30-Aug-2022 -- I call this point "My first solo point".
I have visited 4 points in the past few years, but these were all in the company of 2 of my colleagues from work, Farhad Keshavarz and Herman de Haan. Also, these points were all unvisited and/or "highest" points: the highest of Marocco, of the Middle East, the highest of Africa.
So when I told my colleague and experienced confluence-hunter Herman de Haan that I was going to the Chamonix valley to solo hike another part of the GR-5, he pointed out that nearby was the highest confluence in Europe. I immediately changed my holiday plans, and instead of hiking south from Chamonix, following the GR-5, I took the trail up north the Chamonix valley, on my way to my first solo point.
The day before, when I arrived in Chamonix, I witnessed the start of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). This is a mountain running race, that follows roughly the trail of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), a beautiful route of 170 km around the Mont Blanc range. I did the TMB a few years ago with my tent and backpack, and it took me about 10 days. The winner of the UTMB took less than 20 hours!
The first day (august 28th) I hiked to beautiful Lac Blanc and camped beside Lac de Chéserys (2300 m.) with breathtaking views of the Mont Blanc, especially in the morning light. This iconic lake was still on my bucket list of camping spots.
Next day I descended to the campsite in Argentière (1250 m.), to start the following day the long climb to Refuge Albert 1er (2700 m.). First gradually zigzagging to Le Charamillon, then a traverse, until you round a corner and you find yourself face to face with the Glacier du Tour. The Refuge is already visible on a rock overlooking the valley, but first you have to climb the steep crest of the moraine and finally scramble up the rocks, before you reach the Refuge for a cool glass of beer!
The mountainside above the Refuge is strewn with big boulders, but people have managed to create some flat spots, so I put my tent on a beautiful spot overlooking the glacier.
Next day (august 30th) was confluence day! I left my tent and camping gear where they were, to pick them up on the way down. According to the GPS (borrowed from Herman de Haan) it was only 1.1 km from the Refuge to the point. But it is just on the other side of a steep ridge that forms the border between France and Switzerland. The best approach seemed to be (in line with the conclusion of Rainer Mautz in 2009) to simply scramble up the slope, keeping the red rock ridge on your right. Easier said than done! The higher I came, the steeper the slope and the sharper the rocks. Until on top of the ridge the rocks where like needles pointing up in the air. It took me 1.5 hours just to get to the top of the ridge.
My plan was to descend on the other side of the ridge to the Glacier des Grands, put on the crampones that I rented in Argentières, and simply follow the GPS to the confluence point. The weather was fine, the glacier was free of snow, so no hidden crevasses...Good plan!
But the Swiss (north) side of the ridge was even steeper, and the rocks were very loose and instable. Scrambling down the loose scree I managed to reach the glacier. I put on my crampones, but very quickly it was obvious that the glacier, that looked from a distance like a soft gentle slope, was solid ice, hard as rock and just too steep to climb, even with crampones. Moreover, I felt like a sitting duck with all the loose instable rock above me, especially when I saw a rock avalanche coming down on the other side of the glacier. I was lucky it was early, and the sun was still behind the peaks in the east.
So I put away my crampones, and scrambled back on the ridge again, sometimes on all fours, clinging to sharp rocks, uncertain if they would hold or cause another rockfall. Scary business! When I reached the top of the ridge again, I followed the ridge to the east, until the point was due north at 100 m. I wanted to see how close I could get, so I climbed down to the glacier again. When I reached the edge of the glacier, it was clear that the confluence point was still a bit further down on the glacier, but on the other side of a crevasse. My GPS read 77 m. Close enough, considering this dangerously instable ridge I was sitting on!
I was happy to leave this Col des Grands, and descend back to the Refuge for a good cup of coffee and a tarte aux myrtilles!