view south from aiguille d'argentiere
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Week Three: Chamonix Valley (again)

   It took most of the day to travel back to Chamonix. This time, we decided to stay within Swiss borders avoiding any unnecessary confrontations on the Italian border. We arrived back at the Les Chosalets campsite to find several of the friends I had been with the previous week still there. This proved a useful source of guides and maps for the valley and a change of company for the trip albeit only for a few days before the others returned home. It was late in the day and the forecast was looking good for the following day so we considered what to plan for. Iestyn and I decided to go up to the Midi in order to climb Mont Blanc du Tacul by a route on the north face and hastily rushed around getting ourselves ready for what would be a reasonably early start to catch the first cablecar from Chamonix.

   The telepherique station was already busting with climbers by the time we arrived soon after 6am. After a short wait we were whisked the 2800m up to the top station and prepared for the short walk across the glacier to the start of our route. It was still cold and we kitted ourselves up accordingly. By the time we had got to the bottom of the route we were surrounded by other like-minded parties. Our route, Left Edge (AD) was certainly popular that day. We roped up and followed in the footsteps of the preceding pair up the initial steep but easy snow slope. The climb continued pleasantly crossing several patches of more mixed ground before joining the ridge leading to the summit of the mountain. About half way up I found my left leg feeling decidedly wet. When I realised the cause of the problem, it was too late to resolve entirely. The nipple on the end of my Platypus tube had been pulled off causing my drink to leak out down my side. Although I could see the nipple in the snow below me, I was unable to communicate with Iestyn - who was in front - enough to backtrack the few metres to collect it. I drank as much as I could before turning the tube end up to prevent further leakage.
   The final ridge to the summit seemed to go on for hours. The scenery was amazing however and our slow pace (we were over 4000m high) gave us plenty of time to take it in. After the final few harder moves to the summit itself we were heading back down by the normal route up from the Col du Midi. The route back up from the glacier to the telepherique station seemed hard work and our pace slowed significantly. We were soon back up and once again whisked along by the cablecar on the return leg to the valley below.

   The following day saw more stormy weather so we spent the day in the valley doing very little. Some of our other friends who had been in Chamonix all along were leaving so we said our goodbyes. The following days however were forecast for good weather so we planned ahead. Dave and I considered going to climb the Dent du Geant and the Tour Ronde, bivouacking overnight in between while Iestyn and Colin chose to go and climb on the back of the Chamonix Aiguilles above the Envers hut. The following day, however, did not start as forecast so we delayed going up high again for another day.

   When the improved weather finally arrived, Dave and I caught the bus down to Chamonix heavily laden with climbing and bivouac gear. We caught the telepherique up to the Aiguille du Midi and then continued across the Vallee Blanche on the Gondola. We had considered walking across to our objectives from the Midi station but quickly realised that this would require significantly more effort and probably add another day to our visit up high. We stepped out on the Italian side and deposited our bivouac equipment near the station at Helbronner. Our day then commenced with a short glacier walk to the start of the normal route up the Dent du Geant.

   The route initially climbed a couloir to a col before continuing right up mixed ground to the Salle a Manger. We deposited much of our gear here and headed off equipped only with rock climbing equipment. The rock route initially traversed left to lead up a gully to the foot of the Burgener Slabs where fixed ropes led to the summit (although we climbed the route free as much as was practicably possible). The impressive Burgener Slabs continued for several pitches before a final pitch or two to the twin-summited peak. The normal route finishes on the lower of the summits first and we continued across to the true top before retreating to the lower for an abseil descent. Again, views were impressive and our vantage point gave a new perspective on the surroundings. Moving between the summits proved a logistical challenge due to the multitude of parties present. At one point, a pleasant young Austrian pair untied from their rope to ease the situation.

   We collected the rest of our belongings and continued descending, returning to the telepherique station as it got dark soon after 9pm. We set about bivouacking beside one of the entrances and settled down for a fairly cold night at over 3400m.

   We awoke the in the morning and quickly packed away before being trampled over by the early morning passengers on the telepherique. After lounging around for a while, and looking through the powerful binoculars on top of the station, we prepared to walk round to the Tour Ronde. Again we deposited our bivouac gear nearby and started off around the glacier to the start of our climb. Like the Dent du Geant, we had chosen the Normal Route for our ascent which started out as a mixed ridge. There was a lot of loose rock which brought back

memories of our escapade on the Tsa the previous week. This time, however, the brittleness was not as sustained and once the initial section of the ridge was over, a pleasant but slightly tiring snow slope led to the summit rocks. On ascending to the top, the panoramic views were once again incredibly impressive. Mont Blanc could be seen to the south with the Chamonix Aiguilles visible across the Vallee Blanche. Looking down towards the Mer de Glace, the Aiguilles Vertes group stood proudly above while the Grandes Jorasses with the Dent du Geant in the foreground could be seen further to the east. After a brief stop, we returned down the summit snow slopes before descending left down a snow couloir back to the glacier. Retreat back to Point Helbronner followed our morning approach line. The return leg on the Gondola afforded yet more

splendid views of the surrounding peaks, including Mont Blanc du Tacul and the route climbed earlier in the week. A brief delay at the Midi station allowed the chance to take in the impressive sight of Chamonix and the valley nearly 3000m directly below and then, 20 minutes later, we were back down there.

   We arrived back at the campsite to find the car not there. We were not expecting Iestyn and Colin to be down until the following day and immediately our suspicions were raised. Upon looking in the tents, it was evident that they had come down sooner than planned. It later emerged that they had had an accident on their first route during which Colin injured his ankle. This forced a retreat to the valley sooner than they had planned.

   The weather for the rest of the week was still looking good so the following day Iestyn and I walked up into the Aiguille Rouges to do some climbing. We initially planned simply to go to the Aiguillette d'Argentiere to do some or all of the bolted routes on it. We got there in around an hour and half and quickly rattled through the four easier of the routes there, up to around VS. Iestyn suggested that we continue to Lac Blanc and then over to the Index - one of the more famous rock climbs in the area. Its popularity results from a close proximity to the Flegere chairlift from the valley, together with its quality rock providing continuous climbing at a relatively easy grade. We reached the Index late in the day at around 4:30pm and, after taking some time to identify where it was (without the guide), started our ascent. I had spoken to some people who had climbed it a few weeks earlier and it had taken them several hours to complete, being delayed by other parties on the route. With us arriving so late in the day, however, congestion was not a problem - there were no other climbers on the route - and we decided to move together on a 50m rope clipping the occasional peg as we went. This enabled us to make an ascent in less than 40 minutes, only needing to change lead once! We abseiled down from the fixed chains and made a rapid descent back to the campsite. Our total ascent for the day was probably in excess of 3000m, and we descended over 2500m at the end in less than an hour and a half!

   The week concluded with a move to Annecy. Our time in the Alps had come to an end for this trip. Colin was returning home and was dropped off at Geneva airport a few days later. In exchange, Iestyn's girlfriend joined us as we prepared to move south.

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