With nuclear temperatures in Cham right now finding motivation to leave the comfort of the shade of the flat can be hard but me and Ally Swinton wanted to get stuck into some granite. We really wanted to get on Gulivers Travels on the Grand Capucin but we came to the conclusion that we would probably get fried to death in the process ,being as I am blonde and fair skinned and Ally is…..well…..Scottish. So we decided it was best to stay out of the sun as much as we could. We decided on heading over to the Red Pillar on the Aiguille de Blaitiere’s west face….
We had a leisurely 7.30 start and headed over to the base in our trainers. The previous times I had been there I had needed crampons to get to the bottom of the routes which I though might thwart our effort. It turned out that with the high temperatures the normal 200m snow field to the base of the pillar had been reduced to a scree slope. Win. We were soon at the base with the guidebook in hand trying to decide what route to go for. With a lot of high quality granite Sport/Trad routes on offer it was a painstaking 7 minutes or so before we settled on Fidel Fiasco. The 23 year-old Michel Piola guidebook suggested an obligatory grade of f6b (yea right!) over the 350m. I’ve had some experience of the Piola slab sandbag before, and I was careful in selecting the first pitch in order to land young Ally on the f6b slab on the 9th pitch (sneaky aye?).
The rock was amazing, almost perfect with fun and interesting climbing on nearly all of the pitches. I think this is definitely top 10 of the granite routes I have done so far out here. My plan, to land Ally on the crux, nearly backfired badly when Ally suggested he should link two pitches together! I did, however, quickly convince him that this would create gravity defying rope drag which he eventually agreed stopping to belay on a big ledge, steering things back on track.
More perfect corners and crack systems lead us up to the base of the 6b slab. I suggested to him that it looked ‘reet hard’ but he set off none the less thinking that f6b is well within his capacity, which it normally is. It was bolted but quite adventurously, and it was reet hard to, probably f7a with nothing more than crystals for the hands and feet. Michel Piola has since apologised for his wild mid 80’s slab grades in his recent Envers guidebook, suggesting that he was ‘quite efficient’ at this style of climbing. The mind boggles though as it was from the EB rock boot era (which were once described by a certain R. Fawcett as being ‘unimaginably bad’) that most of these 6b slab death pitches came.
With this behind us we continued up another 45m pitch to the base off the penultimate pitch. A quick look behind us suggested it was a good time to get the F**k out of dodge as a sizable grey storm death cloud was coming our way. So we let go of pride in favour of self preservation and made about an efficient abseil back down the route. It was a good decision to make because just as we got to the bottom of the pillar it started to spit with rain and by the time we made it back to the Plan Du Aiguille it was a full downpour. It was a busy night for the PGHM rescue service that night from what we could see from the safety of the valley with bangers and mash, washed down with beer, knowing that the right decision was made.
I would thoroughly recommend this route, it really was a stunning climb. Just remember kids, Piola 6b slabs = hard.