I arrived back at kims apartment having just done a route on the north face of the Droites. Will Sim and I had spent 4 days climbing Equille Epique, it had provided quite the adventure. Kim and I lounged around talking about the route and I asked him how he and Rob had faired on the south face of Mont Blanc. They had been less successful, they had gone to try the Hyper Couloir a famous ice route accessed from the Eccles bivouac. Weather and sickness had stopped them. “Never mind mate, you and I can go and climb it together next week! The weather looks like it’s going to be good in a few days” Kim announced his big afro bouncing with enthusiasm. I didn’t jump up and down with excitement with the prospect of another 4 day round trip into the mountains. I was still feeling skinny and tired from the last route. I had said to myself the other day that I wouldn’t do any more multiday routes, just lots of single day routes to get fit for a trip to Alaska at the end of the month. I spend the next few days eating as much as possible and I slowly managed to get myself back to a state of readiness. Kim seemed amazingly keen to go back to the route, given the 2 day approach and the fact that after finishing the technical difficulties you still have 600m to get over the top of Mont Blanc and then spend a day getting back to town.
2 days after leaving Chamonix Kim and I where lying in the 3.5m2 box of the Eccles bivouac. It had taken one 4 hour morning walk to the Monzino hut winter room and another 5 hour walk to the Eccles. We couldn't do it in one day as the snow conditions got bad as soon as the sun came out. We lay around listening to the wind swirl the fresh snow around, unsure if our plan was foolishly optimistic or lucky guess of conditions. The door was open and from our beds we could look down to the lights and pizzerias of Courmayeur. We lay around chatting about life and anything else we could think of to pass the time. We talked about waiting for another day in the hut because of all the fresh snow but in the end Kim said “I can’t face sitting festering here for another day, let’s go see what happens”.
The 1 am alarm came with a failed attempt to eat some oats for breakfast but by 3 am Kim was battling hard with some heavy spindrift on the first pitch of the route. The big man from Tasmania not being adverse to climbing in less than ideal conditions climbed the narrow chimney pitch. The combination of black ice, new sugary ice and the constant spindrift didn’t seem to slow him down. Kim lead another 3 pitches after of steep icy corners. My head had began to throb with the altitude but I took over leading knowing that I was not liking to be much use higher on the mountain. I lead a long 60 meter pitches of ice with some steep steps, the steep sections feeling steeper than normal, being at 4300m was definitely making the normal physicality’s of ice climbing seem even more burly. As Kim seconded this pitch the sun appeared round the corner and burst in the couloir, its warmth felt very welcome but it came with a reminder that it was important we get up the next two pitches quickly before everything started to melt. Kim lead up another snow band. I lead the final hard pitch of funky alpine ice, some of which was good but some being fairly sun rotten. My feet popped off as I was rushing to mount the crux overhang causing my right axe to rip out of the ice. Somehow my pumped left arm held on and after some better footwork I got above the overhang. After catching my breath I made it up the rest of the pitch without any more heart in mouth moments. Kim appeared into view seconding the pitch he growled in his Tasmanian voice "bugger me I thought you were off for sure when your feet popped" laughing I replied "aye well so did I". Kim lead on in autopilot from here on, up the final sections of the couloir, up the rest of the Brioard ridge and onto the top of the Blanc with me struggling to keep up behind him. The Brioard ridge seemed to go on forever. Upon finally reaching the summit the wind was doing it's best to blow us off or freeze us on the spot, so we never even stopped we just kept walking. After getting slightly lost on the descent following some ski tracks, we made it down to the Gouter winter room just as the sun was disappearing behind the skyline. We spent a night with some old pasta and some mystery packets of dried food, slightly regretting our decision not to take any food with us. The next day we wondered back down to town feeling tired and satisfied. "Right "I said to Kim "no more big routes this trip, I might do one more small day route before Alaska!" "What ever mate ill believe it when I see it”.
2 days later big Tim Neil phoned and after a couple of minutes of catching up said "What about this Lesueur route on the Dru then?" By the third day I was back in the mountains for another 3days.