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Unplanned Bivy
© Paul Winder
Chamonix Alps
Climbers: Jim Vacher & Paul Winder
3*VOTING: number of votes 5
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User Comments

Sounds like there must be a good story to this picture?
IainMunro - 08/Dec/06
IanJackson - 12/Dec/06
OK. Paul and I had just ascended the Papillons Arete and were intending to ascend the Aigiulle du Peigne via the normal route. However, we took the wrong route up the Peigne and found ourselves moving slowly on difficult ground. Unseasonal snow had already slowed our progress along the ridge, so we decided to bail. Paul had attempted the Vaucher Route earlier in the season, and so knew there would be easy abseils if we could find the top of the route. As dusk neared Paul successfully located the descent route, and we started rappelling. The first few rappels went pretty smooth and we were confident of reaching the base of the route and making it home that night. The evening was pleasant and warm as we descended through the remains of the sunlight, which bathed the rock in a warm golden glow. About the fifth rap, pulling the ropes through, they jammed. We were on fifty's and this meant we ended up and a 'bogus' and rather shoddy looking rap station. Tugging and pulling proved fruitless, and so with a heavy heart Paul reascended both lines (we still had both ends). 40 odd metres of rope later he freed the lines and descended to our cramped station. We pulled the ropes again. One strand now, and it was looking OK, crisis over. Then, a worrying tension crept along the line, which almost immediately became obvious was a second jam, but this time with only a single strand in hand, neither of us was keen to re-ascend the rope. Heaving and tugging again proved useless, despite being driven by a mild panic which had descended on me, if not Paul, as fast as the light had faded. We did not fancy spending a night hanging on the rap station, which was shoddy, and had already been backed up with a few pieces to make it safe. I began to descend the flaky diagonal gully, both to find a better spot to spend the night, and to try pulling the cord from a different angle. I had only gone perhaps a few metres when I saw in the darkness another rap station, much beefier this time, and obviously the bona-fide one. If we had been descending with sixties we would have logically ended up here. A hopeful tug on the ropes, and miraculously the tension in the line evaporated instantaneously and the free end came snaking down out of the darkness. It was almost impossible to believe, but a few degrees difference in pulling angle had somehow freed the line... We both knew if one of us had re-ascended the line, the unlucky party would have swung out the same number of degrees. Our luck had finally changed and the next couple of raps went off without incident. We reached a ledge which seemed like a palace. Despite being unprepared, we set up for the night and passed it beneath the stars. The baco foil sheet was the only 'bivy' equipment I had, but was worth its weight in gold-coated polythene. In hindsight we were both glad of the experience and realised an unplanned bivy didn't need to be a thing to be avoided at all costs. In the morning we descended without incident... well almost without incident...
Jim V - 21/Dec/06
Good story! Jams are the worst thing in climbing!
IanJackson - 29/Dec/06
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This picture is copyright. If you want to reproduce or otherwise re-use it, please email the photographer direct via their user profile. Photo added December 07 2006.