Chamonix & Alpine Climbing Reports Autumn 2015
17 November 2015, Dome de Miage North Face & Aiguille de Bionnassay Traverse
The Indian summer continues across the Northern Alps with dry, sunny & relatively mild weather giving stable conditions for many teams to enjoy high alpine autumn mountaineering. Our 3 day expedition took advantage of these conditions to enjoy an aesthetic and satisfying long alpine horseshoe linking the Mettrier Spur with the Dome de Miage and traverse of the Aiguille de Bionnassay to finally descend via the Gouter route on Mont Blanc.
We climbed the Mettrier spur (AD) on the Miage North Face from the Refuge Plan Glacier and various other teams climbed the snowier North Face itself just to our left. The Mettrier was accessed by the long snowy couloir leading from the Plan Glacier for nearly 500m. Starting with some pleasant & easy mixed climbing and leading up to a little col on the spur itself at 3000m. The terrain above that was never very technical but provides a series of sustained snow slopes and easy mixed ground. The North Face joins from the left for the very final short snow field and crossing of an easy cornice.
Both routes top out near the Eastern summit of the Dome de Miage (3673m) which can be traversed to access the Durier Hut at the Col de Miage. Whilst some teams then descend the West Face of the Col & back down to the valley we spent an enjoyable if chilly night at the refuge in preparation for the traverse of the Aiguille de Bionnassay next morning.
The November alpinist has less day light to play with, but also less of a time pressure from the sun melting the snow. We left the hut just after dawn and made our way steadily up the easy southerly slopes of the Bionnassay. The autumn climate contrast was frequently changing. In the sun and out of the wind felt very warm and in the shade and in the wind very cold!
The easy initial slopes lead in to a superb snow crest, exposed, but only light training for what's to come later on in the traverse! Once the main summit rock bastion is reached the climbing becomes more technical and presented a series of enjoyable short pitches crossing booming crampon scratched flakes. The long period of dry weather meant there was little snow except in the most sheltered shady sections.
Steep & sustained snow slopes lead up from the Bastion to the impressively exposed summit and it's very narrow snow ridge leading off and down to the North East. The airy traverse of this requires good snow conditions and steady cramponing! Fortunately we had both and made good progress until the much easier final slopes of the Dome du Gouter caught up with our acclimatisation schedules!
Magnificent summit views were enjoyed before scuttling rapidly down the Mont Blanc normal route for a brew at the Gouter Hut winter room. Whilst there was a good track on the normal route we did not see another person on the mountain. A fairly unusual experience for Mont Blanc! The descent of the Gouter Ridge was fine albeit getting fairly icy in the absence of any fresh snow for the last 3 weeks or so. It was certainly worth keeping crampons on for the snowy & exposed descent of the path leading down from the Tete Rousse Hut.
The final descent on dusky paths was given the magic touch by the third magnificent red November sunset of the trip. We carried on down in to the inky dark of the Bionnassay Valley and despite the tough 3 days in the mountains, still had a spring in our step inspired from the satisfaction of a tough 3 day autumnal expedition in the high mountains.
11 November 2015, Gran Paradiso
Our dates were locked in and corresponded with the worst weather in about a 3 week period and thus the combination of a bad forecast and mid week day in November meant the whole of the Valsavarenche was comically quiet, never mind the Gran Paradiso itself. We were the only team on the mountain and thus had the pleasure of a fantastic remote atmosphere as we climbed the snowy switchback from Pont up to the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuelle. The Larch trees were golden orange and we saw many chamois, ibex and a fox as we climbed, but no other climbers. A great evening atmosphere and we finally made it to the hut in somewhat deeper snow well after dark. A pleasant evening was spent in the winter 'stables' accommodation with a hearty fire and optimistic weather watching from the door. By bed time the snow was turning to clearings and a few stars were visible. By the 0430 alarm call we were greeted by a fantastic moonlit and star spangled night and were encouraged to have a swift breakfast just to be out enjoying the night views across to nearby Ciaforon & Becca di Monciar.
The snow was deeper now and there is clearly a lot more at this altitude than on the North side of the Mont Blanc Range. We broke trail and found an old blown in track in places. The going was enjoyable but slow and especially for our guest Robert who had tooth ache from a recent dental operation! This combined with an early flight and slow going meant an early bath was taken and we descended from below the glacier section of the ascent.
Whilst descending from the hut we met a fast team of skiers climbing the path with skis on pack. We guessed they were heading for the summit as there was not much point in carrying your skis to the hut for the light snow over rocks on that section!
In Chamonix, all the lifts are now closed except the Brevent lift which closes on the 6th November when the Montenvers railway will be open again. Tim climbed the Carrington Rouse mixed route above the Plan de l'Aiguille a few days in far less than perfect conditions!
