After a few days of preparation all by ourselves, we leave this time with our guide, to climb the Aiguille du Tour which is reputed to be one of the easiest summits of the Mont-Blanc massif. It’s an excellent race for altitude acclimatization and technical preparation
Day 6 (Friday, August 10): departure for the Albert 1er hut
Today is the real start of our high mountain course. Our guide, Franck (his instagram page), comes to pick us up at the apartment. We are delighted to meet him for the first time
We spend a few minutes checking our equipment. We have almost everything we need and Franck will be able to lend us the few missing elements
We take the car to the Village du Tour. On the parking lot, Franck entrusts us with our technical equipment: helmet, harness, ice axe and crampons
We then take a gondola lift up to Charamillon and then a chairlift up to the Col de Balme at 2 191 meters altitude
It is on foot that we attack the ascent to reach the Albert 1er hut at an altitude of 2,702 meters. We are in the fog at the beginning then little by little we discover the magnificent glacier of the tour which reminds me of the Perito Moreno in Argentina
As we see the hut, the slope gets steeper. This is the first time we use our rigid mountaineering boots and this all-stone climb isn’t the most fun
We take a small picnic break on the terrace of the hut with a spectacular view, leave the unnecessary equipment in lockers and leave around 4pm
We start the ascent tomorrow to discover the use of crampons and practice rope walking
The experiment isn’t easy, the weather is capricious and it is difficult to regulate the temperature, so I am too hot. The altitude gives me a headache and I have a blister on my heels
After about 300 meters of ascent, we start the descent to be on time for dinner. Vincent gratifies us with a nice slide on the buttocks in slow motion (artistic note: 7/10), fortunately Franck is there to stop his inexorable descent
During the descent, I am the last rope and I get a pressure coup when I see a rock fall upstream. Fortunately, most of the rocks stop along the way and I have time to cross to avoid the residue
We are back at 6:30 pm, right on time for dinner. We enjoy once again the pleasure of taking off our heavy shoes to slip our feet into comfortable Crocs
Dinner is delicious: soup, couscous and frangipane cake. Good surprise, the water is drinkable (it is filtered water from the glacier) whereas most of the shelters do not have any and sell bottled water, delivered by helicopter, at a prohibitive price
For those who are interested, the Albert 1er refuge also offers catering services to day hikers. Rates are very affordable
Once dinner is over, we don’t stay long, we prepare our bags for the next day and we go to bed around 9pm in our comfortable 12-person dormitory. With a magnificent view on the glacier! Franck sleeps in another dormitory dedicated to the guides
Day 7 (Saturday, August 11, 2018): at the top of the aiguille du Tour!
The alarm clock rings at 4am, it’s not that difficult because the night was good with my earplugs and my sleep mask
We have a quick breakfast (not great, nothing salty is planned for those like Vincent or me who prefer cold cuts, eggs or cheese in the morning)
We leave at 5am at night, helmet and headlight on the head. Our backpacks are light because everything that isn’t essential is left at the refuge
After a few minutes of climbing on the rocks, we put on our crampons and we roped up all five of us. We discover this very particular atmosphere of silence that only the penetration of our crampons in the snow comes to disturb and the almost total darkness, except for the lights of the ropes that we see in the distance
The night was cold, the snow is frozen and harder than when we spotted it the night before
During the ascent, the sun rises and we are entitled to magnificent panoramas
After a few hours of ascent, we arrive at the bottom of the needle. We give up sticks and crampons to climb it. My big legs are very useful and after a few minutes of effort, we are at the top at 3 540 meters of altitude!
We stay a few minutes to admire the view and it’s time to go back down, a part I don’t like because it’s traumatic for the knees
We are back at the refuge around 11:30 am. The ascent took us 4 hours and it took us 2h30 to come back down
Picnic, bagging and descent to the parking lot via the ski lifts. This descent all in stone isn’t a piece of cake. If our mountaineering boots are perfectly adapted for the snow, the lack of flexibility makes the progression on rocky ground a real challenge
During this descent, Etienne slips on a stone and hurts his thigh. If when hot, the pain isn’t too sharp and allows him to continue, we are worried about what happens next. Will it be operational tomorrow for the rest of the course?
We are back to the parking lot around 1pm and return to Chamonix.