January 2005

After a hectic Christmas at home we headed for the Alps. The snow was really good and so was the weather. In fact, the sun shone for almost three weeks so the snow rapidly became a bit thin.

We had always thought to go on a helicopter trip around the Mont Blanc area, so as Brian and Helen were also staying in Argentière, they agreed to share the ride. It was a particularly clear day and I drove up the track to Chamonix Mont Blanc Helicopters to see if we could organise a trip. Pascal Brun, the pilot, was airborne somewhere over the mountains, but he agreed on the radio to take us in twenty minutes. A mad rush back to the flat to pick up the others and we were ready to go.  There was a short delay while Pascal flew off on a rescue mission to the Grands Montets but we had a cup of chocolate in the Cremerie du Glacier while we waited.

Pascal has carried out many daring rescues in all manner of foul weather so he immediately inspired confidence. In fact, he was the pilot who rescued Gilly after she was avalanched at Le Tour four years ago. He remembers it, he says, because he sang "Hello Mrs Robinson" as he went to pick her up.

The entire flight took 31 minutes and we flew over every big peak in the area and landed briefly on the top of Mont Blanc (15,800ft)

CMBH Squirrel

We flew up towards the icefall on the Argentière Glacier

Glacier d'Argentiere

This is the bit you can't ski down!

Col du Passon

The Col du Passon on the NW side of the Glacier d'Argentière. A group of us climbed up this a few years ago carrying large rucksacks filled with wine and the ingredients for Mike to cook a gourmet meal in the winter refuge of the Albert Premier refuge! If you look carefully, you can make out two people in the snow just beneath the isolated rock below the  left buttress. This will give some idea of the scale of things.

Col du Chardonnet

On the South side of the Chardonnet is the col which forms the first major uphill bit of the Haute Route. Twice I've struggled up the 3000ft of this glacier with a heavy rucksack. This way is much easier!

Plateau du Triente

We flew over the Glacier du Triente. I'd skied across this some years ago as part of the Haute Route. You can just make out the Triente refuge in the centre of the picture.

Mont Blanc over the Droite

Our track took us over Mont Dolent (where France, Italy and Switzerland all meet) and back along the ridge of mountains on the SE edge of the Argentière Glacier - The Coortes, Droite and the Aiguille Verte (all 4000m high). It was fantastic to see Mont Blanc framed behind them. Various mad idiots have skied down some of these vertical snowfields!

Chamonix Valley from the summit of Aiguille Verte

We continued around the edge of the Aiguille Verte and could look down at the top of Les Drus and the Chamonix Valley far below.

Grand Combin and Matterhorn

As we turned the corner and flew towards Italy, over the Glacier du Talliflere we could see the Matterhorn in the far distance just to the left of the Grand Combin. Amazing to think we skied all the way there on the Haute Route.

Walker Spur

Walker Spur

Walker Spur

Because we had told Pascal that Mike had climbed the Walker Spur on the Grand Jorasses, he decided to fly us up the entire face, just a rotors width from it. Had it been anyone else, I would have been terrified. It took Mike two days to climb, with a third night just below the summit on the way down. We did it in three or four minutes! I'm glad that I wasn't aware at the time he climbed it, just how serious it was!

His friend Rob climbed the ice field in the middle picture (called "The Shroud") in two days and skied down it (in a lot less than two days!)

Top of Pte Walker, Grands Jorasses

This is the view from the top of the climb (Pte Walker, nearly as high as Mont Blanc). We could see some footsteps in the snow. In the top left corner of the picture is the Aiguille du Midi, start of the Vallée Blanche ski trail which runs down the Glacier du Geante and into the Mer de Glace on the right.

Grand Jorasses

We now flew along the border with Italy (on the left) along the razor sharp ridge leading from the Grands Jorasses towards the Brenva face of Mont Blanc. The isolated black tower to the right of the ridge is the Dente du Geante (Giants tooth)

Mont Blanc

Approaching Mont Blanc, Pascal gave us a commentary on all the famous climbs and features.

The top

As he flew closer to the we seriously began to suspect that we might land. Sure enough he touched down very gently on the top. We stayed there for three minutes in a state of great excitement. 15,800ft wow!

The views had been simply stunning throughout the entire flight but this capped it all.


The South side of the Chamonix Valley is bounded by numerous Mountains but I hadn't really realised just how sharp pointed they all were until I saw them in close up - it's not surprising that they are called Aiguilles (needles)

Top lift Grands Montets

The top lift at the Grands Montets (Not yet open in early January)

Ice climb on he Argentiere Glacier

On the way back we passed three climbers on the ice at the side of the Argentière Glacier

It had been a fantastic trip and it had all passed very quickly. We all were very impressed with the expertise of Pascal and would happily be rescued by him any time! I could recommend the trip to anyone as the thrill of a lifetime.