June 2009, pill Chamonix
Kostas, advice Scotty, page and I chose the Frendo Spur as our first route in the Alps. Of course our “real” goals were the Petit Dru and the Walker Spur, being California hotshot rock technicians and all.
We relaxed in Chamonix, drank $6 Cafe au Lait, asked about the weather at the guide office, and wandered to the North side of town to catch a glimpse of the full 4000 foot North Face of the Aiguille du Midi, trying to figure out what the hell a “Rognon” was. Turns out it is not a French pastry.
In the morning we suited up and got in line at the Aiguille du Midi telepherique station. I ran to a bakery for croissants and coffee while Kostas ran into the bushes to hide a sleeping bag, our sleeping pads, and our rock shoes in a last-minute ditching decision. Since we had already pre-ordained ourselves badasses, we figured we’d style the route in a day and a half, with a potential thunderstorm rolling in the next afternoon.
Up the snow-cones at the base over avalanche debris, a slip and a self-arrest (hey it works!), and roping up through some loose sketchy snow brought us to the first of the rock pitches. The rock was covered in snow, melting ice, and slush.
Hotshot slush-covered rock technicians we are not.
We simuled forever up snow-covered rock, my crampons stayed on the whole time. I remember being halfway up a vertical wide-hands crack, Scotty somewhere above out of sight, Kostas below, the rope tight to both of them. Struggling to get a secure jam in crampons, no way to downclimb without pulling Scotty off, not knowing if there was any pro on the rope (there wasn’t), I just went for it. I may have yelled “DAMN YOU SCOOOTTTYYYY!!”
We caught up to a couple of Brits who slowed us up enough that we just bivied where we were: A small ridge of snow in a notch a few hundred feet before the real bivy site. We stomped the snow ridge flat, used packs and ropes in place of pads, and zipped our two sleeping bags together. Kostas slept in the middle and Scotty and I each got one of his feet. It was awesome.
At midnight a massive serac collapsed to one side of us, sounding like a freight train, a bit unnerving.
We awoke at 5am to a huge gnarly wall of overcast black clouds fast approaching from the horizon. We freaked out and hastily got moving, but the clouds wispily sped past us within an hour. Then the Brits rapped down past us, bailing due to dropped crampons. I did not envy the multi-thousand foot descent ahead of them.
We reached the final snow ridge by 10am, and Kostas immediately suggested we bivy due to avalanche paranoia.
Vetoed, we cast off up the snow-ridge and we were soon able to let our ice-inexperience shine. Memories include a few symbolic belays and an 80-foot-runout, Scotty yelling “watch me!” before going up around a corner over shitty ice. Tense moments as I politely inquired about what he was doing. The response came down, “Do you want me to fucking fall?! I’m going as fast as I can!”. Feet scraping out of the “ice” in shitty aluminum crampons and flexible Trango boots, Scotty out of ice screws, no rock gear in sight and just gunning for it – it was a little bit sketch. Visions of the AP newswire headlines flashed through my head, “3 Americans found dead on the Frendo. No one surprised”.
Another snowfield dodging whizzing face-sized rocks to a final belay where I bonked and scarfed down my sandwich, unable, unwilling, and not caring about tending to the tangled ropes or swapping gear. I laughed as Scotty meticulously racked up, organizing the gear on his harness, wondering why the hell he was doing that. The gear on me was a tangled scrappy mess, and I couldn’t understand why it mattered.
Scotty let out a whoop, and a wave of relief swept over us when he yelled out “off belay”. Then he yelled “belay’s on! Don’t fall, I don’t have an anchor!”
We caught the last cable car with 30 seconds to spare, and 20 minutes later we were sipping coffee and wine in town, eating fancy cheese, staring up at the route. Freaking surreal.