I have only ever been to Chamonix twice before and neither visit was a dedicated climbing trip so I was looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about. Reading the guidebooks before I set off I was quite overwhelmed and excited by the amount of climbing there is. My partner and I had made some loose plans before leaving the UK as to which routes we fancied. Among many others we had our eyes on the Entreves Traverse and the Petite Charmoz traverse.
On our first day we decided it would be a good idea to see how quickly we were moving together so we headed up to Plan Praz to climb a Route called Cocher Cochon. This is a lovely 8 pitch route graded at 6a. Each pitch is very different and the climbing isn’t ever difficult. I landed both of the harder pitches which also meant I got the top pitch which is by far the best. It takes a bold slabby arete up to the summit of a granite spire which overlooks the whole of the Aiguille Rouge range.
After our day on the Brevant we decided to head over to the Italian side of Mont Blanc to have a bash at the Entreves Traverse. This meant a bus trip through the Mont Blanc tunnel, a trip up the Mont Blanc Skyway to Hellbronner and a night in the Torino hut. All of which was fine except for the hefty hammering our wallets took! The Torino hut is perched high above Courmeyeur and has some amazing views over the Italian Alps and the Mont Blanc range.
After restless nights sleep in the hut we were up and out at 4am to try and be the first on the ridge. On the approach you pass underneath the whole of the Entrèves ridge which from below looks really loose and uninviting; however once you are on the ridge the rock is really solid. We arrived at the base of the ridge at about 6.30am and after a quick bite to eat we geared up and got going. Most of the climbing is done by moving together placing small amounts of gear and use the rope as your protection. We were making really good time until about the half way point when my partner spoke up to say that he was really struggling with the altitude. So after a little break and a chat we decided that it was probably best that we reverse the route and head back to the start of the route. Sad as it was to make this decision we knew that it was the best choice.
Later on in our trip we headed back up to Plan Praz to climb a route called Hotel California. Hotel California is 10 pitches in total and weaves its way up and number of buttresses which are separated by large grassy terraces. These breaks in the route make them ideal places to bail if the weather makes a turn for the worse or if you are behind schedule and risk mssing your lift down. Whilst we didn’t bail from the route at any point we were a little behind schedule and had to run like billy-o so as not to miss the last lift back to Chamonix. Hotel California is a great little route and combining this with an early start and our previous route Cocher Cochern would make a superb long day out.
Our final outing for the trip was an attempt of the Petit Charmoz. Probably not the best choice of route for our last day as both me and my partner were a pretty shattered and were already thinking of home. We took the Midi lift to the half way station and made our way over to the Nantilons glacier which we had to negotiate in order to get to the Etala Chimneys at the start of the route. We got their fairly early in the morning but we were both put of the route by how wet the chimneys were and at the large volume of TV sized blocks that were flying down the glacier. So with our tail well and truly between our legs we headed back to town for some food and beer.
After a week of climbing in Chamonix I can safely say I will be back again next year.