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Chamonix 2014

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  • Chamonix 2014

    Who's around? What sort of things have you been doing? How well are the glaciers covered?

    Who's arriving in the next few weeks?

    I haven't been there yet this season. My understanding from reports is that the snowpack is pretty big now this year.

    My perspective is that the Chamonix Mont Blanc area is rather special, different from most of the French Alps, with its combination of wide variety of skiing (and climbing) terrain, spectacular jagged peaks, high altitude, serious glaciers with big crevasses and seracs -- and mechanical lifts that can quickly move me close into its midst.

    The place of some of my most wonderful skiing adventures.

    Hope to visit there on some good ski-touring days between now and early May.


  • #2
    Today got out and leveraged the Chamonix infrastructure -- mechanical lifts to start my tour from high altitude, lots of other skiers to make the uphill track and kick steps, free shuttle bus back to my starting point. What I got from it was exploring among dramatic granite spires, clear sunny views of high Alps peaks all the way to the Matterhorn. crossing giant glaciers (with most but not all of the crevasses covered now), and backcountry downhill of 6500 vertical ft. Also more wind-packed snow than in a long time -- not breakable crust, but not great fun skiing.

    I made a loop around the Aiguille du Tour near the N end of the Mont Blanc massif - [see map], starting from the top of the Grands Montets lifts, and finishing in a different major valley at the village of Le Tour. Along the way, I descended to the Argentiere glacier, climbed Col du Passon, crossed the Tour glacier and climbed to the Col Superior du Tour and a little higher around the E side Aiguille du Tour, then down to Col du Pissoir and Col du Midi des Grands, back across most of the Tour glacier, and down to Le Tour village, took the shuttle bus back to near Grands Montets parking.

    There were times when I could see other parties and follow them, other times when I was alone in a big place and the tracks were blown over by the wind.

    Some things I learned - (often by watching other backcountry skiers):

    * climbing to summit of South Peak (3542 meters / 11618 ft) of Aiguille du Tour ... saw two parties do it up and down on the E side, but last year April I really enjoyed the excellent fractured granite climbing the N ridge (from the col between the S + N peaks) and so did the other ski party that same day.

    * shortcut diagonal N across Argentiere glacier to bottom of Col du Passon ascent as an alternative to first crossing over to NE bank of glacier.

    * Col du Midi des Grands -- W side had lots of steepish dirty loose rock this year. Seemed like other parties did it in the opposite direction (W to E) to take that as an uphill. (? which might imply for me to do the whole loop in the opposite direction ? except perhaps descend Col Inf du Tour instead of Col Sup - for less tracked?)

    * Seemed better to cross Col du Midi well above and S from the true col (less steep).

    * Couloir de la Table -- popular as an intro to "steep" skiing, but looked to me like it had exposed rocks across it roughly mid-way between top and bottom.

    * descent lower to Le Tour village -- It is possible to get cliffed out (or at least it's easy to find yourself surrounded and blocked by very steep slopes) by starting down some long slopes which at first look inviting. Good to plan a strategy, not just follow other people's tracks.

    * shuttle bus from Le Tour sometimes (often?) does not stop at the Grands Montets lift. If you're not sure, can get off the bus at the Argentiere "gare SNCF" train station. There are several signs for a walking path which starts just south of the underpass and takes a bridge across the creek to the lift bottom + parking. (There's another pededstrian bridge farther south by the Hotel Montana).

    Seems like about ten days this high pressure has been in -- completely different from the previous weeks. Lots of pollution visible at lower altitudes in the Alpes du Nord (and the city of Paris?). But high up through the assistance of the Chamonix lifts, perfect clear blue skies.

    Looking forward to more great days.

    Last edited by KenR; 24 March 2014, 03:30 AM. Reason: add idea about shuttle back to Grands Montets


    • #3
      Wednesday and Thursday got out exploring a wide range of the Mont Blanc massif, together with Nicolas who lives not far from St Baldoph. Snow seemed stable everywhere, but wind-blown.

      We started on the usual Vallee Blanche / Mer de Glace, then leave that east up Glacier des Periades and across an amazing ridge to a completely different giant valley of the Glacier du Mont Mallet and Glacier de Leschaux, under the Grandes Jorasses. NE + NW down that, then N up into another big area of the Talefre Basin. After sleeping at the Refuge Couvercle hut (no guardian at this time) we explored E toward the Aiguille de Triolet until we were blocked by crevasses and seracs, then finished at Montenvers station.

      Great terrain and views, even if not such great skiing because of the winds on Tuesday night (the photos make the turns look better then they felt). First day was bigger than I planned, almost 1800 vertical meters (over 6000 ft) but the tough part for me was hauling a second rope and my share of stove and extra food. Second day not so hard because we stopped before things got seriously technical + steep.

      * Knowing that it's unlikely I would reach any "objective" in the Talefre Basin makes me feel like I'd consider going up in there as day-trip (since I wouldn't need to make an early start from Refuge C).

