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~ Wednesday 1st July 2015

A warm welcome and pleasant evening at the Trient hut was somewhat compromised by a 3am breakfast...but a long day ahead and a warm forecast left no choice but a pre-dawn start.

Bleary eyes and poor camera focussing in the early morning!

We found great, well-frozen snow at the fenetre de Saleina - surely a good omen for the Col du Chardonnet?

Argentiere North Face seracs in the dawn light

A quick scuttle past the Argentiere north face seracs revealed the truth though - the Swiss side of the Col de Chardonnet, (in)famous in ski-touring circles, was looking very bare. A determined pull got me over the bergschrund, then 10m of nice snow-ice led into a longish section best described as "mixed".

Swiss side of the Col du Chardonnet. Nice

Thankfully there was still some nice snow at the top, and we soon popped out at the col. Feeling somewhat committed to the plan it was a relief to find the snow in France still nice and chilly. A quick descent, a sharp left turn, and a tiring slog following Ibex tracks up the Glacier Supérieur du Chardonnet put us in position to tackle the tricky bit of the Whymper route, which weaves a complex line up the NW face. This is in fact the line of the first ascent of the Aiguille d'Argentiere - an all-star team of Whymper, Croz, Charlet and Payot climbed this way in 1864, presumably unaware that a more direct and easier (though serious) line existed up the hidden Milieu Glacier. It must have taken considerable optimism to continue when faced with this view!

Hidden amongst the rock buttresses lies a narrow gully, which leads up to an impressive position on the NW ridge.

Glacier Supérieure du Chardonnet, and the narrow "S" gully of the Whymper route.

Above, a steep rock face seems to block the way, but at the last minute the snow finish of the North face appears and offers a great finale. The exposure on the face is huge, amplified by the contrast with the narrow gully below!

The final steps on the north face with the Saleina glacier far below

Counter-balanced on the Aiguille d'Argentiere Summit Ridge

The summit of the Aiguille d'Argentiere is a magnificent spot with stunning views, tempered by anticipation of the descent of the Milieu glacier. This is steep, long and serious - an eye-opening exercise in cramponning! It's a relief when the angle eases and you can enjoy the view.