Climbing the Cosmiques Ridge

Arête de Cosmiques, as seen from the end of the climb.

Since winter/spring, I've cancelled several adventure trips, and was busy climbing in the gym and in my own backyard. Now as borders are opening, I could finally carry out a guide assignment that has been booked since a long time. Happy to be able to get back on adventure track, and look forward to more business! Otherwise, I've been busy working locally, everything from firefighting to project leading, and hosting quite a few online activities such as lectures and workshops.

On my way and ready to climb!
So what was my first adventure trip for ages? I traveled to the mountains for a combined climbing and acclimatization trip. The objective was to get some good training and acclimatization for future undertakings. We were just two people - the other was a returning customer and a friend who'd been to several mountaineering trips that I've been guiding, including Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro.
Mont Blanc in the background - now with a mask.
The trip was a bit different at these times, with mask regulations (guest blog in Swedish here), half-shut airports, and massive cancellations and flight booking changes. Interesting times, with no guarantees of arrival whatsoever. But finally we made it to Chamonix. Great memories from earlier trips, with the peak of Mont Blanc shining white from above, reminding of the time I successfully attempted to climb it from the Italian side and the recent time through Goutier route.
And here's your happy climber without the mask! Still MB in the background.
The Aiguille du Midi lift is open and functioning. They advertise that all precautions are taken against Covid-19, with mandatory masks, disinfection, social distancing and everything. In fact, the masks are the only change that is observed. I've seen the cabin cleaned one time during closing. As for social distancing, the cabins were crammed as ever, with all and every passenger that needed to travel at that time. The passengers were told to come closer together to shorten the queue, and to fit everyone in the cabin. It just seemed like a regular high season.
Windy, cloudy, a bit of rain and snow - and sun! An awesome high altitude day
This time I put a bit of extra effort into acclimatization, as I wanted to take that variable out of the equation. We spent quite a bit of our time walking around in Valle Blanche, with splendid views of Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc de Tacul, and of course the shining giant of Mont Blanc. Quite a few mountaineers and climbers were threading the paths. There are few international tourists, but the weekends are full with French people just coming for a short time.

Cold wind ripping on daypack straps. Clouds are rising everywhere
Since the Cosmiques refuge did not acknowledge my booking, and did not answer mail or phone, we headed there to make a reservation for the next day. It could, of course, be possible to arrive without acclimatization and spend the night on 3600 meters over sea level, but I know that it would bring some discomfort feeling the height, which could be enough to impede the climbing ability. So I wanted to reduce that risk, and despite the weather we did complete the walk.

Snow clouds pulling in. Alpinists pushing on.
The day after was going to be even more windy, and very snowy. We set off in thick clouds, with a visibility so poor that we would be guessing with path to take. Luckily, we never wandered too far off, keeping to the broad, familiar path that led us to the Cosmiques refuge.

Clouds clearing, view from Arête à Laurence ridge.
As the clouds cleared somewhat, and we'd had a hot meal, it was time to continue with our objective. The plan was to train a bit on the ridge called Arête à Laurence, which is a mini-copy of Arête de Cosmiques. It's adjacent to the refuge, where the route finishes - so the approach and the climb does not take so much time.

Another view from Arête à Laurence
Now the sun was shining on, and I was able to snap some great views from the ridge!

You do see quite far from up here!
A bit into the ridge, my climbing partner concluded today's training, and we went back the same way without pursuing the full climb.

Cosmiques Ridge as seen from the platform at Aiguille du Midi
We spent the night in the refuge, all cots separated comfortably due to Covid-19. I never got to use my tent. It is said that camping is forbidden up here. There still are a few tents to be seen, especially as the night falls, but they are fewer than previous years. There is talk of gendarmes coming and clearing out the tents, together with hefty fines. I normally prefer tent to refuge huts, but rules are rules.

View from early on at the Cosmiques Ridge (Arête de Cosmiques). You can see the lift station where the route finishes.
Early in the morning the day after, I was up for breakfast and preparations to climb the Cosmiques Ridge. My climbing partner was affected by height despite the earlier acclimatization, and was feeling unwell. The plan was that I'd do the climb, and then come back for the walk back to Aiguille du Midi, as it is safer to be roped. For the climb, I got a local climber and guide to join me.

Climbing along the ridge. A moment of waiting, so I could snap a photo.
We started off with a good speed, and it felt good to pass two roped groups as we negotiated our way along the ridge. With a local guide, it's naturally more smooth and very fast, because the person knows the route very well.

Downclimbing a section - as seen from above.
I had done the research and looked at the route, which meant that I knew what to expect. There was some walking and scrambling, some abseiling pitches and some climbing.

Great help from the ice pick, but not so great help from the backpack with all my stuff...
The route was equipped with a few slings and bolts, otherwise there were plenty rocks to use for securing the rope. We had the use for stoppers once or twice.

Just before abseiling, after a narrow ridge passage
The weather was sunny and I quickly discovered I was overdressed. But I pushed on until a natural stop happened, as we had to wait for a group to get through a bottleneck on the route. There was not too much snow, however as we entered areas that were in the shade, like the North face, it suddenly became freezing. A few places were covered with verglas, but it did not impede the progress.

A pitch well on the ridge, follow the rope to see the person already up
All in all, given the climbing training I've done since winter, it's not been too hard a challenge. There are a few places where you really have to keep it cool and have the head for the heights. The crux of the climbing had been made easier by someone drilling crampon holes in the rock. We attempted another crack, of a more difficult level, but it was outside my skill level so I chose to climb the regular route. Will definitely have to train much more crack climbing, and get some better climbing gloves!

Captured somewhere along the way
We did not stop other than to wait for other groups and adjust gear. Not so many photos were taken, but take my word for it - it was breathtaking. Also, I'm happy that my companion took photos - the trouble with adventure photos is that oftentimes they are selfies. But now someone else took that time to snap a few pics, great stuff!

Adjusting crampons
I was feeling great, considering the height. As we passed the crux, I knew most of the ridge was behind us. No time to relax, but a smile is always a good way to celebrate!

Documenting the progress! That iconic tower behind me... what's on next?
Finally... the last steps. A photo op on a rock, with the Cosmiques Ridge at the back. A lot of tourists snapping photos from the lift platform, many never seen a climber up close. Then a shakey ladder up, I dive up where tourists don't expect me and shout "Bonjour!" More photos. Handshake. We're done. The climb took us 2,5 hours. Time required according to Summitpost is half a day; I had counted on 3-5 hours. It was a great deal faster, all thanks to the local climbing partner/guide.

Last photo of the ridge!
The return of my climbing partner was not dramatic at all, and the condition was better so walking back slowly was not troublesome. We headed down, having to wait through the enormous queue at the lift. Soon, we were in Chamonix, able to grab some lunch, and then I drove us back to Geneva. 

Looking back, it was a great climb, all with the backdrop of Mont Blanc. The first time I saw Arête de Cosmiques, it seemed crazy and impossible. What were those climbers doing there?? Now I've done it as a training opportunity for future assignments.

Looking back! See the Cosmiques refuge in the background, and tiny footpaths at the bottom? This is the beginning of the ridge. Nice perspective.