Saturday, September 8, 2018

Directe on Miroir d'Argentine (5a) - up the wall of silver

So there’s no real story, why Jarek and me chose to climb ‘Directe’ but we were so glad we did! Miroir d’Argentine means ‘the silver mirror’ and it’s a stunning wall: you look at it from below and it’s so unbelievably beautiful. A few days ago I found this cool video of Remy brothers’ father, 94 years old Marcel Remy, climbing that line. Super inspiring footage, gorgeous views of the Miroir wall, amazing muisc and they found a much better beta for the descend than we did (spoiler: they’ve paraglided down!).

Directe is one of the easiest lines on Miroir d’Argentine main wall, 12 pitches long, but all of them are pretty mellow, not harder than 5a. It was raining for a few days and Miroir doesn’t get any sun, so we thought the climbs might be wet. Plus we went with our friends and camped the day before, so weren’t fast in getting ready in the morning. I was quite keen on trying to climb something easy in the approach shoes, Jarek was happy to climb something easy to practice placing gear… so the choice was perfect. Our friends, Doug and Joce, went for a harder and longer line, Zygofolis (14 pitches long, 6a+). ‘How long could it take? Most pitches are 5c’s!’ - bragged Doug. Sure thing.

Approach. We woke up at 7, but finally set off from the camp at around 9:30. Where did more than 2 morning hours go? - mystery. But when you had a great night and you take things easy, time goes by at a different speed. 10 minute drive from the camp and we are at the huge parking lot by the path to Miroir. We followed the description of the approach from CampToCamp: start by the bridge, cross it, follow across the pasture and look for the trail. It took us a while to find the right trail though. Don’t get fooled: the correct trail is very prominent and it’s all the way on the other side of the pasture, so cross it first. The trail is steep, it took us about an hour to get to the base (Doug, a cardio machine, ran it up in about 40 minutes though!).

The wall looked wet. In some places we saw small waterfalls running down, very encouraging. Our climb started to the right from the trail, so we started scrambling up and right. The scramble quickly turned into grade ~4 solo climbing. I went up first and saw a few parties up on the wall, so I reckoned we should be close and kept climbing. Finally we got up on a huge ledge, which had a metal plate with the name ‘Directe’. From there we could see, that instead of sketchy soloing from the left side we could have done a gentle approach from the right. Nah well ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Climbing. I wanted to test climbing in my approach shoes, so asked if Jarek could lead the first pitch. He started quickly, but at about 5 meters to the top he got stuck: unusual terrain, not being warmed up yet, having to step on wet rock - everything together made the start for him uneasy. It took Jarek a while to figure, how he wants to move, warm up his hands and execute it. He even slipped once on the way, but caught himself and was super relieved to get to the belay. I followed and got confident, that my fiveten tennies were just fine for this climb. Joce and Doug started straight after me (our routes shared the first pitch), but I haven’t seen them anywhere close since.

P2. 4a - my lead, super easy stuff. I went up quickly and met a team of two frenchies at the belay, whom I saw on the wall when we were approaching. They seemed to be arguing with each other. One of them wore a bike helmet, another one was hanging on the rope two bolts in.

I set up a belay and shouted to Jarek to climb. Than turned around and said ‘Hey! How’s it going?’ The frenchies looked at me and went ‘It’s very wet up there, we are not sure we can make it’. And I went: 'Oh, that’s a shame! But wasn’t there another party above you?’ - ‘Yes, there was a team, who was able to climb it, but we are not sure. We’ll let you go first and than we decide’. ‘Okay, good plan’ - I agreed. Jarek toped out at the same time and I explained him the situation. ‘Interesting, mind leading the next pitch then?’ - ‘Why, sure!’ - and we switched the belays quickly. 

I started climbing and quickly realized, what spooked the frenchies: the wall was soaked, it was pouring down. 

P3. 5a - ‘Letterbox pitch’ - The third pitch is one of the funnest pitches of the route and the topo calls it ‘the letterbox’. It’s basically a narrow, diagonal chimney and one has to do a full body jam and be a little creative to get up. Especially when it’s wet. But it’s not super difficult (5a!) or scary. Just different. And wet. And narrow. I had a lot fun climbing it up. Jarek had a bit less of it: unfortunately you can’t really fit in with a large backpack. 

