Starting from the Albert 1er hut at the godforsaken hour of 4am we began the slow alpine plod across the Glacier du Tour. We initially started with Rob’s parents, then just after sunrise we split off towards the base of Arête de la Table and they went off to do a PD route, Couloir de la Table, around the corner. The plan was to meet them at the top (which did happen) and in good time (which did not happen), then walk together back to the hut.
Rob and I setting off towards the base of Arête de la Table
The route started off well, with a steep but slow slog off the glacier to the base of the choss pile. To be honest I was a little nervous of just how steep it was and slightly more nervous by the quantity of rockfall debris fanning out below us. Nevertheless, we continued on and scrambled the first few loose and chossy pitches without much trouble. It was also mercifully quiet, with only one other pair of climbers on the route who had already outstripped us by this point.
Being Brits, with only the meager (yet pretty) mounds of the Lakes and North Wales on our doorstep, does not give much room to practice giant alpine multi-pitch. But we tried, and by the end of the trip we were beating the suggested guidebook time on most routes. With the exception of this one that is.
By mid morning we had reached the mercifully more stable ground of the ridge and were trudging towards the crux of the route - the infamous yet stunning feature of the Table itself. It is an enormous slab of rock, perching horizontally on the ridgeline and balanced at one end on another large boulder. Visible from the glacier below, it looks as though it had tried to detach itself from the ridge and is merely waiting to continue its inevitable descent down the mountain, wiping out everything in its wake. Today, however, it appeared as stable as ever (as stable as it can be anyway) and was decorated by a steaming pile of climber’s shit, no thanks to the other pair in front of us most likely.
The glorious feature of the Table
Taking advice from the guidebook to ‘take a minute or so to ponder the Table’, we admired the behemoth of a slab above us, and trying to avoid getting the rope covered in poo, Rob began the haul up and over the Table. There were fixed ropes in place, supposedly to aid your flailing ascent, which Rob blatantly ignored, opting instead to be tall and not shit at climbing. But I, however, relied upon them somewhat heavily and also upon Rob’s poor arms which did most of the work to drag me over the top. This particular section of the route has been ambitiously graded 4+ in the good old days, a grade even the most sandbagged route in Britain would disagree with. Now re-graded to 5a (technical grade) also bear in mind this route is traditionally climbed in B2/B3 mountaineering boots and occasionally crampons which doesn’t make sections like this any easier. Despite this I eventually came thrashing my way over, crying tears of frustration, where Rob promptly nudged me to the end of the Table for a photograph. I did not smile.
Rob standing at the edge of the Table looking towards Aiguille du Chardonnet
It was at this point that Rob’s parents had reached the summit of the Aiguille du Tour and spotted us on the Table from above. We threw our arms out for a very grainy and far away photo, two tiny specks against a huge backdrop of mountains, and continued on. Little did they realise they would need to eat several more packets of biscuits and an entire flask of tea before we would reach them.
The next few pitches of the route involved steep traverses across fantastic spines of granite and was a little more straightforward, although our progress was slow (and occasionally miserable - refer to exhibit A of a very worn out Lucy). To speed things up we were using the alpine climbing method of weaving the rope between spikes of rock instead of placing gear. I’m not quite sure what a fall would look like in such instances but images of fraying rope, rockfall and massive painful whippers spring to mind. Best just to adopt the old climbers adage of ‘don’t fall’ and carry on.
Exhibit A - in need of a rest
Looking back across the ridge, Chamonix valley just visible on the right
It took a further two hours to reach the summit, where Rob’s parents were happy to see us but decidedly annoyed by our sloth-like progress and were keen to get moving off the glacier before it became too slushy. Typically, alpine routes start and finish early, especially in high summer when the snow and ice on the glacier begins to melt by midday and snow bridges can collapse or the thawing of ice can cause rockfall. So I saw their point.
Cresting the ridgeline of the south summit
At the south summit of Aiguille du Tour (3,540m)
We scrambled down the PD route Rob’s parents had climbed up, which was easy enough, then roped up for the glacier slog. It had gotten particularly warm, and Steve spent the next hour or so berating us for the dangers of leaving too late. Luckily we made it down without incident but did manage to admire several sinister looking crevasses as we jumped over them.
Not wanting to spend another hot and sleepless night in a hut dormitory, Rob and I then scoffed the last of our food and utterly legged it back down to the chairlift where our van, burgers and beer were waiting for us. Overall it was a very good route, with only a smattering of type two fun.
A much needed rest in the van when we returned