The Petite Aiguille Verte is an excellent peak for training and acclimatizing that is easily accessed from Argentière via the Grands Montets cable car. All of the routes are quite short and can be climbed year-round. The normal route along the NW Ridge is quite interesting and is ideally suited for beginning alpine climbers. It involves some moderately steep snow, crossing a rimaye/bergschrund, and a few easy rock moves (UIAA III) on an exposed ridge. It is featured in Rebuffat's 100 Finest Climbs of the Mont Blanc Massif.
The views from the summit ridge are quite nice, with the Aig du Chardonnet, Aig d'Argentiere, and Tour Noire visible to the east, and Les Drus and the Grands Montets Ridge of the Aiguille Verte to the south.
All routes can be accessed from the Grands Montets cable car, which is located just outside the town of Argentiere. There is frequent bus service to the base station from all of the major villages in the Chamonix valley (Le Tour, Chamonix, Les Houches, etc). The Chamonix valley can be reached easily by bus from the Geneva Airport in under 2 hours (service provided by SAT Bus Company), or by train from virtually anywhere in Europe.
1) NW Ridge (100m on the ridge, F+/PD-, UIAA III, 3 hrs) -- The normal route to the summit, a classic, and often very crowded. It is possible to bivouac at the top station of the Grands Montets to get a head start on those coming up from the valley (bring a sleeping bag). From the cable car station, go down the stairs to the small glacier and head directly across the Col des Grands Montets. Climb directly up the snow slopes ahead, straight up at first, and then trending right towards an obvious saddle on the ridge. Cross the bergschrund at any point (usually far to the right, almost below the saddle) and continue on to reach the saddle (approx. 3,400m). Turn left up the ridge, passing over moderately steep but easy mixed ground (45 degrees). Eventually cross to the right side of the ridge and arrive at a belay stance below the crux rock step. Climb up slightly right, then traverse a few steps left on a sloping ledge and make the long reach for large handholds (UIAA III). Climb up past fixed slings and continue along the sharp and exposed ridge to the summit. In winter, the ridge can be quite snowy and tricky in sections. The saddle just before the summit can be somewhat delicate under snowy conditions.
2) NW Face (100m, PD, 45 degrees, 2-3 hrs) -- Climb any line up the face directly opposite the Grands Montets, crossing the bergschrund at any convenient point. When looking at the face, the NW Ridge is on the right and NNE Ridge on the left.
3) NNE RIdge (150m, PD, 3 hrs) -- An alternative to the NW Ridge. Start as for the normal route, but cross the bergschrund at its left end to reach the NNE Ridge. Follow the ridge over or around several rock towers to reach a curving snow crest (the "Demi-Lune"). Continue to the summit rocks.
4) ENE (Chevalier) Couloir (300m, PD+, 50-55 degrees, 3 hrs) From the Col des Grands Montets, head down the Glacier du Rognon towards the Argentiere Glacier and countour right along the base of the Grands Montets Ridge descending from the Aiguille Verte to reach the start of the wide couloir. Climb steeply up snow and ice (50-55 degrees) to reach the snow crest on the NNE Ridge ("Demi-Lune"), just before the summit rocks.
Note: The Alpine Club guide rates the Chevalier Couloir PD+. However, one French guidebook rates it AD+ to D, depending on the condition of the bergschrund. I found it a bit difficult for PD+ and believe AD+ is a more accurate rating.
There are no permits or fees required to climb. A round-trip ticket to the top of the Grands Montets costs about 20 Euro. Keep in mind though that the cable car is closed briefly in the spring and fall (between the peak seasons for climbing and skiing).
The Petit Aiguille Verte can be climbed year-round and is an excellent climb in winter (highly recommended). Crossing the rimaye may be more difficult in summer and there may be a substantial amount of snow on the ridge in winter, both of which may add to the overall difficulty. There are far fewer people in winter, however, which improves the overall experience.
- The Mont Blanc Massif: The 100 Finest Routes (Gaston Rébuffat) (several editions) - Mont Blanc Massif: Selected Climbs (Lindsay Griffin) (Volumes I and II, ISBN 0900523573 and 0900523581)