After a sustained period of amenable weather this Autumn there is finally a bit of rain and rest time to catch up on admin and stuff. A couple of weeks ago another great high pressure system threatened the Chamonix climbers with the dreaded FoMo (Fear of Missing out) if plans weren’t hatched to make the most of excellent mixed conditions. Valentine and I headed up to the Forche Bivouac with the Grand Pilier d’Angle in mind.
The Brenva glacier on the East face of Mont Blanc with the approach and line of the planned Cecchinel Nominè route marked.
(On most browsers you can Click any photo to enlarge)
Pausing before the snow climb up to the Forche Bivouac
Sometimes getting up to the Forche has been hard black ice all the way and even required a few pitches one time. At the moment it is an amenabe snow slope.
We had actually expected quite a busy hut given the good weather and conditions so we took sleeping bags and planned on carrying on to bivouac at Col Moore on the other side of the Brenva Glacier.
As it turned out there was no-one at the hut when we arrived, and only one lonely Scottish guy turned up later on… so we stayed in the hut!
Night view across to the Grand Pilier d’Angle face
We left the hut about 3.30am. After a couple of short raps down to the glacier we wandered across to Col Moore. Thankfully in the dark you can’t see what a bad place you are about to descend into. Rather than rappel directly we swung right and downclimbed all the way to the one of the many rimayes. We cut a stout little snow ice bollard and made a short rappel and managed to meander around the rest of the problematic terrain. We could just make out some menacing terrain ahead in all directions. Having looked at a lot of photos we knew well that this basin is threatened by several large serac bands much higher on the mountain. There was a lot of evidence of debris so we tried to get across to the far bank of the glacier as quickly as possible. In practice it required quite a bit of climbing in and around some lower seracs to find a passage across.
I took a long exposure photo at one point to try and see where we were in relation to the face and where we might get onto our route objective. Once we found the far bank of the glacier we managed to follow it up above the seracs and rimaye chaos to the foot of the routes. Unfortunately in the dark it is pretty tricky to work out which snow ice ramp you are below, especially as currently there is so much snow ice plastered on the face that it doesn’t resemble any topo I had found! What we found ourselves on at daybreak was, in retrospect not quite the right place.
Valentine on the lower slopes of the climb at daybreak, and sunrise.
I spent the time we were on most of the lower half of the face trying to make sense of where we were and looking for the characteristic corner pitch of the Cecchinel Nominè route. I was trying to match where we were to the topo photos all taken in much leaner conditions…
Snow… snow… snow… rock.. snow…
At this point a huge serac fall thundered down from the seracs across from us. It roared for nearly a minute and filled the whole glacial basin with powder smoke. It re-covered most of the low traverse of our tracks. An hour later the next serac adjacent collapsed also down the same line. Rather sobering. Not a great place to come right now I reckon.
After the goulotte and a bit of heading up and rightwards we ended up on the upper face and goulottes of the Boivin route which looked excellent, stretching up several pitches to the horizon.
Valentine leading up towards the Boivin Vallençant goulotte
Valentine had by this point somehow forgotten to eat or drink all day so got a bit spaced out for while and we slowed down a lot from here on and took it easy!
Thankfully there was no great rush as I knew the top section of the route from the GPA summit, and more importantly there was no bad weather imminent.
The ice was excellent quality, fairly easy going and easy to build good belays, so instead of moving together I ran out a few pitches, enjoying the big wild face, and took some photos.
The goulotte eventually narrows and then ends on the upper face at an easy angle, but with quite a lot of hard black ice to cross. By the time we hit the ridge it was quite late in the day!
Once you hit the ridge there is an awkward section traversing westwards along a couple of hundred metres of mixed ridge until you hit the summit of the Grand Pilier d’Angle and the snow arete to the Mont Blanc de Courmayeur summit.
Once we got to the summit we sat down for a brew and it became obvious that having not eaten sufficiently, Valentine was pretty destroyed. We ate the last of our food and pondered our situation. After several more brews of tea I set off to explore the locality and try and find somewhere suitable to bivouac. After about a half hours smashing away at an icy ledge I managed to make something that I tried to convince Valentine was the perfect comfy place to bed down for the night.
Thankfully she was too tired to notice how the outside half of the ledge was really just a pile icy blocks hanging over a precipice. Anyway you couldn’t see that much in the dark… there are certainly a lot worse bivouacs to be had anyway!
I made a bit more tea, took some photos of the outrageous view that the camera could see much better that the naked eye!
I had to massage my feet back up to temperature once I got into my bag, but actually slept well and we woke up just before dawn.
We packed our stuff up carefully…!
Valentine was much better after a nights rest. I was pretty keen to get up and over but wasn’t feeling great as I had given her most of the food the night before. The ridge up to the summit plateau is another 600 odd metres!
Just starting off, you can see the bivi spot near the centre of the image… prime real estate!
After a lot of this…
…we slowly inched our way to the summit. I was wracked with hunger and pretty dizzy by the summit. Thankfully on the way down we met a friend on his morning jog up Mont Blanc who gave us a bunch of dried fruit. We headed down the 3 Monts route and got the Aiguille du Midi lift back down to Chamonix. Valentine was in Brittany by that evening for a family wedding…!
Great little adventure, but can hardly recommend the approach journey as a life enhancing experience!