Aiguille Verte, Whymper Couloir (4122 m)

20.-21. July 1996

After several unsuccessful attempts, mostly ending in snow storm, this year the weather and the conditions seem to fit better. Again investing 61 francs for the railway to Montenvers, we arrive at Refuge du Couvercle four hours later - and learn that it is completely booked out. Fortunately we have at least our bivouac equipment with us. 350 m above the hut we find a suitable place on the glacier.
Next day we have an early start, around one o'clock. After a little mistake in route-finding (involving everyone going for Whymper couloir), we reach the proper beginning of the climb at three. In the couloir, we encounter the conditions of the decade: firm snow with often good steps. In 2 1/2 hours we run up the 600 meters to the saddle. Slowly dawn begins; the summit crest is done in 15 minutes.
The last meters, seen from the summit
The last meters, seen from the summit
at six in the morning
At six in the morning
At six o'clock we enjoy a beatiful sunrise on the summit of Aiguille Verte (4122 m): First our neighbour, Mont Blanc, receives a faint pink color, then suddenly the sun rises up behind the Wallis Alps. The long triangular shadow of our mountain can be seen far to the west where still darkness remains.
no large image available
Mont Blanc seen from Aiguille Verte
We must hurry up now, because in July things go on quickly. Still our couloir is in the shadow, free of rock- and icefall. At nine o'clock we are back at the base of the couloir; for the descent some of the loops and anchors at the edge of the couloir are useful. Nine o'clock is also quite exactly the limit to danger: Soon we see falling stones in the couloir, and the snow becomes wet and insecure.
Whympercouloir seen from our bivouac place
Whympercouloir seen from our bivouac place
The further way back is not very spectacular, except for the (apparently normal) tourist traffic jam at the ladders leading up from Mer de Glace to the station Montenvers.

Practical hints

AD, in case of best conditions. With bare ice, it's probably no fun. Completely an ice climb, about 45-50° steep; exposed to the south.
Way to the hut
From Montenvers (rack-railroad from Chamonix) over Mer de Glace and the ladders (beginning at 2180 m at the left glacier rim) to Refuge du Couvercle, 2687 m. 3 1/2 - 4 hours.
From the Refuge about 3 hours over Glacier de Talèfre to the base of Whymper couloir at 3460 m. Always following the couloir, more on the right side, to the saddle 4055 m between Verte and Grande Rocheuse, and from there 10 minutes to the summit, 4122 m. For the couloir about 2 1/2 hours.
Descent like the ascent. Takes about the same time. At the left side of the couloir (seeing downwards), there are anchors about every 50 meters.
Best season: July. We had perfect snow conditions, no ice at all. With bare ice, it's probably quite a different thing.
Attention falling stones: The descent through the couloir must definitely be finished when the sun reaches the couloir, i.e. at nine o'clock. Therefore, departure from the hut at midnight.
Telephone Refuge du Couvercle: +33 450 53 16 94
Guidebook (in German): Rother, Mont Blanc-Gruppe (2000), Route 1181
Map: 1:25000 IGN 3630 ouest "Chamonix-Mont-Blanc"
More images from Aiguille Verte can be found in the image gallery.
© 1997 Hartmut Bielefeldt

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Last updated August 09, 2002 by Hartmut Bielefeldt