Eperon Des Cosmiques
Thanks to John Carney for this account of our ascent of The Rebuffat Route on the Eperon Des Cosmiques, Aiguille du Midi South Face. You can read more of John's climbing accounts, including some adventurous first ascents in the mountains of Turkey, in his entertaining blog, Vertical Turkey
......The day before, which now seemed a world away, we had climbed the south face of the Aiguille du Midi via the short Gaston Rebuffat route on the Eperon des Cosmiques (TD, 120m), finishing up a deserted Arete des Cosmiques (AD). I had suggested this to Rob over the summer, mainly because of my wish to start climbing Rebuffat's routes, and my desire to finally sample some famous Chamonix granite for real, after over-absorbing so many articles, and seeing so many images - always with the Tacul in the background and the sparkling brown rock rearing up against a flawless deep blue skyline. Overcrowded in the summer months, the Midi's south face is only partially frustrating in September as the alpine clubs persist in taking first-timers for their first ever 'space walk' along the exposed but easy snow ridge that rolls gently out from the Midi telepherique station like a living-room carpet, the only problem being the unobstructed view down to Chamonix some three vertical kilometres below (but what a view it is!).
We scampered quickly around several roped-up parties who were hesitating to descend the ridge, almost inciting freefall as they toyed with a surrender to vertigo. I felt sorry to see so many people being flung in at the deep end; much better to be lowered head over heels into an icy chimney filled with chockstones, as Rob had done for me in the Cairngorms two years ago, the base of the cliff thankfully obscured by the thick mists and told to 'climb out of that one if you can' (figuratively speaking). There is nothing, however, that can prepare the mind or body for the fullness of alpine exposure. Boris and I, inching our way along the summit ridge of Le Rateau in April, could not barely distinguish sky from snow as we jabbed our ice axes through the crest of the mountain's north-west ridge and traversed above unknown abysses on banked-out snow and slippery gendarmes of rock. But today, all things were visible - wonderfully so - and the traffic continued to accumulate on the ridgeline long after we reached the base of our route and stepped off the snow carpet into the first chapter of our Rebuffat education.
With the sun warming the granite, and vindicating my choice of bright, non-waterproof cragging pants and a T-shirt over one thermal layer (mainly for the chilly walk from my lodgings to the telepherique in Chamonix) we stemmed our way up a chimney providing a direct start to the route, and avoiding an uncomfortable traverse in from the left of the wall wearing our rock shoes on snow-covered ledges. Nevertheless, as I joined Rob on the first belay, we had to move right across an unavoidable ledge to gain the slabs which would take us up to the famous passage through the roof, the crux of the climb.
Above the roof, the character of the wall changed, and the rock became brighter and more welcoming in colour having been paler and more worn in the lower section, like a face without makeup. I was surprised to find vegetation growing well in a lot of the cracks, as well as slabs covered by lichen, including the areas that might otherwise have yielded good, dry handholds. The climbing was excellent, but the style was different to the one I had been accustomed to in the summer on the limestone walls of Turkey. Fortunately, I had climbed on enough similar rock that the fist-sized cracks and jamming technique did not pose too many problems. In places the rock slabs resembled Karakaya, with small, sticky holds and in other places I paused before committing myself to one arm jammed inside a crack, only to find that it felt surprisingly secure, like romping up the 'Aiguilles' de Mamak back home in Huseyin Gazi with Tunc (see previous posts). I expected my fingers to tire at some point during the climb but found that, due to the frequent use of the whole arm, this rested my hands and kept the lactic acid at bay.
With each pitch, the views expanded all around us. On the top after five excellent rock pitches, we changed into our mountain boots and took some refreshments taking in the panorma from the Grandes Jorasses round to the Triangle du Tacul. Once we reached the high point of the Cosmiques ridge, we would also be able to see Mont Blanc.
The Arete, it turned out, was bereft of climbers. As an introductory route, usually it is awash with them and due to the surprisingly hard crux near the end of it, there is often a backlog which can stretch for yards, but can last for hours as those unfamiliar with rock climbing in crampons grapple and scrape their way up a steep and subtle wall. Halfway along from the point at which we got onto the route, we decided to change back into crampons owing to the abundance of ice and hard snow amid the giant boulders and gendarmes that were strewn along the ridge like fallen meteorites, split open by lightning strikes and cracked apart by the elements. It felt like walking on the moon - only Mont Blanc was in our view now, behind us as we picked our way toward the Midi station, the seracs of the Grands Mulets slopes shorn of their menace for a moment in the sunshine.