Aiguille du Tour 3542m

Wet again. This summer we have seen our fair share of bad weather. I try to make the most of every sunny day but this week we only had one good day and that was spent up Aiguille du Tour. Sam and I had spent all of Wednesday in the Perroux bivi waiting for a break in the clouds to climb a mixed route on the Tacul. After a few hours playing cards and having a little kip it never came, we went back to town to watch some Jazz aiming to get on something the next day as the weather was set to improve. He went rock climbing and I had a nice 8am wake up and a bus ride up Le Tour. I`ve had the idea of alpine running since watching Killians Summits of my life. Not being a keen runner or fit enough to tackle something big I set my eyes on Aig. du Tour. If you get the Le Tour chairlift up you only have 1350m of vertical to gain the summit. This ground consists of smooth alpine trails that lead to just above the Albert 1er refuge then there is over 700m of snow plod and a small rock scramble to reach the top.

Running with big boots, crampons and trousers in my bag it added a bit of weight but changing at the snow line meant I had an empty pack for the second leg. The snow was firm even at 10am and I tried to cover ground quickly stopping on occaison to catch my breath. I made the summit by midday after 3 hours. This wasn`t the fastest time I am sure but it was a good starting point. After a quick bite to eat I set off on the descent leaving my crampons in my bag so I could move quickly. Changing back to trainers again at the hut I ran back to the chair in 1 hour 20minutes from the summit, giving a total time of 4h 20m with 1350m+ ascent and roughly 14KM distance.

I would like to thank Latitude60s for providing me with some high quality Merino apparel. I have used their baselayers, boxers and beanie on several climbs in the past few weeks. Ranging from a 2 day climb on the Fredo Spur where temperatures went from high 20`s in the day to around 0 in the night. Long runs like Aiguille du tour and the VKM and also just day to day activities. I have had trouble in the past finding a base layer that works well and doesnt smell after the day is out.  The 100% New Zealand Merino feels great and works really well at keeping you cool when you need it and getting rid of any moisture. Not washing the garments for several days also gave me the opportunity to see if they start to smell and I was surprised by the outcome. Normally wearing a helly hansen synthetic layer I would stink beyond belief after a big day up the hill and I found that the merino only had a hint after 5/6 days of warm weather activities. These garments will be great on expedition in Krygyzstan, where there is no washing machine! Latitude60s products are 100% New Zealand Merino wool and 100% New Zealand made.

Check out their great products at Latitude60s.com

Migot Spur, Aiguille du Chardonnet 3824m

Aiguille du Chardonnet is one of the most aesthetically pleasing peaks in the Mont Blanc range. It is also one that neither Nick nor I had set foot on. There are many routes up its north face with the Migot Spur being the most classic option. This is what I had my eyes set on. We arrived at Le Tour about 15:30 on friday afternoon and as I set off on the cable car Nick started the grueling 3 hour trek straight up to the Albert 1er refuge. I took the rope as I only had about 500m vertical and just over a hour of walking in front of me. When we arrived at the refuge it was clear that the builders who are working on the new summer refuge didn’t want climbers waking them up at 3am so after some food we set off onto the cloudy glacier to find a bivi spot closer to the start of the route. We found a small outcrop of rocks about 45 mins walk from the refuge and set up camp there. Awaking at 3am to clouds we had a little doze until I shot up at 4am with stars lighting up the sky. Shaking Nick up we had a quick coffee and we on our way at 4:30am.

We arrived at the Bergschrund just before 6am and this gave us 6 hours before the storm was forecast to roll in. We had to get a move on. The initial mixed ground was easy to cover and we made fast work of the first snow arete. Hitting some deep slushy snow before the steeper mixed ground this did take its toll on Nick and added some more time on the accent. We took the left hand route below the serac as there was a nice streak of ice. This was a relief after the soft snow and we had no problems flying up the 70/80′ ice gully. A brief period was spend climbing under the serac but it was still cold and didn’t have much sun hitting it so we avoided any potential problems. We had made the upper snow field before 9am so we were on target for a 10am summit. This last snow slope seemed to go on forever. I led it with fast 10m bursts followed by a few minutes of heavy breathing and swearing. We were so close. The wind was picking up and the clouds coming in so we dug deep and continued on to the summit ridge. A few meters of rock and we were there. Another great summit to add to the list.

 

We spent a few minutes celebrating on the summit before making a speedy scramble along the highly exposed ridge in gale force winds to find the decent route. I came across a couloir with foot steps in and went for it. Quickly finding some tat we started rappelling. We ended up not on the right descent route but going down a climbing route. After 6 30m abseils on some dodgy gear, one piton I pulled out before hammering it back in solid, we could see the normal descent route. To get to it involved crossing a 10m wide icy couloir and by this point it was blowing a gale and snowing quite heavily. We wanted to get down. Nick led across on belay and then I seconded. It felt like winter with the blizzard and it made finding the cairns tricky. A 20 second window allowed me to spot the next ab station and I went for it. Communicating with Nick at this point was hopeless. He could not see me and I could barely hear myself let alone him over 30meters away. With a few big tugs on the rope he came down to me and we could make the last 4 30m raps. With the gale still blowing the sun came back out and we finally made it on to the glacier. There were 2 more 30m raps to get over the schrund and we then ran down to our bivi to get out of the wind and rest for ten minutes.

Packing up our gear we had just over one hour to get to the Le Tour mid station to make our descent easier. Nick took the heavy wet rope for the first half then I had it to the lift. My feet were in agony from the 2000m descent and I was happy to get on the lift, Nick was also as he had no lift pass but the Lifty saw the exhausted look on his face and let him on for free. We had been on the go for over 12 hours and climbing for 10. We wanted nothing more than a feast as we had only had coffee and a couple of chocolate bars all day. Straight to the shops for pizza and milkshakes. What a day, it was so close to becoming an epic but with the correct decision making we made it down safely. This was my second time climbing with Nick and I think we make a good team. I hope to get back into the mountains with him soon.

Here is a quick video I made of the route.

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!