Report from 12th January 2020
Chamonix, France is home to some of the most spectacular mountaineering in the world. For this reason, I have chosen to call it home for this winter. Even though I have done a fair share of mountaineering in my past stepping into the more technical side of things here is a major eye-opener.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to go do the South-East ridge traverse of Tour Ronde. Myself and two others met at the base of the Aiguille du Midi tram in Chamonix at 8 am to catch the second tram up. While rapidly rising above the valley floor we were greeted with first light and a nearly full moon setting to the West. The skies were clear and the wind was non-existent, a perfect day in the alpine was about to begin.
Upon arrival to the top of Aiguille du Midi, sitting at 3842 meters (12605 feet), we put our crampons on and roped up to descend onto the ridge. The walkout of the station was a little icy so the crampons and ice ax came in quite handy. Once on the Vallee Blanche Glacier, we traversed on our skis to the south, heading towards the Italy and France border. Jagged granite walls rose around us and the summit of Mount Blanc dominated the horizon.
By 10 am we were at the southern end of our ridge traverse and the sun was beaming down warmth. Here we left the skis and switched back over to crampons, ice ax, and roped back in. Some old boot prints were leading up to the start of the climb but not a single person on the ridge yet, perfect! After crossing a small bergschrund and a short boot pack we were on the ridge.
I didn’t have a great idea of what the exposure was going to be like here but quickly realized that to our left it was thousands of feet to the mellower ground. Excited and slightly nervous we began the traverse. Fredrik, a friend from Sweden took the lead, Christoffer followed, and I brought up the rear.
The route involved various difficulties of climbing, major exposure, small sections of snow, and a few down climbs or rappels. At first, it was a little difficult to adjust to climbing up granite slabs with crampons on but soon it was quite helpful because the small tips could grip the tiniest holds with ease. As we worked through the route there were multiple sections where we had to wrap around large rocks and hangover 1000s of feet of exposure to only get onto a tiny ledge or a steep snowfield.
Near the halfway point on the ridge, we had to straddle knife-edge ridges that wanted to cut you in half! Maneuvering across these was quite exciting and a bit painful.
Continuing along we came to the final crux of the ridge, a pillar of granite that rose nearly 50 feet up from where we stood. Fredrik went first and set up an anchor on the top. He then belayed Christoffer and myself as we made the climb to the narrow summit. On the top, it was barely 2 feet wide, just enough to stand or kneel and hang your feet over the edge. Next, we rappelled off to a nice wide snowy saddle. From here it was easy going to our down climb spot. Once we got to the snowfield to down climb we quickly descended and crossed the bergschrund again to return to our skis.
Now for the skiing! After a quick bite to eat and some water, we began our 2-hour ski descent down the Vallee Blanche Glacier back to Chamonix. The snow was quite variable but considering it was glacier skiing and it hasn’t snowed in nearly a month it was a very fun long run. We reached the valley floor at 6 pm and went directly for a nice refreshing beer to celebrate the long day.
Throughout the entire day, we had incredible views of Mount Blanc and 360 views of the Alps. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful landscapes I have witnessed and I can’t wait for more days like today.