Our first route of the season

Well, we’re now back down from our first route of the trip: Tour Ronde’s SE Ridge, a mixed climb graded PD. The glacier crossing to the Torino hut passed without incident, and the food at the hut was epic in both quantity and quality, so we were well-rested and psyched after breakfast at 4am the next morning. We crossed the glacier towards the foot of the ridge as alpenglow began to illuminate the mountains in orange and gold.

The first obstable on the route was a 150m snow/mixed gully, steep towards the top. We moved together and climbed it quickly, placing only one piece of gear near the top where it steepened and passed between friable rocks. I would give it a Scottish grade of I/II. Upon topping out on the ridge, we climbed the easy rocks and snowslopes to the summit, which was reached by a final rock pitch of maybe Grade I/II (Mod-Diff in the UK).

The summit (3,792m) was an amazing place, situated at the start of the Brenva Spur to Mont Maudit and in front of the entire Italian Face of Mont Blanc. The view was, quite simply, stunning to behold. We had climbed our route in just under 3 hours (guidebook time!) and were the only ones on the mountain until we were well back down the couloir. An achiement for our first route of the season!

The descent was slower and more precarious, as the sun had melted the couloir and began to release volleys of stonefall and wet-snow avalanches. We abseiled three pitches on fixed gear, which we augmented with our own tat when needed. After that it was a case of downclimbing wet, sugary slush past the bergschrund.

Upon reaching the hut we had an unpleasant surprise. The Helbronner cablecar was not running due to the wind. Thus, we had to quickly pack our things and reverse the Midi-Helbronner glacier crossing in the fierce midday sun. The central crevassed section was a bid nerve-wracking as the whole glacier was melting and slushy. I began to suffer from the altitude as we climbed back up to the Aiguille du Midi station–at over 3,800m, higher than our summit for the day!

All in all it was a knackering day, and I was literally at the last of my reserves when we climbed the final arete to the station. I was having trouble standing upright. The altitude hit me badly, even though I had been unaffected by it on the mountain. Today we’re having a rest.

The plan for tomorrow is (if we can book the COsmiques hut!) to climb the Left Edge on Mont Blanc du Tacul, an ice/mixed route at AD+: considerably harder than Tour Ronde. If we can’t book it, we’re thinking of doing Aiguille du Tacul, an easier but longer route from the Requin hut.

I’ll post again in a few days!

By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.

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