      * The possibility of crossing the Periades ridge with a single-rope makes me feel more inclinded to try it again sooner. Of course another way to get up into Glacier du Mont Mallet is to just skin up from its bottom.

      More details below.

      __________________________________________________ __________

      * the ascent of the Glacier des Periades had a narrow section alongside exposed crevasses, then gets very wide but very sustained at 30 degrees or so. No gentler rest points (lack of which on hardpack could be intimidating for some people).

      * the Glacier des Periades is an amazing place to be (under the Dent du Geant) even if do not cross the ridge to the other valley. Could explore it as a side trip from the Vallee Blanche run - an alternate objective (if you need one) is Col du Tacul.

      * Then to reach the ridge crest, need to climb a couloir around 45 degrees for about 300 vertical meters (1000 ft). This couloir is not visible during the ascent of the Glacier des Periades -- you see it only when you reach its bottom. So the snow in the couloir is often a bit sheltered from the typical winds, hopefully not as hard snow as what you just climbed on skis.

      * At the top of the couloir is a rappel station, usually said to be 40 meters (so a single rope is not enough). The need to haul a second rope encourages you to find more partners for this popular tour.

      * We tried climbing up the ridge a short ways NW from the Breche (with a couple of exposed thoughtful moves), which led to an old wooden box called the Bivouac des Periades. Here we found a very obvious rappel station (with an unusual but very safe-feeling design). We saw an intermediate rappel anchor on our way down, but didn't use it since we had already hauled the two ropes - (I've heard a rumor it might be possible to make it dowh from there with two rappels on a single rope).

      * skiing down the Glacier du Mont Mallet (optional is to first climb higher up that Glacier, but you can't get to the top of anything skiable, so almost nobody does that) ... is mostly not steep, but rather wild with obvious big crevasses (and hidden smaller crevasses hopefully well-bridged) ... without the crowds of tracks (and moguls) like on the Vallee Blanche to offer a feeling a comfort.

      * the normal finish from Glac Mt M down to Glacier Leschaux is a steep-ish chute (getting toward 40 degrees?) with a narrow-ish section. Not fun after the new snow has been skied off to reveal the old hardpack. ? I think perhaps this steep chute is avoidable ?

      * We found a easterly route up into the Talefre Basin from Glacier de Leschaux. Lower part with a short section exposed to serious rockfall in the afternoon warmth. Higher the snow tongue got steep and narrow so we booted that, then traversed to W to below the hut, then up to the old hut (since the new hut was not open).

      * Refuge Couvercle old hut had its own stove with some wood. One party was melting snow on that, but each party did their actual cooking on their own butane stove which they had hauled up. Comfortably warm at night (another reason to start the wood stove?) in springtime. But the outhouse was a long way from clean.

      * To my surprise we were not alone at the refuge. A UK climber and a local guide who were going to start around midnight to climb the Droites (from S side), though they had approached with skis. Two women from Norway who just wanted to get out and explore Talefre Basin on ski (which is more or less what we ended up doing), so they were going to start around 8.

      * We woke up at 5:30 so we would have time to work out the technical problems for reaching Punta Isabelle / Pointe Isabelle which is a great viewpoint of the (unskiable) Aiguille de Triolet. Another objective in Talefre Basin is the S face of Col des Droites (which also requires good conditions and some exposed skiing.
      Say 25 years ago Pt I was a classic ski tour . . .

      * Not this year. Needs really big snow for it to be more than a serious technical alpine climbing achievement (under serac fall hazard). My photos there Thursday morn look different from those in the most recent ski guidebook. Anyway it was wonderful to be out Nicolas and I alone on a perfect skiing day around Chamonix. With very different views on Mont Blanc and more dramatic peaks.

      . . (Warning: Do not believe the blue-dash "ski tour" lines on the IGN TOP25 maps. The IGN would be doing everyone a favor if they simply removed them from the 1:25000 maps) . .

      * Descent in Talefre was fun on hardpack. Then below the hut we tried a different couloir suggested to us by the guide with the UK climber. This one farther West and narrower. Perhaps a brief section steeper than 35 degrees, but the narrowness made it fun (and that it was low enough for its west side to be softening from the morning sun. And we met two skiers skinning up this narrow gully. This late in a hot spring season we had to walk carrying skis say 50 meters at the bottom.

      * finished pleasant down the Mer de Glace alongside a flowing stream of blue water. Saw lots of skiers who had done the Vallee Blanche run -- they were happy and we were happy.
      Last edited by KenR; 11 April 2014, 04:23 AM.


      • #4
        do you have any photos?


        • #5
          Yes about 600. And Nicolas has some too. Likely I'll edit it down to less than 35. But that will take time.

          Maybe I can get a few especially interesting ones up sooner. But . . .
          looks like sunshine for next three days, and France is not like the Eastside where you can sort of take that for granted. So I might be busy planning (and doing) tours. Might have to wait for a rainy day -- and then hope we don't just drive a few hours south to find warm sunny climbing on white rock rising straight up out of the deep blue sea.

          So maybe the best hope is ...
          some photos from the Breche Puiseux nine years ago