I’m just back from a two week trip to Chamonix; the conditions were not particularly great with not much ice about, the ice that was around being mostly old black ice and powder snow covering all the rocks. However the weather was brilliant for the trip, if a bit cold.
I started off with the Forbes Arete on the Aig. Du Chardonnet; we set off with the intention of doing the North Face of the Aig d’Argentiere, but in our unacclimatised state were a bit slow – so went for the back up plan. The route was fun although the ridge section was buried under powder snow so the climb involved lots of traversing around obstacles on very hard black ice, I was very glad for my new picks on my Black Diamond Vipers. This trip I also decided to go fully leashless on my ice tools for the first time, instead of using the mix of leashed and leashless climbing I’ve done before. The outcome of this experiment is that I will not use ice axe leashes again! Everything is so much easier leashless.
The next climb was the North Face of the Tour Ronde, we intended to do one of the classic gully’s on Mount Blanc Du Taculs East face, but found nothing in condition there. The Tour Ronde North Face was a fun romp up 50-60° snow and ice, the view of the Brenva face of Mont Blanc from the summit was breathtaking.
After a couple of rest day we walked into the Argentiere hut, got an early start the next morning and climbed the North Face of Les Courtes. This is a route that has been high on my tick list for some years so it was brilliant to finally climb it. The climbing itself was fairly straight-forward with perhaps one section of Scottish iv on, however the face was quite icy so we ended up pitching a lot more of it than we expected.
The final route was the Largade Couloir Direct on the North Face of Les Droites; this is one of the best routes I have climbed in the alps! The first 300m was quite sustained Scottish V with constant spindrift avalanches to add an extra Scottish flavour to it. The first pitch was quite thin with a snow plug blocking the way at about 40m giving some slightly overhanging ice, but fortunately good rock gear to the side. We then soloed most of the upper 700m of the gully which was mostly 50-60° ice with a couple of sections of Scottish iv on. The descent was pretty hard work – I was hit by a large rock while abseiling which luckily wrote off my backpack instead of me. We arrived down in the valley after a night at the Refuge du Couvercle at 10 on Sunday morning just in time to catch the airport transfer to get home.