Rocher et glace

After the phenomenal time we had last year on a rock and ice course, Tanya and I decided to take the same course again this year. So it was off to Cabane d’Orny with us in the bright morning sun. Cabin d’Orny, it must be said, is in one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. There is the Glacier d’Orny right next to it, across which sits the impressive Petit Clocher du Portalet with its super-famous climbing lines. In the distance across the valley is the giant Grand Combin at 4314 m, and you can also see Mont Vélan and Grand Paradiso.

Since last year, Tanya and I have done a bit of climbing in the alps, so this year we were in a more advanced group and covered more ground. First came the rock part of the course, in which we covered a whole bunch of great theory on how to move safely and fast on rock.

Behind the cabin – and the Aiguille d’Arpette that we later climbed.
Grand Combin hulking in the distance.

The evening at Cabin d’Orny was spent admiring the sunset views, as Grand Combin swept into shadow and flocks of chocard flew in slow circles.

The next morning we started early to finish the rock part of the course, which culminated in climbing the Aiguille d’Arpette (3059 m). We went in alpine style, which meant alpine boots instead of climbing shoes and a heavy focus on efficiency. The route was good for practicing the change between short and long rope climbing styles; we climbed short-rope for the easier parts and kicked into mini-pitches for the more exposed sections. So much fun!

Mid-way up the route.
Summit views!
After the climb, the Aiguille d’Arpette.

Then it was time to head higher, to the Cabane du Trient. It’s only an hour’s walk up the glacier from one cabane to the other, so after arriving under Cabane du Trient we spent the afternoon practicing crevasse rescue techniques, then hanging out at the refuge.

Hanging around on buried-ice-axe anchors, as our partners prepare to haul us out of this simulated crevasse.
The amazing view from Cabane du Trient.
Sculptures outside the cabin.
Planning for the next day’s climb.

At the cabin, Tanya found the Club Alpin Suisse’s board game. The idea of the game seems to be that you spend a lot of time traipsing around the Swiss plain collecting equipment, before moving to an elusive phase deux in which you tick off cabins. At this point so much time had passed that we had to go and sleep. The game is designed for passing rainy days when people are stuck indoors and for that I’m sure it does a stand-up job. I particularly enjoyed the warning on the game saying that it was not necessarily geographically accurate – there goes my plan of replacing my topo maps with the board!

Despite how it looks here, Tanya did have friends to play the game with.

The reason we had to go and sleep relatively early was because the next day breakfast was at four in the morning. It was our chance to get out and use the skills we’d been talking about and practicing the previous two days, by climbing a peak. It was a glorious morning on the glacier and as the sun rose over the Plateau du Trient we were at the Col du Tour and gearing up to climb the north-west ridge of Tête Blanche (3421 m).

The ridge to the summit of Tête Blanche was wonderful climbing on brilliant, solid alpine rock, with a couple of exposed mini-pitches to make things interesting. We were looking at continuing up to Petite Forche but the route up the north face was clearly very icy and looked dangerous, so instead we opted to just rappel down the cornice from Col Blanc and back onto the glacial plateau.

Aiguille du Chardonnet (3824 m) from summit of Tête Blanche (3421 m).

All too soon it was time to walk down and out to the Real World again. We stopped on the way to talk ice and snow anchors, then met the other groups at the Cabane d’Orny and trekked back to town. It was a wonderful weekend with great people, fantastic rock, an alpine summit, and lots to learn. Un énorme merci à notre guide François Mathey, pour son experience, sa gentillesse et pour nous avoir patiemment montré toutes ces choses formidables!

This black feather melted into the glacier ice.
July 19, 2015


  1. Betsey on

    Sounds like an awesome weekend!

  2. Incroyable! What an amazing time! Next time, take me with you so I can play the board game…

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