Aliefroide Diary 2010
|Date: July 2010
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
Sat July 10
Arrived in Ailefroide with PJ after Ryanair cattle class from Dublin to Grenoble and 4 hour drive over the Col Du Lautaret in wee red rented Ford Ka. How do them cycler boys manage that hill? They must eat their spinach. Camped next to Mothership and greeted in-laws, Mike and Maeve. Is it warm here or is it just me? Got a tour of the village and the local pub. That’ll do nicely.
Sun July 11
Woke up with an itchy forearm, think one of the native species had a nibble on me during the night. Went for lukewarm shower and discovered that loos are BYOB. Bring Your Own Bogroll. Followed Mike and Maeve to crag across the glacial river after depositing bag of beer in the shallows to cool. Crag was slabby smear-fest and PJ and I did a 4a, 4b and 4c. Mike danced up a 6a among others. Butterflies everywhere, you don’t see so many in Ireland any more. One landed on my shoulder and one on my ear! Weather was scorching so broke for lunch and shopping. Comedian in gear shop suggested my fabulous size 10 feet were better suited to swimming than rock climbing. Bah! Afterwards did a 3c and then backed off a 5c. Palavar Les Flots tomorrow. 12 pitches up to 5b. Oo-er! Watched bits of the Spain / Holland World Cup final through a gap between two heads in over-packed pub. Not much love for the losing Dutch.
Mon July 12
Up at 7am for this Palavar thingy with PJ, Mike and Maeve. Scratching at 3 new bites on my shins, the winged nibblers must have been chewing away at me yesterday while the butterfly distracted me. Maybe they were in cahoots? Hmm. Bit of a hoof up through the forest. Mike started up a 5c route after PJ shouted up to 2 climbers: “Est-ce que c'est le Palaver Les Flots?” Took a Swedish couple to point out that the whole crag was called that and our route was off to the right. First few pitches were up to 4c and were handy enough. PJ led a 4b and was very pleased. The 1st 5b pitch was an exposed slab out of a tight gully and I was cacking it so took a rope from Mike. Wished I hadn’t afterwards cos climbing was easy enough. PJ led 2 more 4b pitches then I led the 2nd exposed 5b pitch and the following 4c. Very smeary “trust the boots” stuff. Found Mike sheltering from the scorching sunshine under a bush wearing Maeve’s helmet bag as a hat. Abseiled from the top after tying the 2 half ropes together. 6 abseils onto hanging belays for about 1000 feet in total. Awesome scary stuff. Double checked every screwgate, hitch and knot and tried not to let the “It’s a loooong waaaay doooown!!” thoughts penetrate too much. Bit of excitement when rope got caught above PJ, she had to cling on while I abbed down to free it. Wonder what a recently qualified ML would have done? Hmm. Much discussion in the pub over peaks and decided to do 4102m Barre Des Ecrins on Thu after easier acclimatisation peak on Wed.
Tue July 13
Woke up to fierce itching on both shins – 11 bites in total now. Has something got stuck in my sleeping bag? How do the French manage or is their blood a bit too garlicky for the biting beasties? Maybe my Irish blood is like trying a new dish in their favourite restaurant. Maybe I’ll buy some repellent. Maybe I’m starting to obsess. PJ, Mike, Maeve and I hoofed up to Glacier Blanc Hut (2542m) to have a go at Les Agneaux (3662m), recommended by Alan as an easy interesting peak. Pointe Louise was suggested and rejected as being too hard. We’ll hoof up to the Ecrins Hut after our ascent tomorrow for a go at the Barre. Hut busy as hell with day-trippers in flip-flops. Cans of Desperado and Heineken €5. Met Eric the guide and Cliodhna, Gertie, Jason etc. and got directions for the start of Les Agneaux. Eric tried to teach me the bow-line knot. All the talk of rabbits, trees, roots and holes just confused me. Won several hands of “Beanie” after most excellent 4 course dinner. To be continued tomorrow night. Beds are a bit short, probably 6’ long while I’m a lanky 6’ 3”. Only managed to sleep by stretching diagonally across empty bed next to me.
