Landscape: The Chardonnet

I’d wanted to climb the Aiguille du Chardonnet since the first time I saw it. Two summers ago, I was living in its shadow in Argentiere, France; in that part of the Chamonix valley, this peak is one of the most distinctive. It’s got the good pyramid-symmetry going on, and it glows yellow then orange when the sun sets each night. It wasn’t until my recent trip to France that I had the chance to climb the Chardonnet with my friend, climbing guru Andy P. Instead of doing some wussy ridge on the thing, he wanted to do a route on its north face (covered by wispy clouds in the photo below):

…so I struggled along with him, returning that evening to our bivouac with a bloody lip (top, right), feeling otherwise sleep-deprived and sore. We started climbing as usual in the wee hours of the morning, crossing a crevasse field in the dark. Then some steep switch-backing took us to the base of our chosen route: the Charlet-Bettembourg, a gully of steep Styrofoam snow and solid ice, littered with rocks along the way:

On the second pitch, I managed to hit myself in the face with the blunt end of my ice axe, so I left behind a nice trail of blood for a while, but luckily I didn’t knock a tooth out. We eventually topped out to take in a magnificent view of the surrounding peaks, including the Aiguille d’Argentiere:

But by the time we summited, our descent route had deteriorated into the consistency of mashed potatoes slipping around on a sheet of glass. It was nasty, and I was moving painfully slow. And once we got back to the base, we still had to return to our camp. A shortcut through a serac field didn’t quite work out, so we ended up chopping a bollard to rappel off one of the ice cliffs. Sketchy—but it worked. Anyway, that’s how these things go, good with the bad. We had perfect weather..and only a few technicalities to deal with along the way.

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