The classical ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+) on Triangle du Tacul is one heck of a multi-pitch mixed ice climbing adventure. A steep ice fall delicately squeezed into a tiny gully accompanied by several bare granite rock sections. This is a must climb! But beware of other climbers on the route.
During a week long climbing endeavor on Mont Blanc in France in May 2016 I stayed three nights in the beauty of the Vallée Blanche on top of Aiguille du Midi on the Mont Blanc massif. The tallest mountain on the European continent!
I went with a group that I usually go climbing with. We are an quite international team consisting of three Danes, one semi-Dane/semi-German, one Scot and an Icelandic. My climbing buddy for the day, Sigurður (or Siggy as he is referred to by the group I usually go climbing with), a 24-year old member of the Icelandic Mountain Rescue team.
The ‘Chèré Couloir’ is a grade II, D+ (Alpine Grade) multi-pitch mixed ice climbing route on Triangle du Tacul. This huge granite rock formation features several mixed ice climbing routes, but choosing this particular route is a no-brainer. It follows a narrow gully for about 155 meters with as much as 80 degrees steep ice falls. The whole climb takes about half a day.
Approaching Chèré Couloir (II, D+) from Vallée Blanche
Approaching is an adventure in itself. You take the chairlift from Charmonix that goes towards Aiguille du Midi. The chairlift actually holds the world record of the longest chairlift ride in the world with a vertical ascend of nearly 2.800 meters, which takes about 20 minutes to complete. Charmonix is a vinter sports paradise, but in the summer the town transforms into an outdoor enthusiasts Mecca! There are several Traditional and Sport climbing crags nearby and it is a very popular trekking and hiking area. Actually one trail takes you around the Mont Blanc massif and crosses the borders of France, Switzerland and Italy. Ice climbing is also one of the climbing disciplines that you can encompass near Charmonix, but you need to draw your attention towards the higher areas. Once you reach Aiguille du Midi you follow the steep ridge down into the Vallée Blanche and continue approximately 2.000 meters southwest towards the Triangle du Tacul also called Mont Blant Tacul. Its distinct shape that lays ground to its name is quite recognizable, so you should easily be able to locate it from the distance. You can approach by ski or snowshoes.
Look out for the Belgians
Once you reach the foot of the route you start a hard climb by foot up a broad snow slope. The first pitch starts with a fixed bolted belay station on the bare rock to the left. There are two stations available with about 5-6 meters in between. We skipped the first belay station as the overview of the first pitch is very poor from here. The second is quite nice with a boulder that you can actually sit on rather comfortable while you belay, and you have a fairly good overview of the first half of the pitch.
Sigurður climbed the first pitch, but we soon got into trouble. The route is one of the more popular mixed ice climbing routes on the Triangle du Tacul, and several time we got stuck in people abseiling or trying to pass us. Actually, we encountered a Belgian team, who threw their rope in front of Sigurður, so it got tangled up in our ropes – and their didn’t really seem to care. This caused a lot of frustration and being unable to really see Sigurður I was also unable to assist him. Consuming a lot of energy and time, Sigurður finally got untangled and continued his climb. He reached the belay station for the second pitch and I followed second climbing the first pitch. It is a really nice pitch, and you really feel the narrow gully you are climbing in.
The second pitch is basically a huge staircase. It was two steep ice falls and one plateau, where you can take a break and regain stamina before moving on to the next steep ice fall. The pitch is nicely squeezed in between the two massive granite walls that make out the gully. I consumed five ice screws on this pitch. I did not feel insecure about the climb at any time and I would reckon this being the easiest part of ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+). As mentioned this is a very popular mixed ice climbing route so there are plenty of features in the ice made by other climbers that you can reuse if necessary.
Overpopulation hits Chèré Couloir (II, D+)
Unfortunately we once again faced the negativity of the popularity of the route. Another climber came from behind and was trying to pass me while I was clipping into the last ice screw, just before the belay station to the third pitch. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must have been for Sigurður belaying me from the second belay station with the belayer of that group stepping on his toes. I chose however to let the climber pass me and I reached the third belay station to the right of the last ice fall.
Sigurður led the third pitch, which leads into a very tight gully. The ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+) becomes mixed in this section as you have a couple of options moving on. You can continue on the ice fall with some minor contacts with the granite rock, or you can turn right after maybe 10 meters and go completely rock and do the remainder of the pitch as a dry tooling exercise. Just remember that there are not fixed bolts on that section, so if you desire to do this, bring your own trad gear. We did the ice fall, which was really great. The bolted belay station is just on the top of the ice fall to the right on a really nice ledge that both you and your second climber can stand on. There is a serious view from here, where you can look back at Aiguille du Midi. Take a stop here and enjoy!
Finally I had the pleasure to lead the fourth and final pitch of ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+). The route opens up into a wider gully, but as seen on the picture above there are still not that much of an ice fall to climb, so expect some mixed climbing. The final pitch is not that long, maybe about 20 meters and the belay station is just over the top to the left.
Final thoughts on ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D)
This is a must climb! It is really nice and the difficulty of grade II is pretty sustained throughout the whole route. It is a real adventure and the views from the belay stations are absolutely astonishing. However – and there is a big however – is that it is a really popular route. ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+) is quite narrow at many places and encountering other teams is a pain. I must admit that the teams that we met really lacked etiquette and totally missed a fundamental ability of looking out for other climbers. Obviously, I can’t say this for everyone and I would really like not the generalize, but climbing on such a popular route, you need to look after yourself.
So how has your adventure on ‘Chèré Couloir’ (II, D+) been? Leave a comment below.