Wed July 14
Jaysus 3am comes early! At least there were no new bites to report although the current ones have found a new level of itchiness. After a decent breakfast we hoofed in 4am torchlight playing a game of “Spot The Cairn”. Crampons were on early for a snow plod up to Col Tuckett. Above this went along a lovely ledge system and then dropped onto the glacier behind for more plodding, roped up as a team of 4. Fat boys to the back, i.e. me. Managed to take a wee spill while standing still but think only Mike noticed. Got to the chimney that marks the start of climbing. Mike was in the chimney with PJ starting next when she pulled a big TV-sized lump onto her chest. Got Mike to clip into the fixed rope and put PJ on a belay. 6 French climbers below us slowly got out of the way. Maybe my cries of “Attendez!” instead of “Attention!” didn’t help. Eventually eased PJ away and pushed the offending rock into a convenient snow hole. Wonder what a recently qualified ML would have done? Hmm. After that faffage there was a pitched 15m climb with everyone waiting for the next hand hold to give way. Less steep scrambling to the top. Back at the chimney got stuck in a queue with some numpties who couldn’t abseil, including a 10 year old who was so prussiked up he couldn’t budge. Got down eventually then went for an upside down slide in the mushy snow. Glad I knew how to do an ice-axe arrest. Even more glad I’d attached the axe to my harness with a sling not 30 seconds before! Tramped back to hut and came to the exhausted conclusion that Les Agneaux was a “Tees Special” and there’d be no Barre tomorrow.
Thu July 15
Back at the campsite and have now got 21 lumps and itching bumps. The repellent gel that PJ bought is having little effect. The back of my neck feels like the surface of a Donegal road. Dreamt of muscle-bound mozzies dousing themselves in Deet like aftershave and shouting “We drink this stuff for breakfast!” Shook out the sleeping bags, swept the tent and zipped the mesh door. Hopefully that will help. Today was to be a rest day but accompanied Alan, Margaret, Fergus and Stephen on a PD via ferrata above Puy St Vincent. Got there after negotiating a dusty rocky mountain road. The wee Ka looks like it’s been rallying. Down the forest path we spied a girl seconding a very overhanging limestone crack. Amazing stuff. The via ferrata was quite steep too, probably grade 3 or 4 but was great fun. PJ and I descended by another grade 2 ferrata while the others walked off. Spied the girl climber again now leading a seriously hard looking limestone crack way above our via ferrata. Inspiring. Stopped for beers on the way down and admired the ski map in the village. A possible ski weekend destination? Mike and Maeve did the Snoopy line next to the Grand Fissure, think there were a few 6a pitches in that one. Wee buns.
Fri July 16
36 itching, scratching, weeping sores. Will this torture never end? Scratched one lump on my wrist so hard I tore the skin off. Could nature not have come up with a way for the wee feckers to get a drink of blood without leaving behind a suppurating inflamed itchy fecking lump? I don’t mind donating the blood really; it’s not like I’d need a transfusion to make up the loss. I wonder if there’s an insectarianism course you could do, discover how they tick and effectively plan your defences? But I digress... The MI barbeque is tonight so tomorrow will be a write off. Last chance to climb with Mike as he’s off Sun so PJ and I went with him to the Gorge de la Durance for the via ferrata. €6 in and there’s a green, blue and red one. €25 if you want to do the 2 zip lines. We almost persuaded the new MI CEO Carl and his girlfriend Alma to come along at the pub last night but they found something else to do. Probably a good thing too because even the green one had tough overhanging sections. The black was something else. High, hard, exposed moves, using the rock where possible and the minimum number of rungs they could get away with. More than once I clipped onto a rung exhausted in the heat. The final section was a 140m climb. There were 3 slatted rope bridges and a trapeze wire to cross too, the highest final bridge maybe 100m off the gorge floor. I think we’ve put the via ferrata thing to bed for a while now. The MI party was great craic, with Eric on the fiddle, Alan singing his brilliantly lyrical Ailefroide ditty and Cliodhna once again organising the ceili. Not the confused, hilarious affair of last year, this time we had a few pros in our midst who kept the routines flowing well.
Sat July 17
Have given up trying to defend against the wee wicked flying, crawling, biting beasties and am now just miserably counting the injuries. 54 today. That combined with a hangover and a crippling exhaustion from the past week’s activities meant doing nothing more than lying around dozing in the shade with PJ and reading books. No doubt this means I’ll have 128 bites tomorrow but I’m beyond caring. Alan and Mairtin climbed the trad route “Grand Fissure”. Took a drive to Briancon for dinner and picked up Bill off the Grenoble bus.
