TR: Chamonix 2012 Day 3 – Glacier Rond Failure, Vallee Blanche Plan B

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It started with a loaded question over dinner – ‘Are your edges sharp?” – I replied in the affirmative and said they had been serviced that day. I didn’t think much of it as our plan for the next day was to climb over the Col du Chardonnet and spend a night in a refuge on the Swiss side of the border. As it turned out during Dinner Jerome had received some info that a coveted line may well be in condition. As we were driving home he said that the Glacier Rond was on the agenda and I needed to decide to go on the Swiss tour or change our plan.

The Glacier Rond is one of the few skiable lines off the North Face or ‘frontside’ of the Aiguille du Midi. All of them are steep & exposed, and also highly coveted. As I had come to Chamonix to ski some steeps it wasn’t much of a decision so the plan was changed. I slept fitfully that night, as the Rond is not to be trifled with – it was the line featured in the recent movie ‘The Edge of Never’as the location that claimed pro skier Trevor Petersen and the movie was the story of his son Kye, himself an emerging pro, coming to Chamonix to ski the line where his father perished.

The Rond is a hanging glacier virtually directly below the Refuge des Cosmiques – the glacier itself is only a couple of hundred meters long, descending to a point where it turns into fresh air with a large drop below – you ski roughly the first half of the hanging glacier and then turn left and ski the exit couloir down to the Bossons glacier and then make your way back down to town, roughly where the Mont Blanc Tunnel takes you through to Italy.

This is a zoomed & cropped photo I took from Flaine which clearly shows the glacier just below the refuge, but does not show the exit couloir:

Glacier Rond & Aiguille du Midi
Glacier Rond & Aiguille du Midi

Given we were home late from dinner we decided a small sleep in was best, this also would ameliorate the usual cold temperatures on the Aiguille and let the sun begin to face the Rond. We woke up to clear skies but a high wind aloft, though this was planned to moderate through the day. We had a moderate wait at the Cable Car and were up the top before long. We fitted crampons for the arete, and moved swiftly down, passing the larger groups on our way. The arete becomes less and less scary each time I get out there which is a good thing. We put on our skis but then traversed back under the South Face of the Midi to head towards the Rond. There was a steep & icy but short face on the way so we did some turns there to get the feel of the steeps. After traversing under the Midi it is a short but lung-busting sidestep to just below the Refuge des Cosmiques to the top of the Rond.

Sidestepping up to Glacier Rond
Sidestepping up to Glacier Rond

We then made a very exposed and ‘airy’ traverse on to the top of the Rond, and sideslipped down to a belay point. Jerome’s friend Stephane ‘FanFan’ Dan was belaying a client into the Rond – it is quite ironic that Fanfan was the lead guide in the production of ‘The Edge of Never’ plus he has also featured in a number of recent movies set in Chamonix such as ‘Deeper’ and also ‘Art of Flight’.

Exposed Traverse into Glacier Rond
Exposed Traverse into Glacier Rond
Looking down Glacier Rond. Chamonix Below
Looking down Glacier Rond. Chamonix Below
Mont Blanc du Tacul from Glacier Rond
Mont Blanc du Tacul from Glacier Rond
Jerome & FanFan belaying on Glacier Rond
Jerome & FanFan belaying on Glacier Rond

FanFan’s client went further and further down on belay and reported the snow to still be quite icy, at which point we pulled the pin & his client sidestepped back up. FanFan and Jerome said that they could have belayed us down the whole face to the couloir but there would be no point in that as it isn’t skiing, so we took off our skis, switched to crampons and climbed back out, disappointed but glad that our keenness to ski the line didn’t force any poor safety decisions. Having now looked straight down the line I agree that it would be fantastic in soft snow but a death wish in firm snow.

Climbing back out of Glacier Rond
Climbing back out of Glacier Rond
Climbing back out of Glacier Rond
Climbing back out of Glacier Rond

Despite the myriad ways I could have died on the arete and the Rond, when I took off my crampons my first reaction was to be thrilled that I had used them twice without putting any more holes in my pants!

Keen to salvage the day Jerome and FanFan roped up to see if they could find an entry into the rarely skied ‘Vrai Vallee Blanche’ but again we were stymied by the crevasses. So we again roped up and sidestepped up and across and entered from below. The skiing was simple and fun, there was some light powder on top as we played amongst the enormous seracs, often in a roller-coaster fashion.

Vallee Blanche
Vallee Blanche
Crevasses Ahead
Crevasses Ahead
Sidestepping Back Out
Sidestepping Back Out
Vrai Vallee Blanche
Vrai Vallee Blanche
Richard in the Seracs
Richard in the Seracs
Skiing in the Seracs of the Vrai Vallee Blanche
Skiing in the Seracs of the Vrai Vallee Blanche
Vrai Vallee Blanche
Vrai Vallee Blanche
Skiing in the Vrai Vallee Blanche
Skiing in the Vrai Vallee Blanche
Skiing in the Seracs of the Vrai Vallee Blanche
Skiing in the Seracs of the Vrai Vallee Blanche

Once we descended into the main tourist Vallee Blanche route, the party was over, it was icy moguls all the way to the Mer de Glace. That’s why we have never skied it, preferring to ski the Grand Envers du Plan route.

The Mer de Glace is the worlds longest green run, albeit with epic scenery and we skied down to the moraine where we climbed up, had a cold drink and then took the forest road down to town. The sun had melted out a couple of sections where we had a short walk and unfortunately one of these was on the train line which we didn’t get to jump, a highlight of our last descent through this route.

Seracs du Geant from Mer de Glace
Seracs du Geant from Mer de Glace
Mer de Glace, L'Aiguille Verte
Mer de Glace, L'Aiguille Verte
Trail back to Chamonix
Trail back to Chamonix

So overall it was a good ski day, with safety and common sense being the winner. But now I’ve seen the Rond and can’t wait for the right conditions to ski it.

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)

5 COMMENTS

  1. I skied Rond today. Yes the upper part was a bit hard, but not too icy. Exit couloir was hard / icy but not dangerous. And the lower part was served nice spring snow.

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