Skiing the Mont Blanc Lines

David Garnier skiing Glacier du Milieu Mont Blanc Lines

An exclusive extract from Alex Buisse's Mont Blanc Lines, which is available to buy now. 



I leave the Argentière hut in the dark, the approach is pretty quick. From the base of the Y Couloir, conditions seem dry at the bottom but quite full of snow near the top. I have to do a few moves of dry-tooling under the light of my headlamp to get established in the snow couloir. This is a good wake up, the monotony of the night-time ski touring climb from the hut was sending me to sleep. Once in the couloir, the snow conditions seem optimal and I feel perfectly fit, so I decide to go watch the sunrise from the summit. I am a rather playful person and I like to set myself small personal challenges. Am I up for it?

Alpine start on the Améthystes glacier, with the three north faces of the Argentière basin in the background.

So, I try to set the pace. The intensity of the effort, the increasing altitude but also the icy cold of the night burn my throat. But what a pleasure it is to move in this environment: a stark silence, just the sound of my crampons in the snow. Total darkness, only the halo of my headlamp on the mountain and the stars above my head. An almost mystical atmosphere.

Contemplating the sun at Col du Tour Noir after bailing due to poor rock quality

In full focus, I move by listening to this silence. Then comes the moment to choose a branch of the Y. Having already explored the left-hand variant, I go to the right. The conditions are pretty good, just a few patches of ice below the snow, which reminds me that I must remain focused, more haste, less speed ... As I reach the top of the couloir, I can make out the surrounding mountains; the first light of day appears, but the sun is not yet visible. Phew, because I’m not quite at the top yet. I still have a few metres to go on the ridge, but I don’t stop and I keep the pace. A few minutes later, that’s it, the summit! What an extraordinary feeling when I set foot upon it. Like flicking a switch, the first ray of sunlight appears at this exact moment. Amazing! I did wonder if it hadn’t been waiting for me. During my ascent, I was already picturing the photo I would take of this sunrise at the summit. But ultimately the magic of this unique moment pushes me to enjoy it fully. No photo could capture the emotion of the moment – the images are in my head. In a few seconds, daylight is here and all the landforms around me take shape. I put on an extra layer, take out a thermos of tea and some biscuits from my bag. Isn’t life great? Not a bad place for breakfast? I take my time, alone at the top, ahead of my original schedule. I can’t go down too early anyway if I want to have good snow to ski.

Ascending the Améthystes glacier at sunrise, with Tour Jaune looming above

I stay a long time on the summit contemplating the mountain and imagining my future adventures, then prepare for the descent. I decide to go down the Glacier du Milieu, the classic ascent route. I put my skis on at the top. I have to be careful at the start as the snow is hard, even icy, and the slope below is quite steep. If I were to fall, the slide would be several hundred metres long with a likely violent landing at the bottom of the rimaye. I carefully descend to the small rocky narrowing, a forty- five-degree slope just the width of the skis. Then the couloir widens. The snow becomes softer, I let myself go and make wide sweeping turns. I spot skiers going up far below me. They wave at me with big gestures, but I don’t immediately understand.

I slow down and head in their direction. They were showing me the only small snow bridge through the huge rimaye that slashes the face. Perfect! Thanks, friends! Once this last hurdle is cleared, I let myself glide down the glacier and then back to the Grands Montets ski area to find civilisation. My head is still up there, in the stars. I feel like I’ve lived a timeless moment.