Migot Spur and Forbes Arrete: Going back for round II

A few weeks ago, Simon and I hiked in with bivvy sacks and stoves to the Migot Spur, items that aren’t always necessary in Chamonix.  We were a quarter way up the climb in the early morning when altitude hit Simon like a freight train and we bailed.

This last week we went back for round II.  Not only did we reach the top of Aiguille du Chardonnet via the Migot Spur, but we also bagged the Forbes Arrete in the same day by down-climbing it.  It is a second classic line on Chardonnet and much more interesting than the classic descent route.  This time we also left the bivvy gear at home, and stayed at Refuge Albert 1er.  We were super psyched about the hut experience, pretty sunrises, stellar snow conditions, and the 2 for 1 special on a beautiful 3800m peak in the French Alps.

First, on the French mountain refuge experience….it wasn’t necessarily cheap, but it sure was cool. Below are some photos which show the experience, but some of the highlights are:

  • You can get beer and wine at reasonable prices given that you are up in the mountains. 7 euro for 50cl.  You can also buy brownies! Imagine!
  • We were served a 3-course meal (lentil and mushroom soup, some guide of fish/vegetable dish, and desert) for 23 euro, at a shared table with Germans and Spanish groups.
  • The beds were comfy – even though we arrived a bit after the masses and we’re put in the winter room.

Approach:

Simon and I were the first ones out of the hut and trekking across the glacier.  We took the winter/spring approach route, which is now starting to become a little scary.  There were several large, bridged, crevasses we had to cross, where dark chambers loomed underneath our feet of unknown width and depth. We were a bit unnerved, and decided we would be taking the longer, more mellow way back.   Due to the fog and low cloud layer overnight, I don’t think the snow pack had yet had a chance to entirely we refreeze.  On some slopes we had nice cramponing, while on others we were breaking through into wet snow underneath.  Starting at a slightly later time (4am) would have allowed for a longer freezing period and better approach conditions.

Route:

Without skis, we were moving a little more slowly than our same approach the last time we tried Migot.  Without skis, however, our transitions were fast.  We lengthened the rope a little bit when we got to the base of Migot, and started climbing within 5 minutes.  Sunset was bursting through the ski as we reached the first snow arrete.  I think we each stopped 5 times for photos.

We transition to climbing mode below the bergshrund. Lengthened the rope, Simon racked up, layer change, and getting ready for movement.
We transitioned to climbing mode below the bergshrund: lengthened the rope, Simon racked up, layer changes, and getting ready for movement.

 

Simon looking for an easy passage to the first snow arrete low on the route, just above the bergshrund. Here route finding would mean the difference between pitching stuff out and fast simul-climbing. Good route finding Simon! He continued around right until we found an easy passage.
Simon looking for an easy passage low on the route, just above the bergshrund in the last photo. Here route finding would mean the difference between pitching stuff out and fast simul-climbing. He continued around the small slabs in front of him, to the small gully to his right.

Simon and I did the route in one single simul-block on a single rack and some nuts.  We’ve gotten quite efficient at simul-climbing through various types of terrain.  This requires some combination of proper rope length and gear spacing/conservation.  It also requires some faith in your partner.  It helps that he and I have now down 5 or 6 climbing days together in different environments, which gives us a good understanding of what types of terrain the other will be comfortable on.

Beautiful sunrise in the alps.
Beautiful sunrise in the alps.

 

This is the first of two prominant snow arretes on the Migor spur. This one is close to the start of the route.
This is the first of two prominent snow arretes on the Migot spur. This one is close to the start of the route. Simon led up into the gully on the right, through 100-200 m of mixed terrain, and up towards the next snow arete.

The top of the Migot route holds another beautiful arrete.  We found perfect neve which made for ultra-fast climbing, and thus enabled us to complete the entire route in 1:45 hours.  From the top, all of the amazing 4000m peaks in the vicinity were visible (Grand Jorasse, Aiguille Verte, Mont Blanc, etc).  This was my first true summit in the Alps, and an absolutely beautiful day.

The second snow arrete, this one leads to a final 10m of mixed terrain at the summit.
The second snow arrete, this one leads to a final 10m of mixed terrain at the summit.

 

Simon topping out.
Simon topping out after a small mixed step.  Past him is the descent route, which we decided to avoid for reasons listed below.

Descent:

We had originally planned on the normal descent, which requires walking down some snow slopes on the west (northwest) face?, before making two short rappels, and then more walking.  We were a little worried about the large wet slab avalanches that had seemed to have occurred the day before.  We noted these near the start of the route.  We also felt that this descent route would put us farther from our route back to Albert Premier. Descending the Forbes arrete would take longer, but would position us closer to our final walk back to the refuge, and would be for the most part well-protected.  It was also super classic.

Instead of the standard descent route, we decided to descend the Forbes Arrete. We thought this would be safer as the snow turned to crap, and a cooler objective challenge.
Instead of the standard descent route, we decided to descend the Forbes Arrete. We thought this would be safer as the snow turned to crap, and also a cooler objective.  You can see our tracks along the ridge in the photo.

The climbing on the Forbes arrete varied between traversing on steep snow  and mixed moves on the apex of the arrete.  It is well-protected within these mixed sections, and also somewhat less protected on the snow slopes via the occasional blocks or rock slabs.  I clipped a lot of ample in-situe gear.  We ran a slightly longer rope than on the ascent (~40m), which allowed long simul-sections, and made it easier to keep gear between us.  Our goal simul-ing has been to have at least 2, if not three good pieces in at any point.  One of the challenges with protecting this giant traversing down-climb was properly anticipating the direction of force on any given gear.  Cams seemed to work better for this.

I led the route in 3 simul-blocks to where it reaches a col, on which you descend over some shrunds and holes to reach the Tour glacier.  From here we walked back on a high route on the glacier towards Albert Premier.

Walking down the final snow slopes from the Forbes arrete to the summit glacier route. Aiguille du Tour in the background.
Walking down the final snow slopes from the Forbes Arrete to the summit glacier route. Aiguille du Tour in the background.

Rack/kit:

We were able to go fairly light given the accommodations at Albert Premier (food, water, sleeping stuff all provided).  We thus only needed climbing gear and a few layers:

  • Single rack: BD camalots .5, .75, 1, 2 + single set of DMM offsets and normal BD nuts #4 and #5, a few shorter ice screws (2 13cm, 1 16cm)
  • 6 slings w/two biners each, 3 QDs, 2 double lengths + personal gear
  • Clothes: OR Cirque pants (I freaking love these, haven’t warn anything else since I have been here), long-sleeve upper body base layer, Ferosi jacket, hard shell, and a down-layer
  • Some food/water: 1 L with pre-dissolved Nuun, a couple Larabars (I love the Cashew cookie ones with very basic, natural ingredients), some of my mom energy balls, and some nuts and berries.  For breakfast I did salmon, broccoli, and quinoa in a Ziploc bag.  Not the typical mountain food, but with a lift-assisted short approach, why not eat healthy!

We didn’t find much ice on the route, and I think other then the glacier travel, screws could be stripped without much impact.

Final timings and track:

225am – Leave refuge

515am – Base of Migot Spur / at the burgshrund (+500m?)

730am – Top of the route (+500m)

1135am – Back to the Tour Glacier via Forbes

1pm – Albert Premier via the summer route on the glacier.

Red - Migot Spur (ascent), green - Forbes Arrete (descent)
Red – Migot Spur (ascent), green – Forbes Arrete (descent)

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