Climbing with the very able assistance of mountain guide Ric Potter.
0730 Le Plan, Chamonix. Steadily rising track 45 minutes to La Floria, a very attractive chalet but closed this early in the morning! Mont Blanc massif was completely clear. Good views to the Midi-Plan traverse. Zigzags beyond La Floria, running close to La Flagere gondola but mainly hidden by trees.
Reached la Flagere by 1000 but it was crowded so didn’t stop and pressed on to Index de la Griere 2361m. Good traversing path to Lac Blanc, plenty of ascent/descent, taking 1 ¼ hours. Very crowded at Lac Blanc: beautiful Sunday outing for many, so went up to above 2400m, affording good views of Lac Blanc and the mountains either side of the Mer de Glace. Cool wind but hot sunshine.
|Mont Blanc Massif, en route to L'Index|
|Aiguilles du Chardonnet and Argentiere, left, from Lac Blanc|
Clear skies at 0630 but cloud built up quickly during the breakfast period. Chamois and Bouquetin close to chalet at this early hour. By 0730 Dome de Gouter already covered in cloud. Departed then, with steep descent down steps and ladders to Lacs des Cheserys. Stupidly took a wrong turn (read the map!) and had an epic on an old path with decaying handrails and bolts – soon realised the error of my ways, but this cost me 20 minutes.
Down to the Chalet des Cheserys 1998m by 0830 and turned left on to steeply descending path signed to Argentiere. Very steep but brilliantly constructed and reached Argentiere by 0940. Sky getting heavier but still bright. Took cable car up to Lognan 1960m and strolled up to Glacier d’Argentiere stopping at the ‘Point de Vue’ after 45 minutes. Big views of the seracs.
On the road early to meet Ric at the Midi cable car station in Chamonix. Reached the top station by 0915 and went through the clouds into perfectly clear weather at 3800m. Superb.
|Aiguille du Midi Arête|
|Grandes Jorasses from the Aiguille du Midi Arête|
|Starting the Cosmiques Arête|
|Cosmiques Arête, Aiguille du Midi|
|View to top of the Aiguille du Midi from the Cosmiques Arête|
|20m lower on the Cosmiques Arête|
|Classic mixed climbing on the Cosmiques Arête|
|Stumpy on the Cosmiques Arête|
|Ground getting a bit harder now!|
|The crux section of the route|
|Final exit chimneys on the Cosmiques Arête|
|Nearing the top of the Cosmiques Arête|
|View back to Mont Blanc from the Cosmiques Arête|
|Exit ladder at the top of the Cosmiques Arête|
Down to Chamonix by 1615 and a well earned beer. Although it only took 4 hours to do the route (with a lot of waiting for other parties to do pitches in the upper section) this was technically harder than anything I’d done in the mountains before and Ric rated it as AD, even though the Alpine Club guide book rates it as PD+ with the rider that ‘some sections are hard for this grade’. The route gave fantastic views of the Grande Jorasses, Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Blanc itself, with breathtaking drops down to the Bossons Glacier and Les Houches far below on the north side. A very satisfying day.
A difficult day for decisions due to very mixed and unspecific weather forecast. Hung around at the café at the bottom of the Aig. du Midi cable car for an hour or so, bumping into another guide, Smiler Cuthbertson (Ecuador November 2004) and Steve Greenhalgh, his client, who’d also been in Ecuador with me. They were not going to go up that day because of the weather, but, in the end, we decided to press on, going up to the top and descending the arête in cloud…what a difference a day makes! The weather brightened as we made our way in the direction of the Cosmiques Hut so we decided to head across the Vallee Blanche to position ourselves at the Torino Hut in anticipation of better weather the following day.
Visibility worsened as we descended into the heavily crevassed zone below Pointe Lachenal and Ric used his GPS to navigate and mark waypoints for our return trip the following day. Tight rope needed on some big snow bridges crossing cavernous crevasses and a large avalanche was heard (but fortunately not seen!) somewhere towards the Mont Blanc du Tacul. Then a steady ascent up to the Torino hut with occasional glimpses of the Dent du Geant through the cloud. Arrived at the Torino hut 3375m in strong wind and snow early afternoon.
|Summer holiday! At the Torino Hut|
|Val Veni from the Torino hut|
Up at 0430 and on the hill by 0530, into strong winds with a dark cloud plume billowing off the Dent du Geant to our right as we left the hut. Our objective for the day, La Tour Ronde 3792m, by the South East Ridge. We descended to the Col du Flambeux, going around the base of Aig. du Toule and then up again, on a steepening route across fresh snow, into the Col d’Entreves.
|Ascent from Col du Flambeux|
|Ric crossing the bergschrund on ascent of Tour Ronde|
|First pitch above the bergschrund on the Tour Ronde|
|Ascent to Col Freshfield|
|Nearing the summit of Tour Ronde|
|Summit in sight!|
|Tour Ronde summit, 3792m|
|Abseil down from Col Freshfield, 3625m|
|Abseil over the bergschrund|
Again, a relatively empty hut, mainly populated by frustrated Brits who had gone up to do Mont Blanc but were now resigned to just doing the Cosmiques Arête due to poor snow conditions and high avalanche risk on Mont Blanc du Tacul. This was a potential final route for us, but conditions determined an early end of our trip. Beer, good dinner, usual disturbed hut night and descent via the Aig. du Midi lift the following morning.
|Midi-Plan Ridge, for another day...|