We had decided to spend a night at altitude in order to
improve our acclimatisation. By
staying in a refuge we hoped to get used to the lack of oxygen, then an
early morning ascent of Aiguille du Tour (3544m) would see how well we were
doing from both the technical and fitness points of view.
Jonny and Lisa on the traverse round to the Glacier du Tour
After breakfast at La Bagna we put the kit we were leaving
behind in the garage of the hostel, and set off to Le Tour to meet Lisa. From there we caught the Télécabine de
Charamillon then the Télésiège du Col de Balme up to 2186m, before traversing
around the mountain for an hour or so then climbing up to the Refuge Albert 1er
(2702m), named after the eponymous Belgian king who was apparently a fan
of the area.
The Glacier du Tour from the Albert 1er refuge
We stopped at the refuge for a while, enjoying another day
of beautiful sunshine, and met various other groups being guided by people Lisa
knew. The combination of a night at the
refuge and an ascent of Aiguille du tour seemed to be a popular warm-up for an
attempt at Mont Blanc later in the week.
Eventually we climbed up above the refuge until we got to
the edge of the glacier. Being 1000m
higher than the Mer de Glace, the Glacier du Tour is covered with snow, hiding
the smaller crevasses and making a rope essential for any groups crossing
it. We put on our harnesses and roped
up in glacier-travel mode (aimed at catching people falling in crevasses - the
idea is that only one member of the party should be over a crevasse at any
given time, enabling the others to arrest the fall - this involved leaving
about 8m of rope between us, with Lisa leading as we travelled uphill and
bringing up the rear when we were going downhill), then set off across the
The main aim of the afternoon was to learn how to
self-arrest using the ice-axe. When we
had found a suitably steep slope we dumped our packs, put on our Gore-Text
jackets and trousers and spent the next hour or so throwing ourselves down the
slope to make sure we could stop.
We began with feet first, lying on our fronts, then on our
backs, then tried head first lying on our fronts, and finally head first lying
on our backs. Finally we tried a fifth
variation, without the axe. This
involved pushing the body up so that the only contact with the snow was the
hands and feet.
Al relaxing on the way back to the Albert 1er refuge
When we had had enough of self-arresting we climbed back
down to the refuge over the rocks, and sat in the sun again. We spoke to some other English groups there
and discussed the various routes up Mont Blanc. One group attempting the climb without a guide had failed to get
places in either the Cosmiques or Goûter huts and asked Lisa for advice on
attempting the climb from the Tête Rousse hut.
When they asked which route we were taking Lisa said we were aiming to
go via Cosmiques, which was the first indication we had been given of our
Al sunning himself after dinner in the refuge
We had a reasonable dinner at about 18:00, then after
sitting in the sun for a while Al and I turned in. We’d been warned earlier that the altitude could cause headaches
and problems with the digestive system.
I was suffering from both of these, so was glad to finally drop off.