On an off Chance that I might get some mixed alpine climbing done on altitude and on a north face I convinced my friend Tom that we should have a go at the rarley climbed north face of Le Rateau in the La Grave area. The alpine climbing off the beaten tracks of Chamonix is truly real alpinism. You encounter few if any fixed belays, no fixed gear on the crux pitches, no litter so you actually need route finding skills. But best is the fact that you are alone braking your own trail and doing all the work. This gives you the sensation of adventure witch is nice for a change. Le Rateau is a huge rocky north face with few good winter lines. The rock is steep and the quality is crap on most parts. The few mixed lines allowing winter accents are usually dry or totally no existing but if you are going to wait around for good conditions you might as well start building a stamp collection.
We set off with some 10 year old beta from a friend who works for the rescue service and it was not entirely clear. The route start off with a 150 meter travers and then up a solid 60 meter ultra thin ice goulotte that is about 85 to 90 and yesterday the ice was about 5 to 9 cm thick or better thin... We found some ok protection in the lose rock. After that there is some nice Neve cruising and up to the head wall. The upper part of the rout offer some ice in grooves but mostly M3 to M5 on a frozen card house built out of scary blocks. The "nicest" part is the decent that was a serious undertaking with all the unconsolidated snow. All in all it was a great route of about 600 meters plus the travers and the decent that proved to offer some interesting climbing... The route is grades TD+, in modern terms id say the route is V WI5 M5. I think the route is like a short version of the Droiets. We climbed the route in 4h.
Climbers and Photo: David Falt and Tom Stewart