The walk in from the Argentiere hut is probably about an hour or so. There are up to three shrunds to cross. The first one is nice and easy and has some very solid ice bridges across it. The second one is a bit more complicated and after a lot of walking up and down it the only way we could get across it was on the left hand side where enough snow has fallen off the face to fill it in. The final shrund is a little more impressive and the slope rears up and there is a short but very steep step to get over the lip of the shrund. After this it’s quite steep for a while but remember to bear rightwards and not just keep going up. Once you have traversed fully over to the right hand side you start going up the ice/nevee couloir above you. The normal route is to bear up the Messner Ramp which branches off left of the couloir. It’s very very obvious even in pitch black and to be honest you get lead into it though you wouldn’t have thought so from looking at the face in day light.
Up the Messner ramp and you will encounter some very easy mixed until it leads you up to the main ice field. Here you’ve just got to head straight up and put your dead down and keep moving. It seemed like and eternity till we got to the top of the ice field and whilst I was wearing ski boots I could only imagine the feeling in Will’s calves as he was wearing normal plastics. We did the climb from the shrund to the base of the headwall in some 2.30 hrs, just in time for sunrise.
The first pitch is often referred to as the crux which I didn’t understand until I started leading up it. It’s not as steep as the final pitch of the headwall but the ice conditions when we hit it were pretty abysmal. I stopped bothering looking for pro after a while as it was obvious that this was just going to have to go without the possibility of falling- which made my barn-door swing 30m above Will even more interesting.
James Clapham on the mixed traverse after the first ice pitch, © Gavin Pike
On one of the many ice fields
After that its great romping and you can move together on pretty much all of it as its nice easy mixed ground until the final two pitches which steepen up a bit.
Approaching the top ice section
The start of the steeper ice at the top
On the final steep section you can either go straight on up resulting in a section of 85 degree ice or you can keep left and go up an obvious mixed section that is meant to be less ‘serious’
Looking down at the crux ice beneath, one short pitch to go
On the final 20m of ice
On the final 20m of ice
Once past the steep ice it’s a hundred meter snow couloir to the top of the Breche des Droites
Getting off the Ginat is meant to be one of the cruxes as the raps down the Breche des Droites can be a right faff. For starters the rock in the couloir is pretty loose so unless you have lots of snow on it you’ve got to be careful and take your time. The rap stations are definitely worth checking each time, and they arent always that easy to find. Add to this the fact that the couloir is not so steep so that your ropes will fly down them when you throw them and you can take hours on the descent. If there is good snow in it just down-climb it…otherwise bring quite alot of spare tat.
On the raps on the south side with Mont Blanc in the background
The last rap off the shrund can be down on the LHS (looking down). Getting off the glacier is best down by heading down a hundred meters or so and then taking a high traverse out right (once again right as you are looking down). We headed off straight down and then found ourselves in a nightmare of crevasses, seracs and a horrible whiteout. Having done the descent in better conditions from the Colton-Brooks, right is definitely the way to go. Count at least 4 hours from summit to the winter hut on foot.
Bedding down for the night on a boulder having got totally lost in the whiteout…no bivy gear at all made for a cold night out