Stood at the top of the Grand Montets Ridge, just below the lift station platform
This summer saw me take the plunge for a three week excursion to Chamonix, from 24th June to the 16th July.
The first route we attempted was one I had heard about from friends who had completed it whilst on Alpine training courses - so it seemed an appropriate place to dip our feet back into the Alps. Gearing up for the first time that trip was as exhilerating as ever, and the short, easy approach to the bergschrund flew by - culminating with breathtaking snippets of views over to Les Drus through gaps in the clouds.
After hitting the Bergschrund, the guidebook suggested a snow slope up to the crest of the ridge, however a bout of hot weather had turned the slope into an ice pitch. Climbing up with a single mountaineering axe was weird for such a pitch - but nevertheless we made it up safely. The ridge was gorgeous, straightforward scrambling, with some minor climbing pitches - but nothing tricky.
We made it to a small overhang of rock whilst we waited for the team in front to move on. An hour and a half later, after finding it would be sketchy to cross over them, and they were held up by a team retreating down the ice field in front of them, and the ever-darkening clouds, we decided to call it a day, and headed back along the ridge to abseil off. By this time, we were abbing into nothingess, and although a shame to retreat on the first route - a good day had by all.
Me abseiling down the ice field towards the bergschrund
Well before heading out to Chamonix, we had decided that Cosmiques must be on the list - so a couple of days after our attempt on the Petite Verte, we stormed towards the famous arete. After the blistering heat, two days of storm had arrived, cooling the valley and mountains down substantially, and depositing a fresh batch of snow on the route. This made for an even more picturesque ascent!
Naoise Gloser towards the beginning of the route
With the addition of drilled crampon pockets, the “crux” wall was by no means the trickiest section of the route, instead some of the scrambly sections that were simply covered in snow proved to be more challenging. I could see quickly why this route was a classic. A short walk from the cable car, a fabulous approach, a dramatic, yet not technically difficult, exposed ascent, and a grand finale up onto the Midi station platform - greeted with applause, photos and very excited tourists. Nearly as excited as us to be there!
A shot from an enthusiastic tourist up at the Midi station as she saw us emerge on the Arete
Dent du Geant
Way back in January 2016, a friend of mine approached me and a friend with the idea of climbing a huge spike of rock sticking above the other peaks - at a staggering 4013m. Needless to say, we were taken with the idea almost instantly. The spike of rock is more commonly known as the Dent du Geant, or Giants Tooth.
To give ourselves the best shot we could, we took the panoramic lift over the afternoon before, and set up a bivvy just below the first couloir. We then settled down to the most stunning sunset I have ever seen.
Sun dipping behind the Aiguille du Midi
I awoke at around 6am after a great nights sleep for my first high bivvy - however, one of the others had not fared so well, not really sleeping, and at one point, convinced he was in a studio, and attempted to get out of his bivvy bag. The tight proximity to us, and many layers meant this was not possible, but he decided to press on and go for it all the same. The approach was not hard going, with mostly just broken ground, and a small snowslope. There was one tricky corner that was iced over, but in about 1 hour 30, Tom and I were at the base of the climb.
We knew there were fixed ropes on sections of the climb, but we weren’t anticipating it from the very first pitch, but I was glad for the lines, as such exposed climbing, in boots, on snowy holds is somewhat scary. A couple of pitches later, we were at the slabs - which I was dreading. They looked menacing, blank and I hadn’t wanted to lead them. We hadn’t ended up pitching how we had originally intended, due to the long ropes - so it was my lead. And the slabs were easy. The fixed rope is hardly needed, until the top blank section, but that was just a short powerful push.
Soon we were on the summit, and I have never seen a view like it. Pure bliss.
Stood on the summit at midday
The descent was harder than the ascent. We abbed off the summit in 3 long abseils and bumped into some guys making a film (A Summer of Life and Death - I’ll be looking out for it, we were on the summit as the helicopter was filming, so hoping some great poses get captured).
By the time we made it back down to the base of the mountain, we knew we’d missed the last cable car, so the Torino hut became our destination for a good meal, before finding somewhere to spend the night, in anticipatin of the first cable car in the morning. We struck gold, with a five star bivvy porch at the station. It was just a shame that the light turned on every time somebody moved…
Cramped into a small porch at the station
Midi Plan Traverse
Following a painful day trying our hand at mountain biking, several punctures, and many spectacular fallings off, we were riding the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi for the last time this trip. The plan was to attempt the Midi Plan Traverse, a route that had been in the back of my mind for months. We knew the descent down onto the Mer de Glace was looking dangerous - so it was decided we would retrace our steps back up to the midi station after the route, and to give us the best shot, we decided to go up in the afternoon, spend the night, and approach the route early the following morning.
We went to the Cosmiques winter hut, but with no success, it was completely locked up. After searching for about an hour around the site for a flat space to bivvy, we happened across a wide ledge above the hut. Filled with gravel-like broken stone, with a bit of clearing, it made for a comfortable spot. After we had built a small wall around the edge to keep the wind out, we set off towards Laurent’s Arete, for a gentle evening route. The cloud made for a very atmospheric traverse, and a delightful way to spend the evening.
It was a peaceful night, with satisfaction had in the early hours, following the blinkering headtorches of teams scuttling their way up the Gouter route on Mont Blanc. At around 4am we set off back towards the midi station, eagar to start our route. Visibility was horrendous, and by the time we started along the ridge, I could barely see Ruairidh on my rope, about 5m me. Glorious breaks in the cloud granted us glimpses of the golden spread of sun layering the inversion of clouds to the North West.
A break in the clouds
On the narrow ridge, we discovered that the snow was not nearly stable enough, and we did not make it far along before making the decision to turn back. Knowing that we had to return this way, even though we could probably make our way slowly across now, at 5am, after the midday heat had hit the snow, it would be even more treacherous on our return.
This gave us time to sit on the ridge, and enjoy the spectacular sunrise over the jagged peaks. A fine way to save farewell for this year.