Arête des Cosmiques

Aiguille du Midi
Thursday July 14th

In late June this year, Rita and I spent a glorious time mountain walking in Grindelwald, Switzerland. 
We stayed at our favourite small hotel, the Bodmi, situated in a high meadow above the village and directly opposite the infamous North Wall of the Eiger.  
At the end of the fortnight, Rita flew home from Zurich to spend a few days in London with her sons Michael and Stephen...... Stephen having just flown in from Buenos Aires with Elo and their baby daughter Katia for a holiday.

I remained in Switzerland to meet up with Herbert Bruckmaier
Herbert is a Bavarian alpine guide that I had arranged to spend a week with. Herbert is 10 years younger than me, which is a sensible age gap...... as I have been tied to big youths with legs like tree trunks before and the consequences are wearing!
Herbert turned out to be a great guy with over 30 years experience in the high mountains of the world. We became good friends.  

Our first few days were spent on the mountains around the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valleys. Then we were hit by one of the biggest mountain storms I had witnessed. Interlaken was flooded, tons of red pan-tiles were stripped off roofs and thrown into the streets and mature trees were snapped like matchsticks. After a day of indecision, we ran for cover and drove 200 kilometres to Chamonix in France.

With only a couple of days left and the weather in the Alps still mixed, Herbert hit on the idea of climbing something classic in the Mont Blanc massive. On Thursday 14th July we set off on the first cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi high above Chamonix.
The village is at 1300mtrs and the top station is at 3,800mtrs, so quite an altitude shock in 25 minutes.

After kitting up with helmet, harness, ice-axe and crampons we set off in blazing sun and blue sky down a knife-edge ridge of ice from the cable car station into the great white snow bowl of the Vallee Blanche. 
We were about to tackle the Cosmiques Arete............!

The Arete is a steep, horrendously exposed rock and ice ridge, with fantastic rock towers. It starts at the Cosmiques Hut ending back at the Midi Station’s viewing platform far above.
Mont Blanc from the top of the arete
They say it takes a fit, young climber three and half hours......
It took me five...

As there is a lot of packed ice at every turn, we climbed the rock pitches in crampons. 

On the crux pitch, a 30ft high slab, which seemed totally bare of any hand or foot holds, I asked myself, as I gazed through my legs at the specks of tiny figures on the glacier far below, what was I doing here at the age of nearly 68?
With Herbert’s encouragement, more than an occasional tight rope, & three exposed abseils later, we clambered up a rickety iron ladder over the barrier fence to an amazing welcome by dozens of grinning Japanese tourists milling around us, all clicking their cameras.
This route was definitely the highlight of my week, and whizzing back down to Chamonix in the cable car afterwards and into a local café-bar, made the whole adventure seem rather surreal.      
For really great pictures of the route - Google 'Cosmiques Arete'

Bruce Reynolds

No comments: