10.05.2017

Rising up for pure pleasure: the Contamine route

Cécile Thomas and Louis Laurent are mountain guides in Chamonix. For them, this force, driving them towards summits, is their raison d’être: both job and passion. This need for altitude is in their nature, propelled by the same visceral urge to rise up. We followed them on the Pointe Lachenal, repeating the Contamine route.
Louis Laurent pointe Lachenal
 

 

CLIMBING: IT’S WHAT MAKES US TICK.
Mont Blanc Massif, April 2016: the sun rises in the sky, finally bringing warmth and light to the valley. Cécile Thomas and Louis Laurent are both high-mountain guides and members of the prestigious Chamonix Guides Company. For them, winter is an intense season – a program of icefalls, gullies, ski tours and backcountry skiing… Excursions with clients run continually for several months. They need to juggle with the weather conditions, and find the safest itineraries that best match proficiency levels and objectives. That is what makes it such a complex and exciting exercise. When the weather warms up, their schedule eases off and leaves a little free time. Just back from a week’s ski touring, Cécile Thomas checks the weather, as she does daily. A series of unsettled episodes are sure to spell snowfall at altitude. A 24-hour slot is shaping up – and it’s too good a chance to pass up.
Cécile picks up the phone and calls Louis Laurent, her colleague and friend. “Hi Louison, fancy the Contamine route on Sunday to kick off the climbing season together? Given the gradient, it shouldn’t catch too much snow.” There are several routes up the Pointe Lachenal, including the Contamine. It was the first route opened on this face, by André Contamine in 1959. Now a classic, it has also remained a benchmark climb: its first ascensionist described a superb line along the edge of the ridge that borders the right-hand extremity of the face. This airy section is stunningly beautiful. “Climbing the Contamine is never disappointing,” Louis tells us. “He had a flair for route-opening. It’s often quite direct and committing, considering the equipment they had back then. In the hardest section, you still see bits of wood dating from the FA.”
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«Climbing the Contamine is never disappointing,” Louis tells us. “He had a flair for route-opening. It’s often quite direct and committing, considering the equipment they had back then. In the hardest section, you still see bits of wood dating from the FA.»
 

 

Louis Laurent pointe Lachenal
 

 

RISING UP FOR PURE PLEASURE.
At 3600 meters, without acclimatizing, Cécile and Louison spend a short night at the Refuge des Cosmiques. In the early hours they set off, walking to the foot of the southeast spur of the Pointe Lachenal, where the route is located. The route begins to the right of a dihedral, via a small crack that starts directly from the glacier. The climbing is not extreme: three 5b pitches for starters. The route is well equipped, in particular with belays fitted by Michel Piola. The Chamonix granite is of excellent quality. The protections are reliable, and the climbing safe. Cécile leads as far as a big ledge to the right of a 50m-high slab wall. There, she turns to take in the view. It’s a magnificent setting: Arêtes de Rochefort, Dent du Géant and Grandes Jorasses…
The sixth pitch (6b) is awesome. The traverse continues leftward, to a crack that they use to climb the wall. On this pitch, Louis uses friends for protection. Once past this difficulty, they continue close to the ridge, over easy rock to the summit. Smiling broadly, Cécile and Louis congratulate each other. This day’s climbing was a breather during their season. They were able to rise up in complete confidence, savoring the scenery and sharing a moment of sheer completeness.
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VOIE CONTAMINE
Topo voie Lachenal Chamonix
Pointe lachenal
glacier du géant - mont blanc
Max altitude: 3613m
Elevation gain: +500m
Altitude from start of difficulties: 3350m
Elevation gain of difficulties: 250m
Mainly facing: SE
Route time: 1 day
Overall grade: TD
Commitment: II
Quality of in situ equipment: P2+
Aid-climbing grade: A1
Free-climbing grade > oblig. : 6b > 5c /div>