Alpine Adventures With My Chimp Part 1: Papillons Arete

Andy Tomlinson

Posted by Andy Tomlinson on Nov 10, 2019

"A brilliant route which takes in a variety of pitches through some amazing terrain at an amenable grade - this is a 'must do' for anyone operating at this level" reads the Rockfax Chamonix Guide overview of the Papillons Arête (D+/5c) and this route was, therefore, high on our 'tick-list'...and what was not to like about it?! 

I'd met Jeremy at Geneva airport Monday evening ... next morning an early start to Plan Praz, courtesy of the lift, saw us first up Hotel California (D/5b) a fun if slightly disjointed route on this easily accessed part of the Aiguilles Rouge. Sitting above it looking across to the Plan de l'Aiguille Jeremy suddenly suggested heading to the Refuge and ticking the Papillons tomorrow. Why not indeed ... a quick descent, shopping, packing, parking, the last lift of the day and we were soon soaking up early evening views over the Chamonix valley, followed by an excellent meal ... the owner of this private Refuge has changed recently and I recommend it highly, with good food, accommodation and hot water for just over €50. The Refuge was not overly busy, so an added bonus was a bed each ... I was soon asleep but, inevitably, woken by the urge for a 'pee'. On returning to bed my ‘chimp’ woke up ... and started nagging. 

Refuge du Plan de l'Aiguille

Before going further, an introduction to “The Chimp Paradox: the mind management programme for confidence, success and happiness” by Professor Steve Peters. The book uses a simple analogy whereby our brains have a human and a chimp part; the human part is rational, organised and considerate whilst the chimp is irrational, thoughtless and disorganised. In stressful circumstances [climbing at times?!] the chimp often comes to the fore. Strategies are outlined to help us learn to take control of our emotions and act in our own best interest. 

More details can be found here.

Now, an introduction to my 'chimp' who, at times over many years, has played havoc with my climbing when I've failed to 'manage' him. This night he (yes, definitely male!) nagged away gently ... was I fit enough? Had I climbed enough at this level this year to enjoy it? Wasn't I getting too old for this game? He instructed me to work on a way to dupe Jeremy into leading all the hard pitches ... uneasy sleep ensued and I made my way down to breakfast feeling less than well rested! The best hut breakfast of the trip followed and we were off at 5.50 ... Jeremy set a perfect pace which, to my surprise, saw us to the bottom of the route in guidebook time ... a small victory for me over my chimp ... I could keep to guidebook times at my age! We moved up unroped, looking for the start of the route proper ... it got steeper and with it my chimp became unhappy. Jeremy sensed my concerns and suggested we roped up ... good idea ... and he'd lead on. Perfect, as he led a 'thuggish' 5b pitch and I got an easy pitch leaving Jeremy the first 5c pitch, a step across a 1 metre wide gap followed by a couple of polished moves up, although well protected by pegs. The chimp was happy as all was going to plan. Even so, whilst Jeremy was revelling climbing the immaculate granite, I was feeling uncertain. 

Jeremy following one of the easier pitches

Five easier pitches along the ridge, across slabs and up corners led to the base of the 'letter box' pitch which, Jeremy informed me, was the second crux ... and my lead ... not what I, or my chimp, had planned! I led up, surprised to find I was enjoying the climbing. Quickly I was at the bottom of a steep wall, topped by overhangs. Pegs bristled and the climbing looked hard but well protected. Controlling my chimp I carried on, as I guessed the pitch I was leading included this next section ... I assumed it was 5b and quietly, but firmly, told my chimp so! 

I moved up and right clipping the in-situ gear, which was all strategically placed. I'd seen a French party ahead go straight up a steep crack above a jammed cam ... it looked steep and hard, so I climbed up, clipped the gear and stepped back down for a rest. I then looked around and figured that the route might go further right round a rib ... I moved this way and, yes, it was indeed much easier. However there was now a problem ... significant rope drag, as I'd stupidly clipped the cam short. Climbing on was not an option! I didn't want to reverse what I'd just climbed to lengthen the sling (sensibly what I should have done), so rigging a good belay I brought Jeremy up. This proved hard, as the rope drag was severe as it passed over the steeply angled rib just by the belay. 

Setting off towards the letterbox … with an unhappy chimp! High up, middle right, a member of a French team can be seen below the steep crack; the correct line moves further right.

Jeremy followed the pitch very steadily, collected the gear, moved up to a good belay back on the ridge and I followed quickly. We then looked at the guidebook ... the pitch I'd led turned out to be 5c and I should have belayed at the base of the steep wall! Lesson ... don't rely on memory and check the guide, even when feeling the need to move quickly! Five pitches remained and, without knowing the grade, I led on up what felt like a stiff slab (5b), but with two well placed pegs. Swinging leads the route was soon completed in guidebook time ... another minor triumph for me over my chimp! Jeremy was buzzing about all aspects of the climb but I had to admit to lacking the same feelings ... a real shame given the quality of the route, which I did recognise. All the way up I'd managed the chimp, but only just, and this had a significant bearing on the enjoyment factor ... definitely Type 2 fun for me, yet undoubtedly it should have been Type 1! 

Jeremy on the ridge near the top of the route

A quick abseil into the Peigne Couloir, followed by down scrambling and a couple more abseils saw us back to the path down ... we took this all slowly, enjoying the surroundings before heading to the Refuge for more of their excellent soup and cheese ... and plans for tomorrow. These revolved around heading for the Torino ... and managing my chimp ... the next instalment!

The next instalment can be found here!

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