Chamonix 2015, Days 1 and 2

In July of 2015 I found myself in Basel on business.  Only 4.5 hours by train from the Chamonix valley, and desirous to escape the heat wave made worse by the Swiss aversion to air conditioning (it’s not strictly illegal, just rather onerous to obtain the necessary permits), I took a few vacation days to fit in some alpine climbing.  By happy coincidence the mountain guide Mark Houston had an opening in his schedule and I was able to obtain his services for the adventure.

The trip to Chamonix by train entailed a number of transfers, changing open lands of rolling hills to flat, narrow valleys bordered by steep mountains, and finally ascending steeply into the Alps.  I stepped off at the sleepy french village of Les Praz-de-Chamonix, unknowingly one stop before the Chamonix station proper.  After reviewing the schedule for the next train I decided to walk the remaining 3 kilometers.

Gazing up the steep forested walls rising into the clouds, my eye continued upward to a presence above the clouds:  looming over the valley was the massive granite tower of Les Drus, shining golden in the sun.

Aiguille du Dru, or “Les Drus”, peeking out between the clouds

Home for the next for days was a small room in the Hotel Gourmets et Italy.  The price was quite reasonable and the breakfast spread downstairs more than sufficient, but the lack of air conditioning called for leaving the balcony doors open at night.  The first afternoon in town I met Mark and we discussed plans and gear for the next few days.  He had some suggestions for some good introductory routes for the area, followed up with some restaurant and shopping suggestions (my gaiters had not made it into my luggage).

Day 1: Aiguilles Crochues Traverse

On the opposite side of the valley from Mont Blanc, this short traverse in the Aiguilles Rouges provided a nice bit of acclimatization at 2840 meters.  The lift La Flégère took us from the valley floor, followed by a second ski lift and eventually a short steep hike brought us to the start of the traverse.

Looking back towards Mont Blanc.

Starting up the climb (photo by Mark Houston)

Starting up the climb (photo by Mark Houston)

Along the top of the ridge. (photo by Mark Houston)

Along the top of the ridge.

Along the ridgeline

At the end of the climb we descended to some glacial pools by which a local cafe had been constructed, and finally followed footpaths back to the lifts.  The temperature at the top of the lift was a comfortable 15.9ºC, compared to the 38º it had reached in Basel.

Descending back to the lifts

Day 2: Aiguille d’Entrèves Traverse

At 3604 meters, this traverse in the Mont Blanc massif afforded grand views of the Vallée Blanche, and included a trip to the Pointe Helbronner station via the Panoramique cable car.  Helbronner is undergoing renovation, but already has a shiny new visitor center.

Our destination, behind the cable cars...

Our destination, behind the cable cars… (photo by Mark Houston)

After the morning chill lifted, it was time to shed a few layers and add sunscreen.  The walk from Helbronner to the Aiguille d’Entrèves is perfect for catching a sunburn.

Shedding extra layers (photo by Mark Houston)

Shedding extra layers (photo by Mark Houston)

At the start we saw a few climbers getting ready to rope up.  Mark mentioned he’d like to pass them, so we put on a bit of speed and added some distance before roping up.

A climber in the party behind us, taking in the view.

A climber in the party behind us, taking in the view.

The route was popular, but not so crowded we had to wait for anyone; everyone kept a good pace.

Climbers ahead (photo by Mark Houston)

Climbers ahead (photo by Mark Houston)

Time to re-apply sunscreen... (photo by Mark Houston)

Time to re-apply sunscreen… (photo by Mark Houston)

Back at Helbronner we can see some tourists have wandered out on the glacier to check for crevasses…

Tourists out on the glacier.

No crevasses found so far…

This is the first of two posts from my Chamonix trip, the second to follow in a few days….