Landscape: L’Aiguille Pourrie

Andy with the binocsSo. This is how it goes. I return to the U.S. and dream of returning to France. Finances are running dry at this point, and I suppose I’m sustaining myself now on memories of the place that I love. The weather was amazing the last two weeks in Chamonix, and that allowed for some exploration in the Aiguilles Rouges—the rocky red peaks opposite the Mont Blanc massif (the more famous side of the valley).

My pal Andy Parkin (pictured, right) had a few areas he wanted to “check out” (code for “climb new routes on”), so we went up together and spotted some peaks that captured our imagination. We climbed two pitches on an unknown spire—he led and I followed, not yet being willing or able to trad-climb into the wacky-unknown on lead. I’m just not good enough (yet?). As it turned out, we didn’t have the right gear to finish the route, so we stayed the next day to climb something else. We vowed to return.

Aiguille Pourrie peaks on skylineAnd we did. In the meantime, Andy had researched the place and found something called L’Aiguille Pourrie in an old guidebook published in the 70’s; we were climbing on one of its lower peaks. Aiguille is French for “needle,” and pourrie for “rotten”—and that pretty much described it. We were climbing on a needle-spire of rotten rock. Holds broke away, and stuff was shifting around from base to summit, making me wonder why we had fixated our minds (and bodies) on this particular route.

Seven hours after we started climbing, we reached the top in six pitches and linked up with an equipped rappel—nice—which we floated down in the dark. Our reward for a day of stomach-churning climbing on rotten rock? This view:

Chamonix at night

A just reward? Depends on who you are, I suppose. Chamonix’s orange lights got brighter as we walked back to our camp, and the light of an almost-full moon filled the sky. By the time we were in our bivy sacs, stars were starting to come out. But we didn’t go to sleep right away. It’s hard to sleep in so much beauty. We were still drinking tea at midnight, watching the blinking headlamps of other climbers having their own little epics on the opposite side of the valley.

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