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Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed routes?

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Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed routes?

Postby ben jammin » Mon Jan 23, 2006 11:33 am

A question to the SP alpine experts:

When is a good time of year to visit the Mont Blanc range to do snow, ice and mixed routes?

François Damilano’s latest Mont Blanc <i>snow, ice and mixed</i> guide book is quite inspirational and I’m thinking of basing myself in the Argentière and/or Talèfre basins for a week or two later this year to give of some of the many routes there a try.

It seems to me that there must be an optimum time of year somewhere between mid-winter (cold, avalance risk, bad weather) and the high summer (melting routes, rock-fall danger, crowds, etc.), but I’m not sure when exactly this would be.

Last year, for example, I visited the Mont Blanc range in late July, only to find many of the classic north face routes out of condition already and with significant rock-fall danger.

What wisdom can you offer on the timing of a trip to have a good chance of getting up some routes?
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby fdoctor » Mon Jan 23, 2006 12:22 pm

ben, like you for the last four years I've visited Chamonix and Saas Fee in July only to find many routes useless.
Many huts open in mid-late June so I think its time to try a month earlier
fd
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby ben jammin » Mon Jan 23, 2006 2:31 pm

I was in fact thinking of heading there in early June. The huts won't be open for full service, but the winter rooms should be available - I don't mind catering for myself.

The main uncertainty I have is whether anything speaks against going this early in the season. Is there still too much snow around? Would routes have to be approached on ski? Are the glacier crossings problematic?
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby fdoctor » Mon Jan 23, 2006 3:13 pm

I think your question is a sort of contradiction, if you know what I mean. If there's not much snow on routes in Mid July, then in early June there should be snow at a "level" we used to get in July. Sorry, going round in circles here.
I would go in early to mid June and just apply usual precautions, after all its not like you are going in December!
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby Tom Fralich » Mon Jan 23, 2006 8:17 pm

Ben - I went there at the end of May last summer and it was already quite warm. But there were a few snow/ice routes in conditions at that time (N Face Col du Plan, Eperon Migot, Y Couoir on the Verte). The bigger ice faces and goulottes like Les Droites and Supercouloir were already gone or too dangerous due to the warm temperatures. It was 35 degrees in Chamonix by early June. I think if you really want to climb ice routes, either goulottes of big faces, March can be a good time. I've been there twice in March and both times, there were good ice objectives. One trip was better than the other and there were many routes to choose from. Les Droites, Les Courtes, Ravanal-Frendo, Petit Viking, Voie Charlet on Dolent, Modica-Noury, Gabarrou-Albinoni, Supercouloir, etc are often good at that time. June is too late for many of these routes. I think early May is probably a better time if you want to wait for spring/early summer. The issue at that time, though, is that the cable cars/huts are often closed. And there is often a lot of snow falling during the April/May period. In March, all the cable cars are operating for ski season. If you want, we can dicuss this by phone...e-mail me and I'll send you my number.
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby ben jammin » Tue Jan 24, 2006 10:47 am

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your detailed input!

I guess I already knew that early spring (March) would be better for ice routes, but I was hoping to avoid wintery temperatures and snow conditions (ski approaches, etc.).

My concern with timing things for the May/June period would be whether the bulk of the winter snow has melted out already to make glacier crossing and hut and route approaches feasible on foot. Also wouldn't want to get caught up in any late-season wet snow avalanches...

I suppose that the onset of 35-degree summer temperatures will vary from year to year, and a bit of luck is always required with the weather.

The fact that the cable cars and huts are closed in May/June doesn't worry me too much - it just means a slightly longer walk in and self-catering in the winter room.
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby Tom Fralich » Tue Jan 24, 2006 3:55 pm

May/early-June is a really changeable period, so it's really difficult to know what you will get. You may still need skis, especially in May. And I think that June is really too late for what you want to do. On one of my March trips, we were able to go everywhere without skis, so you may want to keep an eye on the OHM website and just go if the climbing is good. It will be clear by mid- to late-Feb what the winter climbing scene will be like this season. The thing to keep in mind is that Chamonix usually receives more snow in April than in any of the "winter" months. So you may, in fact, find more snow and more difficult approaches in May than in March. Also, the temperatures are not as cold as you might expect in March.
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Re: Best time for Mont Blanc range snow, ice and mixed route

Postby ben jammin » Wed Jan 25, 2006 11:59 am

Hmm... I hear what you're saying, Tom. Time to brush up on the skiing skills and make an offering to the weather gods...

Thanks for the input.
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