Whether skier or climber, we all have lines that taunt us for years. Be it conditions, timing, or just the gradually increasing responsibilities of adult life, not all the objectives on our personal hit lists are as easy to get as we once imagined. They linger until they feel forever lost. So when we finally get one, the achievement is all the more satisfying. Such was the case for Eddie Bauer First Ascent guide Caroline George, who took advantage of prime conditions this winter in Chamonix to ascend Beyond Good and Evil, a cutting-edge mixed route on the north face of the Pelerins, with two good Slovenian friends. This is her report on how she got it done. -LYA editor
Words by Caroline George, Images by Caroline George, Tina Di Batista and Nastja Davidova
As a climber, there are always a few routes that linger in the back of your mind. When I first started ice climbing, Beyond Good and Evil, a cutting-edge mixed route on the north face of the Pelerins above Chamonix, was in condition. It was all the rave. I remember sitting in the car with my ex-boyfriend at a strategic spot in town to eye the line with binoculars. He wanted to climb it as though his life and career depended on it. And right then, I hoped that someday I’d be good enough to climb this line too.
This 2000 ft mixed line doesn’t come in very often though, and I can’t remember if it came in since that year I first saw it. As I was returning from guiding the Petits Charmoz, I walked below the face and pointed it out to my client: “See the really thin line to the right of the hanging glacier? This line hasn’t been in condition in years and it looks like it might come in this fall.” A few days later, a post on Facebook confirmed that the line was indeed in and had been climbed. This route is notorious for its difficulty, its level of commitment, and the overall lugubrious atmosphere on this north face.
The urge to get on it didn’t really arise until Adam called me to tell me he was going the following day. I realized then that this dream had been lying dormant. But suddenly, after seven months of being a mother, I felt the need to do something that would speak to my identity as a climber. At the same time though, I felt guilty for wanting anything other than to be a mother to Olivia, and guilty for wanting to do something potentially risky. Adam climbed the route and I tried to bury this dream, but it kept rearing its charming face. A few weeks later, we went on a climbing trip with Slovenian mountain guides Tina and Tomaz, who are also parents to a little girl. Tina and I decided to get on the climb later this fall, but it seemed so unlikely with my mother getting knee surgery, Adam being on a climbing trip in Spain and me being alone with Olivia. My ever-so-understanding mom was, however, very supportive of me doing something for myself — although ideally not a big north facing climb. Five days into her knee replacement, she offered to watch Olivia with my aunt. My friend Tina drove all the way from Slovenia with her friend Nastja the same morning we were going to hike up to the hut. The weather was perfect. My dream was about to become reality. Or was it?
We geared up and left the trailhead to hike the 3000 ft of elevation gain that separated us from the hut (in the fall, the lifts are closed in Chamonix). We were loaded with food and gear to sleep at the winter hut, climb the route and return that night. The hike up was beautiful, following a perfect trail covered in golden pine needles. The sun was setting as the hut came in sight. Upon reaching the hut though, we realized that this perfect weather hadn’t attracted just us. The Internet had worked its magic yet again. With so many websites speaking to conditions in the mountains and with only two routes in condition in the Chamonix valley, we wondered how we could possibly have expected anything else. The winter room was completely full. And the routes would be crowded. We pondered our options and decided to leave our packs, hike back down, and return the following day with sleeping bags to sleep in, should the hut be crowded again.
The following afternoon, we were back. To our surprise, the hut was almost empty. The weather was perfect again. It was hard to believe that this was really going to happen. I woke up at 3 a.m., giving myself enough time to pump milk while the others were sleeping. We ate a quick breakfast and were soon on our way. I geared up to lead the first 4 to 5 pitches. As a party of three, it’s easier to lead in blocks so as not to switch the ropes around too often. The first three pitches offered perfect ice with a few mixed rock steps. When we reached the base of the crux pitch, I realized that I would be leading that too to finish my block. It looked thinner than what I had seen on Adam’s pictures. I watched the party ahead of us aided through the section, breaking off some of the little ice that was left. Once they reached the anchor, I started up. The crux climbs a steep left facing corner which, to my surprise, took excellent gear. I jammed my crampons in the crack as best I could, pushing off the overhanging wall above with my back and stepping my left foot on the ephemeral and unlikely ice bulbs that remained, thinking that each could break as it bore my weight.
I tried to move delicately upwards. The climbing was strenuous and steep, but I was enjoying every move thoroughly and was grateful thatmy teammates motivated me along the way. When I reached the solid ice above, I was really excited to have sent the pitch. I brought Tina and Nastja up and Tina took over. Her block offered some really awesome steep and thin ice climbing. It was really nice to be a party of three and to be able to chat with the other person at the belay. We moved along efficiently and made good time. After a few pitches, Nastja took over. I had to stop to pump more milk along the way. We met up with the nearby Rebuffat-Terray to finish the route, as the last two pitches of Beyond weren’t in condition. We topped out at the col, welcoming the warming sun. I sat there, looking down the north face at the climb we had just done. More than climbing it, I was happy to have made it happen despite all the circumstances. As a mother, you really have to want it badly enough to make things happen for yourself. And I am lucky to have people around me who are supportive of this.
We hugged in the sunshine before threading our ropes through our belay devices and starting the rappels down the 2000 ft high face back to the packs we had left at the bottom of the route. We coiled the ropes, took our crampons off, packed our packs and started the long 4000 ft descent back to Chamonix. We parted at the car: Tina and Nastja drove back to Slovenia that night (Tina’s daughter had a dentist appointment the following morning! and Slovenia is a 6-hour drive away!), while I went home for a big night of sleep before resuming the best part of my life: motherhood. After enjoying the excitement of doing a big route with friends and of doing something just for myself and reconnecting to what it means to be an alpinist and push myself in the mountains, all I wanted was to return to my role of being a mother to Olivia. As I drove to Switzerland to pick her up from my parents’ place, I drove by that spot that I had stopped at long ago to scrutinize the face of this ephemeral line. I looked at it again and was happy that this line had been my home for a day and that this dream had become a reality. On to the next one…
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