/ Spring conditions around Mont Blanc

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Jonny on 08 Mar 2019

My last couple of summer trips (June/July) to the Mont Blanc massif have seen some of the most dangerous conditions I've seen on a mountain (mostly in the form of falling rocks). This year I'd thought I'd head out a bit earlier, in April/May. I'll be heading out with a friend who I haven't climbed wiht for a while, and it'd be nice to ease into things with a classic (long) mixed route. Some I had in mind were the Innominata, Kuffner, Frendo spur, N face of the Tour Ronde, Via Major on the Brenva face, something more snow and ice focused (Brenva spur), or something mostly on rock (Arete du Diable traverse). For those that can be (all but the Tour Ronde), it would be nice to combine them with an ascent of Mont Blanc, although that might well be too much to ask this early.

I've never been so early in the year. Any advice on which routes are most likely to be in condition in April/May, assuming the winter plods along as it has done? Ski approaches are assumed.

Post edited at 10:33
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Jonny on 08 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Fair enough, I understand the silence. April/May is probably one of the most variable times of the year, and still a way off in this strange winter we're having.

I'm certainly keen to find something in good nick during those months. Firstly because that's the only time I can go, but most of all because those July rock showers were just unpleasant. I'm confident in my own skills, but not about being laid bare before out-melting missiles.

How are the seracs on the Brenva face these last few years? Is the face avalanche-prone early in the year? Certainly not great in summer from what I saw. I suppose the Kuffner and Innominata are made significantly more difficult with too much snow on them, but I don't know how anyone tolerates the rockfall in later months. It wasn't even that warm when I was last there and observing the chaos.

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alexm198 - on 08 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

I don't have much useful to add apart from to keep an eye on Chamoniarde (chamoniarde.com/en/mountain-topics/mountain-conditions#) and on the Alpine Conditions page here on UKC. And talk to the OHM in Chamonix when you arrive. 

It's difficult to say whether the routes you mention would be in condition. I expect that the Kuffner, Frendo and Tour Ronde north face would probably be OK, but of course it depends how good you are at climbing routes in sub-par conditions. Arete du Diable might be OK if the rock itself is dry. Later in the season the access can be difficult as the approach couloir is just a load of steep choss, so going early may work in your favour. I have no idea about the Innominata, but it's considerably more committing than some of the other things on your list. I wouldn't want to get shut down by conditions half way up.

I was under the impression that the routes on the Brenva Face (in particular Route Major and The Pear) were complete chop routes. I've certainly not heard of anyone climbing them in recent years. But I know a few people who've been on the Brenva Spur and said it wasn't that bad. Hard to advise without knowing your threshold of acceptable risk. 

Personally I think it's always worth having a poke around and seeing what there is to do. Good luck! 

Post edited at 15:20
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Jonny on 08 Mar 2019
In reply to alexm198:

Great, thanks for the information. It sounds like we'll find something then - I'm happy enough climbing in sub-par conditions if the objective risks are kept in check. The Kuffner sounds promising, since that was one I got shut down on by conditions a few years ago. Perhaps nip up the Tour Ronde for acclimitisation beforehand. If conditions and weather are right for the Innominata, that'd be great, but I agree about its commitment. Happy to rule out the Brenva face - your comments confirmed my suspicions. EDIT: Luca's comments on the face are interesting: https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/expedition+alpine/mont_blanc_-_brenva_face_conditions-305713. Seems the Spur and Major are doable (or were in 2008).

Thanks, and best of luck yourself with your Caucasus trip!

Post edited at 16:08
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Martin Haworth on 08 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny: If conditions at Chamonix are problematic when you're there, you could always try heading to Ailefroide, it's about a four hour drive. The peaks are a bit lower 3000m to 4000m and a bit further south so you may get better conditions. There are some north faces and couloir routes that might be in condition. If its crap everywhere then escape to Verdon.

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alexm198 - on 08 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Yeah I came across that 2008 thread while searching for info on the Brenva earlier. As Luca says, the problem was not only the objective serac danger on the route but also the access (owing the 1997 rockfall). So even if it's calmed down from an access perspective, it's still threatened by seracs. Route Major is a totally different proposition to the Spur itself, and my perception of it was that the Spur was considerably less objectively dangerous (though still not exactly safe). 

Anyway, entirely depends on your appetite for seracs! Certainly an impressive line.

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George.D - on 11 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Brenva spur was getting done by a few parties last year in late June - it was a small window of good conditions though and you have to be confident moving fast for a long time on sustained and objectively dangerous ground. It has a somewhat bad reputation and most people do not really seem to consider it as an option these days. Kuffner is much more reliable being a ridge route and early season with a good freeze there is a good chance of acceptable conditions - it would be slow going under heavy snow. Tour ronde north face seems to be getting worse each year - there was a few weeks when it was busy last year (I think in late May/June), but it quickly went out of condition. It did not look like it was heading in the right direction when I saw it a few weeks ago, but there is plenty of time for things to develop. If you are up or it, the Frendo would be a good option.

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L Ondrej Nejedly - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

We did Tour Ronde N Face in early May last year and it was good. All in deeper snow besides approx. 60 m of solid ice in the middle. I guess this means more physically, but less technically demanding conditions comparing to more summerly months. The crevasse at the bottom was already quite wide but passable. I think another good source of information for this area is the hut keeper at the Torino hut.

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David Rose - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

You will find plenty to do if the weather is good, but you will certainly need those ski approaches. The routes on the Tacul should be good (Gabbarrou - Albinoni, Modica - Noury, Lafaille, probably the Supercouloir). Abominette on the Freney face of Mt Blanc is likely to be in condition. Routes in the Argentier basin should also be good and offer a chance to tackle several climbs from one base: Y Couloir on the Argentiere, the Mt Dolent N face couloir, Petit Viking, the Swiss route on the Courtes, the Coutourier or one of its variants on the Verte. Also consider Fil a Plomb on the Aig du Plan. Stacks and stacks to go at. 

Post edited at 19:13
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Jonny on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to George.D:

The Tour Ronde N face was one of the standout death traps in summer, with constant rockfall. Good to hear from you Ondrej that it can be in fair nick earlier on, albeit no longer as a predominantly ice route.

In reply to David Rose:

Fantastic! I especially like the look of the Supercouloir, Petit Viking, Swiss Route on les Courtes and the Abominette (might need to pick up a book for a good topo on this one), although they're all pretty tempting. Combining the Kuffner or Innominata (conditions and weather allowing) with a few of the Argentiere climbs sounds perfect.

Thanks all for some great info and suggestions relevant to this time of year. Feel free anyone to chip in with more!

Post edited at 10:29
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