I can’t quite remember when it last snowed in Chamonix, but it’s been a while. At least two weeks. Probably closer to three. This has left a lot of ski lines in pretty so-so conditions, particularly in the high mountains where some strong winds have stripped the snow off many faces. As a result I’ve been a little unmotivated to put in long days on skis. Though I enjoy searching around for good snow and there’s some decent spring skiing to be had, I thought I might have more fun dusting off the ice tools and getting some climbing in…
First up was Ravanel-Frendo, a snow and ice line on the Grands Montets north ridge. With its easy access and moderate length, the route is comfortably do-able in a day from first lift. Somehow Hana and I managed to well and truly use up the whole day, only getting back down to Argentiere just before midnight. Nevertheless, we had a great time climbing some good ice and mixed.
Hana flying up some of the easy terrain lower down, the Aiguille du Chardonnet in the background.
Hana climbing the first proper pitch of the route. On reaching this pitch we met two other guided teams who had used a quicker variation start. To try and keep things smooth, we agreed to climb slightly different lines. The team on the far left are taking the normal route (80 degrees for 10m) with the guide in the middle taking a slightly narrower M4 variation. We decided to head up a thin groove on the far right. This turned out to be a fair bit trickier and burnt a lot of time. Whilst the climbing was never that hard (M5?), it was sustained and often tenuous, making for some slow and careful climbing. Great fun though.
Myself belaying at the top of the next pitch. Again we took a slight variation, this time to the left of the main line. Good climbing with 10m at about 80 degrees and brief vertical mixed section just before the belay.
A further short mixed pitch (steep but with good hooks) took us to the top of the difficulties. With the hard stuff over, most parties abb off at this point. However, tempted by promises of amazing views of the Verte’s Nant Blanc face and the north face of the Dru, we decided to continue a further 200m to the top of the ridge.
Hana still feeling pretty spritely, with Chamonix in the background, nearly 3000m below.
Me feeling pretty fucked.
Sadly the views aren’t quite as good as they’re hyped up to be. Nevertheless, it was cool to reach the top. Less cool was the fact that the sun had just set and we had 650m of rappels ahead of us. Despite the popularity of the route, the rap points aren’t always of great quality – we added extra tat to a couple that looked particularly dubious. Some of them are also a bit of a pain to find, so keep an eye out on the ascent.
Getting creative whilst descending to a belay placed about 65m below the one above. Ideal if you’ve got two 70s, less ideal if not.
Ultimately we got back to our skis just before 11pm. Later than planned, but as consolation we got to rip Pierre à Ric on fresh, soft corduroy. Probably the best piste skiing I’ve had all season!
After a day’s recovery, next up was Pépite, a new, relatively easy 5 pitch goulotte just one minute’s ski from the Grands Montets top lift. With the weather being a bit iffy, Joel and I thought this would be a fun half day hit which we could easily bail from if the weather took a turn for the worse. The route is currently in dry conditions, making it a solid grade higher than guidebook (M5 for the crux, very little ice), but is still perfectly climbable and offers some great mixed on the second and third pitches. However, in these conditions watch out for teams ahead of you dislodging rock from the very loose top pitch; Joel was nearly wiped out by a printer-sized lump sent down by the team above.
Joel making his way up the second pitch (about M4 conditions at the moment). [Photo: Joel Evans]
Waiting for the team ahead at the base of the crux third pitch.
Looking down from higher up the pitch. In good conditions, you should be able to march up a ribbon of ice here.
As we approached the top the weather came in quickly. Fortunately it’s just a 15 minute walk down the Petite Verte to the base of the route and your skis. Once back at your skis you’re just a couple of hundred metres away from the piste, which leads you all the way back to Argentière.
To finish off my week of climbing, I headed up the Midi with Pat to the climb the classic Modica-Noury.
Modica-Noury takes the obvious snow slope in the centre then the right ice branch for 4 pitches of quality climbing. The route was in good condition, though the passage of many climbers before us meant it was a bit unsporting in places, with plenty of hooks and steps on the crux pitches. Still, really fun and a brilliant stress-free day out.
Pat tops out of the second pitch, a great 55m pitch of sustained ice climbing that gets progressively steeper and finishes with a 5m vertical sequence.
Myself heading up the third pitch. [Photo: Pat Brownlie]
Messing about on the third pitch. Might be making it a bit trickier than it need be. [Photo: Pat Brownlie]
Myself climbing up the final crux pitch. In proper condition this is meant to go at 5+ but is far easier than this at the moment. [Photo: Pat Brownlie]
Rapping back down the route. On the left is the Gabarrou-Albinoni, a slightly easier line of similar length to Modica-Noury.
Near the bottom of the rappels. The left bank of the gully looks like it could offer some great rock climbing in summer. Shame the loose rock in the gully makes accessing it sketchy.
On reaching the bottom we came across this stash of skis and bags at the base of Pinocchio, our plan B in case Modica-Noury was busy. Glad we stuck with plan A!