Le Tour Glacier-Ski Tour

After seeing that I had a good days skiing in Verbier on Saturday, Alex was keen to get on his skis for the first time this winter. I haven’t really stopped since changing to skiing in January and he knew I would be keen for anything. He suggested going up the le Tour Glacier, This would be a good bet as there had been a fair amount of fresh snow over the weekend here in Chamonix.

He didn’t have anything in mind that he wanted to ski/climb so I suggested the Table Couloir, a 45/50’ 200m line from near the summit of Aiguille du Tour. Not knowing how it would look we decided to go and have a look on the Monday and decide what we would do on the Tuesday, with the normal route on Aig. du Tour being another option that we would be prepared for.

Meeting up early on Monday we geared up and headed to the Le Tour car park and we were on our way just after 11am. There are two ways to get to the Albert Premier refuge in the summer but with a lot of snow the high route is very exposed and with the high winds on Sunday there would be a high avalanche risk so we decided to take the more direct route but we knew this would be hard with no tracks and lots of snow.

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The route to the refuge.

Neither Alex nor me had put a real skin track in before so it was nice to decide where we would go and pick the line up, Mellow was the key word for all of our skin tracks and I had to remind Alex to keep it easy as I have been burned out on steep tracks in the past.

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Heading across the Vormaine slopes to the start of the climb.

After 45 minutes of skinning we had our skis on our back and were heading up the steep couloir looking for the path, we knew it would be hard to find but after a lot of scrambling around in deep snow and climbing up bushes and in between trees we found it and were heading towards the glacier and looking forward to getting our skis back on and skinning up the left bank of the moraines.

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Getting out of the trees and finding the path.

It took us 3 hours to get to the start of the moraines, this is roughly the time it takes you to get to the refuge in summer, and we were only half way!

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Skinning up the moraines we were going through some really nice powder that hadn’t been affected by the wind. We finally had the refuge in our sights and we were running out of sunlight, luckily we had the moon to guide us. We made it to the refuge at 5:30pm, 6 hours after setting off and skinning the last 300m with the sun setting behind us.

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Upon arrival to the winter room at the Albert Premier we realised we had the whole place to ourselves and the builders who had previously occupied it had gone away for the bank holiday weekend. We quickly found some pallets and smashed them up and had the fire going and some snow melting. There was a working gas cooker and electricity there. The radio was playing and we found some wine, it was cold and old though so it didn’t go down very well! When I found some oven chips in the freezer we turned on the electric oven and tripped the whole building! That was the end of that! Head torches were on now and we started on dinner. Pasta starter then some Chilli and mash potatoes that we borrowed from the builders’ fridge!

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Drying our snow soaked gear by the roaring fire.

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Chilli and Mash for supper, A fox wanted to come in and join us away from the howling winds outside.

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We woke at a very un-alpine time of 6:45am and after some coffee, beans and sausages we had our skis back on our feet and were heading up the Le Tour glacier heading for the table couloir. As we saw it we realised that it was un-ski able unless you had a rap or can jump 30feet on steep slopes.

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The refuge, Mont Buet and the Aiguille Rouge in the morning light.

Here you can see the Table Couloir and the rocks in the middle of the line.

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We then changed to our back up plan to climb the regular route on Aig. du Tour. Heading up the col I started to feel pretty bad, I had developed a bad cough and I was coughing up some nasty stuff, so we decided that it was not worth me suffering.

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Roughly the route we took until we turned around.

Turning around without really accomplishing anything was a bit annoying but it is the start of winter and it was still good to get over 2000m of climbing in the legs before winter.

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Alex making some of his first winter turns on some hard pack.

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Alex again in some nice snow.

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Just after descending the crusty snow, some of the hardest I have skied.

We descended across the lower slopes of the Chardonnet and then met up with the normal route on Col du Passon and followed it back to Le Tour. The snow was varied from hard wind blown snow, bullet hard ice, horrible crusty snow and the occasional bit of powder. It took us a while to find our way and then just when we thought we were home we lost sight of the path and headed into the trees looking for it. We spent just over an hour down climbing the dense trees and sliding about on snowy grass slopes until we finally found the path. Looking back up from the car park we could see where we went wrong and were gutted that we didn’t find it and save ourselves the mission.

