Chamonix sits at the bottom of a narrow valley, 12,000′ below the summit of Mt. Blanc and 9000′ below the summits of the Aiguilles (Needles) de Chamonix. From town, the latter summits stand so steeply overhead that one’s neck gets quickly fatigued from looking upward at them.
Chamonix is the unrivaled capitol of mountaineering in the Alps, and the area is equipped with all manner of uphill transportation, mountain huts that serve food and bivouac huts that sit astride narrow ridges. The paired Aiguille du Midi cable cars (once a single cable car) are by far the most spectacular of the lot. The first ascends through the forest to the Plan des Aiguilles, a flatish above tree-line area at the foot of the glacial moraines. The second then soars in one swoop of cable to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi. The system carries you a total of 9012′ upward. The top cable car enters the peak like an elevator, and one disembarks into a system of tunnels cut within the granite of the peak. From there, one can take a more or less horizontal gondola ride south to Pt. Helbronner, which sits on the ridge that constitutes the French-Italian border. This ride carries you across the Vallée Blanche, a vast expanse of glacier, and provides views of many of the peaks in the range, including the very steep south side of Mt. Blanc. And, yet another cable car descends from Pt. Helbronner to Courmayer, in Italy.
The Plan des Aiguilles stop provides mountaineers with a quick approach to the routes on the Chamonix Aiguilles. David Hiser had arrived in Chamonix, and our first climb, of the Aiguille de L’M, was preceded by a camp at Plan des Aiguilles, the night of July 14. Here’s what http://www.summit post has to say about this peak: “When standing in Chamonix and looking up at the amazing skyline, you will find the Aiguille de l’M at the far left. Shaped like an M. In fact it is at the end of the ridge formed by the Grand Charmoz and the Petit Charmoz. It’s an enjoyable peak, not too high, but with some very nice routes. Because of it’s low altitude (elevation: 9331 ft / 2844 m) this peak lends itself perfectly to a short day or when the weather is doubtful.” Our route, the NNE Ridge was rated D- (on the easier side of difficult).
David and I must have concluded that this climb was training enough, and we set out for a longer climb – the Dent du Requin (Shark’s Tooth) – soon thereafter.
On July 18, we took the Montenvers train to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), and traveled up it to where it is formed from the joining of two tributary glaciers – the Tacul and Leschaux. We camped at the Lac de Tacul, to the inside of the merging glaciers, and across the Tacul from our climb.
We had chosen the Mayer-Dibona route, which follows the NE ridge. It was rated as D-, 600 meters in length.
Then David took a leader fall, which resulted in a serious cut to his knee. After bandaging the cut, we started the retreat, which went down the east face (see photo above), rappel after rappel. Our last rappel required the use of shoe laces for the anchor – all we had left.
That finished David’s summer of mountaineering, and he returned to Germany to heal up. I was thrown back on my own resources, but I managed to find plenty of climbing partners for the balance of the season, some of whom I recall and some of whom I don’t.
On July 27 and 28, with a climbing partner whose identity I don’t recall, I made my way back up the Mer de Glace to past the ridge that descends from the Drus, took a left and climbed into the basin below the west face of the Aiguille Verte (see Aiguille Verte photo above), to the Charpoua hut. The objective was to do the traverse of the Drus. But the climb got rained out, as happens often in Chamonix.
At some point during this period of time, I did the Charmoz-Grepon traverse, with Liz and Royal Robbins (see above photo). But, it appears, I took no photos on that climb. A climb of the Aiguille de Blaitiere will be seen in the next chapter.