A Grand Day Out 13: Fifteen Haribo? and Four Snickers?

by Guy Wilson Mar/2009
This article has been read 2,568 times
Plum heading out on the North Face

Bags packed, heavy with the weight of our kit for the day: skinny rope, axes, ski's, skins, harness and ice screws. It was 3am and there was one job left before we departed from the winter hut. To count out the supplies for the day; sufficient to power us up the North Face of the Gran Paradiso. Four Snickers and fifteen Haribo Crocodiles. The face which had looked so impressive, cold and steep the night before was now our goal for the day. It was dark, we started to ski towards it.

Time: 8am
Status: 13 Crocodiles: 3 Snickers
We had climbed 800m with our ski's towards the face, only twice had we been caught out by the ice slopes which sent us shooting down towards the darkness only to find ourselves hitting a patch of softer snow, each time losing precious height as we slipped down. We were now at the bottom of the face, 2 crocodiles have already been saved from the cold torture of the early morning alpine winter. We took off our ski's and donned crampons ready for a calf burning 500m of 55° ice, no neve, or rest in sight.

Time: 11am
Status: 6 Crocodiles: 2 Snickers
'Plum', my alpine partner on this escapade took a liking to the green croc's, each belay gave us opportunity to open a pocket and reach for one, colour didn't matter to me. The cold had worked its way through two layers of gloves to find my stubby frostnipped fingers, the cold, the hot aches and then numbness. We had only climbed a couple of pitches which involved pitching a section up to the rope length, then taking the belay apart and moving together while we placed a couple more screws to gain an extra 20-30 metres. Looking around we could see familiar favourites, Mount Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Midi basking in the morning sun. We were getting cold. It was taking too long.

Time: 4pm
Status: 2 Crocodiles: 1 Snickers
Look at the time! One more pitch and we would be on the summit ridge – no more ice. Would this be my first real alpine epic?

Time: 5pm
Status: 0 Crocodiles: 1 Snickers
It was a good feeling topping out on the summit ridge. The last hour had been a mixture of emotion, longing for the first belay in the sun, 'just one more pitch' the topic of conversation, the feeling of balancing along the final knife-edge ridge followed by a final handshake with the Virgin Mary who helped to safeguard Plum over the final rock step to the summit. I reached for the last Snickers bar, the last piece of the jigsaw required to get us down safely. I counted 14 pockets within the depths of my jackets. Where was the last Snickers? Number 4? Nowhere to be seen. This time I would need to dig deep inside to get down. No fuel, no chocolate. The sun was setting.

Time: 6pm
Status: 0 Crocodiles: 1 Snickers
Skiing down after climbing is something new for both of us. We were cursing climbing with the ski's on our back all day. Now these ski's were going to turn the whole day around, we weren't going to be benighted – it's payback, the sun was setting over the Alps, over our adopted hometown of Chamonix. We could see the refuge, our little palace of safety. We lacked energy and style but knew there was a stash of brownie in the hut, and a brew of course. After all, we are British Alpinists.

Time 11pm
Status: 0 Crocodiles: 0 Snickers
Running on empty, the last 2 hours were spent walking with swollen toes, like drunkards, stopping only to weave our way through the trees down from the refuge. My head torch reminding us of the state of its batteries, like our bodies, expired. The best thing about living and climbing in the Alps is you can make it home the same evening. Home to clean socks, a shower, a warm bed. Home to find the last 502k calories of chocolate coated goodness that you longed for so much on the summit, hiding away in your coat pocket, melting with the heat of the log fire, the heat of creature comforts.

Guy Wilson has had quite a few grand days out recently, you can read and see here: guysclimbingblog.blogspot.com

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A Grand Day Out, 154 kb
image © Mick Ryan

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