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On the whole we had a fun couple of days of hard climbing and mixed skiing, a great start to the winter and good training.

Roughly our route for the two days.

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Thanks to Alex for putting up with me again in the mountains!

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Shit Route

Since I made my way 2/3rds of the way up the Rebuffat-Terray route last week with Tom Grant I have been keen to get in some more mixed routes before the snow starts to fall and stick, and the approaches get longer; The Aiguille du Midi closes in the first week of November.

I had heard that a couple of my friends Alex and Ally had climbed Vent du Dragon on the north face of the Cosmiques Arete and after Tom had also climbed it last week and said it was in good condition I thought that could be my next objective.

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Vent du Dragon follows roughly the red line.

On Tuesday I bumped in to James Clapham, a very strong climber who took my up my first Alpine climb, Aiguille du tour-Table couloir, over a year ago. He mentioned that he is heading for work in Scotland on Saturday and was keen to get on one last route before he leaves.

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Pitch 3 of Vent du Dragon, perfect 75′ gully, Taken the day before. Climbers unknown.

Meeting at the Midi at 8:15 there was a lot of climbers who already had their helmets on and looked ready to go, this was a good sign that they were going to rap of the bridge and head to the same route we were going for.

We tried to be quick out of the bin and down the tunnel but despite our speed there were at least 6 teams ready to rap. Vent du Dragon was out of the question!

Climbing for me is fun, I don’t want to get involved with 12 or so people trying to get on the same route then having ice and spindrift hailing from above for the whole climb!

As I was up the Midi the day before scouting routes and checking conditions I suggested the ‘Shit Route’. I had heard about it before and had a good idea of the route; Emily had climbed it last month. It gets its name because the top pitch of ice is made from the overflow of the toilets, or so I’m told!

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The ‘Shit Route’ is the obvious gully starting up from the red arrow and finishing on the hanging ice.

There was only one team on the platform when we went to rap down the route and they took their time so we started rapping down the route. There are 2 50m rappels to the bottom of the 100m mixed gully. James did have to climb back up 10m after the first rap as the rope became stuck in a crack.

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After James had built a belay and I had joined him we started the climb. With the steep icy granite walls all around you get a true north face atmosphere.

James started up the first mixed pitch with no real difficulties.

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I then came up second, this was some of the hardest mixed climbing that I had done but I felt safe on top rope and really enjoyed the climbing.

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Meeting again at the belay there was only one pitch left to climb.

The next pitch was slightly harder with some difficult moves near the top, finishing on 15m of 85’ water ice which had a distinct smell of toilet water and cleaning products.

As James was nearing the top of the Ice he knocked down what he thought was either frozen turf, or a frozen turd. Whatever it was it hit me on the knee and drew blood through my soft-shell trousers. James then finished the ice and was onto the metal platform and started setting up a belay for me to second.

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I was quick seconding the first 20m then I hit the steep mixed ground before the ice which I found much harder than the lower section. I had one new pick on my Quarks, Snell had only one in stock and after reading my last blog my Dad decided that I could use some new ones for my birthday, I wish they had 2 in stock! Before you got on to the hanging ice there was an awkward step over some large rock bulges and you had to get some high axe holds over the ice and then pull yourself up and over, it was daunting and hard but I made it over without falling just breaking a big sweat.

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I was now on the 85’ ice and my calves were burning, James wanted me to stop for a photo and I gave him one second before moving again, so I could get off my front points and rest my legs. I was up on the Cosmiques ridge and into the sun and I could relax.

We were 2 hours on the climb plus 30 mins for the 2 rappels down. We were chuffed that we had managed to climb something even after our first choice was a no go. Finishing at midday you could still see many teams on the Vent du Dragon and I was glad not to be stuck in the thick of it on hat route with all those climbers.

Thanks to James for the climb and some photos and my Dad for the new pick(s)!