We slept up in the Grand Montet toilets. Intoxicated by urine fumes and not bringing a mat to sleep on meant for an especially sleepless night, and it was good to get going at 4.30 am. After deciding it would be easier to walk than ski round to the couloir, we stashed our approach skis at GM before down climbing the couloir on to the Nant Blanc glacier and traversing round and up to the couloir's start. There was a decent track which made things fast.
|Lower part of the route.|
The first 200 metres up the broad couloir was on excellent plastic neve and went fast. We then made two long pitches and a little moving together up the broken slabby ground which lead us to the foot of the "Nomine Crack". This is the well known steep aid pitch which blasts up the wall to the left of the couloir proper. I had some sort of mystery stomach-bug type illness all day and kept thinking i was going to be sick, which made things interesting at times. This reached a climax at the bottom of the Nominee so before i started up i informed Jon that i may have to stop to be sick somewhere on the pitch! However, i managed to make it up the thing without emptying my stomach all over him. The pitch isn't too bad really, as long as you don't try and properly aid it, you really want to free climb as much as you can and just rest on all the pegs and place the odd bomber wire for peace of mind. Italian Korra free'd this pitch, at M7+ (sport mixed grade, not to be confused with mountain M grades) Good effort to Ueli onsight freeing this in the dark!!
|Pitches up to the Nomine-dry!|
|Pitch above Nomine.|
|The pitch after this was probably the crux, but no pics unfortunately....|
Above here another great pitch leads diagonally rightwards up a wall then across a pegged crack. This again is much quicker to free/french free than aid. After this a long spicy pitch up a wide crack(cam no.4 very useful!) is the culmination of the technical climbing, and in my opinion the crux of the route. Even with a big cam the wide top crack feels bold, and i made a couple aid moves up a crack to the left in order to get a high runner before traversing in to the wide crack
|In the upper couloir.|
|In the upper couloir.|
Once in the ice of the upper 300 metres of the ice couloir, ground is covered much quicker. Unfortunately, at the moment the ice isn't neve apart from 50 metres at the beginning, instead it's grey, shattering, toe-bruising stuff which made simul climbing quite dangerous with regards to falling ice. Therefore we decided to pitch it. We reached the breche just over 12 hours after starting the route.
The descent is very quick, down the direct route. Providing you don't get a stuck rope, which would be potentially disastrous on the uber-steep pitches of the direct. We then walked round and up to GM, put on our skis and whizzed down to the car in Argentierre.
With regards to conditions, i certainly wouldn't say the routes in "good" condition right now. After seeing photos of the route at other times (particularly this October), i think the pitches up to the base of the Nominee are extremely dry, being dry-tooling rather than mixed and ice climbing. And as stated already, the upper couloir is mainly grey ice right now, rather than single-placement neve. However, the routes in perfectly do-able condition, and definitely worth getting on. As far as lines go its one of the most striking in the Mont Blanc range and it didn't disappoint.