Summiting Mont Blanc is no child’s play. It is an awe-inspiring mountain. Western Europe’s highest, rising to 4 810 masl. But how hard can it be? Really? Four thousand eight is not very high compared to six thousand nine (Aconcagua) – or?
I must admit that I, seduced by the accounts found on various web sites about climbing Mont Blanc, quite much underestimated the challenge. The accounts and also many guides, state that you do not need any prior experience or knowledge to summit Mont Blanc. Considering my previous high altitude experience, hence it shouldn’t be any problem at all.
It wasn’t at all as easy as I thought.
I should have exercised much more. It was not technically hard (as long as you’re ok with a little exposure – I will get back on that topic ;-).) But to climb Mont Blanc being a bit ignorant (vis a vi training that is) is not recommended. Without my iron will I might just have lost this challenge to the mountain.
Our ascent of Mont Blanc would prove to be a looong day. Fate wanted us to make the whole trip from Nid D’Aigle to the top, more or less, in a single stretch. A total of 4,860 ascending and descending meters!
We leave Chamonix this morning and travel to the Bellevue chairlift that will take us to the train station Bellevue at 1,794 meters. From there awaits a 30-minute journey by train to Nid D ‘ Aigle at 2,380. After that, we are on our own.
So far, so good. We are going to Refuge de Tête Rousse at 3,187 meters. At this hut we will spend the ”night”, that is to say, eat dinner and rest until we, at dawn, will climb further up to the Refuge du Goûter hut.
Now everything will not go quite according to plan…
The hike up to the Tête Rousse is similar in terms of nature to being on Aconcagua, stones and stones. Your body is in for some wear and tear on these grounds, but on the whole, the hike rather easy. A little steeper towards the end.
Once in the hut, we re-pack, make up our beds and have some dinner. The guides are meeting and discussing for quite some time – and I think we all understand that not everything is quite as obvious and/or easy any longer. A few moments earlier, we discussed the weather and realized that it is not optimal and that we were expecting bad weather to come in tomorrow afternoon – that is exactly when we are on our way down from the summit (should we reach it).
Also, which is far more worrying, the warm week and day has made the snow in the Grand Couloir melt and has made the passing extremely insecure = dangerous.
In order to get up to Goûter, you must pass the Grand Couloir, a very steep corridor with many, many rocks and boulders that randomly decides to fall down the couloir. To be hit by a stone, almost regardless of size, in the Couloir involves mortal danger. It doesn’t get any better by the fact that we, before dinner, saw two car sized boulders bouncing down the coloir. If you’re hit by one of those you will not have any worries no more, that’s 100% certain. See the below clip and you will understand what I mean.
When the guides’ deliberation is done, we all discuss the alternatives. The couloir is very, very dangerous so in effect we have two choices 1) to wait until dawn when, a hopefully cold night, has frozen solid stones and boulders which would make the passage safer or 2) go now before dusk so that we can visually see any stones coming down and hopefully escape in time.
It’s about 19:30 when we are faced with these options. I think everyone at that moment wanted the same thing – and at 19:50, we are all tied up in our rope teams and move towards the couloir and further against Goûter, to finally head for the summit of Mont Blanc.
If everything goes according to plan, that is.
Nervousness rises the closer to the couloir we get. At least we don’t hear any rocks falling. Don’t see any either.
Fact is, that we all make it safely over, allthough really out of breath and start climbing up the Goûter-ridge – a steep scrambling/climbing of about 5-600 meters. It’s airy and exposed to say the least. I’m glad we made the climb in the dark so I didn’t see just how airy it was. (I would unfortunately see this later ;-)) Along the mountainside there is a thunderstorm going on and lightning light up the night. We do not want the storm to get any closer, not at all. Bad weather and steep climbing is a bad combination.
After two hours, we are all at the top of the ridge and have only a small hike along the edge towards the new Goûter cabin. The time now is around 22:00 and we will soon spend the longest four hours of this trip. These are spent in the Goûter cabin, sitting, freezing, shivering. Those were really miserable hours. But we want the snowing to stop, or at least to decrease, before we start for the summit.
At this moment, I am not really sure what hour it is – but around 2 am, Mike (our head guide) considers the weather to be good enough for us to make an effort towards the summit. It feels sooo liberating to get out into the darkness and begin the climb to the top instead of freezing to death in a hut.
Just a few moments later we are on our way. Mike teams up with his brother and father. Mattias with Johan and Chris, and Marko, a small, edgy Italian is teamed up with me and Lotta – just as it’s been all the way so far.
It is now when I need my iron will. Now it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other in the snow. Hour after hour in the dark, meter by meter going for the summit. The snow is good, new snow on a hard ”ground” makes it easy to walk. I have a really good grip with my crampons.
The ascent is pretty arduous. A few steps and I am quite exhausted. It is only much later when we pass the Dome du Goûter, and we get to a short descent that I feel, for the first time, that my recovery is actually really good and that I will probably make it.
Unfortunately, we stop to rests in the Vallot hut at 4,326 masl. This is one of the few instances that I do not understand. In this situation, I would have preferred to just stop, eat a little, and continue. Be sure not to lose momentum. Which is exactly what I do. With ”only” 450 meters of altitude left, I would gladly have done without the total freeze I suffer inside the Vallot hut.
After an eternity we continue our summit push. It takes a good while before I become warm again:-). But the new, increased slope of course helps to speed up the process. It is now fairly steep indeed.
It’s not before long we begin to walk on the L’arete des Bosses – the narrow, sometimes ridiculously narrow ridge that leads to the top. However, it is very treacherous, because when the ridge begins, well, then it’s a really, really long way to the top. And the ridge is ridiculously narrow in places, did I say that? To meet someone? How is that supposed to be done?
The ridge is approximately as wide to fit both feet next to each other, sometimes only one foot. In places it is hundreds of feet down – at both sides!! Airy is the word! It feels like the ridge lasts forever. But then, actually as a surprise we are, all of a sudden, at the summit. No more ridge – it’s not uphill anymore.
At 7:30 am on the 9th September, I stand at the summit of Mont Blanc. The sun has begun to rise, the snowing has stopped. I am one with the mountain. I’m exactly what I want to be and where I want to be.
PS. I know at this time that I have to go down as well. As someone once said – ”a successful ascent is when you are down from the mountain again.” It is an extremely important part of the iron will thinking – but relatively boring to write about in a blog. The interesting bits could have been telling about the fear of going down the Goûter verge with new snow and ice throughout the climb and about the crossing of the Grand Couloir again – this time a hair’s breadth from falling boulders. Really scary. But somehow a completely different story. DS.