As I have discussed in previous posts, its not everywhere that you get lift-accessed alpine climbing and luxurious refuges that provide warm-beds and hot dinner. The only problems are that right now most of the lifts are closed and the refuges can cost up to 60 Euro a night! Well, all that led Simon and I to believe it was a good idea to hike our way into a climb, and to carry overnight gear to save some money. Despite (very) sore legs, it was was nearly the perfect outing: we had beautiful weather, a wonderful bivvy, and an amazing early morning approach. The only thing we missed was the summit; Simon feeling sick after we started gaining altitude on the climb, likely due to the amount of sleep he missed the week before. Next time!
The Migot Spur is an easy climb by today’s standards. It entails steep snow climbing intermingled with less than vertical rock, up the north face of the Auguille du Chardonnet. It is located in the Tour basin, and approach from the Albert 1er (“premier”) hut. You can get here via a chairlift + 1.5 hrs of hiking, or by hiking all the way in from the parking lot on your own two legs (3+ hrs of hiking). Simon and I did the later, as the lift was closed until June 10th. With bivvy gear and skis, we definitely had the largest packs I have seen during my time in Europe. For those who haven’t heard the term before, “bivvy” gear essentially means a sleeping bag plus a water-poof outer liner to keep you dry. You sleep in this as opposed to a tent which tends to weigh slightly more.
We started the hike in from La Tour, which is at the north end of the Chamonix valley. The approach takes you past the ski lift mid-station, before you wrap around into the Tour basin.
On the approach, we passed a small family of sheep herders cooking dinner, wishing them a “Bonsoir” as we passed. We then passed the mid-station of the chairlift, before breaking south onto the trail which traverses the eastern slopes of the Tour Basin. This spectacular trail has views of the entire Chamonix valley, and we enjoyed every moment of it despite the heavy packs.
The long days meant that we had sunlight until 9:30 or so, at which point we had traversed around the corner and into the Tour basin. Between taking our time with slow packs, stopping for a million pictures, we ended up reaching the hut around 1030pm. As the sun went to went down and the trail transition to snow, we put pants on, layered up, dawned ski boots, and now we finally looked like we were reading for the mountains. I had previously been wearing a t-shirt and running shorts to avoid over-heating during our approach. We filled empty Nalgene’s here from the melting snowpack, (a good approach trick – dump all your water at the beginning), drank, and refilled again. The trail to the hut follows a moraine, to the right of which begin a beautiful ice field, and from which we could see the entire Tour basin.
Simon and our pitched our bivvy on the rocks just below the Albert premier refuge. We wanted to get to bed quickly for a few hours of sleep before a luxurious 230am start, but took time to refuel, and boil water for some hot tea. I ate boiled sweet potatoes and a bit of salmon – talk about a healthy backcountry meal!
Simon and I woke up to my alarm at 2am. I slept on a very tilted tuft of grass in between two small rock ribs. It wasn’t the most comfortable night of sleep, and apparently I was talking to Simon in my sleep, screaming that I was falling off the ledge! As Simon is English, we brewed up and ate some “porridge”, before hopping on the glacier at 330am. Crossing the glacier during the early morning was spooky and spectacular at the same time: well-frozen holes that you cannot see except for when your headlamp beam picks them out of the pitch black surroundings.
We arrived at the base of the climb around 515am, saddled up, and starting climbing by 530am. I cramponed up the steep slopes to the bergshrund which is beginning to separate from the lower north ridge, found a nice place to cross, then headed up poor neve to the top of the ridge. Simon and I simul-solod the first 50 on a shorted rope, before I threw in a few pieces as the neve became poorer and the rock a little bit more loose.
I could sense that Simon was moving a little slowly behind me. When he reached me, he convided that he was feeling like crap. It was likely altitude and lack of sleep plus the long approach that led to this, but there was nothing we could do at this point. This was the best place to bail and there was no going further. We started a descent of the climb, skied back down the glacier, and hiked back to the car. Climb or no climb, we were tied after a lot of work in a short amount of time.
Times and travel
Overall, we did a a fair amount of vertical with heavy enough packs that I was pretty spanked by 11am the next day.
6:20pm – Start approach
9:45pm – Reach Albert 1er hut (~1175m, 3:25 mins of travel)
11:15pm – Crash
2am – Alarm rings
3:30am – Start approach across the glacier
5:15am – Reach base of climb, de-ski (~535m ft, 1:45 min of travel)
6:45am – Reach high point on route and bail (~235 ft, 1:15 min of climbing)
Total vertical gain were 1945 m (6476 ft) of elevation gain.
The Gaia topo shows the route nicely here:
Summary of the trip
It was a bit disappointing to get done at 1030am and to observe the well-missed blue skies that persisted for the rest of the day. I continually reminded myself that Simon and I had done our best to get out and explore, had experienced some of the most beautiful moments since I have been here, and enjoyed quality time together. Next time we’ll try for the summit, but this time, the experience itself was enough. In addition, the opportunity to hike for our climb made me miss the beauty, solitude, and real-work that makes climbing in the Cascades so amazing…not to say that I am done with Chamonix just yet