Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE DOMES DE MIAGE----- THRICE !

I recently returned from the Alps and had a great time with good weather and some good climbing. I did some new (for me) routes and also revisited some ones I had done before. One case in point was The Domes de Miage. This was my third time on this great route and it struck me that each time had been very different.

1st Time. June 2008;
The rather desolate lower reaches of the glacier

Mick Sandy on the upper slopes of Aig Berangere

Looking at the slope to the main summits

The narrow mixed ground in the latter half

Beautiful and atmosphetic

More mixed ground

Final slopes towards the Durier Hut

Durier Hut


There was a prolonged spell of poor weather in the Alps prior to our visit in late June. Everywhere  down to about 2500 meters was covered with levels of snow that were more reminiscent of April than the summer. When we did the route we did a full traverse from the Conscrits Hut to the Durier Hut with the hope of  continuing up Aig Bionnassay and even perhaps Mont Blanc. Immediately behind the Conscrits there was snow which rose all the way to the summit of Aiguille Berangere. Fortunately in the predawn it was firm so progress was reasonable but the slog from there up to the main tops was punishing as we dealt with softening snow. I had seen pictures of the narrow ridge prior to doing the route and I was interested to see how I would cope on terrain but as usual when you are actually there you are more concerned with good and safe movement and generally too busy to fret for long. There was a decent trench on the ridge and generally it was well stepped out. Once you pass Col de Domes the nature of the route changes from an almost exclusively snowy ridge to more mixed terrain. This is I would say a bit more interesting and challenging. Nowhere though is it too difficult and steady progress is made all the way to the tiny Durier Hut. It was with some disappointment that we discovered that the hut wasn't yet manned and as we hadn't brought any food we would have to descend back to the valley. One look down the steep slope from the Col was enough to convince me that it wouldn't be much fun but needs must and we set off. Suffice to say that it was horrible, with large patches of snow and ice that covered up the path and meant that we just had to pick a way down as best we could. Everything seemed to be loose and in the event of a slip there was nothing solid to hold on to. Things weren't helped by the fact that Tim decided to remove his crampons before starting the descent which made going down the snow/ice sections "interesting". Eventually we reached the glacier below and trudged our way back to Contamines. All in all a memorable Alpine day.
Yours truly and Tim Long

Tim and myself making progress, the descent route in the cloud below.

2nd Time September 2009;

My partners had returned home (only being able to wrangle 9 days away) so I was left to my own devices for nearly a week. I went into the OHM in Chamonix and saw that there was someone looking for a partner for a few days, result. I rang and arranged to meet there and then and it turned out to be a young English woman from the peak district. I suggested "The Domes" and she agreed so we set off that afternoon. This time conditions couldn't have been more different. The bountiful snow of the previous year had been replaced by almost entirely bare rock and ice. This time it was the normal route we were doing which was a walk to the Col de Domes and a return to the Conscrit Hut over the Domes. When we got to the hut I was surprised to find it so quiet but it seemed that the guides had given up on the route for the year as it was too icy. We left the hut the following morning and made our way up to the glacier which was completely dry and denuded of snow. Cavernous crevasses were in full view and some seemed to almost stretch the full width of the glacier. Progress was serpentine and it wasn't until we reached the steeper slopes that led to the col that we reached some snow. There was precious little of it and some of the bridges were precarious to say the least. The only other people on the route were a bunch of about ten English guys (on two ropes) who didn't inspire confidence in the snow-bridges as there were frequent shouts of "Crevasse" when the others would fall back as one. Upon reaching the col one of their number proceeded to have a shit about thirty meters in front of us. It seemed that they didn't like the look of the narrow ridge so they turned right instead and headed up that peak but we stuck to the original plan and headed for the ridge. It was narrow and icy and the trench of the previous year was gone but we still enjoyed its traverse. The descent however all the way to Col de Berangere was almost exclusively ice which made for very careful progress indeed. A slip here would have been disastrous as the ice was bullit hard and full of sharp stones. If you managed to somehow self arrest, the stones would have quickly shredded plenty of skin. We were concentrated and careful and we made it down ok. The remainder of the route passed off well but it was now understandable why the guides had stopped bringing clients. That icy descent seemed to take forever.
Bare ice everywhere

Great mountain scenery

Classic picture of "Des Domes"

Heather

A long and icy descent

3rd Time September 2014;

This year I went again with Andy Griffiths. I won't go into detail here about the day but it was exactly the same route as 2009 but the conditions were very different. It is a true Alpine classic and deservedly so. Go and do it yourself sometime.
Snow covered glacier

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Them Domes again


A much easier descent this time