Thursday, 9 June 2011

Aiguille Croux, Val Veny

With the unsettled weather continuing, Peter, Tommy, Kip and I were looking for a mountain day which would provide a good summit without too much commitment in case a storm blew in. After much deliberation we found the SW face & S ridge (AD-, IV, 250m) of the Aiguille Croux in Val Veny on the Italian side of the Massif. It makes an appearance in Gaston Rebuffat's book "The Mont Blanc Massif, the 100 Finest Routes", and is described elsewhere as an, "Absolutely delightful moderate rock climb, one of the best in the entire massif for this grade". High praise indeed.

The walk up to the Monzino hut looks like its going to be horrific as you can see the hut high above you when you leave the car park, but it actually only took about 2 hours, and we weren't rushing. We thought that the hut was closed but when we got up there we found that the guardian had arrived that day. Having brought no money this could have been a bit awkward but he kindly let us stay in the winter room, and lent us a pan (which we'd forgotten).

The Aiguille Croux with the route marked in red.

The West face of the Aiguille Noire from just above the Monzino hut.

The next morning we had a slow start and were away from the hut about 8.30, a shocking state of affairs for hardcore alpinists. The walk up to the Croux is pretty brief, about an hour, and you soon find yourself at the foot of the ridge. You can join it slightly higher up but we decided to go right from the bottom. 

Heading into the foot of the ridge

It is mainly scrambling with the odd steep step, and there are probably quite a few routes, you just follow your nose. 

Low down on the ridge

Slightly higher up, roping up for the odd tricky step.

As you head higher and higher you end up drifting onto the crest of the ridge, and about 100 metres below the summit you encounter some "proper" climbing. Initially it is on the crest of the ridge and whilst not particularly hard, it is spectactularly exposed, with the whole south face of the mountain dropping away below. About 50 metres below the summit you reach the crux slab which is again not that hard, but tough enough in mountain boots. The whole top section is bolted though, so we climbed the entire route from the hut using nothing but quickdraws despite bringing a small rack. This is however, dependent on being confident doing some exposed scrambling without gear, so chuck in a couple of cams if you're not sure.

Tommy on the final slab before the summit, Kip and I not far behind.

Me about to start the final pitch.

The summit itself is supposedly an incredible view point, but the whole day was pretty misty so we only glimpsed the views, but what we did see was incredible. I think on a clear day the view of the Aiguille Noire and the Freney face of Mont Blanc would be immense.

From the summit you simply ab down the first 50 metres of the route and then down the face below (the west face?). We had 2 x 50 metre ropes and needed them, doing 45 metre abseils. There are good fixed anchors but the face is quite big so you need to keep your eyes peeled to find them. 4 big abs lead you back to the snow field you cross early on on the route up, and from there you head rightwards, following the normal route back to the hut. From the hut is just a case of walking about 90 minutes back to the car. 

Heading home from the summit

We were amazed with the location of the hut and the route, as well as the solitude up there, and everyone agreed that it was one of the best mountaineering days we had had for ages. A hidden gem.