Six months have passed since we left Saint Gervais les Bains where we spent the summer. It served us as a transitional period between the vanlife and the real life. We rented a small apartment there and did short 2-3 day mountain outings while looking for jobs and preparing for the interviews in between. When I think about that period, a lot seems very distant and surreal. I do remember the routes we did but all of them blur into one long “summer in the Alps” experience. What stays in memory though is all the people we met and got to share the rope with.
Frieder paid a short visit from Zürich attending a conference in Chamonix. We climbed Contamine on Pointes Lachenal in three: Martynas, Frieder and me. Martynas was also privileged to share a rope with Frieder and Klaus one day while climbing Contamine on the South Pillar of Aiguille du Midi. I climbed the same route with John - an English teacher from Canada we met sport climbing somewhere in Southern France. Then our crazy Australian friends Damian and Sam who used to call me man or bro interchangeably. We got to spend a couple of days with Martynas and Damian on the glacier when we attempted to climb Directe des Capucins. And of course RIP Philipp, we will always remember you and all the days we climbed together!
It feels hard now to gather all the summer adventures in one blogpost but hey, we all know it’s more fun to be outdoors than to write about it. That’s the reason it got dragged behind quite a lot. So let me try to put the outings I still remember in a chronological order. So back to the beginning of summer 2018.
June 14, 2018 - our fist alpine endeavor of the season. A day before: Montenvers train, ladders down to the glacier, a walk through Mer de Glace, ladders up from the glacier and more walking on a path that’s still covered in snow as it’s quite early in the season. Envers hut is still unserviced, almost no people and no tracks to be seen. We choose to climb Le Marchand de Sable on Tour Rouge the next day. The approach through Trélaporte glacier is supposed to be quick and easy but it takes us longer as we feel wobbly on the snow and ice. Changing the mountain boots to rock shoes seems like the crux already but finally we leave the ground and it feels very good to touch the rock. The route is amazing - even more than expected after reading stories about Michel Piola routes. The slabs do deliver and we make a mental note for the future that Piola’s 6a slab is fine while 6a+ will be fun. At the end of the day I feel proud about finishing those +’s clean. We are very happy about our first outing and are keen to come back.
Not long after, we do indeed come back. June 20, the second route of the summer. This time it’s Bienvenue au Georges V on Première Pointe des Nantillons. Everything seems a little bit more familiar this time. There’s less snow on the approach to the hut which is serviced already and we see more people around. This time we approach the route through Envers de Blatiere glacier. It takes us a bit less time and all the prep is a little bit shorter. The route is great again. Route finding is not too hard but use Piola’s guidebook and not Rockfax if you plan to do it as the latter is very misleading. Martynas feels more comfortable and it feels good that we can both enjoy the experience. And yay, I get a birthday surprise which Martynas has been carrying all the way up - champagne and a cake, beat that! I guess he was inspired by the wine-carrying stories of our crazy trail runner friends Audinga & the twins.
June 26, change of direction. This time it’s Grand Capucin! It feels extraordinary to finally go and see the thing that I wanted to climb for so long. I have a picture of it printed since about 6 years ago. It just never happened until now. It does look even better than in pictures. We sleep on the glacier which is the first time at least for me. Daily routine is a bit trickier here but it’s all worth it. We start early in the morning, maybe not as early as we should have but it’s dark and we plan to do Swiss route + O Sole Mio exit to be able to free the whole thing. Approaching involves crossing a bergschrund and climbing firm snow in the colouir until you get on the rock. Then you scramble even higher until you reach the official beginning of the route. All of that you do in those big boots which I am very gladly leaving at the belay. But when I can touch the rock with bare hands and the feet in only rock shoes I am happy. First half of the route is not that impressive but at the end you get some nice pitches in. At the same time it gets more windy and cold as you get on the west? side. The abseil is long and tedious as it’s not that direct. You have to first reach the stuff you’ve left at the start and then traverse-abseil in short pieces. As a prize for all the tedious abseiling, Martynas gets to explore the insides of the bergschrund which is too wide even for his long legs. At the end we are tired as dogs but very content.
July, a trip up the Aiguille du Midi lift. A night on the glacier and a day on the rock of Pointes Lachenal with Frieder and Martynas. A marvelous day, beautiful route, amazing views, good company, what else would you want! The route is very popular so it is also very crowded but we do enjoy it nevertheless. We come back down the same day and end the day with beer and burgers contemplating what’s next. Unfortunately, my neck stops turning sideways so I’m out of the game for a while but the summer is long so I don’t lose the psyche.
