After a great ski tour yesterday the day dawned sunny again so more touring seemed to be the logical conclusion. The Argentiere Basin is an area that I had not spent any time at all in (if you exclude skiing from the top of Grands Montets). Col du Passon is a Chamonix classic that I had not yet done but we were wary of skiing the lower reaches below the Glacier du Tour given the icy combat skiing we experienced yesterday in the the Combe du Berard just before we reached Le Buet.
So we decided on another objective which was to climb the Glacier du Tour Noir and if possible traverse into the Glacier des Rouges du Dolent for our descent. The best thing about doing this is before you even start you head to the top of the Grands Montets and ski powder on the Glacier des Rognons, which is a treat all in itself. As we were heading down to the Argentiere glacier we went far skier’s right from the Grands Montets and weaved our way through the seracs and crevasses until we reached the point where we put on our skins and stripped off some layers for the climb.
The lower reaches of the climb went quickly as we headed towards our target. The pitch was barely perceptible and we made good time with some of the most dramatic peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif towered above us. The weather was extremely mild and there was barely a breeze – even at the top of Grands Montets which is usually a chilly affair. We passed under the Refuge d’Argentiere to our left and the enormous peaks of L’Aiguille Verte, Les Droites and Les Courtes to our right. At the end of the valley is the pyramid shaped Mont Dolent, the summit of which is the convergence of France, Italy and Switzerland. The climb to the base of the glacier is about 300m vertical but it felt like nothing due to the slight and even pitch.
However the altitude was a different story, in the major ski tours I have done to date, most of them have topped out at about 2500m, whereas in this case 2500m is where we put our skis on and started climbing. In fact when we went touring in Japan in January the altitude was about 400m! I was fortunate that I had spent the last weeks at some sort of elevation, Flaine was 1600m and our hotel in Turkey about 2100m but the lack of oxygen really became apparent as we got above about 3000m.
Apart from the altitude the climb up the glacier was pretty basic – there was an annoying icy layer under the fresh snow, so while the snow for the most part gripped to the skins perfectly it did not adhere to the base in some sections making the bottom ski break away occasionally. It was just an annoyance and not worth fitting ski crampons for however. We stopped for lunch at a very scenic point at about 3200m with the intention of climbing another 150m or so to traverse into the adjacent valley. However the head cold I had been holding off in Turkey was starting to flare up again, and we also saw the wall we would have to bootpack, it was about 100m vertical and no track had been set, Jerome and I agreed that combined with the altitude the climb would finish me off, so after my sneezing fit we climbed just a little further to get around an enormous crevasse so we could remove our skins and ski the shady snow on the skier’s left of the glacier.
As with yesterday the conditions were ‘dust on crust’ so while we had acres of untracked powder at our feet it was just a tad shallow to rip down without rattling our fillings loose, so we opted for slower smaller turns which felt much better underfoot. The seracs above made for some dramatic scenery and all too quickly we were down at the Argentiere glacier again. As the shadows lengthened across the glacier we found our way to the skier’s left and skied down alongside the dramatic icefall. As the snow levels this year are very high it is safe skiing and you could get right up close to the seracs, there was even some black glacial ice in the troughs of a couple of moguls. Before long we were on the piste, and at the base of the Grands Montets having a beer. As so often happens touring we spent over 3 hours ascending about 750m, but then skied down 2000m in about 30 minutes!
Once again it was a great day in the mountains. The weather was superb, the scenery unparalleled and it’s a privileges to get some exercise in such a setting.
The weather looks a little iffy for tomorrow morning – snow overnight and perhaps clearing during the day. If there is a reasonable amount of snow we may head up the Aiguille du Midi to ski the Grand Envers du Plan, but it’s looking more like a day off, and to be honest I’d be equally happy with either outcome!
Once again none of this would be possible without the amazing guide Jerome Para – he is a full UIAGM/IFMGA Qualified guide working with the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. For any Chamonix adventure be sure to get in touch with him either through the Compagnie des Guides or via email: [email protected] (not hotlinked to prevent spam – cut & paste into your email client)