Sun July 18
128 bites today. I bloody knew it! The “Apres Mustique” cream is a pile of shite too. I just look like “Anthony a la mode” when I apply it and it has no effect that I can discern. Mike and Maeve headed off in the morning to catch their Lyon flight and PJ and I went to do a multi pitch that started high in the muggy trees opposite Ailefroide. 2 pitches of 4a and 4b later we got fed up dancing on the belay stances to keep the mozzies from nibbling and longed for the cool air of an alpine peak. We should have just gone and done Ailefroide! Actually... We ran back to camp and packed in a record time of 15 minutes, leaving at 3pm for the 3.5 hour tramp up to the Sele Hut (2511m) and 6:30pm dinner. We got there in a record time of 2hrs 55min only for Raoul the comedic hut guardian to say that dinner was at 7:30pm and he’d lied to make sure we got there in time. Bah! Dinner was a bokefest of poorly cooked pork, odd mushrooms and watery soup. And bottles of beer were €7! The cheaper wine looked like goat’s piss and was probably home brew but it took the edge off enough to get some sleep in slightly larger beds than Glacier Blanc.
Mon July 19
3am wake up for a 4am start. I was too tired and miserable to care about the itching. The breakfast of hard bread, runny jam and watery “chocolat chaud” did little to cheer me up. We’d scouted the start of the route out to the “Ancien Refuge” the night before after chatting to Niamh and Padraig, 2 other Irish climbers set for the PD route up to the east summit of L’Ailefroide (3848m). 2 Italians and a French guide with a girl accompanied us. One of the Italians was really fearful at any rocky stuff and PJ and I soon left him behind. There was a bit of searching when we came to a wall way above the hut but a convenient painted arrow showed us a climbable corner. A western traverse of neve and scree then got us to the wall on the left on the Coup De Sabre glacier where we watched the guide make a 2 foot step across from the bergschrund to the rock step. The girl with him weepingly made it eventually. “Lanky limbs” me was volunteered to do the same; on an ice axe belay of course. Then followed another game of “Spot The Cairn” along a series of very narrow ledges and scrambles. Eventually we reached the first of 3 snow fields round the back and the long, long, long plod to the top through a number of easy rock bands. The Italians may have been crap climbers but they were excellent plodders and PJ and I were the 3rd group to the top, just ahead of the guide. You could see Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn from up there. Brilliant. Then it was just a matter of reversing the route back to the hut and paying €3.30 for a can of Orangina on yet another swelteringly hot day. Bah! The trek back to the campsite took a forever seeming 2 hours and I was longing for a cold beer from our river bag but some cheeky bar-steward had stolen them. Double bah! It didn’t matter much anyway because a few begged beers later PJ and I were ready for an exhausted earlyish night, opting out of the “crepe” party with the neighbours.
Tue July 20
Drove back to Grenoble with Margaret and Gertie and our entire luggage squeezed into the little Ka in a miracle of packing. Watched a very fat French man get hilariously upset in airport security when they confiscated his 3 jars of jam. Luckily they let him keep his 10 massive slabs of chocolate. Arrived in Dublin to grey skies. Of course it was pissing down by the time we reached Fermanagh. Welcome home, eh? I wonder if this Germolene stuff will be any more effective at calming the bug bites? One can only wish...
21 Jul 2010
What a way to enjoy yerself!
22 Jul 2010
I hope you realise that its only the female mossie that bites and that to assist their reproduction. There were obviously very attracted to a large Ant! Report of the usual bards standard. Wish had been there.
24 Jul 2010
Glad to read your keeping up to the usual standards of adventure, your'e no armchair climber Anthony (or PJ)! I keep saying one of these days I get back to the Alps again. Not exactly in any condition for anything at the moment. Looking forward to club slideshow.
27 Jul 2010
Siunds like a good time was had (including the midges) by all. Exciting stuff and written in a smile producing fashion. I'm itching (lol) for the next instalment.
05 Aug 2010
Excellent stuff Ant and wish I had been there again. Reminded me of the scary abseil from Palavar, as you say mad checking and rechecking of gear.