|Date: 30/8/07 8/9/07
Submitted by: Keith Monaghan
To celebrate the arrival of her birthday (never to be mentioned in public, i.e. 21 for the 19th time) I told Sandra I was taking her to sample the delights of the best accommodation and cuisine available in France. Having flown to Grenoble for 1 cent plus tax we went to meet friends in a chalet in Chamonix where plans were made to visit the “premier” accommodation in the area.
The next morning we set off in bright sunshine on the La Tour lift followed by a hike up to the Albert “Premier” hut where upon arrival we had the finest blueberry tart washed down with cold beer. Alas the evening meal was not quite the same standard but again was washed down with cold beer . After a long sleepless night and cornflakes without milk for breakfast we set off at 5am over the Tour glacier followed by a climb up the Col de Superior and into Switzerland (no passport required) onto he stunning Trient Glacier. A number of other teams were already on the Aiguilles de Tour resulting in a jam up at the top of a steep couloir but eventually we managed the summit which is an good mixed climb before returning to the Albert Premier hut for more tart on the way down.
The next day, having been unable to book the “Gourmet” Gouter hut we took the cable cars up to the Aiguille Du Midi and then across to Helbronner in Italy. Again no passports were required. We then walked back across the Vallee Blanche in bright sunshine with an enjoyable exposed climb up the snow ridge back into Midi. On the viewing platform we watched a large avalanche high on Mont Blanc and had some tart!
Again the Gourmet Gouter was unavailable and my knee was playing up (gout according to Sandra, you won‘t get much sympathy from a nurse) so I had to sit the next day on the viewing platform at the top of the Grand Monetets lift (with tart) and watch the rest playing on a busy Petite Aiguille Verte.
Eventually after a rest day touring Italy and Switzerland we were able to book places in the Gouter Hut but the weather forecast was changeable with a possibility of high winds. Having decided to give it a go we caught the tramway from St Gervais up to the Nid d’Aguille. Ominously the train broke down on the way up and we had to wait for a replacement before the 1500 meter slog up to to the hut. The Grand Couloir has receded to the extent that the safety cable across is now 5 meters over head and the ice runs out about 30 meters below the crossing point but the rock fall is still very frequent.
Upon arrival the concierge assigned us the suite in the south west wing at the rear of the hut with all the amenities just below. For the evening meal a very large bucket of soup was served to start followed by something like semolina with one rasher of bacon and a bowl of tinned something to follow. We all then retired for another sleepless evening fully dressed in everything we had carried including hats and gloves.
During the night two large avalanches were heard over the howling wind . At 2am we decided on the countential breakfast before roping up. Most of the other teams with their guides set off before us, as was our cunning plan, but as we climbed onto the ridge behind the hut into the spin and 75 mph gale we were met with all the others returning. So having made approx 150m, and without the use of compass or GPS, we made a quick about turn and navigated a route back to our “warm” beds to await a reassessment at day break.
By 7am thing had not improved. We enquired if it was possible to stay an extra night and try again as the forecast was to improve but were told that the hut had already been booked out days prior. Before leaving I spoke to 4 English climbers who were in the same predicament. They told me that their guide had just offered them all the additional night in the hut for 750 euros!
Upon return to Chamonix we congratulated ourselves on our mountaineering expertise in making the obvious life saving decision to turn back and ability to outlast the Alpine guides by at least 5 minutes and then had some tart and a lot of beer
On our last day Sandra and I climbed up the opposite side of the valley to Lac Blanc with spectacular views of the now clear and calm Mont Blanc. A wise man told me this mountain will still be there next year so we have agreed to return to celebrate 21 for the 20th time but next time I will be prepared with sleeping tablets (or poteen) for the huts and sweet chilli sauce for the semolina.