On our first day in Chamonix this August Laura and I were looking for an alpine route with a bit of rock climbing, height gain, great views and the ability to return to the valley. After a lot of deliberation we settled on the traverse of the Petits Charmoz.
From what I could tell the route is less popular than it used to be but still offers a challenge and promised fantastic views across to the Dru and the Mer de Glace.
We queued for the first telepherique and before I finished my coffee we were at the Plan de l’Aiguille station. The approach to the route takes a few twists and turns and is a bit more time consuming that it looks. Firstly crossing the Glacier de Blaitiere before reaching the head wall of the Nantillons glacier.
The Chamonix Aiguilles from the station.
Approaching the Nantillons glacier. The Verte overshadowing the route from behind.
The traverse runs from right to left.
I’d read that the Nantillons can be quite active late in the season. Despite an overnight freeze there was a lot of vocal rockfall. We decided not to follow the tracks straight across higher up. Opting to descend and cross at the snout and walking up the moraine below the end point of the route. This proved to be a wise decisions as quite a few boulders were spat down during the crossing.
A short climb led us to the Couloir de l’Etala and an easy scramble to the foot of the Etala chimneys.
The climbing in the chimneys was tricky for the grade, the rock is quite polished and it’s a really tight squeeze with a big rucksack. Great fun though.
Trying to find the best way through a tight squeeze.
The chimneys lead to the Col de l’Etala and a fantastic view across the Mer De Glace.
A fantastically exposed traverse and some easier ground then lead to the summit which only has room for two at a push. This was some of the most exposed easier ground I’ve been on and it was great. You can look between your legs and the next stop is the glacier.
Unfortunately I was too busy concentrating on foot placements to get the camera out.
Laura approaching the summit. It was at that point I realised the chance of us getting the last lift down was unlikely.
The guidebook was quite vague about the best abseil route to take but it was clear we had a few options. Three 30m rappels later and we were on easier ground. There are no bolts on this route and some of the abseil tat is very weathered looking.
The scariest part of the day for me was the via ferrata back to the glacier. This is accessed by down climbing the Couloir de Buche on a good path. You then meet a series of ladders that lead back to the foot of the glacier. These are mega exposed and very difficult to protect.
Laura dealing with the fixed ladders.
Throughout the descent we were watching two climbers coming down the Nantillons dodging some serious rockfall. Thankfully they made it off safely but being anywhere in that area late in the season appears to be a gamble these days.
The consequence of going slow on the first day was missing the last lift to the valley. The plus side was a great sunset and a bit of fitness on the long walk back to Chamonix.
All in a great alpine route with plenty of variation for the grade.