Travels Abroad, 1962-3, Chapter 4 – First Climbs Chamonix


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.

Aiguille du Midi cable car (Chamonet photo)

Aiguille du Midi cable car leaves Plan des Aiguilles, with Mt. Blanc to the right (Chamonet photo)

The gondola from the Aig. du Midi to Pt. Helbronner. This postcard is from the 60s. The gondola has been upgraded since then. In the center is the Tour Ronde.

The gondola from the Aig. du Midi to Pt. Helbronner. This postcard is from the 60s. The gondola has been upgraded since then. In the center is the Tour Ronde (postcard Tairraz photo)

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).

The Chamonix Aiguilles (annotated postcard)

The Chamonix Aiguilles
(annotated postcard)

PostcardAig.deL'm'62BACK

The back of the above postcard, referencing my climbs in the Dauphiné and the Aig. de L’M

A very old postcard of the Chamonix Aiguilles

A very old postcard of the Chamonix Aiguilles

xPostcardAiguillesdeChamonix#2

Aiguilles Charmoz-Grepon, Blaitiere and Plan. This is another postcard by the then master of mountain photography, P. TaIrraz

Telephoto shot from Plan des Aiguilles, with the Aiguille de L'M (left) and Petit Charmoz (right) in the foreground and the Drus (left) and the Aiguile Verte (right) in the background

Telephoto shot from Plan des Aiguilles, with the Aiguille de L’M (left) and Petit Charmoz (right) in the foreground and the Drus (left) and the Aiguile Verte (right) in the background. 1965.

Camping at Plan des Aiguilles

Camping at Plan des Aiguilles

Walking along the base of the moraines, with the Aiguille de L'M seen in the distance. This is a small peak that sits at the foot of the Aig. de Grands Charmoz north ridge, seen to the right.

Walking along the base of the moraines, with the Aiguille de L’M seen in the distance. This small peak sits next to the Petit Charmoz, followed by the Aiguilles de Grands Charmoz north ridge, seen rising steeply to the right.

#3Aig.DeL'M-NNERidge7-15-62

This peak provides a wonderful “entrainement” (training) climb on good rock. Seen here is the NNE Ridge, July 15, 1962

#4Aig.DeL'M80'CrackHiser

David leads the “80′ Crack”

#5Aig.DeL'MSummitMe

Me, on the summit of the Aiguille de L’M

#6AigCharmoz&Blaitiere

From the summit of the Aig. de L’M, this is a panoramic joining of two photos showing the Petit Charmoz and the Aig. de Grands Charmoz on the left, and the Aiguille de Blaitiere on the right.

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.

The Dent du Requin and other peaks, from L'envers des Aiguilles hut (postcard. Click to enlarge.

The Dent du Requin and other peaks, from L’Envers des Aiguilles hut (postcard Tairraz photo annotated).
Click to enlarge.

PostcardAiguilles&Mt.BlancSara

On this postcard, the Dent du Requin is called the Aiguille du Requin. Mt Blanc is seen beyond the Aiguilles.

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.

The Drus at sunrise, 7-18-62

At sunrise on July 18, 1962, god beams shoot past the super-steep Drus, seen from Montenvers. A mountain train from Chamonix delivers you to Montenvers, which looks directly down upon the (now retreating) snout of the Mer de Glace.

The Dent du Geant, looking up the Mer deGlace

Walking up the Mer de Glace from Montenvers, with the Dent du Geant (Giant’s Tooth) at center

We had chosen the Mayer-Dibona route, which follows the NE ridge. It was rated as D-, 600 meters in length.

Dent du Requin

Dent du Requin, by early morning light, July 19, 1962. Mt. Blanc is seen to the left.

The east face of the Dent Du Requin. The Mayer-Dibona route follows the right-hand ridge

The east face of the Dent du Requin. The Mayer-Dibona route follows the right-hand ridge

#3DentDeRequinHiser7-19-62.jpg

David follows a nice jam chimney

The Drus, the Aiguille Verte and the Cardinal

The Drus, the Aiguille Verte and the Cardinal, from the Dent du Requin

#6LacDeTaculCampsite

Looking down to the area of our campsite, with the Glacier de Tacul in the foreground, and the Glacier de Leschaux in the background.

Dentdu Geant, from the Requin

Dent du Geant (Giant’s Tooth), from the Requin

Col du Geant, from the Requin

Col du Geant, from the Requin

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.

 La Flegere téléphérique


The old La Flegere téléphérique, on the north side of the valley. Many of Chamonix’s finest peaks are seen here (postcard). Click on the photo to enlarge for better viewing.

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.

Mer de Glace from Charpoua Hut Approach, 7-27-62

Mer de Glace from Charpoua hut approach, 7-27-62. The Grand Jorasses are at center, and the Dent du Geant on the right.

Charpoua hut approach, July 28, 1962 copy

Charpoua hut approach, July 27, 1962

Aiguilles Charmoz-Grepon, July 28, 1962, from the Charpoua hut

At center, the Aiguilles Grandes Charmoz and Grepon, July 28, 1962, from the Charpoua hut

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.

https://believesteve.org/2015/08/13/travels-abroad-1962-3-chapter-5-aiguille-de-blaitiere/

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1
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One Response to Travels Abroad, 1962-3, Chapter 4 – First Climbs Chamonix

  1. Ethan Miller says:

    Chamonix totally blew our mind this summer….

    Like

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