July, I’m home while Martynas gets to climb with two stars: Frieder (aspiring Alaskan alpinist) and Klaus (Adam Ondra’s physiotherapist). They are doing a lift-to-lift day on the South Pillar of Aiguille du Midi. They choose to climb Contamine which is known for it’s nice 7a pitch which is apparently easily protected and fun. I am of course jealous sitting at home but the neck feels a bit better so I’m hopeful.
In order to not do irresponsible decisions with this neck thingy, we decide to leave Chamonix for a couple of days and go to Ceuse. Sport climbing feels harder after every longer break so it’s humbling to get back at it but I still manage to climb some of the classics like Berlin and Macach Walou. It is good to get some fitness back but this summer we are dedicated to alpine granite so we head home after three hikes up and down Ceuse. Wait, maybe it’s not three for some of us. So guess who forgot HIS climbing shoes in the van and noticed it at the base of the rock.
Back in Chamonix, we feel the end of the summer approaching fast but we are still stoked for more. Once I arrange a lift-to-lift day up Contamine route with John, an English teacher from Canada. We finish Contamine quite quickly (although I fall on the 7a pitch I mentioned before) and think what we could do next before the last lift. We decide to scramble up the Cosmiques Ridge instead of going straight back home. That turns out to be more exhausting for me than expected. I feel very awkward climbing with big boots and carrying the extra rope and the gear doesn’t help. It is a long day though and those always feel good at the end of the day.
August 12, 2018. The plan is now more ambitious and we turn our attention to Directe des Capucins as the line looks very nice and straight and more natural than the Swiss - O Sole Mio combination we did before. To be even more honest, the plan is for me to do all the leading while Martynas is being a camera man and Damian is belaying. This does not happen though as I get scared, tired and chicken out on some of the pitches halfway the route. Also, we see that it is very slow to climb in three and also with all the rope mess around needed for our camera man. So we get back down. I am very frustrated as I made two people go with me and didn’t manage to do it but shit happens so I move on. The next day we do just a short route before getting back down to Chamonix.
“We have to squeeze in one more”, we think. And so we do. Back to Envers. This time Pedro Polar on Aiguille de Roc on the radar. The same hike, by now quite well known, except that the ladders up from the glacier are new and moved further away. It rains a bit at night so the first pitches are wet. Before we even start climbing we see an epic fall of a British girl climbing Children of the Moon nearby. Uch. After two pitches of slippery fight, we move onto the dry rock and just enjoy. One of the harder pitches goes free, that blows in some confidence and so I fall on the other one. I rarely fall on my gear but this one feels good, I am even proud of that in a way. We meet some guide with a guy training to become one, they ask where we are from. After answering they are like “Heh, some Lithuanians got famous on Mt Blanc recently by carrying a 3 meter long stump to place a flag on top. They were stopped by the police of course.” And we are like “No way, that sound like a shitshow big time”. Fortunately, they were Latvians we figure after googling a bit later on. Some people finish Pedro after 8 pitches as it’s a big shelf there and this already makes it a good day. But I feel super keen and so I get a green light from Martynas to continue. I’d say the upper part also has some nice pitches and is worth doing if you have time. We happily finish it and rush down to be on time for the hut dinner which we ordered for the first time. The dinner is massive and we love it. We listen to stories of some hardcore Polish climbers and go to sleep.
Next day is short as we have to catch the train down. We decide to do something short and quick. Le Piège on Tour Verte it is. Today Martynas is keen which is good as I am tired after yesterday. We rush to the top, rush down, eat, pack and hike down. We feel a bit sentimental at this point but at the same time determined to work hard to create a lifestyle that allows us to be in the mountains more.
And so that is the last climb in the Alps this summer. After that we move out of our apartment in Saint Gervais and leave to Ceuse to get the last taste of the vantrip before heading back home. You might be guessing what is home to us at this point and we don’t know that either. And yet, I meant Lithuania here. In Ceuse I work hard (I think it was hard) on Petit Tom but that doesn’t happen either. Povilas joins us from Stuttgart for a short (as always) holidays and it is fun to climb with him. While in Ceuse we get the sad news about Philipp and at this point it feels right to end the trip.
Back in Lithuania, we spend two months reorganising our lives, signing work contracts, selling the van, etc. Currently, we are based in Zürich, following a life model that works for us very well so far. Working on the stuff that is interesting for us on the weekdays while ski touring, free riding, trail running and climbing on the weekends. It actually feels good to sit down on Monday mornings and we hope that the stoke will not wear off quickly!