The great weather looks set to continue well until next week, so hopefully we will have more news of some good autumnal ascents soon. Bon Weekend & good climbing.
27 October 2015, Mönch Nollen Spur & Chamonix Round Up
News from a strong visiting British team who climbed the impressively exposed 'Nollen Spur' on the Mönch, a couple of weeks ago now. They reported easy conditions for the ice pitch on the nose itself with a route on the left well protected by ice screws. The rest of the route whilst technically very straightforward felt exposed and quite serious as the fresh snow was not particularly well consolidated and left few opportunities for belays. Happily there was a track in place! The team traversed the summit and descended the SE Ridge via a spectacular snow crest at the top.
In the Mont Blanc Massif there have been some good mixed autumnal outings on the usual suspects like Chere, Cosmiques, Vent du Dragon etc. as well as some thinner more ephemeral ice lines being climbed on the Triangle du Tacul. All making use of the mix of autumnal good weather, fresh snow falls and the high lifts of Midi & Hellbroner remaining open until November 2nd. After that they will both be closed until December whilst the Montenvers railway is closed next week and the Brevent will be open.
Away from the open lifts and high in the Argentiere basin conditions look quite snowy with some ice on the faces too and we heard 2nd hand reports of a an ascent of the Colton Brooks, Les Droites North Face.
10 October 2015, Autumn Ascent Of Mont Blanc
We set off from Bellevue at 0730 in the cool post dawn chill of a fine autumnal morning in the Mont Blanc Massif. As we were not sure if any other teams were up the mountain, we were prepared for some trail breaking up high as all huts & lifts were closed and there was an autumnal tranquillity to the mountain. We were thus not disappointed to come across a track in the snow on the way up to the Tete Rousse Hut and the going was good from there with a swift and simple crossing of a quiet Grand Couloir and pleasant ascent to Gouter.
As the hour was not too late, we had a quick tea & cake pit stop at the Gouter Hut winter room and kept going up the mountain. At the shoulder on the Dome du Gouter we caught the large Polish team who had been trail breaking. They were a friendly bunch but were heading for the Vallot Hut and above that the track seemed to stop. Infact only a single set of tracks were in place, from a fast French climber who had climbed from the Parking above Bionnassay and back down in the day. Good effort!
As the afternoon clouds built up an autumnal chill developed in to a cold & cloudy afternoon and we donned more clothing at the Vallot Hut. Happily, as we gained height and the afternoon turned into the evening, the clouds dispersed just in time to reveal a stunning pre dusk alpenglow. Whilst the 3000m of ascent from Bellevue were starting to be felt, our spirits were lifted by the glowing orange snow warmly lit by the sunset. The last few steps along the summit ridge were an alpine experience to remember.
We took some photos of Paul's Cancer Research UK banner and scuttled back down the Bosses Arete. With only a sliver of moon, the night arrived quickly and head torches were needed before the Vallot Hut. The air temperature plummeted but with no wind and a fine track the descent was pleasant and steady and we were back at the Gouter Hut for rehydrated chicken curry at 2130.
The descent of the Gouter Ridge this morning was very pleasant and swift with cool & snowy conditions and a well re-frozen track meaning it only took 1hr between Gouter & Tete Rousse Huts. The Grand Couloir was silent and there was an easy crossing in the snowy track. Numerous teams were making their way up the mountain this morning so, if the weather remains good, the track will become well established.
The descent back down to the valley was superbly lit by warm autumnal rays of sun & whilst the towns of Chamonix & St.Gervais were cloaked in cool shade by low lying cloud, those higher in the hills were treated to the sun & golden autumnal colours.
8 October 2015, Aiguilles Marbrees & Col du Geant
The storm has transferred the mountains into a pristine snowy state and it was great to break trail in shallow powder snow across the Col du Geant. It wasn't too much effort to make the track round to the Col Rochfort despite the open crevasses and fresh snow. Stunning light & views of Monte Bianco south face. The traverse of the Marbrees was in good snowy condition and it was enjoyable to break trail across the whole of the ridge, although there were some existing fox tracks in place!
We made the abseil descent on to the glacier via the fixed anchors on the West Face above the descent gully. The bergschrund is pretty easy to cross this year but the snow volume is low so we used the 2nd set of anchors on the left bank of the gully to abseil further down on to the glacier.
Over on the French side of the range, Jonny made a snowy & trail breaking ascent of the Cosmiques arete until the track was joined coming in from climbers arriving near the crux wall of the Cosmiques. Teams were also making short ski touring journeys from both the Midi & Hellbroner lifts and enjoying the fine powder on a firm base although care is clearly required with the open late season crevasses. See our Chamonix & Alpine Ski Conditions for more info.
