Frendo Spur

On Sunday morning Dave and myself were descending into the Vallée Blanche with our eyes on a popular rock route on the Pyramid du Tacul. We had just had two nights at the Cosmiques hut preceded by an ascent of the fine Bernezat Spur on the Tour Ronde. It had been quite hard and I was recovering from a cold so a rest day had been a good idea and we felt better for it. Seeing the pyramid with a few teams already on it we quickly abandoned our plans and after a few minutes indecision and we hatched a plan for the famous Frendo spur.

The North Face of the Midi, Frendo is Centre right buttress that tops out just to left of summit

The Frendo is a 1200m buttress on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi. Its one of the most famous routes in the Alps and is generally comprised of 800m rock followed by 400m of snow and ice, usually climbed over two days with a Bivouac at the top of the rock section. Climbers on the route can often be viewed from the cable car which unfortunately is not running. This complicates logistics a bit as its normal practice to take the cable car up in the morning to the Plan d'Aiguille and then back down from the summit the next day. We would have to walk up the 1600m to the start of the route as well as cross the massif to descend via the Helbronner down into Italy after topping out.

The start of the crest after the first crux

We arrived back in Chamonix before lunchtime and sorted ourselves out before relaxing until late afternoon. The forecast was set to get even better and we didn't want to waste the opportunity. Around 1700 we left for the Plan d' Aiguille hut that overlooks Chamonix 1200m above. We would spend the night there and approach the route proper in the morning.

Above the col and second crux

The next morning was clear and we left the hut a little after 0700 and headed up towards the Pelerins glacier. Reaching the glacier and gearing up we headed up towards the spur. We have a new rope which seems to kink ridiculously and would misbehave for the next two days exacerbating the challenges of the route.

The start of the snow slope

The lower buttress still had a lot of snow on it and unfortunately this was soft, steep, unprotected and exposed. We delicately moved together until we got some belays near the end of the rightwards ramp and the start of the slabs. There was still some poor snow on these also but at least we were protected now. Dave led through to the foot of the chimneys and we changed into rock shoes. We were off route a little here but after an airy step I led through to the belay below the first crux.

Approaching the bivy ledges

Dave took us through the tricky crux and then we moved together through the easy ground of the lower spur. After a couple of hundred meters we were faced with more soft snow so started pitching again. Three pitches later and we were at the exposed col before the second crux.

At the bivy ledges

It was Dave's lead again and he made short work of the corner and continued up. The ground above was fantastic climbing up grooves at around Severe. 200m later we were nearing the end of the rock section. I led through down an exposed corner and Dave led us through to the start of the snow slope that would take us to our bivy site.

The bivy ledges are right at the start of a snow arete. We had to spend about half an hour excavating some space on them out of the snow. The other task was to melt snow for water so we could drink and cook. Before long we were fed, watered and had a decent ledge hacked away to sleep on.

The weather had been reasonable all day and now we were treated to an inversion with the sunset. The clear skies we needed to freeze the exposed upper slopes were present throughout the night and we awoke at 0340 to hard neve on the arete that leads up to the Rognon, the final bastion of the route. We used the last of the gas making a hot chocolate breakfast and started moving at 0500.

On the arete, street lights in Cham below

After the arete merges with the slopes below the rognon we encountered hard ice. This makes progress more time and effort consuming but does allow solid protection in the form of ice screws. We started pitching and traversed round to the left side of the Rognon. There was a couple of pitches of loose rock and soft snow before we got onto some decent ice again. I led through the last of the difficulties on fantastic ice and Dave ran out the rope onto the midi-plan arete.

Dave on the upper slopes with Chamonix below

On the broken mixed ground

We topped out at 1000 to a perfect day. We went to the Cosmique for lunch and then headed towards Italy and a return via the Mont Blanc tunnel to Cham.

Dave coming up the last of the difficulties

Given the conditions and the cable car not running we felt we got good value from the route. This also means that the route is seeing very little traffic and we had it to ourselves. This suits us however it does add to the challenge of route finding when there is no one to follow! The topo/description we had was also pretty poor. All in all a cracking couple of days with some fantastic climbing in a stunning situation.


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