Monday, 23 June 2014

Domes de Miage and NOT the Aiguille de Bionnassay!

With a good high pressure arriving over Cham, I was keen to get out and have some long days in the mountains. A shoulder injury means that lots of steep climbing is out but my legs are working fine so I teamed up with super keen author/actor/climbing bum Matt Groom and convinced him that he didn't actually want to climb something hard and that instead he'd like to look at some nice views and do some alpine shuffling. 

The weather was set to hold for at least 3 days (most forecasts saying that we could expect 4 good days) so we decided to do the uber classic "Royal Traverse" of Mont Blanc. The route starts in Les Contamines, and takes in the Conscrits hut, the Domes de Miage, the Durier hut, the Aiguille de Bionnassay and finally, Mont Blanc. Plenty of people rush this and skip one (or both!) of the huts but lacking both the acclimatisation and inclination to do this, we opted to take our time and stay in both huts, making the route 3 days but with only the final one being a tough one. 

The first day up to the Conscrits hut was fine but we somehow managed to miss the fact that there's now a path up to the hut and instead we walked up via the toe of the Tre la Tete glacier, the way I've been every other time I've been up there. Apparently the path isn't actually that good but it must have been better than scrabbling around on the moraine for a few hours!

Chatting to the locals at the Tre la Tete refuge, on the way to the Conscrits hut.

Amazing ice formations on the glacier.

Matt on the way up the glacier.

Me stretching at the hut - I put this shot in to keep my chiropractor happy :) Photo Matt Groom

Not a bad view to look at while having a pee

The next day we were away from the hut at the crack of 7.30 and slowly made our way up to the Aiguille de la Berangere. Once there we soaked up the views and then enjoyed the superb but easy traverse of the Domes de Miage. The views are Himalayan-esque all the way and although there are some exposed sections, you can basically spend 99% of the day just looking at the incredible scenery.

Matt on his way to the Aiguille de la Berangere.

Me just below the top of the Berangere. Photo Matt Groom.

French team arriving on the Berangere, having done the traverse of the Miage in the opposite direction to us.

Me at the Col de la Berangere. Photo Matt Groom.

Matt loving the scenery.

Matt on the highest point of the Domes de Miage traverse, about to head down to the Durier hut.

Amazing views across the Miage, Mont Blanc and the Tre la Tete peaks.

From the final summit we headed off down the E ridge, which was more exposed and technical than what proceeded it, but still not too taxing. From the foot of this we reached the Durier hut, perched spectacularly on the Col de Miage. The hut only sleeps 12 and is about the size of my living room so it's all fairly intimate!

Matt scrambling with Mont Blanc behind.

Me on the ridge leading to the hut. Photo Matt Groom.

The Durier hut from the outside...

...and the inside. 

Stunning sunset views over the Aravis.

The alarm went off the next morning and we got up for breakfast feeling about as well as you do at 3am but looking forward to a big mountain day. However, a spanner was thrown into the works early on when Matt visited the incredibly exposed toilet building (the only toilet I've ever been to where you could fall to your death getting in!) and reported that it was a blizzard outside. Given that all the latest forecasts said that the weather was going to be good for at least one more day, we assumed it would blow over and sat in the hut making small talk with the French climbers and waiting for it to clear.

By 6 it was clear that things weren't going to change and we started to think about how to get down. The Durier is not an easy hut to get to by any route so we were left with the choice of climbing back up the Domes de Miage and descending the Tre la Tete glacier or dropping blind onto the W face of the Col de Miage. Neither option looked very tempting but the howling wind and thick fog made us opt for the W face as we figured that losing height made more sense than going up, regardless of whether we knew the way or not.

It turned out not to be too bad but it certainly wasn't much fun, with miles of downclimbing soft snow and loose rock before a long slog out to the tiny village of Miage and then a stroll round to the car at Les Contamines.

The face we descended, taking the obvious couloir down the middle.

Amusingly enough, when I called home for an updated forecast at about 9am, Sharon told me that the latest report said it was going to be quite sunny but when she looked out of the window it was raining. Perhaps a window might be a wise investment for the Chamonix forecasters...?

Anyway, despite the disappointment of the last day we had a great little trip and the psyche is well and truly here for a summer in the hills.