6 October 2015, Arete Laurence, Cosmiques Arete, Col du Midi & Storms in Chamonix
It was good to make the most of the morning before the considerable precipitation arrived at lunch time. Heavy snow storms above around 3000m and persistent rain in Chamonix meant the afternoon was best spent in the cafes and shops rather than on the mountain. The Arete Laurence provided a fun, snowy quick traverse with just one tricky sequence down the snowy crux wall quite near the Hut. The Refuge Cosmiques was closed and thus we took the north face traverse over the fence and up through the pipe work!
Snowy conditions existed on the Col du Midi even before the storm arrived and we steadily broke trail around to the base of the route through soft shin deep snow. There will be a lot more tomorrow with around 40cms of fresh snow forecast to arrive at 4000m and on strong W winds.
Only one other team broke trail round to a snowy Cosmiques Arete although there was a number of PGHM staff at the top with lots of helicopter activity dropping folk off. Chapeau as always to the tough & skilled team that form this Chamonix based mountain rescue team. No other parties had crossed the Col du Midi towards the Triangle du Tacul or Pointe Lachenal and the steep south face of the Midi was pretty snowy!
5 October 2015, Very Snowy Monte Viso, Domes De Miages, New Rock Route on Greuvetta....
Many thanks for this autumn alpine conditions update from a strong, keen & active team visiting the the Alps in hope of some fine autumn climbing.
- 4th October - Visit to Monte Viso to escape the uncertain showery weather further north. Very snowy! Over 1m of fresh snow above 2500m and strong team failed to reach the hut even! They suggest there is a lot less fresh snow on the northern side of Mont Blanc than the southern side.
- 1st October - Weissmies traverse
- 28th September - Traverse Domes de Miage, Les Contamines
- 25th September - New rock route on sub peak of Mont Greuvetta
The next few days looks like it will bring more snow on strong SW winds to both North & Southern sides of the Mont Blanc range with improving weather currently forecast from Weds PM through to le weekend. Good climbing & please keep the conditions info coming in!
4 October 2015, Fresh Snow Down To 2500m In Mont Blanc Massif & Aravis
Heavy overnight snow left a very fresh autumnal white coat on the mountains down to 2500m this morning. This cleared quickly on sunny aspects as the day warmed up but has remained in place on shady aspects. The North Faces of the Domes de Miages are looking particularly fine from the Arve Valley and the Arete Metrier is plastered in fresh snow.
Sunny & warmer weather this morning is forecast to be followed by various showers, heavy in places with the rain snow limit around 3000m and falling on strong SW winds. Later in the week currently looks better weather wise and it will be interesting to see if this pattern of showery, wet, snowy, windy, sunny weather with warmer days and cooler nights gives rise to the classic autumnal building of good icy mixed climbing conditions. Stay posted & please let us know if you have any good autumn alpine mountaineering conditions info to share.
3 October 2015, New Gouter Hut Closing Date - 5th October
The Gouter hut has now announced a new closing date of 5th October, this Monday, which means after that date the winter room of the old hut will be the only refuge available so food, stove etc will need to be taken. It looks like a cool and showery few days ahead too so the fresh snow combined with less people and no huts should guarantee a tough autumnal style to any forthcoming ascents of Mont Blanc!
Details on the Gouter Hut webpage. Winter rooms exist also at the Refuges Tete Rousse, Nid d'Aigle and there is also the Forestiere bivi hut between the Nid d'Aigle and Tete Rousse at 2768m just left of the main ascent path. For information on the winter refuges contact the Chamonix Office de Haute Montagne.
2 October 2015, Rimpfischhorn (4199m) & Breithorn (4164m), Zermatt
Superb mountain weather & crisp light around Zermatt with the forests turning to a fantastic blend of autumnal golden colour. With the brilliant white of the fresh snow above 3200m the sight seeing conditions are excellent! The conditions for mountaineering were pretty good too and after an enjoyable traverse of the Rifflehorn we made our way up to the impressively hospitable Base Camp of Berghaus Flue. This is more of a mountain Lodge / Hotel than a hut and we enjoyed 2 nights of excellent food, good wine & warm hospitality. We were glad of the 2nd night as the ascent of the Rimpfischhorn is long and with a later autumnal breakfast we did not return to the hut until 1800 (11 hours round trip, e.g. about average guide book time).
Conditions were good with some fresh snow above 3200m to add to the physical factor with some steady trail breaking! The final summit bastion which provides the technical crux of the route gave a very enjoyable series of short pitches & moving together over snowy, icy & rocky PD+ ground. The initial couloir had some icy front pointing but only a little way before the rocky traversing ramp was reached. The lovely upper rock pitch is more on the South Face so was on warm & dry rock. With no one else on the mountain, the length of the climb and fantastic views to nearby Monte Rosa & Matterhorn this will be an autumnal alpine expedition to remember.
