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Migot Spur and Mountaineering around Chamonix

The incredibly stable summer continues with just the odd blip and temperatures staring to nudge towards Autumn. You can easily get complacent when the weather seems to do the same thing every day, though last week I had to tweek my approach a little. Finn wanted to do a longer mixed route and I came up with the Migot Spur on the Aiguille du Chardonnet. Laroche (whose guide book I often use in this area) describes it as having 'Grande Courses' pretensions and I know what he means; icy slopes, mixed ground,a technical descent and a guidebook time of nine and a half hours hut to hut.

It is unusual to do a mixed face in August (they are normally melted out) but the snow this year has hung in so well and with the isotherm dropping it seemed a good idea. Unfortunately as the day approached the meteo had other ideas and storms were forecast for 1pm onwards. The forecasts this year have been pretty accurate so I decided to continue with the plan but shift the start time back to 1am meaning we would climb a good portion of the route in darkness and (hopefully) be well off the difficulties before the storm hit.

The Albert Premier hut is in the process of getting refurbished so the atmosphere was a wee bit grim I thought (I don't go there much so hope it isn't like this all the time!) and it always seems a bit weird to be going to bed at 10pm to be up again in a few hours. I did get a bit of sleep though and awoke to a moonlit, clear night which boded well. We set off around 1:45am weaving around crevasses until Finn actually manged to get inside one. For the first time in my career I actually had to use a belay to get Finn out but as he seemed fine and quite keen to get on with it that's exacly what we did.

The rimaye was bypassed easily on the left then a traverse right (using slings for protection on the upper rimaye itself) got us to the start. The initial icy slope was in terrible condition. Very dry with flaky shards of dirt and granite loosly bonded together. Thankfully as we reached the ridge proper we hit good snow and continued up this to the mixed section. The guide warns 'stay right' but the natural line is definitely a bit left (though the further you go that way the further you increase your exposure to serac fall). I guess we did a bit of both and I felt I added an unnecessary pitch here (it was in the dark though). The climbing is good however - proper honest pulling on your axes, maybe III in Scottish money. Soon this was over and we finished this section at around daybreak and on to the upper broad snow arete.

Again this was in great condition and gave you confidence. I dropped all the coils here and ran out using a combination of the arete itself, rock protection and ice screws/ropeman to keep us protected and moving at the same time. Finally we pulled on to the Forbes Arete just shy of the summit and had a second breakfast there. The descent I knew could be tricky but I had studied a few different descriptions and topos and it went well. In hindsight the topos are misleading and if you're going there head hard skier's left at the botom (above the col Superieur Adams Reilly) or you will end up in a coulouir that takes maybe 4 abseils (a number of my friends have been in here), the route if in good condition should be doable on 2 x 25m raps.

So all went swimmingly until we reached the lift at Le Tour which literally closed as we got there (lightening risk) and fair enough as the world then turned black and the heavens exploded. Perhaps I should have started at midnight.

I've also been doing a bit of training work with Dave and Amy. Neither had done too much in the alps but were after an introduction to the specific skills needed here. We started on the traverse of the Aiguille Crochues (PD+) with Dave leading the majority of the route. We spent much of the day in mist but I had forgotten how good the ground is for training - spikes and runners appearing just when you need them. The next day we drove through to Italy and climbed the Aiguille Marbrees. It had been snowing a fair bit (30 cm) so the route was a little trickier than normal but still very good. The big surprise here was the descent gully - or what's left of it. As I set off down from the in situ bolt anchor I didn't recognise the ground beneath me - and no wonder as tons of it had simply gone (including the second anchor) all the way to the glacier below. In its place there is now a wall of ice and it is a frightening reminder of the transient nature of the stability of the higher peaks as the permafrost becomes less so!

Lastly I've been out with Claire, Charlie, William and Tom (aka the Else's). We headed up to the col de Montet and climbed near the Chezery slabs enjoying the single pitches there amongst the stunning scenery (Tom leading also). We capped the day off with an ascent of 'La Biscante' on the Aiguilette d'Argentiere, which with 5 on a rope was entertaining. The climbing is enjoyable (and well bolted) and after a few hours we were all squeezed on top of the summit before lowering/abseiling off.

Lastly, Tom and I headed over to the col des Aravis (after a tip off from Bruce) to climb the Pointe des Blonniere via the Arete de Marion. This great 14 pitch limestone adventure is accessed from the col in about 2 steep and sweaty hours. The setting is fantastic though and during the day we saw lammergeier, marmot, chamois and Lagopede (ptarmigan).

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