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Alpine climbing in the Massif du Mont Blanc

In September 2014, I was lucky enough to enjoy two weeks of fabulous weather and the company of some great friends as we made a return to alpine climbing in the Massif du Mont Blanc. In recent years, I have been going to the Alps more in the winter for ski mountaineering and some easier summits, so going back to what we know best, summer alpinism, was a real treat.

The weather through June, July and August in the Alps had been very poor, so I was a little uncertain about the conditions we would encounter. As it turned out, things were great, the weather fairly stable, and most of the crowds of August having long since departed.

From our base in Argentiere in the Chamonix Valley, we essentially made three climbs (nearly...) ~ the beautiful, snowy Aiguille d'Argentiere by the Fleche Rousse, the Rochefort Arete (not quite the full traverse), and the traverse of Les Courtes......

 

The Aiguille d'Argentiere via the Fleche Rousse (the Red Arrow)

Aiguille d'Argentiere, Massif du Mont BlancEvening light over the beautiful Aiguille d'Argentiere

 

 

Alpage, Chamonix Valley

Above and below ~ Alpage, Croix de Lognan, Chamonix Valley, en route to the Refuge d'Argentiere

Alpage, Chamonix Valley

 

 

Cascades d'Argentiere

 Cascades d'Argentiere, Chamonix Valley

 

Glacier d'Argentiere

Seracs on the Glacier d'Argentiere

 

evening light over the Aiguille Verte

 Evening light over the Aiguille Verte, Chamonix

 

After a night at the Refuge d'Argentiere..... and an alpine start at 3am....

Daybreak on the Glacier des Amethystes

Daybreak saw us on the Glacier des Amethystes

 

Aiguille d'Argentiere via the Fleche Rousse

 Crossing over into Switzerland ~ moving off the main ridge onto the North East Face

 

Looking down onto the Glacier de Saleina, Swiss AlpsLooking down onto the Glacier de Saleina, Swiss Alps

 

dawn over the Valais, Swiss Alpsdawn over the Valais, with the Weisshorn and Dent Blanche, Swiss Alps

 

dawn over the Valais, clouds over the Matternhorn

clouds forming over the Matterhorn (centre)

 

sunrise over the Grandes Jorasses and Les Courtessunrise over the Grandes Jorasses and Les Courtes

 

Fleche Rousse, Aiguille d'ArgentiereHigh up on the Fleche Rousse, traversing the golden Chamonix granite

 

Le Tour Noir, ChamonixLe Tour Noir

 

 

Argentiere 522

                                                                                                                             image courtesy of Steve Gibbs

Above and below ~ approaching the summit of the Aiguille d'Argentiere

Approaching the summit of the Aiguille d'Argentiere

 

After a short rest on the summit, we began the long descent down the easy Glacier de Milieu....

Glacier de Milieu, Massif du Mont Blanc........descending the wonderfully chaotic Glacier de Milieu

 

the wild and beautiful Glacier de Milieu, Massif du Mont Blancthe wild and beautiful Glacier de Milieu, Massif du Mont Blanc ~ one of my favourite images from 2014

 

As the weather was so gorgeous, and as the lift down from the Lognan to Argentiere had closed for the end of the season, we weren't in a rush to get down to the Valley. We chose to head back for a second night at the Refuge d'Argentiere which was also closed, though the winter room was open. We enjoyed an amazing dark night, filled with space and stars.... and total and complete silence.

The next day, descending the Glacier d'Argentiere...

On the Glacier d'Argentiere

 

 

The Rochefort Arete

The Rochefort Arete is the frontier ridge dividing France and Italy between the Dent du Geant and the Dome de Rochefort. Hugely photogenic, the Arete soars and weaves it way with huge cornices forming on either side. Our plan was to take the cablecar to the Aiguille du Midi, tarverse the Vallee Blanche, bivouac near the Helbronner, then make the traverse the next day....

