Two axe and kiwi in the Alps

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Tales of a batman .... Aiguille du Tour

Aiguille Du Tour, Chamonix (3544m) -

What time is the meet in the hotel ?' ... 'about 4 ish' says Jackson. 'Shall we pop into town then for a spot of luncheon? and so started my first alpine season which was a Mont Blanc summit course, based with the organisation Jagged Globe in Chamonix. The six-day programme of training and acclimatisation, culminated in an attempt on Mont Blanc. 'Do you think that you might be able to carry my sack to the hut my fine fellow?' boomed the Presidente Jackson. 'Of course sir, tis the duty of any valais to serve the needs of his master ... it would be an honour.'

Part of the acclimatisation process was climbing an easy peak at the head of the valley in Argentiere called Aiguille du Tour. A well-trodden peak of 3,500 metres used by much of europe. It has easy access and a range of routes , access is via a glacier approach in some fine scenery with grand views into Switzerland and across the Mont Blanc range in France. As an introduction, our guided party were to overnight in The Albert premier hut, and with an early start attempt the easy East face route. This route is mainly a glacier and snow approach, with a small avoidable crevasse and interesting scramble to the summit.

The Albert Premier Hut is situated on the northern edge of the Chardonnet glacier at 2,500 metres and typical of huts in the valley. It consists of bunk accommodation, a refectory, terrace and inside toilets (luxury!). The walk to the hut starts at Col du Balme . This can be shortened with a cable car. The short walk on the well worn track heads south, and then east on the lateral morraine where the hut is situated. From this point, you can see the scar left by the receding glacier. The walk in offers good views of the Chamonix valley and the Mont Blanc range. The dominant peak seen from the hut is the Aiguille du Chardonet, that can be climbed from Premier Hut, although an earlier start is required.

A 4 a.m. start and the hut is busy with preparing climbers. A short walk behind the hut on rock gives way to a snowfield and glacier. The Chamonix valley was filled with cloud and it was a cold starry night. A stiff pace was set by the guide across the glacier between two rock outcrops onto the col. The sun started to rise as we walked into Switzerland.

The panorama highlighted the peaks of the Matterhorn and Monta Rosa on the skyline. Further parties of climbers could be seen heading from the Swiss side. A short walk brought us to the east face. The easily avoidable crevasse ran parallel across the east face. The scrambling started, traversing across the slope to a short exposed crest where in the early morning light, the views into France and across the Mont Blanc range were stunning. A short summit ceremony and we headed down, we had to climb past a lot of other parties. There was plenty of space to pass, and none of the legendary diplomatic disputes with guided parties.

The route was reversed with a sunset softening snow conditions as we returned to the hut by 9 a.m for tea and medals. President jackson was sporting his usual atire for the rising sun. A short break and return to Chamonix ready for an attempt on Mont Blanc the following day.