Chamonix 15th to 23rd July 2022

On the 15th of July 2022 Steve Murray and Dave Mannion left the incredibly sunny climes of North Yorkshire for the equally sunny heat of the French Alps. The idea to summit Mont Blanc had been delayed by the pandemic and this was our first opportunity to get together in Chamonix for a full week of Alpine mountaineering with that aim in mind.

We made an earlier than planned evening crossing from Dover to Calais with DFDS. An overnight drive on the fast toll roads in France, sharing the driving and relatively clear from traffic saw us arrive in Chamonix by 6am on Saturday morning. A sunny day was beginning. However, we settled into our accommodation in les Houches and had a few hours sleep before heading into Chamonix to collect our prepaid 5 day multipass ski-lift cards and then felt obliged to check out the guides information office, gear shops, hostelries and expensive-looking outdoor fashion walking around town.

Sunday morning and we headed uphill via the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi. Since COVID limitations were introduced a reservation for a time slot has become mandatory for this cable-car and for the Tramway du Mont Blanc. The ice arete to descend onto the Vallee Blanche was in a soft, slushy state of deterioration and it was obvious from the start that the summer heat, as noted from our planning, was perhaps even worse than anticipated. Even during visits in October of previous seasons the condition of the ice, snow and rock had been better than it was at this point in July 2022.

We intended to walk across the glacier to the Torino Hut and spend a night there to acclimatise. The route, although travelled was in a bad state of repair with crevasses open and soft, granular ice on the surface. At about the half-way point Steve fell through a snow-bridge but was immediately prevented from falling too far by his own actions, jamming his crampons into the crevasse wall behind him and shoulder into the wall in front and helped by the tight rope between us. In just a couple of minutes he had climbed out with some assistance from the rope and we were on our way again. The condition of the ice made it very difficult to pick a route through the crevasses and as time was slipping away we decided to return to the Cosmiques Hut for the night.

The Cosmiques Hut was quiet and there were very few people attempting to climb Mont Blanc via that route. The staff were great and we had a good meal, a restful night and after breakfast at a leisurely 7am we headed back to the Midi cable-car to descend. The ridges around the hut were very dry with loose rock so rockfall problems were a considerable threat with only a few climbers making apparently slow progress.

Acclimatisation complete, we considered that later in the week if the weather should moderate it may be possible to try for an alternative Alpine summit at either Gran Paradiso in Italy or La Luette from the Dix Hut in Switzerland.

Tuesday was a relatively relaxing day walking a route on the Aiguilles Rouges. We took the first cable car to the Index and the mountain path to the Planpraz lift via Lac Noirs and Lac Cornu. It was a very pleasant day out and with the heat of the day a refreshing swim in Lac Cornu was most welcome.

Wednesday was another early start with us heading uphill on the first lift at the Bellevue cable-car. We then took the Tramway du Mont Blanc up to the Nid d'Aigle station. This had been our itinerary for the original plan to summit Mont Blanc via the Gouter route. Our intention today, however, was to walk the route towards the Gouter hut only as far as the Forestiere des Rognes and then down again past the Nid d'Aigle hut to the Bellevue cable car. The reason for this walk was to see the degree of difficulty and familiarisation of the route in case of a future return to Mont Blanc, perhaps earlier in the year when the train may not be available.

The train and path were quite busy with walkers aiming to go to The Tete Rousse hut which was the limit of the route up towards the Gouter hut. The Grande Couloir, below the Gouter hut had suffered badly with the relentless heat and recent, continuous rockfall had led to the closure of the route for the time being.

The walk down to the Bellevue cable-car and return to the valley was complete by 2pm. We had intended, if time allowed, to take a look at some lower-grade climbing and moving together at Les Mottets but the weather closed in quite suddenly and thunderstorms forced an early retirement for the day.

Because the heat had been continuous throughout the week and no freezing at night time much below 4000m we decided to remain in Chamonix for the last few days and to concentrate our efforts on sport climbing. On Thursday we took the bus to Almscliffe-on Speed (real name Les Gaillands). A selection of bolted crags where we aimed for single-rope lower grade single and multi-pitch routes to build confidence and re-learn technique. We had an absolutely brilliant day with 7 routes completed and pitches up to 5c.

The heat was up again but no fear, plenty of shade and there was a cafe and ice cream shop within 50m of the crag. The bus stop was right next door too and when we finished for the day we very quickly found ourselves in Chamonix for a few quiet beers and a curry before making our way back to les Houches on the night bus.

Friday, our last day of activity. A multi pitch, bolted sport route at Les Cheserys was chosen. A drive to the east of Argentiere and a one hour walk-in, mostly on the Tour du Mont Blanc route brought us to the slabs section of the venue. Our chosen route was Voie Jaune, a 4c, 150m, 4 pitch climb, perfect to practice everything learned the day before.

The climbing and descent was complete by about 1pm. Perfect timing to have our lunch under the trees before driving down to the boulangerie at les Isles where we had called in earlier in the morning. Very nice coffee and cakes in the adjoining air-conditioned road-side cafe. A great way to finish off our final day in Chamonix.

Our return journey was very straight-forward. We set off at about 9am and were at home before midnight. DFDS did us proud again and allowed us to travel on an earlier ferry. The traffic conditions had been good and we arrived at the port ahead of our expected time. Travelling north in England was absolutely fine, unlike the road for those heading south to Dover on the first day of the school holidays.

For weeks before we set off to Chamonix the original plans were known to be in doubt as the high temperature throughout the year had been taking an unkind toll on the high altitude conditions. However, there was still so much to have a go at, even in the heat of the valley. The multi-day lift and bus pass was perfect since it allowed us to use most lifts and buses but it was worth noting that reservations were needed for the Aiguille du Midi lift and the Tramway du Mont Blanc.

We had an absolutely brilliant week and there's so much still to do! If Steve can get anyone to insure him maybe he'll be back to Chamonix again some time!

Dave M

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One Comment

  1. Brilliant week Dave and thanks again for your quick response in the Valle Blanche,
    I will return,a little earlier in the year next time !

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