Causing a queue on the Cosmiques Arête 

“I’m going to struggle with that crux pitch” I said, as I watched an Italian guide following his client up the rock face and wobbling on his crampon points as he went. When his foot slipped it crossed my mind that if he was finding it difficult to keep his crampons on the tiny slots cut out of the face, I was going to do more than struggle.

Having Goals

I started the year with a goal to do harder Alpine routes, so when the KMC organised a trip to Chamonix it was a perfect opportunity to get high and tackle more complicated terrain. My ultimate goal requires me to have all the skills I need to no longer rely on anyone else.

I love being out the snow, be it the harshest winter in Scotland or Alpine days in the sunshine. I know though that these will always lead me to a moment where I’m muttering under my breathe, or worse swearing out loud.

But for all the complaining I know that I’m capable and just need to get on with it.

Tackling alpine ridges

The Cosmiques Arête is a 350 metre ridge of climbing and scrambling. The guidebook recommends around 4 hours, but you need to factor in the 1 hour of descending the snow arête from the Aguille de Midi station and crossing the glacier, and any potential queue you might encounter on this popular route.

I’ve previously only done Alpine routes which require basic winter skills, ability to walk in crampons and front point up snow slopes. But after a winter ice climbing in Norway I was ready for routes that were more challenging.

I was excited when I led us out of the Midi station and we descended the steep snow slope. Looking down on Chamonix from 3800m is always exciting. The route to the bottom of the ridge is relatively straightforward,  following the arête to its end near the Cosmiques hut.

Chamonix 2017

Chamonix 2017

Chamonix 2017

Much of the Cosmiques Arête is nothing more than a winter scramble. We had been unlucky to be tackling the route on Saturday and hadn’t been able to get on the first cable car, so our first challenge was to overtake as many of the groups as we could. Particularly the slower guided groups.

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Trying not to self sabotage

My worst trait when I’m out is self doubt. Can I really climb that route? Is my prussic really wrapped right for this abseil and will it hold me? What’s after that difficult bit and can I do it?

I find that questioning myself like this leads to a negative cycle of feeling like I can’t achieve something and lack of confidence in the skills I have. I’m not rubbish – I’ve been climbing for 2 years now and while I struggle with confidence and fear of leading, I’m perfectly capable of seconding VS routes when I put my mind to it. Even the odd HVS.

So when I arrived at the first abseil and muttered out loud that I needed my partner to check my abseil set up before he headed off, I immediately sabotaged myself. In giving a voice to my fears I made them real and also made him worry about my ability; which just made it worse. I hate people assuming I can’t do something; I hate being taken care of.

The first abseil was straight forward and despite swinging into a chimney I had no problems. But voicing my fears meant my partner insisted on abseiling the next pitch together, which didn’t impress me.

Dangling the Crux

From the bottom of the abseils we traversed round to reach the crux – an 8m slab with a thin diagonal crack, graded ay 4c. Should be easy enough, especially since there’s pre drilled pockets for crampons, and especially as someone had left a cam in the crack to pull on. But climbing a rock face in crampons at altitude was not going to go well for me. Was it lack of skills or confidence? Did I just sabotage myself as I’d said out loud that I thought I was going to struggle?

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just look at the guy on the face! Thats not how I did it!!

As I was dangling, struggling to get my crampon points to stay in the pockets and get my weak arms to pull me up the crack I discovered a general dislike of Alpine guides.

Yes I caused a queue. But then there was one there before we arrived.

Yes I complained and took ages. But there wasn’t any need for the French guides to be rude and abusive. (I’m generalising by saying French as the Italian guide directly behind me was encouraging and helpful).

It was also clear once I’d dragged my sorry self up the face that the guides were dragging their clients along with little regard for them and relying on other climbers to help the clients make certain moves over rocks. Their only concern was to get the route done as fast as possible, with some of the clients not even understanding to pull out gear from a route. I collected 2 cams and a sling as swag before the end of the route.

I know I’m generalising there, as we met some other guides I met during the course of the week who were amazing with their clients – but the ones I met on the Arête were not.

 

The final gully

 

The final section of the arête isn’t complicated at all, a scramble up a steep gully onto the top and up the ladder to the top of the cable car. However, the queue at the crux and it being midday meant that there was a hoard of climbers now headed up the route and guides dragging clients behind them. It made me think of the images of climbers queuing on Everest and how I never want to be in that sort of place. Its not what I want out of climbing routes.

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The joy of being fatigued at the end of completing any alpine route from the Midi is that if you look sufficiently knackered you can queue jump the hoards of tourists to get back down the cable car by looking a bit tired and smiling at the staff. I can easily adopt my best pathetic-tired face if it gets me to ice cream quicker!

Asturias – Cares Gorge walk

After an amazing couple of days in Somiedo National Park we jumped on the early bus back to Oviedo to catch another two to eventually arrive in Arenas de Cabrales for two days of walking in the Picos de Europa mountains.

The tiny tourist info centre in Arenas provides free maps but they aren’t great. Green (easy) routes are easy to navigate as well waymarked but we did have an afternoon mishap trying to navigate a blue (medium) route back to Arenas as the path disappeared and we had to scale a wall and under a fence to get on a track. Serves us right for walking into Poo de Cabrales just for a photo of the road sign (immature i know!)

