Tignes Off Piste Jan 2004
Gogarth Climbing June 04
The Haute Route

Chamonix to Zermatt by the Classic Route
August 2001

Day Four: Valsorey Hut to the Chanrion Hut

The guide was to wake us at 4am (ugh) to allow the guardian a lie in. But as the guide was doing the Grand Combin, his alarm went off at 3:15am and so we were awake as well. Still we had hr to come too. We had finished breakfast (again no shortage of bread, jam and hot water in flasks for tea and coffee) and were eventually ready to leave by 5am.
Bill might be quick on the hill climbs, but mornings are not his strong point. "Someone's taken my boots." Sure enough they weren't on the rack. No-one staying there last night would have taken them. "But didn't you put them on a rock to dry in the sun?" Brilliant. They were cold, but they were found. We left and found the path. It was easy. There were reflectors pinned to the rocks and our head torches picked them out like on a motorway. It wasn't too long before we got to the snow. However, by the time we both had crampons on and were roped up, it was 5:45am.
I had to belay on the steep slope while I changed the filmSunrise over Mont Blanc I led off. I had a good picture of the route in my mind. Not only had we checked out the route ourselves, but we had studied a collection of photographs on a wall in the hut which had all the standard routes marked on. We had to do a sort of reverse question mark, bearing right as we reached the rock, then traversing rightward to, what we called the third gully.
For a lot of the route I could pick out the crampon marks, in the hard snow, of the pair in front of us. It was a rising traverse line and occasionally we could see the torches of the guide and his client climbing toward the Col du Meitin. At the end of the traverse we turned directly uphill. I started to side step upwards as the slope steepened, but Bill could still front point upwards. Dawn had come by now and we could see the hut below us, still quiet. But, we had to stop as we looked west where the dawn picked out Mont Blanc, alone as a pink summit. View back down the routePlateau du Couloir The film ran out in my camera and I had to set a belay on my ice-axe in order that I could take off my sack to find a new roll of film. I couldn't miss photos of this. It was a stunning sight.
Pressing on, we reached a point close to our first objective, the Plateau du Couloir. I was looking to the left where the slope looked ok, but Bill said we should go right. Across a horizontal traverse there was a series of steps leading out of sight upwards. Right it was then. As I moved off right the snow changed consistency to sugary stuff. It didn't feel too secure and I took extra care. Off to the right the slope disappeared downwards and the whole thing felt a bit insecure. I had to put Bill off videoing, I wanted his full attention on me in case I slipped. The traverse is only 15 or 20 metres but it did feel exposed. "It says it's exposed in the book" says Bill and I must say, I agreed. I belayed Bill across, when he could video to his heart's content. We walked up the few steps on to the Plateau and a new vista unfolded before us. We had taken about an hour and a half. Plateau du CouloirPlateau du Couloir bivvy hut There's a small tin bivvy hut on the rocks just above, but we didn't take the time to have a look at it. Our route lay straight ahead for a quarter of a mile before the slope descended steeply on the way over to the Col de Sonadon. To the left there was plenty of rock debris from the Grand Combin buttresses and we didn't want to hang around too long as our path lay across much of it. A rising line brought us to the Col, our second objective, and a small rocky area to cross. On the far side we could see much of the descent route down the Glacier du Mont Durand. We sat down for a while to have a second breakfast, it was about 8am. The Gde Tete de By and Tete Blanche were facing us on the right hand side of the glacier, but our route lay below. We had to find the way through two crevassed areas which we couldn't see at the moment. Col du SonadonBill sets of from the colDown towards the icefallBill leads above the lower icefall

In time the first became evident and I knew we had to move right to avoid the second, lower icefall. I moved right too early though and came to a snow bridge which, on close inspection Exit glacier left, note avalanche middle rightThe route winds from col centre, left above large icefall and down the glacier to the left I did not want to trust, especially with the size of drop below it. Our traverse lay only a few metres below and our pace increased as the track took an easy sweeping descent. Our attention was caught by a crashing sound and we were just in time to see some huge ice blocks falling from the roof of an ice cave in the lower icefall. Bill readied his video but no more fell. The way led down the right hand side ExitThe route of the Mont Durand glacier. Bill reckoned he could see the Chanrion Hut, but I couldn't. We still had a long way to go. Eventually we reached the moraine on the right hand side and picked up cairns leading down. A fast stream provided a drink, and it wasn't long before we reached a pleasant grassy knoll where we offloaded our sacks and rested for 40 minutes. The hut was straight ahead on the other side of the valley - downhill and uphill to finish, what a surprise. Bill set a cracking pace down and only 20 minutes later we had reached the bridge at the Grand Charmontaine. But Bill had to soak his feet in the river before going on. The Chanrion Hut was ExitThe route just above us now and along a good unlaid road a series of a dozen mountain bikers rode past. When researching the route, I thought the Chanrion Hut would be one of the most inaccessible parts of the route. I was wrong. A 4 wheel drive car was parked on the road, with the hut name on the doors. The driver was tending a herd of cows, through which we had to walk. I was quite happy when we got onto the track leading to the hut, an easy gradient to finish the day. However, Bill's strange - he's great on steep rocky uphill, but put him on an easy track like this and he cracks up. His legs start to complain. Anyway after about hr we got to the hut. This was a long day, about 10 or 11 hours - we'd come a long way. The view from the front of the The Chanrion HutThe route hut looked straight up the route we had come.
No matter how comfortable your boots are, it's always a relief to get them off, plus, the inners and the socks had to be dried out whilst the sun was warm. Our accommodation booking had been 'phoned through by the Valsorey guardian and on booking in Bill again treated us to a beer, (9SwFr). There was a small grassy hill to the side of the hut from which could have a good look at the view and rest. Bill stumbled though and his grip on his can slipped and it crashed to the ground in a puddle of froth. It was quickly retrieved, but most of the precious liquid erupted in a mini volcano and was gone. We had to share mine. The situation was superb. Nearby there were several small lakes and across the valley there Resting with a beer with the lower route behind were three long valleys stretching away at right angles to the one immediately below us. The Mont Durand glacier down which we had come, was the rightmost of the three and we sat tracing our path down it and taking pictures. It was surprisingly busy at the hut, although there was still plenty of room. About 50 people were staying that night and many it seemed had not arrived from a mountain route, as we had, but had come in on a trail from down the valley. Most people appeared to be just out for the walk.
A stream ran past the hut and we took the opportunity to have a wash before eating. Our evening meal was meat stew with pasta and green beans and a whippy thing for desert. Again, there was plentiful water from the fountain outside. The hut cost 98SwFr for the two of us.
As usual we turned in as the light went at about 8.30/9.00pm, We were wacked anyway and we were down for a six o'clock breakfast.


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David Mercer2001