Got a call on Friday afternoon from Brian asking about going across to Italy and try to climb a multi-pitch route called Rose Marie (TD+, 440m (1,444 feet), 6c) relatively high up (around 2,800m) on the backside of Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses. The plan was to get all the equipment together quickly then drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and follow the ridge on the other side of the Mont Blanc massif until the road ran out then walk up to a refuge for an overnight stay - the Rifugio Dalmazzi (2,584m) below the Aiguille Triolet (3,876m).
The tongue and shoulder of the Triolet Glacier
A touch later than planned, all the gear was collected and stowed in Merv the Swerve and we set off bound for the altitude. I have to say Merv performed admirably and we scooted through the tunnel and turned left just before Courmayeur and went through the small villages on the south side of Mont Blanc following the road winding its way carefully through the less and less inhabited valley. When it started to get pretty bleak and the scenery reminded me of the Lake District on steroids I figured we were closing on the point where size 8's would be the order of the day as transport. Sure enough the dusty gravel path soon became an option no more and packs were hoisted as we set off on foot towards the refuge that looked ominously miles away and even more knackeringly far, far higher.
A small sign claimed that the refuge was 2 1/4 hours away and we left Merv at around 7pm. Whomever wrote that sign obviously had a keen sense of humour. The rocky path was littered every step with large rocks making the walking relatively warming and making sure one kept one's foot placements just so. Brian had booked dinner at the refuge and as I was in no mood for a sprint, he set of at hare's pace to get some food in. After an hour or so, thankfully the hot temperatures of the lower valley started to fall away a little and unthankfully the "path" on the top of the increasingly steep ridge it followed started to steepen yet further and fixed ropes could be seen assisting the route ahead. I passed a family of ibex standing on and around an enormous boulder spat out by the glacier dominating the upper end of the valley. They were really amazing creatures with huge curved horns looking like they should overbalance at any time but sure-footedly worked their way around the loose rock. The glacial water was cascading down waterfalls from the tongue of the glacier creating a constant rumble echoing around the valley and amazing panoramic views.
Sunset looking out from the refuge
After a brief drink and a scramble to cut through the start of the moraines proper it was time for the first roped section - a traverse across the top of an exposed small snowfield. With that carefully negotiated the steepness really began with a vengeance and it was necessary tackle the extremely steep rocky roped sections - something akin to grade 3 and low 4 rock climbing! Another hour of this the refuge loomed ever closer perched high up on a large rock step. The altitude was kicking in with happy abandon and I could feel myself breathless after a minimal amount of time but was recovering well after a few gulps of air so figured all the fitness training of late was pretty effective. I finally arrived at the refuge a little before 10pm as the light in the valley really started to dim. A sandwich and a drink followed then loafed around with Brian waiting to feel sleepy (ably assisted by a quick beer - it was Friday night after all!). At around 11pm we headed off to bed to arise at 6am to head out to the climb.