Trident du tacul
Lepiney Route (guided)
11 July 2018
Trident du Tacul, Lepiney Route was the highlight of my guided days in Chamonix. Aiguille de Peigne is a close second. Its summit ridge exposure was mind boggling. The Trident however, had that and so much more. Miles and I had been trying to decide what to do with our final day. He and Thor agreed that it was going to be a stretch for me to make it up. Perfect. I was super keen on the idea. In addition, it meant that we would be heading back to Italy and the Helbronner Skyway Tram. I told you we spent a lot of time over here. And why not? It is one of the most aesthetically beautiful places I have been to in my travels. The tram revolves a full 360 as it rises above the valley. The south face of Mont Blanc taunting a green climber like myself with incomprehensible lines.
Miles and I exited the tram and began the now familiar walk across the glacier. Earlier that week I had ski toured all the way across the valley with Ptor Spricenieks. Talk about an awesome dude. A legend in his own right. From him I had learned the basics of steep ski anchors and rappelling. Most of all I was grateful he was down to just go ski. I had hauled my boards all the way to Europe after all. I loved the instruction but at the end of the day I wanted to get in some turns. The last day of the Academy we got after it, touring to the face under the Aiguille de Entreves I had climbed the week prior. Here I got my first experience sending a fairly large bergschrund. I’ve jumped of a lot of cliffs in my days but never sent it over a chasm filled with deathly blackness. All safely across we set off on the long, hot walk I just mentioned. Our gaze met the Tour Rhonde, Trident du Tacul, Grand Capucine and the south face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Now a week later I walked twenty meters behind Miles on our way to climb the famous spire of granite.
The Trident and Grand Capucine erupt from the glacier like a mountain god-sized fire, frozen in time. The orange granite is set in high contrast against the ice. From far off it doesn’t look so big. Give it an hour and all of the sudden I felt dwarfed and began to understand why the guys thought it was going to ride the line. I also understood the magnitude of the route on the Grand Capucine another guide and his client, Miles had talked to on the tram, were climbing. This truly the crown jewel of rock in this area. A level far beyond what I could comprehend. It’s so big that you stare at its walls and have to adjust your mind to visualize people as specks maneuvering through the complex maze of cracks and flakes. I would love to return for this someday. I know I will.
We traversed under the Trident. The Lepiney Route starts up a snow gully on the left side. We crossed the bergschrund and followed some very icy steps up to the rock. Here we stashed our ice axe and crampons for the way home. Being with a guide I don’t remember all of the details of each pitch. I was zoomed all the way in, focused on each step. I know that the crux comes early. After moving through a series of ledges up to the climber’s right, you reach a large corner with a block at the top. There’s a place here for a number 4 camelot. The 5c moves include a grippy undercling and a big, committing step across to a small foot hold at the extension of the ridge. I watched Miles’ moves closely and cruised it myself. Hard parts over right? Just five or so more pitches at over 12,000 feet.
The next couple pitches were no problem. We went up and to the right, wrapping around the tower in an upward spiral. The next real memorable pitch was a chimney on the third to last pitch. Theoretically, this was not supposed to be very hard climbing. We took our packs off and Miles set up a system to haul them up after us. Apparently I am not very good at chimney climbing. This was a struggle. It was the only place I fell on any climb in Cham. Maybe I was just tired. I felt like I didn’t fit in the damn thing. But after a short rope-dog I grunted through it. Not my best climbing. And I still have yet to find a love for chimneys.
The second to last pitch was really cool. This is where the route got airy. It was characterized by a crack system that required some nice hand jams. I was still quite new to this style of climbing and the moves, high off the deck were quite engaging. This was followed by one of the coolest sections of the route. You have to traverse perfectly horizontal to a ledge under the true summit. There is a perfect sized crack for your feet to do so. The catch? You can’t actually see your feet and the sheer wall drops below you all the way down to the glacier. It was some seriously cool exposure. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I joined Miles and we made the last, very short pitch up to the top.
The summit of this one was a blur. I was overjoyed by the position and snapped a few shots with the Grand Capucin. But it was time to get down. We had a lot to rappel. The first one was a weird traverse out onto a ledge set a ways off below and extended from the main wall. The next rappel went right under the Les Intouchables crack. Apparently Alex Honnold free soloed this? After a couple crowded anchors we were once again back at the base of the route. We switched into mountaineering mode, hopped across the bergschrund and slogged back across a now boiling glacier to the Torino hut, a cold beer and a ride down the tram. I can’t thank Miles enough for this one. My time with him was exceptional! He’s a great guy and patient instructor. If you’re ever in Cham in need of a guide I highly recommend him and Thor.
On September 25, 2018 the extremely sad news came out of Chamonix that the south face of the Trident du Tacul had collapsed in a massive rock fall event. This one really hit home. I can’t believe how fortunate I was for the privilege to climb the Lepiney Route before it was gone forever. Also, I am grateful to have not been on the face when it collapsed. I climbed right through the middle of the scar. I don’t believe that anyone was but please inform me if you know this not to be the case.
Global warming reared its ugly head. It has had a devastating effect on the area’s high mountains this summer, with similar events highlighted by the collapse of the Cosmique Arête last month. As temperatures rise, the permafrost holding these classic rocks together is evaporating which renders them highly unstable. An all too poignant reminder that this is a real problem and we’re only on the tip of the iceberg. It is scary to think of the increased objective hazard this change poses on traditionally “safe” climbs. It’s an extreme motivator to continue to adjust my lifestyle to support the individualized change that needs to happen to address the issue. This shit is real. And it’s destroying the mountains I love.