Some routes are written about because they are, in their own right, great routes; others are written about simply because they are there. I think it’s safe to say this route falls into the latter category, not exactly the stuff of mountain dreams. But, for reasons which I shall explain later, don’t write this route off just yet.
Firstly though, I think I should deal with the small matter of page taxonomy. Those familiar with this part of the Mont Blanc Range will probably know the Aiguille des Grands Montets for its cable car station. You can’t miss it; it sits right on top of the rocky outcrop that bares its name. It may be possible to give the little peak a mountain/rock page of its own, there are certainly summits here which have less prominence. But I’ve decided not to do that, it would be a very short page afterall, and instead bungle this route on its East Face in with those of the Petite Aiguille Vert. Most of its routes share the same start anyway.
Okay, taxonomy aside, it’s time to sell you the merits of this route. Firstly the approach, how many routes do you know where the approach mostly consists of a descents? Secondly, it’s an excellent route for beginners; teach your less experienced friends the art of moving with crampons, ice axe use, and glacier travel on a peak that doesn’t require a major commitment (the cable car station is never far away). Thirdly, when you intend to climb at altitude you need to acclimatise first. Do it ere without knackering yourself out. Fourthly and finally, do it for the view, they don’t come much better. So set aside any prejudices you may have and enjoy!
Aiguille du Chardonnet (left) and Aiguille d'Argentière (centre) from Aiguille des Grands Montets
July 1863 by A.A. Reilly with guides Henri Charlet and Alexander Albrecht
Easy (F) however in poor snow conditions it can get quite icy and can be as much as a grade higher (PD)
Steep snow to around 30º with two bergschunds providing the main challange
180 metres, between 3120 and 3297 metres
Around two hours from the Col des Grands Montets to the summit, add extra time for the cable car
The Aiguille des Grands Montets cable car station is located in Argentiere just north of Chamonix. The station has a big car park, and is also serviced by a regular bus service and is within walking distance of the railway station. If your staying in the area you will get a free bus and train pass so both options are worth considering.
On the East Face
View from the summit ridge
The cable car will take you in two stages to 3296 metres to the cable car on the Aiguilles des Grands Montets. Descend the metal steps to the col between the station and the Petite Aiguille Vert. The route starts at the station side of the col, within a section of the glacier cordoned off by a tape fence. Don crampons and rope up here.
A short rock section can provide a variation to the route
Although the first section of this route is technically part of the approach, but I’m going to include it here as it involves glacier travel and all the bits and pieces that go with it.
From the col descend onto the Glacier des Rognons from taped enclosure. After a short while you will be presented with a medium sized bergschund, you should have little difficulty crossing it. This is a popular route and you should have no problem following the tracks mountaineers passed. Continue to descend the glacier to a fork in the tracks one of which veers right towards the Argentiere Hut, the other bears left; follow the left tracks, and traverse the slope beneath a rocky spur. After around 200m you will be at the base of the East Face and ready to make your ascent towards the summit.
Cross the bergschund and ascend the snowy slope. This shouldn’t give you much trouble, but in poor snow conditions it may be necessary to move in ‘pitches’ i.e. one climber moving at a time. Gain the crest of a broad ridge and follow it to the summit face, and the upper part of the rocky spur which you passed under earlier. Follow the spur rightwards to the start of a series of metal ladders, and climb the ladders towards the cable car station, where you will emerge on its upper viewing platform amidst a throng of tourists; be sure to look suitably heroic, you're going to be a magnet for their cameras.
You’re already on top of the cable car station, take the cable car!
East Face Route
When to Climb and Essential Gear
Most people choose to climb in June, July and August. You will need an alpine style ice-axe, crampons, harness, rope, sunglasses and warm clothing.
"It [climbing] is a sport which combines admirable physical exercise with pleasures of a purely intellectual kind. It is a sport which makes us young again... It is a sport which brings us face to face with nature, and puts us in a quest for the unknown... It is a sport which enables us to throw off the cares and troubles of life.. It is a sport that from some mysterious case appeals mainly to the cultivated intellect. 'Arry and 'Arriet would never climb a hill... Above all, it is a sport that makes a man. It teaches boldness, prudence, co-operation, self control."