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Monday 18th 08 2008 12:00:00 AM

Pictures by Andy Main and words by Neil Mackenzie

Parat Signeur - An easy day on rock?

Time for some alpine rock, personally recommended by one of Scotland’s best ever climbers and, according to the guidebook, with ‘one of the finest approach walks in all the Alps’ we were keen for a relatively easy day. A train ride towards Switzerland took us to Le Buet, from where we could see the south face of Aig. De Praz Torrents on which we hoped to climb the little known route ‘Parat Signeur’.

IMG_0528 paz torrent copy

The walk in, despite the beautiful woodland scenery, was absolutely hellish! After loosing three pints of sweat and burning our thighs to a cinder we emerged out of the immensely steep forest, crossed the boulder fields and paused to draw breath and match our vague photocopied French topo with the rock-face in front of us. Several lines appeared to breach the face and the presence of a pair of climbers near the top drew us to a line that kind of matched our guide, and so in earnest we set off.

Andy led the first pitch, supposedly 4c, but by the fact he wasn’t replying to my shouts I knew it must be hard! Hard indeed it was, and I had to resort to some French tactics to pull out of an awkward corner (6b?) before joining him on the first belay. The ground appeared to ease ahead and I led on with out too much trouble. The third pitch proved a bit of a treat, with a lovely pillar and a committing traverse move.

IMG_0532 paret seniour copy

This then led us into a beautiful corner crack tackled by a combination of body jamming and bridging and a scramble above took us to the end of the climb. An enjoyable route with awesome views over the Mont Blanc Range and the Aigullies Rouges, but it didn’t really live up to expectation and we were not convinced it was worth the walk-in!

mb massif from the rouges copy

Cubby had told us there was a short scramble to an obvious abseil point. This ab station never materialized and soon we found ourselves on a rather precarious knife-edge ridge that seemed about as stable as a house of cards! The traverse of this was more fun than the climb but when Andy dislodged a block the size of a small car the seriousness of our situation became apparent. We were on a loose ridge having missed the proper descent and anything we knocked off tumbled 200m into the abyss, several scary abseils off spikes would have to be arranged! After getting the rope stuck after the first ab, the spikes got more tenuous with each rope length and on the last one the rope was barely even secure and to our horror the gully dropped away to leave us hanging in mid air over a huge cave! Thankfully we were both safely onto the scree slopes and had little more than a loose surf back to the bags and our long awaited lunch (at 7.30pm!)

IMG_0550 neil on the paret seniour ridge copy

The descent march was speeded up by our desire to catch the last train back to Argentiere, but unfortunately it was 9 before we got down, an hour after the last train! Being a Sunday evening at the quiet end of the Chamonix valley a hitch was going to prove difficult and a sleep in the station had to be contemplated in just our shorts and t-shirts, ace! Luckily just before we gave up hope a French mountain guide took pity on us and delivered us back to our campsite in one piece! Not quite the pleasant easy day we had hoped for!

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