I’ve wanted to climb Mont Dolent for many years. Although not a massive peak compared with other alpine giants, Mont Dolent is quite unique. Its the point where three of the great alpine countries meet, France to the NW, Switzerland to the East and Italy to the south. With the classic Ice Goulotte of the Charlet-Couturier route on the Argentiere basin face and moderate ski terrain to the south it is an unsung gem of ski mountaineering and offers a near perfect day out if you can just get the timing right….
When Colin Haley asked me if I wanted to do it with him at the weekend I was pretty damn stoked and honored that he wanted to bring a Brit punter like me along. Of course I said yes and we made the necessary preparations in terms of equipment and logistics. I packed a tunnel pass and mentally prepared myself to have to pay a friend to pick us up from Courmayeur at the end of the day (We choose this descent rather than down to La Fouly because we figured it would be cheaper, even though it was longer). When Colin broke the news to me that he’d be taking his Skimo Racing skis I felt slightly despaired. My thinnest, lightest skis are 95mm under the foot and weight almost twice as much, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
In the morning we jostled our way onto the first bin pushing and shoving the others around us in the usual hectic Chamonix style. We clipped in and set off across the “high traverse” under the north faces. Much to my bemusement Colin set a fierce pace on his tiny skis… somewhere along the line I forgot he was a pretty handy skier aswell as being a top level alpinist.
With skins on I set my pace close to my lactate threshold pushing hard but not getting overly tired. Colin would catch up and take some photos whilst I carried on and the catch up again soon after. We passed a couple waking from a night in a tent and up ahead at the end of the glacier we saw another pair near the bergshrund of our route. We were soon there and strapping our skis onto our packs about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving the lift. The other team had just got over onto the bergshrund when we set off and we simul-soloed past them on the first pitch being careful and delicate not to knock ice down on them. However with the near perfect Névé this wasn’t much of an issue. After the first few bulges I noticed it got a little thinner and blacker and also a couple of small stones were coming off from above. We decided (or rather I asked) to put the rope on, at least for a bit. After about 90m and with the difficulties done we put it away and carried on up and out left along a snowy ramp to the ridge. Up the ridge a little way and out left across a large snow bay (in Switzerland) we crossed another bergshrund onto the upper slopes. I was feeling the burn quite a bit on the last few hundred meters primarily because I hadn’t managed my hydration and food that well until now (learning by mistakes is good). We topped out a little after 1.50 and began our descent down into Italy finding some good and bad snow that lead us all the way down to the Val Ferret. What ensued was my least favorite and what Colin later told me was his favourte part of the day… About 12km of polling and skating down the valley on forest trails and cross country tracks. I was suffering hard on my “heavy” skis trying to keep up with Colin who looked like he was out for a quick sunday Ski du Fond after lunch.
Rather perfectly we arrived the end of the snow at exactly the same time a bus did. We jumped on it and pondered if the Helbronner lift would be open so we could save the cost of going through the tunnel by skiing back to Chamonix down the Vallee Noire… With jelly legs we quick marched through the streets of Entreves to the lift which was still running at 3.40. I was feeling pretty thirsty by this point and was looking forward to a bottle of coke or something at the top station before the long ski back to Cham.. I joked with Colin that we could theoretically make the last train if we rallied.
“We should totally try….Come on man lets do it!”
“Errrrggghh… Ok” I agreed. Without a moment to spare we rattled off down through the flat light skiing, without stopping, from the Helbronner to the bottom of the stairs at Montenvers. The loud speaker informed us we had five minutes to march up the 300 or so stairs to make the last lift up to the train station… Pushing deeply into oxygen deficit I lolloped my way up the stairs gasping for breaths some way behind Colin. I nearly collapsed in the bubble but was thankful to have the train to take me back to town. We agreed it was one of the best days of this winter for both of us, apart from some scramble he did with some guy called Alex down in a place where its really windy all the time. All that was left was for me to rescue my car from Argentiere but luckily as soon as I put my thumb out and the first car stopped for me…..perfection.