Astro Choss, the East face of St Exupery

After retreating from our first rainy attempt we went back to St. Exupery on a beautiful sunny day with high spirits. Our chosen line looked so obvious, a big corner splitting the East face all the way to the ridge. The sun rose golden, and we quickly crossed new debris from a huge rock fall that came from the south side of the east face. The morning was hot, and rocks bombed down from the fresh scar to our left, we were glad to be up on clean splitters that started our route.

sun rise

first pitch

Mikey lead 4 pretty cool pitches in the sun, and then I took over traversing left, to avoid a overhanging choss filled chimney. The thin corner had good rock, some of which I had to aid or otherwise finagle the rope upwards. Eventually it dwindled to nothing where a ledge took me back to our loose corner. As Mikey cleaned the pitch I listened to the gurgle of water and lamented that the sun had left this eastern face.

the first really wet pitch

A few wet pitches I can deal with. But when wet mixes with verglass, that is a problem. Mikey followed another chimney running with water, and was impressed by the thin veneer of ice that I had dealt with. Looking up we were both horrified by the verglass plastered creek that ran down the corner above.


We were not willing to get soaking wet this late in the day. So sideways rappel crossing the Condorito route took us to another corner to the right. Mikey took over and was really excited about the new dry line he had chosen. I told him it looked ‘kinda steep’…

just the start of the awkward aid

Off he went, aid climbing out an awkward angling roof lead to crumbling rock above. From the safety of my alcove I watched kitty litter rain down as Mikey tried to sculpt the crack in to something climbable. Aid climbing is slow, and the light was fading. Mikey sounded worried, and broken rock was puking from the corner. If I leaned out really far I could see him, the rope went up a few feet and came back down about 10 times. He called down that he would try once more to face climb past the choss. There were at least 2 more attempts, and then I saw him with the ice tool…

Mikey had eventually tied a #3 camalot to the end of his ice axe, clipped some long slings to it, face climbed as high as he could and standing on tip toes pushed the ice tool/ #3/ stick clip of sorts, as far as it would go up behind a big, flat screen TV size block. Using it gently as a hand hold he tip toed up past it and finally found rock solid enough to build a belay.

in to the night

That was the most totally lame, loose, scary, crux of many on the route. It was then dark. Another roof to aid had decent rock, but then the headlamps illuminated another ice choked corner, and so we ventured on to wandering cracks on the face of the large corner. 3:30am in the darkness we reached the ridge where our route joined the Italian 68. We wanted to bivi. There was a flat enough spot we cleared to sleep, and then easily passed out.

Mikey climbing the aesthetic final ridge

The sun soon came back, and we took our time heading up the ridge to the summit. A sadness now takes over, since I now know that just a few hundred feet below while we summited Carlyle Norman, a beautiful young Canadian alpinist was dying. She had been hit in the head with a huge rock and all I can think, is that if we had known….. could we have helped? We were so close.

headed "home"

We named our route Astro Choss. It was about 500 meters of new climbing. Sadly, I would not recommend repeating it. At least now we know it’s not worth it.  Maybe it would be better as a mixed ice line…

Astro Choss route line (this is a photo from a much snowier year)