1° ascent: Thomas Stuart Kennedy with Jean Antoine Carrel and Johann Fisher, July 2nd, 1872 (first route opened on the W face of MB. J.A. Carrel was Wympher's rival in the race for Matterhorn)
1° winter ascent: Vittorio, Corradino and Alessandro Sella with Emile Rey, Jean Joseph, Daniel and Baptiste Maquignaz, Jan 5, 1888 (this very fast party took only one day from the Quintino Sella hut to the Grand Mulets hut. Vittorio Sella was later to become famous for his stunning Karakorum pictures)
The top of the Tournette Spur was the site of the famous Malabar Princess aerial disaster, in Nov. 3, 1950. A Lockheed Super Constellation in route to India hit the flank of the mountain for still unclear reasons. Apparently under the assumption that some survivor could have reached the Vallot Hut, a rescue expedition was hastily organized. Unfortunately, tragedy stuck again, and team leader Renè Payot was killed near the Col Du Midi falling into a thinly covered crevasse (for a strange coincidence, less than 100 meters away from the point where is brother had been killed by an avalanche in 1939). Remains of the airplane have been recently found at the bottom of the Pelerin glacer
ApproachQuintino Sella Hut (3363m.)
Located at 3363m, on a real eagle-nest at the top of the rock spur dividing the Dome and Mt. Blanc Glacier - high above the Italian Miage glacier. 10 beds, wood-burning stove - always open without warden. Restored at the beginning of the 90's, it's still extremely spartan, and is the Mt. Blanc hut that sees less traffic (no more than 10 parties every season, according to the logbook). Very eerie and solitary!
Approach (diff. PD+/AD-, 7-8h, 1500m. ):
From La Visaille/Plan Lognan, 1670m (in Val Veny, car park and a couple of small restaurants - reachable by car or using the bus service in 30 minutes from Courmayeur), walk 1 hour on the car road that goes up gently for almost 3 km. until the panoramic Plan Combal, 1990m (tiny bar/restaurant here - a little deviations brings you in 5 minutes to the glacial Lac Miage). Until 1992 it was possible to drive up here, but massive rockfall from the adjacent Mt. Fortin has made local authorities put a barrier at Plan Lognan. There are plans to have the road reverted back to a forest trail.
From Plan Combal, follow the indications to "Rif. Gonella" (trail number "S15" marked in yellow). The trail pass briefly a gorgeous grassy area, the goes up steeply to reach the glacier moraine, first on a grassy/stony narrow ridge (awkward in rainy condition, pay attention here) then towards the centre covered with boulders and rocks (yellow painted sign points). More or less at 2400m, at the confluence of the Mt. Blanc glacier, turn right (3 hours from La Visaille/Plan Lognan). Climb for 200/300 meters the steep snow-ice slope left of the glacier, avoiding the crevasses that becomes more frequent, then leave the glacier and go left toward a grassy couloir. Follow this couloir until you reach the base of the snow channel that comes down from the suspended glacier above. At this point, you'll see a marked rock ridge on the left. Scramble up this ridge (a faint path here), crossing several rock steps. At some point (3100m) you should see the remains of a older hut). Up above you, you'll see a cross, marking the position of the Quintino Sella. Simply scramble (some passage is a bit exposed) until you reach it (7 or 8 hours from La Visaille / Plan Lognan).
Another way to reach the QS hut is via the "link couloir" from the Gonella Hut. You simply cross the Dome glacier from the Gonella, then climb the huge couloir on the other side (the Quintino Sella hut is perfectly visible all the time). Easier than the regular access (PD), is nevertheless longer (2.30h from Gonella) and exposed to stonefall in the afternoon. However, in the last few seasons the old approach has become relatively dangerous in advanced season, so the Gonella link may be preferable. As always, call the Bureau Des Guides at Courmayeur (tel. +39 0165 842064; fax. +39 0165 842357; email email@example.com) to know what you should do.
If you want to avoid the 3 kms of road at the beginning, there's a variation starting right from the car park at Plan Lognan: just after the bridge, on the right, take the path marked "Lago Delle Marmotte". The path (with many ups and downs) cross all the tree covered lower part of the moraine, into a small plain where used to be the nice "Marmot Lake", unfortunately destroyed by a huge flood in 2000. From here, there's an evident path going up the moraine again, where it meets the previous itinerary.
From the Quintino Sella hut go in NE direction until you reach the icy, steep slope of the little col above (3660 m., the col is on the snowy S shoulder of the "Rochers").
or (if the slope is too crevassed):
From the Quintino Sella hut traverse horizontally the small glacier, then a small couloir, then a little but marked rocky ridge until the shoulder
Once on the shoulder, cross the upper plateau of the Mt. Blanc glacier, targeting the snow slope between the Tournette spur and a rocky rognon on the right (this is one of the wildest, loneliest places in the entire Mont Blanc massif! - great views around). Cross the rimaye and climb this easy slope (some stonefall danger here - be fast). On the upper snowfield, go left to the first rocky crest you see, tha marks the right side of the Tournette spur (3900 m). Climb this very long crest (easy, II/III, but in icy condition it can be tricky), until it ends abruptly on another snowy shoulder at 4450m). Above this shoulder, follow the pleasant snow slope (another great panoramic spot!) until a small rock barrier. Climb it through a little snowy couloir. Above there's another snow slope, then again a rocky couloir. You'll see the top of the Tournette (4677m) above you . Once on the ridge, the top of Mont Blanc is 20 minutes away on the right.
(Don't be tempted to make the leftward traverse from the 4450 shoulder to the Bosses ridge - it's pointless, and severely exposed to avalanches!)
Height difference from the hut 1500m. Allow 7 to 9 hours from the Quintino Sella hut if the conditions are good. However, in mediocre conditions the route can take up to 12 hours. Very early start (2AM) required.
While all the "normal" MB equipment is of course necessary (ice axe, crampons, rope, helmet, etc.), and the choice of clothes goes accordingly, in normal conditions you shouldn't need real pitches here, and most of the route can be done simul-climbing.
However, often conditions are far less than perfect, and so some additional hardware may be required - medium sized friends and taper/nuts, plus some ice screw will do. Bring tape/rope slings too.
As always - altimeter, compass and a good map could save your life if things turns ugly!
The Tournette Spur one of the best and most overlooked medium difficulty route to the top of MB.
It's varied but not particularly technical, aesthetic, very straightforward, and relatively safe (except for the lower slopes of the Tournette, a bit exposed to stonefall). The ambient is incredible: the Miage is not only the most remote and coldest of the MB faces, but also the one that compares favourably with Himalaya.
The Tournette (often called improperly Rochers) used to be a relatively busy route, enough to justify the construction (in 1885) of the Quintino Sella hut. But the "discovery" of the far easier Gonella route, and then the gradual shift of emphasis on the French route as the "normals" has put this splendid route in a long obscurity. But this add simply to its mystique - you'll have plenty of solitude here.
if you're fit, acclimatized, have a fairly solid mountaineering experience, there's no reason why you shouldn't climb MB from here (and the look of surprise on the face of the "hordes" coming up the Bosses ridge when you pop up from the Tournette top is priceless :) )
If you're fit enough but you've little MB or mountaineering experience, consider taking a guide. (check the Courmayeur guide site at www.guidecourmayeur.com for more info).
This route isn't recommended as a mean to descend from MB. However, should the weather turns bad or if the wind becomes excessive, it's safer (below the 4450m shoulder) to go back to the QS hut rather than attempt to reach the Bosses ridge.