Next morning dawned snowy and cloudy at Berghaus Flue and we optimistically transferred to Kleinne Matterhorn to try and continue our good acclimatisation for an attempt on Mont Blanc next week. The station café seemed more appealing than the ascent of the Breithorn with snowy & windy conditions although lots of enthusiastic skiers were heading out on to the high pistes to enjoy the fresh snow. The piste was just open all the way down to Trockenerstegg thus providing an impressive 800m+ of vertical descent. Not bad for the start of October!
After several coffees we took advantage of a clearing in the clouds and scuttled up and down the Breithorn normal route before the weather really closed in for the afternoon and some proper snow was falling above 2800m as we descended to Zermatt. We also met one other team who had climbed the normal route on Pollux the previous day and spent the night in the winter room at Rifugio Ayas.
With cool, showery and snowy weather forecast over the next few days it looks like conditions will become even more autumnal and we will be keeping a close eye on the forecast to try and pick the best day for attempting Mont Blanc from the Gouter Hut which remains open until the 14th October.
29 September 2015, Chamonix Early Autumn Climbing Conditions
Fine weather has persisted since the last major snow fall meaning much of the middle mountains have cleared of snow for rock climbing and even high altitude routes on South faces like the classic Rebuffat route on the Midi South Face. Most of the lifts in the Mont Blanc massif are now closed for the season with the major exceptions of the Midi, Hellbroner & Montenvers train.
Most huts are also closed with the exception of the Gouter & Cosmiques huts and of course most refuges have a 'winter room' which can be used throughout the non guarded period. Most know activity has thus focussed around the Col du Midi area where teams continue to enjoy good ice on the Chere Couloir as well as more ephemeral autumnal ice on the German Gully.
In the absence of fresh snow there are good tracks crossing the Col du Midi to Pt Lachenal etc but teams have so far not ventured on to the serious slopes of the Tacul Voie Normale. Higher on Mont Blanc via the Gouter Route, good conditions have been reported both above and below the hut.
Further afield and more 'off the beaten track' Mark the Mountain Guide made a tough & physical snowy autumnal ascent of the Dents du Midi high above the Rhone Valley with magnificent alpine views as the reward.
Over in the Zermatt Valley conditions on the Rimfischorn normal route are reported to be good and we are heading that way to try the climb via the comfortable Base Camp at Fluhalp!
24 September 2015, Early Autumnal Alpine Conditions Round Up
Having passed the Autumn equinox we have created a new News page reporting specifically on alpine mountaineering & climbing conditions around the Mont Blanc Massif & Northern Alpine Chain.
After a very hot summer it is with some relief for many that the mountains are returned to a cooler and snowier state. The hot days of July & August are just a memory but the dry & crevassed glaciers still remain as a legacy to the big summer melt down. Recent snowfalls however, even to as low as 1600m have created a fresher new cloak and it is good to see the summer hills become snow covered mountains again.
Many mountain huts & lifts are now closed or closing this weekend. Recent snow falls meant the closure of the Mittelleggi Hut on the Eiger as per normal at this time of year, until summer 2016 when snow conditions allow. Other popular peaks in the Oberland like the Monch & Jungfrau have only been improved by the snow falls once the last fall of fresh stabilises during the forecast stable weather to come.
On the other side of the Rhone Valley, the lifts of Saas Grund and associated huts all close this weekend although of course Saas Fee & Zermatt lifts continue their opening period during much of the autumn. The staff at Hotel Fluhalp are still reporting good conditions on the Rimfischorn and they remain open until October 4th.
On the Gran Paradiso both huts are now closed until the spring ski touring season although reasonable conditions remain on the mountain. Despite the large crevasses on the Chabod side the bridges have lasted the summer and teams were still climbing through to the last day of the season. The ladders over the summit crevasse have been taken down but the crossing is possible still without the ladders!
In The Mont Blanc Massif the Autumn season is being appreciated by the Refuge du Gouter who have announced they will remain open until the middle of October to allow climbers to make up for lost time during the hut / mountain closures associated with this summers heat wave. Recent fresh snow was reported as C 30cms at 3800m elevation thus at Gouter / Midi height and this along with strong winds meant a temporary lull in summit activity. With continuing good sunny weather on the forecast this will no doubt shortly resume on the Gouter Route at least.
Around the Col du Midi conditions just became a lot snowier and have put even the South facing rock climbing out of condition although this may rapidly revert with the forecast sunny period. Ice conditions remain reasonable on the Triangle du Tacul and many teams have been climbing the Chere Couloir in recent days.
There are some alpinists who consider summer to be the only 'off-season' period for alpine mountaineering. It is in winter, spring and autumn that the combination of snow, ice, low temperatures and quiet mount... more>