Extremely distressing or scarring (9)

Last night the stars lit up the sky, the streak of the milky way was twinkling above the silhouettes of the mountains. This morning, I lounged about in the hammock, reading a book, listening to the peaceful soundscape provided by the trickle of the stream winding through this idyllic landscape. This evening, I filled my stomach on Sam’s delicious risotto before getting cosy inside Remy to begin this blog entry. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Sam skimming stones into the river – we are both happy, a perfect rest day! Since we last updated the blog, we have been busy, climbed at least 1550m of rock, gotten a bit terrified and have certainly felt the need for a rest day.

Feet up!
Pioneering the ‘horizontal shower’

When we last left you, we had just bailed off our first climb in Ailefroide. We then needed to wait out a rainy day or two and let our ropes, climbing equipment & the rock dry dry out. We did this with much fun; it was surprising how long a game of “20 questions” can keep you entertained (especially when Bethan is really bad at the game and you loosen the question limit). Our previous bail had not dampened our climbing spirts and in fact bailing off routes at the start of climbing trips seems like a Sam and Bethan tradition these days – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When the weather permitted, we set off up Pets de Rupricaprius (500m, 16 pitches, 5c) – a climb well within our limits but slightly longer in length than either of us had done before and thus a good challenge, with good views. The climbing, however, was not the most inspired – at least for Bethan who had had enough of granite slabs by the end of the day. Another day of rain, was followed by three climbing days in a row: ‘Spit on Cup’ (200m, 5a, 7 pitches), ‘Cascade Blues’ (250m, 6a, 8 pitches) and ‘Remonte-Pente Directe’ (200m, 5c, 9 pitches).

Looks a bit like Bushy Park?

‘Cascade Blues’ is a notable climb in Ailefroide for traversing two waterfalls (albeit, only one was present on our trip up the route) and as such the route was expected to be busy; we set an alarm for 6:30am, as is the alpine way. Inevitably, when it abruptly cut short our sleep the following morning we dozily agreed “30mins more”, then snoozed it again, and again! Before you knew it, it was late and the snoozing was going to come back to haunt us… Of course, as we arrived at the base of the route, we found the route to be busy and a party of three just setting off ahead of us – “It’s to be expected, let’s wait – I am sure it won’t be long” said Bethan. Long indeed! We spent the entire climb stuck behind the slowest group of climbers possible, without being allowed to pass.

Crossing the ‘cascade’

For our friends who know less about climbing, imagine you’re going for a scenic country drive (but want to be home in time for dinner) when you end up behind an Alfa Romeo tootling along at 10mph (and you’re in a 50mph zone). You think each to their own but I would like to be going a bit faster, so decide to overtake the car (nice and safely with plenty of room) but every time you make a move to overtake they pull in front of you preventing the overtake (‘mode defend, mode defend’). We did not want to stick to 10mph and be late home for dinner! In climbing it’s generally good form to let a faster party pass, especially on a route which allowed this to happen so easily, and ‘Cascade Blues’ quite regularly becomes a 2-lane A-road. Further salt was rubbed into the wound when we asked to jump in front to do the abseil and they told us “Yes, but only if you do it fast!”. It is a good job only Sam heard this comment in the moment. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the route – crossing the waterfall was novel (but a bit late in the unusually dry season to be impressive). The climbing was varied and we had butterflies keep us company, obviously interested in our bright coloured climbing pants (real butterflies not that we were scared).


Remonte-pente direct was Bethan’s favourite climb; on the crux pitch she shouted “Yes, I finally get to use my arms on a climb in this place”. We thoroughly enjoyed these relaxed climbing days but feared that our metamorphosis into sport climbers was beginning to take hold and that we better seek something a bit more adventurous but still amenable – this lead us to Crete du Raisin, a ridge climb in the nearby Nevache Valley. We will get to that soon, but first a quick detour into the notable non-climbing moments (its been a rather climbing heavy blog – sorry, to the non climbers).

Looking like a sport climber, but actually first simmul completed!

Firstly, our climbing time has been intermitted with one or two rainy days and these put Remy to the test. One night Bethan woke up emulating Johnny Rose at the start of the Schitt’s Creek episode ‘The Drip’, exclaiming “Am I very sweaty or is that rainwater?”. A short investigation told us it was indeed rainwater. This was surprising, since we had done extensive rainy weather/leak testing in both North Wales and Northumberland and believed we had identified all drips and sealed them all up. However, it appears that Remy positioned at a slightly different angle, sloping more downwards, results in pooling of water in a new location and thus a new drip to be sorted. We identified the maximum angle we can have a comfortable night’s sleep at too.

