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17.05.2012

A barbarian adventure

It's cold, dark and I’m all alone. Over frozen snow that covers the Argentière glacier, I’m walking towards the impressive, 500 meter high north-west face of the Points supérieures de Pré de Bar. The closer I get, the more it seems to me as if this mountain chain in front of me, with its numerous small needles, devours everything that surrounds it. I didn’t see the moon, since I put up my tent on the glacier last night. More and more stars disappear behind the dark pillars and corners of rock and ice and the wall itself seems to grow, the closer I get.

My goal is the route Les Barbares, a logical line through one of the most impressive walls in this valley. My knowledge of the route is limited to some information of my Chamonix guidebook and a web report with some photos of three French guys that repeated the route in 2010 (Here's the link). One thing I know for sure is that the route is just as demanding as it is serious and that I’ll have to climb fast, if I want to make it to the summit in one day - I bring no bivy gear.

Just below the Bergschrund I get myself ready, clip all the gear to my harness, I put on my crampons, put on my helmet, grab my ice axes and start climbing. First I climb up a steep snow field, then the terrain gets more and more demanding and I'm starting to belay myself.

Thin veins of ice take me higher and higher. A short but pretty tricky rock section gets me to the big ice field in the middle of the wall. It is now 7:30 in the morning. It took me only three and a half hours to get here. Now it’s time for a short break. No coffee and no ham and eggs, but a sip of cold water and a few bites of my frozen muesli bar – nothing better than having breakfast on such a stunning wall…

After ten minutes I’m starting to climb again. 15 meters of thin ice, then some aid climbing, then I have to take off my gloves, clean the rock from the snow and climb a few meters like this, before I can return to using my ice axes. The climbing is complex. That’s what I appreciate so much on mixed terrain. It’s not about being good at only one thing. You have to be good in all kinds of terrain – rock, snow and ice – and combine all of your skills.

The next pitch starts with a short pendulum and then leads you straight up to the belay via some steep mixed terrain. The following 50 meters are the crux of the whole face. The placements are not too good and the climbing is even more demanding than on the pitches before. It takes me one and a half hours to reach the next belay. Now the way to the top is free.

Just like on the first few pitches, thin veins of ice show you the line to climb. As I get higher, the veins get thinner and thinner, they pass into capillaries that barely can carry my weight. The ever-recurring process of self-belaying is getting me tired. I always have to climb up, rappel down to get my gear and pull myself up again.

In the late afternoon, after more than 13 hours, I’m finally standing on the summit. The descent is via the same route and again a real mental effort. I feel the tiredness, but I have to concentrate for another three hours, until I’m down on the ground again.

Dog tired I fall into my tent. Tomorrow morning I will hike back to Chamonix. The cable car that usually takes you up and down is shut down. It’d be easy to stay in the tent for some more time, but after this route, my desire for civilization is just as big as my desire for this kind of adventure has been.

Les-Barbares_01

Dead tired back at the tent

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