 

The iconic and hugely photogenic Rochefort Arete, Massif du Mont Blanc

 

Traversing the Vallee Blanchetraversing across the Vallee Blanche, Chamonix

 

 Evening light ~ the view down towards the Mer de Glaceevening light over the Seracs du Geant and the Mer de Glace

 

Sunset on the Dent du Geant ~ our route the next morning would ascend these slopes to the base of the pinnacle where the Rochefort Arete starts

evening light on the Dent du Geant, Mont Blanc massif

 

 

evening mist in front of Mont Blanc du Tacul

 above and below ~ Mont Blanc du Taculmist clearing Mont Blanc du Tacul

 

 our bivouac site ~ out of the wind, but still minus six when we got moving the next morningbivouac on the Vallee Blanche, Mont Blanc massif

Image courtesy of Steve Gibbs

 

The Aiguille du Midi (left) and the Aiguille du Plan (right), showing clearly the beautiful line of the Midi - Plan traverse

Aiguille du Midi to the Aiguille du Plan traverse

 

 

approaching the Arete de RochefortAbove and below ~ ascending the slopes below the Dent du Geant

approaching the Rochefort Arete

 

Looking across to Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc from the Rochefort Arete

 

 

below the Rochefort AreteAbove and below ~ the views down into Italy (Courmayeur and the Val d'Aosta)

looking south into the Val d'Aosta

 

The stupendous line of the Rochefort Arete

The stupendous line of the Rochefort Arete

 

The Rochefort Arete

Above and below ~ a party just finishing the traverse of the Rochefort Arete

The Rochefort Arete, Mont Blanc massif

 

 

Traverse of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif

Les Courtes is a beautiful snowy peak nearly 4000 metres high situated between the Argentiere Glacier and the Talefre Glacier. Some years ago I had climbed the Austrian Route on the North Face seen in the photo below, and our objective for our climb in September 2014 was to approach from the South side and traverse the whole mountain (in the photo below traversing the summit ridge from right to left)

Les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif

 

Ascending the ladders which take us from the Mer de Glace, up the Egralets Cliffs and to the Couvercle Hut, where we would spend the night

approach to the Couvercle Hut ~ the ladders up the Egralets Cliffs

 

From the Couvercle Hut, evening light falls on the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses

evening light on the North Face of Les Grandes Jorasses

 

Telephoto of the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses

Grandes Jorasses North Face

 

After a long approach along the moraines of the Talefre Glacier, and some difficult route finding through some seracs to find the start of the route, we got established on the south west slope of Les Courtes (next three images).....

Travese of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif

Traverse of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc Massif

Traverse of Les Courtes, Massif du Mont Blanc

 

We were privileged to see an amazing sunrise over Mont Blanc and the Grands Jorasses, a sunrise which changed in hue several times...

Mont Blanc sunrise

Mont Blanc sunrise

Mont Blanc sunrise

Mont Blanc sunrise

Mont Blanc sunrise

sunrise over Les Grandes Jorasses

sunrise over Les Grandes Jorasses

dawn breaks over Les Grandes Jorasses and Mont Blanc

 

We reached the summit ridge just East of le Tour des Courtes and climbed the easy snow slopes to the summit (Les Droites behind)....

summit ridge of Les Courtes, Les Droites behind, Mont Blanc massif

 

Summit cornice of Les Courtes

summit cornice of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif

summit of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif                                                                                            photo courtesy of Mark Lowe

 

Looking south across to the Col du Triolet and the Pointe Isabelle

Aiguille du Triolet from Les Courtes, Mont Blanc

 

Continuing the traverse over tricky mixed ground near the Aiguille Chenavier...

Traverse of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc

 

and descending beneath the Aiguille Qui-Remue...

Traverse of les Courtes, Mont Blanc massif

 

 

A few images from around the Chamonix Valley

Whilst relaxing in the Chamonix Valley between climbs, I had lots of opportunities for out and out landscape photography. The mountains on both sides of the Valley are so photogenic that it is difficult to go wrong, and late September 2014 gave me some changing light in variable weather. Here are just a few of my favourites....

 

Aiguilles de Chamonix, just after an intense September storm

Aiguilles de Chamonix

 

Evening light over the Aiguille du Chardonnet

Aiguille du Chardonnet

 

Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Glacier d'Argentiere

Aiguille du Chardonnet, Massif du Mont Blanc