Brian, Scott, Kevin, and I were on a climbing high after successfully summiting the Matterhorn only two days ago. We wanted to continue the trip in style and drove from Zermatt, Switzerland, to Chamonix, France on Thursday, September 1, 2011. We met with a guide that Kevin had contacted online in downtown Chamonix to get some current information on climbing conditions. Our local friend indicated that the weather was generally poor and forecasts were currently unreliable. Information from the Cosmiques Hut gave us the strong impression that no one had been climbing Mont Blanc for the past few days and no one was going to attempt it in the near future. As a result, we were encouraged to set our sites on some shorter French Alp classics that we had on our short list.
The four of us hustled back to the car to prepare once again for another gondola ride. We quickly loaded our backpacks with ice tools, crampons, rock gear, and other essentials. We all purchased a 7-day 3-roundtrip pass on the Telepherique Aiguille du Midi for 83 Euros. This gondola holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world from 3,396’ to 12,605’. There are two sections of the ride from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille at 7,602’, and then directly, without any support pillar, to the upper station. Since it was late in the day, the cable car wasn’t crowded and the tourists had all but vacated the upper station.
We located the climber’s tunnel that would deposit us on a 2’ wide snow arete which would lead to the glacier and the Cosmiques Hut about 1,000’ below us. The weather was like pea soup, but we negotiated the narrow descent and then roped up for a short hike across a glacier to the hut. The Cosmiques Hut is similar to the Hornli Hut in terms of accommodations and is the launching ground for numerous climbs in the Mont Blanc area. After being chastised for not making a reservation, we finally got checked in and had a wonderful dinner of ham, potatoes, and a beer. A night with dinner and breakfast was 53 Euros per person at the Cosmiques Hut. We went to bed in the hut with full stomachs and a 5:00 wake up call.
We woke on Friday to another breakfast of dry bread, jam, and coffee or hot chocolate. Our objective for the day was the Chere Couloir, a classic ice gully on the north face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. The route consisted of six pitches of 60, 70, and 80 degree ice climbing. Brian and Kevin teamed up as Scott and I climbed together for the day. We negotiated the bergschrund at the base of the route and then proceeded up glacial ice to steeper climbing above. The belay stations were bolted and the route took a combination of ice screws and rock gear. After several pitches of fun climbing, we opted to rappel the route and return to the glacier below. We made our way back across the glacier and returned to the Cosmiques Hut for another evening of enjoyable food and mountain lounging. It was a short but fun day on a cool ice climb in the French Alps.