Lachenal Traverse

Louis Lachenal took the legendary photo of Maurice Herzog standing on the summit of Annapurna in 1950. It was the first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak. 

Conditions had been wrong for a summit bid. Lachenal, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, the elite French alpinists of the time, told Herzog so. When Herzog said he would go alone, Lachenal said, ''Then I'll follow you.'' This was an exchange of Lachenal's fingers and toes for Herzog's life. Herzog would have died without a guide. 

In the summit photo, Herzog is holding a French flag tied to an ice axe. His mittens are off. A week later, maggots infested Herzog's blackened fingers and toes. After the expedition, Herzog wrote the book Annapurna, which can be considered the apex of mountaineering literature. A more balanced view of the expedition, which gives due credit to Lachenal, was written by David Roberts, called True Summit

Near the top of the Vallee Blanche Glacier, close to the Midi station, is the Traverse of Pointe Lachenal. This fine route ascends the track on the left, crosses the two rocky summits and descends the track on the right, below the icefall. Louis Lachenal died on this glacier.

Sarah from the UK joined me on the Traverse of Pointe Lachenal. At home she trades currency and exercises race horses. She used to fly corporate jets.

After a scramble and rappel off the first summit, we did two mixed pitches to the second summit. 

Amazing views of Mont Blanc du Tacul from the summit of Pointe Lachenal. The prominent ice gully is the Gervasutti Couloir. To the left is the 25+ pitch Gervasuttii Pillar.  

Looking at the Aguille du Midi station on the high point. The dark building is the Cosmiques Refuge, our destination for the night. 

You see those dangly things up there Sarah? We're going to walk down below those dangly things. And we're not going to stop. Ready? 

Walking to the Cosmiques Refuge, viewing a profile of the north wall of the Grande Jorasses–one of the six great north walls in the Alps–and the Dent du Geant on the right. 

Dinner at the Cosmiques Refuge. We joined Iraklis from Greece who is sitting next to me, and Ane from Norway next to Sarah. A fun evening in a comfortable hut!

After dinner sunset. That's Iraklis being stoked. 

The next day Sarah and I navigated through crowds of people back up the knife edge to the Midi telepherique and zipped to Chamonix. Back in Lachenal's day there was no lift. I wonder what he would have thought of the craziness around a peak named after him. Lachenal died in 1955. The year after his death, W. E. Bowman wrote The Ascent of the Rum Doodle, a parody of Annapurna. I think Lachenal would have approved.