So the following day we went for a proper hike.

Ruta de Cares – 12km one way

229 cares gorgeWe paid 7 euros for a taxi to Poncebos to the start of the Cares Gorge route. It was already scorching hot despite it being early morning so it didn’t take long to tire us out. The route is simple to navigate as you just follow the only path there is, take care in wet or windy weather as it is a very long fall down into the gorge.

Also, take lots of water if it is hot, as there is nowhere to get water along the way (the canals alongside the path are too high to dip a bottle into). Its 12km before you get to the little village of Cain at the end of the gorge.

244 cares gorgeLos Calloas is the highest point of the route, its pretty much downhill or flat from there on.

249 cares gorgeYou can just see the path wind around the mountainside.

288 area boundaryAlong the route you officially leave Asturias and walk into the district/ region of Leon. We were too hot to be impressed to be honest.

289 cares gorgeEventually the gorge becomes less rocky and sparse (and dusty) and becomes lush with trees. And then the tunnels and bridges start to appear.304 cares gorge

Eventually the path meets the river and you arrive in Cain village centre. A wonderful little village surrounded by the mountains of the Picos de Europa national park326 cainNow you need to know the following important fact that no-one seems to share on the net or even at the tourist information office, but we were glad to find out.

It is possible to just walk one direction.

Obviously this is only possible if, like us, you got a taxi to the start in Poncebos. However, so you avoid being ripped of by the multitude of taxis waiting in Cain, you need to arrive well before 4pm to catch one of the two little buses that run from Cain to Cangas de Onis.

We would have been happy to walk back if it hadn’t been 35 degrees C but we lacked enthusiasm to walk from the lush end of the gorge back to the dusty sections, which also meant walking uphill. So it was wonderful to find out there was a bus we could catch.

It is definitely worth getting there early as some people start at Cain and turn back, and there is only two little buses. So if you arrive early buy the tickets before you run for lunch or ice-creams.

The bus ride was suprisingly worth it, to see the other side of the Picos where it is more forested, and to see snow still on the summits, even in September sunshine. It is also a bargain bus ride as it is less than 8 euros for a 1 and half hour bus ride.

Cares Gorge on the Ruta de Cares is impressive and a great taste of the Picos de Europa mountains, I’ll certainly be back.

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Asturias – walking in the Somiedo National Park

Having spent an afternoon in the major city in Asturias, Oviedo, we jumped on the bus to Pola de Somiedo for a couple of days of walking.

Having never visited Asturias before I was amazed at how big and beautiful the landscape is and I certainly would recommend Somiedo to everyone. Its quiet and being a national park it is never going to be over developed like some of the towns in the Picos Mountain area.

86 ruta de los lagos de la salencia

Its really easy to get maps from the tourist information office in the centre of the village but you do need to book a taxi to get to the start of the walks, there is only one in the village and he gets very busy. It went against my better judgement to set off on a huge walk with just a leaflet, but the whole area is really well sign posted so its easy to navigate. Having being unable to get a proper map, and having walked in the Alps before I knew a leaflet would do.

Ruta de los Lagos de Saliencia – 23.5 km

Make sure the taxi drives through the village of Valle del Lago and drops you at the start of the path to the Lago del Valle (the lake). Follow this path to were it splits and the signs point to the Ruta de Siliencia which starts to head up the hillside. From here the path is way marked by a white and yellow striped symbol on rocks, make sure you follow these. The map we had confusingly suggested that we needed to zig zag up the hillside, but we trusted the way markers more than the map so we headed along the track a bit further. Eventually we reached another signpost half way up the mountain path.

103 routesWe would eventually walk back here to head across to Lago del Valle, but for now we continued up the mountain pass to Lagos de Saliencia.

A map would have usefully told us how far we would have to walk, as in the 35 degree heat it eventually took us 2 and a half hours to reach the lakes from this point. On the way to the top of the pass there is a water trough with a spring near the top which is useful for filling up bottles. From there, the path heads steadily downhill towards the lakes.

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Compared to the Lago del Valle route which is more popular along the valley bottom, the route to Siliencia is very quiet and once your over the mountain pass it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

When you get to the final high point, you need to cut off the main track to the right over a little rocky path to see the most beautiful lake of the 4 in the area – lake Calabazosa. A great spot for a late lunch, since from here you need to head back.

134 Lago de calabazosa

After lunch we headed back to the top of the pass, filled up our water at the spring, and headed back to the sign. From here we decided to carry on to do the Lago del Valle walk too, so from the sign we continued on – contouring around the mountainside. The path here is narrow and obviously less well walked but otherwise easy to follow.

151 valle de lagosWe were glad to have made the effort to walk to the Lakes of Saliencia as Lago del Valle is big but dammed and with a wide track to its edge it feels a lot less remote. We walked across the dam and headed down the far side through the woodlands.

The path through the woods eventually becomes a track but is a great spot to see the branas, old sheperd huts which have been preserved. It was also great to finally be out of the sunshine.

167 brana

The whole walk took us 9 hours and 20 minutes but we did have a long lunch and paddle in the lake.