Alpine Running: The Petite Verte from Argentiere, 04/06/15

Grands Montets map

The same old story: the angry seething at a too-early start, the confused fumbling with the key in the front door. My brain, still waiting for the caffeine to kick in, doesn’t register the headtorch-illuminated rocks strewn across the dusty building site surrounding the bottom of the Plan Joran gondola, and I keep tripping and stumbling. The path steepens, the two litres of water and 30m of rope on my back keep whispering that I should go back to bed. But then the sun rises, the trees thin out, rocks and snow appear all around me. Problems are forgotten, lurking as they are a thousand metres below: they’ve only got little legs, they can’t climb mountains. Life is as it should be.

Chardonnet, Argentiere

The Aiguilles du Chardonnet and Argentiere in blazing morning sunlight

My path snakes its way around the corner from the Grands Montets midstation into the Argentiere glacier basin, and the familiar sight of the Aiguille du Chardonnet looms monstrously overhead. The long, flat, glacier in front of me has started to take on its summer colours, a dirty yellow streaked with patches of brilliant meltwater blue. At the far end of the basin, several hundred metres of spindrift plume from the crest of a bright-white Mont Dolent, but where I am, the air is still and warm – worryingly so. But worrying never solved any problems, so I suck down the first energy gel of the day and,¬†understandably terrified of too much solo travel on a summer glacier, I set off up into the rocks to the north of the Rognons Glacier at a determined pace. However, the interesting scrambling through beautiful granite soon drops me at the Col des Rachasses and the start of the mandatory glacier section of today’s itinerary, and I have to think light thoughts as I tiptoe gingerly over pronounced depressions in the mercifully well-frozen snow. But a cruel sun glares down upon us despite the still-early hour, so I look around for a better, flatter route to take on the return journey.

Petite Verte

The Petite Verte from the Col des Grands Montets

After what feels like an age I reach the Col des Grands Montets, and having already ticked off 1900m of ascent today, the final objective seems easily obtainable, so after cramming a short length of sausage baguette into my gob and strapping some floppy aluminium crampons onto my feet, I launch onto the North Face of the Petite Verte, finding perfect neve all the way up, until it is replaced by open air and unassumingly-foreboding rock. The climbing is easy, I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again, but today, alone, I’m not in the mood – I packed lightweight carbon-fibre running testicles instead of forged steel mountaineering ones. I straddle the snowy breche below the rocks, my right leg pointing at the climb it just enjoyed, my left leg flapping in the breeze under the hypnotic gaze of the Aiguille Verte and Les Drus, a snarling Nant Blanc Glacier six hundred metres below me. I don’t need to go any higher, I am quite content right here. I take a few minutes to drink it all in. It’s never enough.

Dry Chevalier Couloir

A rather-dry Chevalier Couloir

Petite Verte climb

Looking down the climb for the Petite Verte, with the Argentiere Glacier far below

Aiguilles Rouges from Petite Verte

The Aiguilles Rouges seen from the Petite Verte

I extract myself from my perch, various sphincters fluttering involuntarily as I swing my leg back over the saddle, and I replace my feet into each of the well-kicked steps down the 50 degree slopes at the top, past the top of a depressingly-dry Chevalier Couloir, and over the covered but obviously still-there bergschrund with a long-legged lurch worthy of the Ministry of Silly Walks, before the angle eases off a little and I can walk, run, and glissade back down to the col. Soft snow makes quick progress back to the Col des Rachasses over the new, carefully-chosen route, and a quick glance onto the front face of the Grands Montets suggests that a descent on the colder snow of the Glacier de Lognan and the consolidated but rapidly-disappearing Herse piste might be a better idea than the now sun-baked, potentially-suicidal slopes used on the ascent. So, horror of horrors, I am faced with a good few hundred metres of running on steep springboard-snow and creamy glissading, until the snow runs out and a blocky 4×4 track drops me off at my front door, a pot of tea, and a simmering pan of spicy lamb curry.

Grands Montets front face

Fresh tracks in June on the Grands Montets front face…

I was testing new toys today: perhaps a little horrified by my choice of footwear for the last bit of high-altitude jogging I endured and the conditions they were expected to perform in, my wonderful mother offered to make a donation to the shoe fund for a pair of X Alps, Salomon’s lightweight mountaineering boot with a valley-to-summit concept. Now, I hate to sound like an advert, but these shoes are absolutely smashing, and if you’ve been umming-and-ahhing about buying a pair, stop it, go and buy them right now. They are exactly the sort of thing I’ve been looking for since I started running, and if you are into the same kind of outdoor experiences as I am, then they’ll work for you too. Unsurprisingly, they are also a damn sight better at front pointing on neve than the Snowcross.

Shoes, Salomon X Alp

Right, that’s enough free publicity for Salomon. I accidentally filmed a music video today, so please take the time to enjoy two-and-a-half minutes of my pulsating buttocks accompanied by some vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll.


About Pete Houghton

Chef in the Chamonix Valley
This entry was posted in Grand Montets, hiking, running, video. Bookmark the permalink.

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