Another puzzling event was that of the mysterious, non-existent Aldi. One day we drove into Briancon to replenish supplies at the infamous Aldi of key-locking-in notoriety to find it closed. No matter, we headed to the next-nearest Google Maps result. However, when we arrived at the location there was no Aldi but rather a Lidl a bit further down the road. Perhaps a genius ploy by Lidl to draw in the Aldi customer base? Just a mapping error by German supermarket misidentification? However, the Lidl also existed on the map and the Aldi had pictures of its existence and customer reviews – maybe it just exits in another dimension. We hope our readers don’t worry too much that one of the most noteworthy events on our travels was a missing Aldi – we really are having the time of our lives!

Bethan insisted this be included.

Finally, we headed to the Nevache Valley to tackle the Cretes du Raisin – not that we anticipated too much tackling, just a longer version of the grades we had been climbing comfortably and easily all week in Ailefroide and in a more remote location (a bit more serious and the bigger adventure we were after). We got up bright and early (a 5:45am alarm, this time not hitting the snooze button) and headed up to the nearest parking. We made fairly good work of the walk in (about 600m upwards) and arrived at the base of the route, eager to get climbing. Sam made light work of the first pitch 5a and it was time for Bethan to take her first lead – a 3a, it should be a doddle and we would be on our way with simul climbing the easy traverse sections. It soon became apparent that what Cambon (the guidebook writer) deems “well-bolted” in Ailefroide (bolts every 2m and bolted belays everywhere), does not translate to the same on the Raisin, despite them being rated as the same in this regard! The bolts were sparse and bolted belays non-existent – what we believed was a rather unfair assessment of the route by Cambon! Indeed, the 16 pitch route from earlier had a large warning about its severity and length; this ridge had nothing besides “bring some slings”.

Ridgey stuff

Bethan was a bit too scared to simul-climb the ridge sections and so we had to pitch it out, with Sam leading nearly all the pitches. We also quickly discovered that what appeared as “pitches” in the hand-drawn guidebook – were much much longer than our 60m rope length. The whole route became longer than imagined and the possibility of not summiting before nightfall became more apparent – no rests, just keep pushing. Finally, we made it to the penultimate pitch and Sam took the lead on what was a rather harshly graded 5c. “Don’t do this to me Cambon!! Don’t do this!” shouted Sam at the crux, whilst Bethan belayed, nervous about getting onto the pitch herself. It is fair to say when it was Bethan’s turn to climb the pitch – she fell to pieces. The emotions were overwhelming, not helped by a foot slip, followed by ripping off a moderate sized chunk of rock that both hands were gripping onto. Put simply – it was Bethan’s lowest climbing moment at her new highest point (2818m). After all that, we had reached the summit feeling rather more harrowed than triumphant. “I won’t be triumphant or relaxed till both feet are firmly on the ground” Bethan exclaimed. It was scary, a real knife’s edge ridge – our first proper Alpine experience, much longer than anticipated and not easy to escape. Now that both feet are firmly on the ground we can both admit that it was pretty damn epic!

“How on earth do other animals get up there with all that climbing?” Bethan mused on the descent. We turned a corner and with the most perfect timing we spotted a herd (?) of Chamois making light work of sketchy terrain truly making a mockery of the day’s terror. They were magnificent to behold in their element and a real treat to witness, skittering about on loose scree as sure-footed as ever (if only, we could be like that, eh?). All in all, we got back to the van at 10:45pm; Bethan dreamt she was continuously doing the decent all night.

We spent the following day resting in the valley – which we both thought was the most beautiful and idyllic location we’d been too a wonderful treat. We even managed to go on a short stroll and look back at the ridge we had climbed with a sense of achievement. Happy days. Also all the Strava tracks of us are now on the website here.

Off belay,

Sam and Bethan.

Reading Journal:

Bethan and Sam – jointly read In the Distance, Hernan Diaz (Sam enjoying it as much as Bethan). And have moved on to A prayer for Owen Meaney, John Irving.

Bethan – finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (an important book), started reading The Breakthrough (Immunotherapy and the race to cure cancer) and Slatehead, Peter Goulding.

Sam – finished The Trial, Franz Kafka.

Instead of crosswords, we wondered this week if anybody had any good recipes amenable to van life (no oven, microwave, toaster) such as stews or risotto they may recommend.

4 responses to “Extremely distressing or scarring (9)”

  1. Yes, a herd is the correct collective noun for a group of chamois. And hey it’s not a proper climbing day out if you don’t cry 😉. I find that Thai green curry paste with some chopped up potatoes, veggies and chicken if you are feeling decadent makes a great one pot meal – though I’m not sure if that will be within Bethan’s select repertoir of dinners. Love and miss you both, enjoying reading how happy you are xx

  2. absolutely love everything about this post, to get the fully johnny rose experience though you need to be wearing a full on ghost of christmas past nightshirt

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