Finally we had a good spell of weather forecasted and plenty of dry rock to climb on. The Eiger would have to wait for warmer weather and if I wanted to climb it, I would have to be there in late August. Unfortunately, that is the beginning of the school year and as a school teacher I will be unable to get back to the Eiger when the conditions are dry and a bit warmer. So I am happy to have seen it, hiked up part of it and climbed a few meters of the wall that guarantees no ascent.
Chamonix on the other hand is full of routes that are dry and easily accessible and Mike and I were chomping at the bit to try a few of them out the final days of our trip to Europe. With a great place to stay and reasonably priced multi-day lift passes we planned our next few climbs and sampled the walls around the valley.
Riding the lifts is a blessing and a curse. Here is why I think so. You are stuck riding up and down the mountain only when they are available. That means that you are at the mercy of the crowds to get up the mountain and down the mountain. You can not say that you will be anywhere in particular at a certain time unless you sleep on the mountain itself in a tent or in a hut. With so many people using the lifts to get into the mountains routes are often filled to parties of climbers. The norm is a group of 3 heading up one of the trade routes. My suggestion is to never pick a trade route unless you and your partner can climb fast and try them a few hours later in the day. It will certainly be more enjoyable rather than being tied up in a line at hanging belays. The other challenge with the lifts is that you need to be back to them by the time that they close. Otherwise you are sleeping over (which is no big deal unless you need to be somewhere) or hiking down thousands of feet of very steep knee destroying trails. The trails are beautiful and switch back down the mountain but my beat up and worn out knees can only take so much bashing in one day.
Now for the climbing. There are routes on every formation that you can see and they often criss-cross each other making finding the “line” a challenge. Routes come close together and guidebooks don’t usually include all the neighboring climbs so it is very possible and easy even to get onto another route without even knowing it until you are on terrain that is way too easy or way to difficult. Additionally, in France they use bolts everywhere. Not that every route is a clip up, but that every route will have bolts on it somewhere. Sometimes next to a crack, sometimes on the face and sometimes there will be anchors just a few feet from each other. All the bolts should make things easier but in the end they were a bit confusing for us.