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 ¾ 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 ¾ 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
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
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
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.