Glacier Rond, Chamonix, France

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After spending a couple of weeks in Chamonix during the spring of 2014 there were rumours about the Glacier Rond being in condition. When a little snowfall was followed by a sunny morning, I had no choice but to go for it. Together with Fredrik Ström, a guy I had met in Gîte Le Belvédère, I took the Aiguille du Midi for another mission.

Chamonix is home to many steep lines with two of them being easily accessible from the top of the Aiguille du Midi. These two runs are the couloir des Cosmiques and the Glacier Rond. I had skied ‘the Cosmiques’ in 2012 and still had the Glacier Rond on my list of runs to ski. During the spring of 2014 I spent a few weeks in Chamonix trying to reduce this list, conditions however were not very promising. The North facing runs in the Argentière basin were not in condition and the weather was variable making it difficult to plan the adventures. After some cruising around at Grands Montets and skiing variations of the Vallée Blanche, I suddenly heard a new snowfall had put the Glacier Rond in condition. In the meantime I had met Fredrik Ström in the gite I stayed at. He had skied the Rond before and was willing to join me on a ‘mission’ as he called it. On Saturday the 26th of April, 2014 we boarded the tram of the Aiguille du Midi in order to ski another classic of Chamonix!

The Glacier Rond is a hanging glacier on the Aiguille du Midi. This Northwest facing glacier starts at a elevation of 3593 m and descends about 700 meters from there. The first 200 meters are between 45 and 50 degrees whereas the remainder is roughly 40 degrees steep. It is rated as 5.1 with an exposure of E3. The exposure is what makes this run extra special because one fall in hard conditions most likely means the end of your life since you’ll fall off the glacier into the valley below…

the Glacier Rond as seen from les Houches
the Glacier Rond as seen from les Houches

After a long period of bad weather, we arrived at the base of the ‘Midi’ in a nice sunshine. Luckily it was quiet, meaning we could board the tram directly. Once we had left the top station (we saw people skiing the Mallory on our way up, impressive!), we had to pass a dozen of Asian tourists on the bridge before descending the arrête. As always, I used my crampons for a safe and easy walk down. We clicked into our bindings and skied towards the entrance of the glacier by ascending to the Cosmiques hut and traversing a short but very exposed section. I had seen footage of this descent in the movie ‘The edge of never’ and I had heard a lot about it but, of course, nothing compares to actually standing there. I immediately realized the importance of not falling since Chamonix is clearly visible below…

From the top I had to carefully make my way down along the ridge to the left part of the glacier. The slope angle must be around 50 degrees here and the hardpacked conditions made it pretty intense. Once we both had arrived at the left of the glacier, we could finally make some turns. Probably the most conservative turns I had ever made, took me to an obvious rock where we had to traverse all the way skier’s right. Of course, you can ski everywhere you want on the glacier but very icy conditions could easily end your life. We followed the softest snow here to minimize the risk of falling. The lower section of the glacier was not as steep and the snow was relatively good. After a dozen more turns we traversed back to the left side of the glacier to enter the exit couloir.

skiing the Glacier Rond with Chamonix in the distance
skiing the Glacier Rond with Chamonix in the distance

The entrance of the exit couloir was anything but nice. There was enough snow to make your way through the rocks without using a rope but that was about it. I would definitely recommend using a rope here in these conditions since a fall is not very pleasant. Of course, when there is a lot more snow things are much easier. I carefully put one ski in front of the other trying to find my way through the rocks while sweating like a pig. I finally joined Fredrik who entered the couloir before me. I felt a big relief and I could finally start to enjoy some turns again. The gradient in the couloir was very pleasant, I’d say around 35 to 40 degrees. After a long descend in the couloir we joined the bottom of the Cosmiques couloir before starting our way back to the mid station of the Aiguille du Midi. Earlier in the season you can ski all the way down to the road, but lack of snow makes that impossible late April.

On one hand we were relieved to have skied both the Glacier Rond as well as the exit couloir safely, on the other hand we had to stay focused because we had to cross some sections exposed to seracs. This meant traveling fast was the way to go. We both expected the traverse to be a lot shorter but we finally arrived at the terrace in front of the station. We celebrated our descent with a very nice cold coke!

The Glacier Rond is a fantastic run. It’s very long and there is variation, a wide open glacier followed by a long couloir. The fact the run is lift-accessed makes things very easy of course. If you’re an experienced backcountry skier looking for a nice adventure this run will definitely deliver. Before you go, be sure to be well informed about the conditions and whether you need to rappel into the exit couloir or not. It is very serious terrain after all!

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