Arete de Papillon - The Butterflies Edge
When Marcy and I arrived in Chamonix we had few objectives, but recent snowfall in the high mountains had us cutting our teeth at the local Gaillands crag and looking at climbs that were a bit lower in elevation. Everyone we spoke to had this as one of their favorite climbs in the area.
The night before, we went back and forth about the gear to bring - Crampons? Axe? Second Rope ( this wasn't a tag line, but a full on 60m cragging rope)? well sure enough we came to the obviously conclusion of bringing the whole kitchen sink - ensuring maximum difficulty on an already difficult and long climb. ( most of which we never used)
6:45 am we were waiting in line for first trams. We tried to follow the path of least resistance and the hike turned into a scramble turned into a climb. The booked called this French grade II-III so I had it anchored that it was some 3rd-4th class scrambling, Nearly 2 hrs later we caught glimpse of the start. Between us and the start lay a near vertical section with parallel and smooth offwidths. Still in the mountaineering boots, we decided to pitch this out - it was only scrambling right? Well after grunting through the offwidth I traversed a short knife ridge with limited feet and checked out the topo. Sure enough that was P1 and went at 4b and French Grade II-III is actually up to 5.3. - Marcy followed but the exposure of the ensuing traverse is nauseating.
At this point some groups were starting to loiter behind us. These climbing parties turned into one big french freeing human centipede. I mean they were all in mountaineering boots, it can't be that hard right? - Wrong!! Most everyone spent little time with the grace and beauty of climbing and looked for the closest gear, sling, or piton to yard themselves up as their feet slipped wildly. What really got my attention was watching a leader yank on an old wiggling piton and risking a 30' factor 2 on a slung horn. ( see image below)
Needless to say, we slowed down a bit and Marcy, being pulled backwards by the 20lbs of rope struggled to enjoy the climbing.
What followed was some easier, but much more stressful climbing. The centipede was attempting to multiply and eat itself. It was splitting in different directions by taking different variations on the easier terrain - the problem being that everything constricted back together for the crux moves. Sure enough we got exhumed by all the parties since we weren't as aggressive and this meant that we spent hours waiting to get on the key sections.
So the Arete de Papillons is an amazing route with stellar climbing and continued exposure on a flanks of a superbly impressive Aiguille; however, the route itself ends at an anti-climatic col before rapping into a couloir only a fraction of the way up the peak. It puts into perspective the scale of just how big these mountain are and climbing potential truly is here. At this point it was closing in on 8pm and our dreams of catching the last tram at 6pm had long passed. We safely made it down the descent, passing the empty tram station and eventually reaching the valley floor at 30 minutes 'til midnight, in what we have coined the Walk of Cham.
The route itself is mostly moderate with a few very short sections of 5c and one 6a. All of them had french freeing gear and it appears most parties are not to worried about free climbing the route. But it is a serious climb with a great deal of exposure on unprotected traverses, making it a challenge for the follower as well.