The Aiguille Du Midi, France, 3842m
(by the Cosmiques Ridge)

21 Jul 2001 - by Arun Mahajan

The Aiguille Du Midi, the highest of all the Chamonix Aiguilles (needles), is a beautiful and seeming unclimbable spire of rock very near the Mont Blanc massif. Some of the nicest posters and stock shots of Mont Blanc include this beautiful spire in it. When you see its summit packed with hundreds of tourists you wonder how they got there till you look closer and see the cable car that goes almost right to the top.

After hiking to the Lac Blanc on the 19th, we checked on the weather and were told that things would get better on the 20th onwards but there was a whiteout at the top of the Aiguille Du Midi on the 20th. The weather got much better on Saturday the 21st but the Office of the High Mountains in Chamonix informed us that the avalanche danger was severe on Mt Maudit, so we decided to do the A-Midi by the classic Cosmiques (South South-West) Ridge instead as a day trip. The way to do it is to go to the top of A-M by cable car, drop down to a glacial plateau and traverse around to the toe of the ridge and then climb back to the top of the A-M by way of the ridge. This time, it was a glorious day, in fact, our first good day in six days.

The A-M's small summit platform was packed with tourists and climbers. The entire panorama of the Alps opened up in front of us. For the first time we saw their magnificience. Mt Blanc with it's surrogate peaks to the right and the most striking of all, the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in front. We roped up for the steep downclimb from the A-M to the plateau, the fresh snow making it difficult to maintain footing. There were several people on the route but they were all headed in different directions. We traversed to the toe of the ridge and started to climb the several pitches. Ron led the first two and let me lead the third. We could have done without a rope on these three on hindsight. We climbed many pitches of mixed stuff, snow and rock, all in cramponed boots. This mixed climbing is something you rarely get in the Sierra. Later on came a few more challenging pitches particularly the two rappels and the short awkward climbing in between and after the second rappel. A couple more easy pitches lead to a flat section just below the crux. The crux would have gone free, particularly if one is to take off the crampons but with time pressure, the slings on the large pin make good foot holds. There is a good bolt for belay just above the crux. This pitch provided the most excitement. It is a 20 ft wall with a right sloping crack. It has a huge pin in the middle and Ron led this and I followed him but the whole thing was complicated by several guided parties trying to get by while we were still on it causing rope management nightmares. One particular guide and client pair proved the most inconvenient. The guide got in the way several times, once even clipping into my anchor and his poor terrified client then using my anchor sling to haul himself up, all the time apologising profusely in French. I imgine that he was wishing that he should have rather taken up that deal on a weekend at the Pokenose than come on a guided climb on the Cosmiques Ridge! Following this were about three pitches of easy class-5 and some class 4 climbing. The last section is flat snow with exposure on both sides which leads to the ladder and to the viewing platform of the A-M, where the tourists are. Further excitement was provided by the fact that we had to finish the climb in time for the last cable car (5.50pm). It was touch and go, but we made it by 6pm and they had held up the cable car for us and the people behind. This climb is one of the best that we both had ever done, not because of it's technical rating but because of the length and the mixed nature and mainly the altitude and the ambience and the alpine feel. It took us about six hours to do this climb. We could have done it a little faster had we not belayed every pitch, or in my case, simply taking the time to soak in the grand scale of the surroundings. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the view of the Alps all around you. We still feel that the guide book recommended time of three hours is a sandbag. Plan for a longer time than that. Also be prepared to run into several parties on this route on a good day, not all of them, considerate.

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