We had a couple days for a climb, so we feverishly looked through Goedeke's guidebook. The Grand Combin de Valsorey, Direct Northwest Face, seemed just the ticket. It combined a lot of vertical, both from road to hut and from hut to peak, with a big mountain experience and a little more challenging grade--ranging from D- to D+, depending on conditions.
From the village of Bourg St Pierre (parking was mellow, we just found a gravelly spot on the side of the road), it is a long but interesting hike to the Valsorey Hut. The warden was a great guy--he and his girlfriend had wintered at Sun Valley and they were into tele. The next morning at about 3 am Scott, Mike and I worked our way up over the Col du Meitin to the base of the climb. We watched the dawn slowly break as bursts of pre-dawn lightning illuminated Mont Blanc to our west. Shaking off the lightning jitters, we made our way along the edge of the 'schrund to the base of the route, stepped across and started climbing unroped. The hard snow was perfect styrofoam, and we took turns setting the pace. About 1800 feet later the pitch steepened to almost 60 degrees, and then we topped out onto the plateau. We crossed a little bowl, and made our way up to the summit. Nice view of the spine of western Europe--with the Matterhorn visible in the distance.
The descent was a little more problematic. We didn't want to down-climb the steep route we had just climbed, the "Regular Route" is threatened by seracs, and down-climbing the West Ridge seemed like it might take too long. So we made our way down the massive Southwest Face, which worked out okay, although we had to rap two or three times and the pro was thin. The face was a pretty steep agglomeration of loose, shale-like rock overlaid by melting patches of snow.
We finally stumbled up to the hut about 1pm, grabbed the rest of our gear, and were in Bourg St Pierre in time for an early dinner.
Never had to rope up, and the conditions we encountered could not have been more the D-. Another great day in the mountains.