrain and a few stout, steep granite pitches with bashed in metal pegs for protection, reminded me of the North East Ridge of Bugaboo Spire.

On the second day, my good friend Will Woodhead drove down from the U.K. to join us. We jumped on the Brevente lift and took it to the top, the valley was flooded with clouds, but the peaks were sunny. After a quick 15-minute descent down snow and grass slopes we were six pitches below the lift station and under the Voie Frison-Roche. The route was first climbed in 1906 by H. Beujard and J. Simond, a fact that was hard to believe while laybacking 5.10 corners in modern equipment. The line climbs six pitches and is considered the classic of the Auguille Rouge. The fourth-pitch was one of the finest Gniess pitches I have had the good fortune to climb.

The weather has been a mixed bag, the Mont Blanc area has been under clouds for the last few days. Sitting in the yard of my rented flat, where paragliders land in the field and families picnic in the grass, I sip a cafe latte and read the history of the local climbing.

In 1760, Alpinism is invented. The Genevan naturalist, Horace Bénédict de Saussure, offered a large reward to anyone who could find the way up Mont Blanc. On July 24, he visited “Chamouny” and climbed up to the Brevent. Then in 1786, The first ascent of Mont Blanc. Jacques Balmat, a local crystal hunter by profession, a man with an iron will and an instinct for the mountains teamed up with a Dr. Paccard, a Chamonix doctor.The ascent was followed by telescopes from Chomonix. In 1820, The first catastrophe. A group of five guides, left for Mont Blanc. Just below the Grand Plateau an avalanche swept them into a crevasse. Only two survived. The other three bodies were discovered 41yrs later at the bottom of the Bossons Glacier. The Chamonix guides company was established. In 1857, the Alpine Club was founded in London. The Mont Blanc and Aiguille de Midi were still the only peaks to be conquered. The Golden age of Alpine Climbing was about to begin. 

As the weather forecast for the local mountains shows more thunderstorms, we will decide whether we will stay in the valley tomorrow or head south to the mighty Valle dell’Orco.

Stay tuned for more Chamonix Dispatches