When he got to the belay, he told me the frenchies bailed. They saw us getting up so easily, got a bit frustrated, asked him to unclip their draw and started abseiling down. Apparently, they also asked him, why the hell his partner didn’t climb in rockshoes. Well, why one of them climbed in a bike helmet?!

[Further pitches -->]
[Descend -->]

P4. 4a - Jarek’s lead. Fun terrain with some fridge hugging and easy overhangs. I really felt like on a kid’s playground.

P5. 5a - my lead and the most confusing part of he route. The top of the 4th pitch is a huge ledge and one has to traverse far left, about 10 meters, to start the next one. But that’s the place where three or four other routes meet and there are so many bolt lines there! One could clearly see ‘Zygofolis’ (the name is at the bottom), so I did not take that one. To the left of Zygofolis there’s a route with the anchor and then there’s one more to the left of it. TheCrag's topo says to take the farthest to the left. It starts of with a nice boulder problem and once you mantle on top of it it turns into a slab. Also TheCrag says the 5th pitch is the first runout slab, where one has to place gear; but on my way I passed by so many bolts, that I got confused, whether I’m climbing the correct line. I shouted to Jarek, that I went the wrong way and started looking across the wall, check the lines and compare them to the topo. I climbed a bit further and further and further - still bolts! Finally got to the belay, brought Jarek up, we read a few topos and decided - nope, we are at the right place. So don’t get fooled: the 5th pitch has bolts, starts with a boulder problem and than follow a giant easy crack.

P6-8 - 4a, 4a, 4a - a few similar to each other pitches up the same huge crack. Neither proper slab, nor proper crack climbing, just very easy climbing with super sparse bolts. We placed a bit of gear on the way (cams, #1-3) but generally it’s so easy that it makes you wonder, whether to secure yourself ‘just in case’ or to just climb faster. 

P9, 10 - 4b, 5a - my lead and I accidentally linked the pitches as the 4b one is very short, just gets you over the bulge. 5a follows a crack system and one should jam a bit, use small holds and friction. It’s still quite easy, but it was also a bit challenging in the approach shoes: they wouldn’t go fully into some cracks. But all in all - cool climbing. Lots of gear opportunities.

P10 - 5a - Jarek’s pitch and we agreed it was the most pleasant pitch of the route. Again, a crack on a slab, so you can jam, use friction but generally just be in the nice climbing flow. Gear placing is pure joy and we ran out of quickdraws by the end of it.

P11 - 4a - my lead, easy cruiser.
P12 - 4c - Jarek’s lead and it was a bit spicy as the last section, where one has to do an easy overhang to get to the belay. It was a waterfall! He did it though clean, and I followed it after, and we hugged at the top and shared the tastiest sandwich ever.

Descend. We argued a bit, whether or not to wait for Doug and Joce, but than we got super cold  and decided to start descending. We heard the descend is somewhat alpine, so we were mentally ready for it. Or so we thought. We scramble down, found a vague path and followed it for a bit until we realized it got a bit too crazy: huge drops on both side and quite a narrow passage. Ooops, must be a goat path. The correct way goes a bit up, follows the ridge to the wall with the cross on its top and than goes behind that wall. It’s really sketchy. I felt okayish in my grippy approach shoes, but Jarek was a bit less sure in his sneakers. We both were quite relieved to get to the normal trail. The trail took us about 2 hours - it’s easy to follow from the ridge down, but after a few days of rain there were mudslides, pools, wet grass, all of which together made me loose balance and fall on my bum quite a few times. We got back to the car at around 8 pm. On the way we got a call from Doug: they still had about an hour of climbing. 5c slabs of Zygofolis turned out to be much more committing and difficult than they thought and the top steep 6a+ pitch was totally wet. They did the most of the descend in the dark (luckily, they got down from the ridge still in the daylight!) and got to the car 3 hours after us. Happy end!

Overall impression from the Directe: the line is easy, but not at all dull. It has a very cool flow. And bonus: amazing views (if you aren’t climbing in the cloud - which we were 99% of the time). 

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