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Gareth Mottram’s Chamonix Report

Chamonix June 2014

We had a really poor winter in the UK at the start of 2014, wet and warm, and the European ice climbing wasn’t much better, meaning I really didn’t get any done. So I’d set my sights on some early season alpine climbing. After emailing the usual climbing suspects I found that a group of my old university climbing friends were heading out to the Chamonix area mid June. This was perfect, there was a good chance that the conditions would be starting to get worthwhile up high. In retrospect, a week later would have helped as not all the lifts and huts were open, which limited our options. But there is so much to choose from in the Chamonix area, that wasn’t a huge problem.

Being a total kit geek, and taking advantage of working for Páramo, I wanted to play with some un-released clothing. Fortunately I found a window between Enduro fleece and windproof prototypes test garments being returned and being embargoed for pattern sealing. I was fortunate that one of my work colleagues, Rich, was available to join me, also with the intention of getting in some good alpine lines.

A week of alpine rock climbing, an incredibly rainy hike up to a glacier followed. All good fun, but not really what I had in mind. The conditions on the Glacier Blanc were resolutely snowy and with rubbish visibility, all the cloud giving us the rain in the afternoons was just sticking there. It did give me a chance to try the system in the rain, where it was reassuringly very effective.

With 3 days to go before our flights back the forecast cleared and we got up at a wholly uncivilised hour to catch the lift to the Aiguille du Midi. At last some mountaineering – and I could play with these new products where they were supposed to be used.

First up was a simple climb up the Gros Rognon, an introduction to alpine climbing for Rich and a warm up for me. Then followed a remarkably hot and extended trudge across the glacier to the Cosmiques hut, the irony being just how hot it gets walking on several cubic kilometres of ice at mid day. Our beds for the night were basic but entirely satisfactory. Though I’ve had better nights’ sleep, by 7am (later than we’d have liked) we were off, carrying everything we needed in good alpine style. The target was the classic route, the Cosmiques Arête, starting from our hut and finishing at the cable car station at the Aiguille du Midi.

The location is amazing with views over the glacier and down into the town of Chamonix over 3½ km vertically bellow. The climbing was great, just hard enough to be worth the effort but not knee-tremblingly so. The conditions were stable, moderate winds with gusts when we passed beyond the protection of the rocks, warm sun, cold air – and bitterly cold in the shadows. Exactly what you’d expect from early Summer in the Alps above 3,000m.

I was really impressed by the level of wind protection from the new Enduro Fleece; just enough that I didn’t constantly need to swap layers, but not so much as to mean I had the vents open all the time. This is not an environment where you want to have to constantly think about managing your clothing. In fact I found that even when grappling with frozen granite and with my forearms braced in the snow I didn’t worry at all, the freedom of movement and comfort were excellent. Even after 3 hours of alpine climbing the fleece’s cuffs, exposed to snow and ice melting in the sun, didn’t feel more than superficially damp.

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