La Tour Ronde North Face (II D, 350m)

Two hours in bed, one hour playing cards.

That was the approximate ratio of events other than mealtimes, which formed our third category of activity for Friday.

We only knew one card game and even then we only half knew the rules, which at least meant we could alter them subtly with each game.

Friday morning's weather was quite frankly abysmal but at least the bunk beds in the Torino hut were comfortable. Very comfortable in fact.

Winds were expected to be high during Friday but optimistically we had hoped it would be less than forecast and allow a modest ascent of some sort. Plan A for the trip had been the Ginat on the North face of Les Droites. Reputedly in great condition but frustratingly without a weather window to make an attempt. Our only fine weather day had been during our first climb on Modica-Noury when we were not sufficiently acclimatised to try much beyond this. Currently the North Face of Aiguille de Toule was under consideration, a fifth of the height of les Droites and described as a 'good route for beginners'. Sadly the forecast was true to form. The volumes of horizontal snow blowing past our dorm window indicated no further investigation necessary. On the plus side the forecast for Saturday was looking better, having looked diabolical a few days ago. Consequently a restful day was in order whilst we waited for the storm to pass.

Our flights were scheduled for the Sunday morning from Geneva, making it was absolutely essential that we catch the last cable car to Courmayeur after any climbing on Saturday. A relatively conservative option was needed and so we elected to return to Tour Ronde to try the North Face. Over eight years after climbing the slightly harder North Couloir to the right. Alarms set for 5am.

Thankfully the wind had settled by the morning and we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise. What's more the aggressive Northerly winds the previous day looked to have scoured the North Face of Tour Ronde, stripping some of the loose snow and and improving conditions a little.

Sunrise over Tour Ronde (left) & the Mont Blanc massif
Rob beneath the North Face

We moved together over the entirety of the route with just one intermediate belay to switch leads. The lower slopes turned out still soft. Or more precisely consisting of a soft top layer of snow with a thin layer of neve underneath, under which was more soft snow. Consequently I needed to kick deep steps in order to feel secure, which proved time consuming but at least it was steady methodical progress. I clung to the right hand edge of the face, placing occasional rock protection. My hands immersed in the snow were becoming cold and after ten minutes of no feeling in my finger tips I stopped to generate some circulation. Rob's toes weren't faring much better.

View down to Rob near the start of the climb

Conditions improved in the ice couloir, where the route bottlenecked and steepened. The relentlessly slabbed angle strained my calves but otherwise felt steady. Some moderately brittle ice but this probably lay with the lack of features. I somehow missed the belay bolts and continued up a thin passage of ice to the left of the start of the upper face. With just two ice screws remaining I made a belay.

Rob continued up the final stretch of ice, exiting onto the upper via a cramped short corner. Then onto the left hand edge of the upper face, which was densely packed with firm neve. Consequently we moved at surprising pace compared to the lower slopes and soon enough were at the top of the face. Twenty minutes later we were both on the summit. Third time of asking for me, having descended by other routes the two previous occasions on the mountain.

Clouds had progressively been developing through the latter morning and within minutes of summiting we were immersed. Then the wind picked up. Without much time to linger we started our descent down the SE Ridge.

Final section of ice before the upper slope
Belay at the top of the North Face
Brief summit views before the clouds rolled in within minutes
The summit
Fortunately a pair of climbers had arrived just ahead of us, thereby making it a case of just following their footsteps in reverse. Soon we were leaving the ridge by a series of abseils until below the bergschrund. Then the cautious trudge amidst poor visibility across the snowfield between Tour Ronde and Aiguille de Toule taking care for hidden crevasses. Fortunately the cloud was thin at lower levels and so navigation back to the Torino hut was without dramas.

Descent into the murk

It rounded off what was actually quite a successful trip in light of the unsettled weather. We took most of the opportunities available to climb something.

Although it does mean another trip to try and climb Les Droites.

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