During a climbing trip to Chamonix in May 2017 I had the chance to try out the classic ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD). This classic tick in Chamonix is supposed to be an obvious, easy introduction to alpine climbing for lesser experienced mountaineers – in poor condictions, this proves very wrong!
During a week long stay in Chamonix with my usual team we desided to give the ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) a try – or ‘Cosmique Ridge’ as it is called in the English speaking part of the world. We actually wanted to do Frendo Spur in a two day push, but due to heavy snow the night before our plans of setting out on this epic endeavour had to be abandoned and took the lift to Aiguille du Midi to check out Valle Blanche for anything climbable. Triangle du Tacul was out of question due to the snow fall. In May 2016 we did the ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D) which was a blast!
Ariving at lift station we soon experinced that everything had changed since last year. The ridge from the Aiguille du Midi lift station to the basin of Valle Blanche had change dramatically. In May 2016 the ridge was a nice trench, but this year you had to hike down a knife edge sharp snow covered ridge.
Hiking over the beatiful white basin of Vallee Blanche through fresh powder snow to the start of the ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) near the Cosmique Hut was a treat – but probably not as much of a treat if we hadn’t rented snow shoes from the imfamous Snell Sports shop downtown Chamonix. We only saw sparsly distributed tracks in front of us from people who had hiked through through knee height snow without snow shoes.
Check out this video I made from the endeavor.
Snow slope galore on Arête des Cosmiques (AD)
The first pitch was a heavy snow slope with only a few visible boulders to apply protection. It is not hard, but I probably only managed to set a couple of pieces on this 70-80 meters long ascend to where the fun really begins. To be fair, it is more hiking than climbing, but hiking through snow on an average slope inclination of maybe 15% in nearly 4.000 meters of height is pretty exhaustive. I simul-climbed with my girlfriend, who was on her first alpine adventure. I led, she cleaned. Ideally the pitch was supposed to be almost bare rock, an easy scramble, but due to the heavy snow fall the pitch fully covered in snow. This was a warning of what was to come.
At the top of the snow slope I anchored up and we joined forces taking a breath and enjoying the view of the sounding peaks. This would have been and ideal moment to catch inner Zen if it wasn’t for the noise of the local Air Ambulance Service practising helicopter rescue in the basin of Valle Blanche. Anyway, I guess it is pretty handy that they are actually there and they actually providing some kind of calmness to us knowing that help is on its way of somethings goes wrong. The scond pitch is a traverse around a pillar and over quite narrow crest which ends in another snow slope that we had to climb to small plateau, where the first of two abseils are. The snow had completly covered any trace of the route, but it is pretty obvious in which direction you should climb. The crest was completely snow covered and you could by no chance identify how wide the crest actually was if it wasn’t for another group who had of laid out a path for us, and we could simply follow their tracks. If you were to fall you would tumble down maybe 100 meters to the basin of Valle Blanche. Without snow this would be another easy scramble.
At the top of the snow slope we caught up with another group from my team, and yet another caught up with us. We had decided to climb in three teams of two with my girlfriend and I being the least experienced climbers. I had climbed for a couple of years and this was my second trip to Chamonix – still a lot to learn, but I felt pretty confident about ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) and was also confident that my girlfriend could do it despite of even lesser alpine experience. In retrospect, taking a newcomer to alpine climbing on a route like ‘Arête des Cosmique’ (AD) in poor condition due to heavy snow fall was probably not a good idea. I would advise anyone who want to do a route like ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) to really think about whether they have the experience to do it if the route is not in perfect working order. A heavy snow fall significantly adds to the difficulty of the climb.
The third pitch a series of two abseils and a traverse. A short 15 meter abseil, which could probably be down climbed if it was not coverd in snow. The second abseil is a 20 meter abseil down a narrow chimney. There are bolted abseil points for both abseils, but the second is high up on the wall left of the chimney. In snow it is pretty hard to see where you can actually stand to clip you PAS to. I would defintely advise you to clip either a PAS or a sling to one of the polts for personal safety, while you set up the abseil. Asbseiling the chimney is actually pretty fun, but watch out bumping in to the sides of it – it is really narrow. At the base of chimney there is plenty of room to get get your gear together to move on. You walk a few meters along the side of a gigantic pillar until you can secure yourself and team up with your second or your leader.
To drytool or not to drytool
Before the first abseil we had regrouped to two teams of three to keep up the speed. Out pace had slowed down remarkably due to all the snow and as a counter measure to this we made this decision. I joined one team and my girlfriend the other. Setting off from the bottom of the second abseil we encountered a pretty big boulder that we had to climb. This was the first time on ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) we met real rock climbing which implies pretty akward movements. According to the Rockfax Guidebook to Chamonix there is supposed to be a “hidden hand hold” here, but I did not find it – most likely because of the snow. On the other side of the boulder we met another snow slope and at the top of that a traverse of maybe 20 meters. This was pretty easy. At the end of the traverse you can see the crux of ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) – a rock slab with a diagonal crack and a few two-finger sized pockets. The crux is graded 4b/4c according the the French grading system.
If you have never dry tooled before this could prove quite challenge, so if you are less experienced I would recommend stashing your ice tools or mountaineering axe, ditch your gloves and climb it like regular rock climb. If you are up for some drytooling this is a pretty nice short sequence. if you are up for the fun, give it a shot.
The crux section is about hour meters and when you get to the top there is a bolted anchor if your second needs assistance. You can move either left of right from here, both ways leads to the same narrow trench that you need to cross, where the fifth pitch begins.
Left, then right
The fifth pitch is as exciting and fun as the crux, but this is also where you can get abit lost. All the heavy snow had covered the obvious ways through the route making it pretty hard to navigate. The fifth pitch features numours corners, trenches and a few chimneys. You can easily get lost, but the general direction of ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) is pretty evident – climb towards the lift station. One of these sections is a chimney that begins with a rock slab of three meters. You would think that you should go directly into the chimney as there a are few boulders sticking out that you could use as hand holds, but this soon becomes a bit overhanging making the climb a daunting affair. Instead look to the left, where you will find the slab that ends in a ledge that you can easily find. You can stand at the bottom of the slab about a meter in from the chimney and put your ice tool or mountaineering axe to the top of the slap. Here you will find a large jug that you can throw your pick into. If you don’t find it right away, try to slide left of right – when you hit it you will defintely know it. From here work left up to the ledge, then climb right directly into the chimney. From you you can set up a belay sations for the final pitch.
Walking a pair of stairs
The sixth and final pitch is where you get all the glamour. This is the red carpet of any Academy Awards night. Well if it wasn’t for all the snow we would also have been lid up by the flashes from all the Japaneese tourists waiting, expectantly at the terrace of the restaurant of the Aiguille du Midi lift station for their moment of getting a peak into mountaineering atheticism. The ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD) ends by wailing a pair of stairs that ends directly at the terrace. You jump over the fence to the terrace with all your shiny gear dangling from your harness looking like an everyday action hero – which you of course, because you have just ticked the ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD)!
What are your experiences from ‘Arête des Cosmiques’ (AD)? Leave a comment below.