Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chamonix 2010

Cliffs at snout of Argentiere Glacier
Well back again after another trip to Chamonix Mont Blanc. I arrived in Le Buet on the evening of June 17th. I had decided to forgo a trip to the Bernese Oberland with Tim and was camping solo. The forecast for the first few days was iffy. I decided to head up Mont Buet on my first day. This is a big old lump and reaches 3098mtrs so is good to get a bit of altitude straight away. It also involves 1800mtrs of ascent so serves well to get the legs working. The snow was down to2300mtrs but the threatened bad weather never materialised so I enjoyed a good day. When I was finished I headed to the OHM in Chamonix. There I got the contact details of Alistair Gurney. We met and decided to do the Midi Plan traverse the following day.
Argentiere Hut
                                                                                            Saturday the 19th dawned wet and miserable so we postponed our plans and agreed to talk later. I instead went for a walk up to Barrage de Emmisson. This was a pleasant enough outing and passed the morning. I spoke with Alistair that evening and we decided to head up on Sunday to the Argentier hut for a few nights with the ultimate aim of the Couturier Couloir on the Verte. As the lift wasn't operating and the hut was unmanned we had to walk up and take food for three days. This was a bit of a chore that was enlivened by taking a direct line through the main difficulties of the glacier. We had the hut to ourselves for a few hours and were later joined by two Spanish guys and a Venezuelan girl whom Alistair had met in town. A very nice evening ensued. It's nice to have the huts to ourselves and sleep comes easily when less crowded.

Aig Tour

View down

Grand Combin and Valaie Alps
                                                 We decided to climb the Aig Argentier via the Miglieu route. Again interest was almost immediate as we decided to tackle the steep left bank of the glacier head on. 60degree ice with one axe ensured concentration. The fun was soon over and a slog up the glacier through deep fresh snow was at times exhausting. When we crossed the berschund the slope steepened to about 40 degrees. This seemed to go on forever but eventually the summit was reached and all the effort was rewarded by a stunning panorama of the finest alpine scenery. The low layer of cloud in the valleys was broken in all directions and peaks from the Bernese Oberland to Italy to Mont Blanc and beyond were a joy to behold. We lingered for perhaps 40mins and basked in the sunshine. We started down the same route and when we came to the first steepening my first few steps started a slide of powder about four feet wide. This gathered more as it went and continued steadily out of sight. This was a worrying development. We decided to head straight down where the slide had occurred. This worked well and we made rapid progress. As we got near the berschund there was much evidence of mini avalanches and indeed a small one reached us but did no damage. Down we went into the now more extensive cloud. We were back in the hut in the early afternoon, a little tired but satisfied at having got good altitude(3902) and a good workout.
Le Tout Noir

Aig Plan

Aig de Midi

                                                            The following morning we were out at 4am and heading for the Tour Noir. The plan was to climb the west couloir. The snow conditions were much better and rapid progress was made up the glacier to the base of the climb. The route entered an initial gully which we left on the right side up a rock spur to a ramp, then a delicate traverse under rocks and into another gully. here we came to a short wall of vertical ice. Alistair led over what transpired was rotten ice and we continued up the steep snow to the ridge. A short climb to the right and we were soon on the summit. This is a fine airy crest and the views are as you would expect wonderful. The view across to Mont dolent is inspiring. That is a project for another day. We back climbed the ridge for a while but soft snow on rock necessitated a series of abseils back to the coll. Fatigue was now a problem with me but progress was rapid on still good snow back to the hut. Looking across at the Verte I knew that I didn't have the strength for a summit attempt the following day so we decided to go to the valley for a rest day.

After a relaxing day we decided to do the Midi Plan traverse on Thursday. The plan was to get the first lift and proceed from there but due to carelessness I missed the train but my honest face and pleading looks ensured that I got a drive and we managed to catch the second lift. The day was stunning and we emerged to brilliant sunshine from the station at 8am. There were several parties in front of us and guides and their nervous charges heading for the valley Blanche. We went rapidly along the arret and soon reached the first of the difficulties. This was a rising traverse on the chamonix side of a "gendarme". Good exposure ensured maximum concentration and after a series of delicate traverses and a couple of abseils we reached the final snow slopes under aig plan. After this an entertaining rock scramble brought us to the airy summit. We returned the same route to the abseil area which was a stern test but the fixed rope ensured we made good progress. We were back in the station 6 hours after we left and well happy after a great experience. We descended to the valley and after a couple of beers I said farewell to Alistair who need to rest before competing in the Mont blanc marathon on Sunday. (he finished in 5 hours and was fiftieth, a fantastic effort).

Le Haute Cime

                                                              As I now had four days left to fill on my own I decided that the Haut Cime on the Dent du Midi would be a fitting next target. On Friday morn I set off for Champery on the Swiss side of the massif. This involved (thanks to a train strike) hitching a ride to Mothey and catching a tram to the village. I was in the village be 10.45am. You have to love the Swiss, I needed a map of the Dents so I went in to the tourist office. I had to pay 29francs for it as nowhere else sold them. Value not something the Swiss give willingly. Anyway I headed off to the Susanfe hut at 11am. This proved a very pleasant walk up through gorges and meadows with waterfalls and interest in abundance. I was at the hut in the early afternoon and passed away a long evening with a book. The hut is beautifully situated under Mont Ruan. The warden was somewhat surprised when I asked for breakfast at 4.30 the following morning. So up I got and feasted on my couple of slices of bread and coffee( a snip at 9euro, those funny Swiss) and set off in the predawn for Col Salenfe and thence up the Haut Cime. I was on top at 7.30am and lingered and enjoyed the expansive (some say the finest in the alps) views in windless pleasant sunshine. A long decent to Lac Salenfe followed by a 500 meter climb over a col and then down, down to Les Marrecotte for the train back to Le Buet. So ended a good day which involved 1700mtrs of ascent and 2500mtrs of decent over twenty kilometers.

Gouter sunset

Mont Blanc summit

Perfect dawn on descent

                                           And so to Sunday morning. The train to Les Houches and the lift to Bellevue followed by the train to Nid Aigle at 2300mtrs saw me start for the Gouter hut at 12noon. A fairly light bag and by now good fitness saw me arrive at the hut by three twenty. The Gouter hut is what it is so I settled down for a long evening. A pleasant surprise was meeting a group of guys from Galway who had topped out that day. Pleasant conversation followed which shortened the day considerably. After dinner and some lounging about the inevitable trip to the dorm had to be endured. Needless to say five shitty hours followed and I got up at 1.30 and waited for breakfast which was at 2am. I forced myself to consume everything on the tray (jam, cheese, nutella, bread a crepe and a big bowl of hot chocolate) and exited the hut by 2.30am. A steady but consistent pace on perfect snow saw me arrive first at the summit at 5.20, just in time to enjoy a most wonderful dawn. After some photos I descended easily to the hut. Glissading a considerable part of the Dome de Gouter was great fun. I met again the Galway boys who were very impressed by my rapid progress. An uneventful decent to the train followed and a well deserved pint in Les Houches went down a treat. All in all a most satisfactory and successful trip. I'm looking forward to the next one already.
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