It’s 7.30am when we reach the summit of Mont Blanc. At 4810m (15,782ft), Mont Blanc is the highest peak in western Europe and in the Alps, which means that right now, it feels like we are standing on top of the world, higher than any other peak that the eye can see. It’s quite a show! Standing on the knife edge snow ridge, we have one foot in Italy and one foot in France. Chamonix, to the north, is still in the shadow of its surrounding giants, while Courmayeur, to the south is already in the sun. We bask in the morning sun, enjoying the fruits of our effort, catching our breath and already looking on to future possible ascents: the Gran Paradiso -highest peak in Italy – to the south, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa to the east, the Eiger to the north.
The climb started when the three of us guides – Tomaz from Slovenia, Daniel from Switzerland and myself – met the six clients the previous day at the Bellevue cable car in Les Houches, a few kilometers down valley from the alpine climbing mecca, Chamonix. We rode the lift to then catch a little mountain train to the start of the trailhead at the so-called “Nid d’Aigle”. We hiked from there up steep switch backs and a rocky spur to the Tete Rousse Hut at 3167m. The Tete Rousse hut is a beautiful and comfortable little hut perched high above the Vallee de l’Arve, with the north face of the Aiguille de Bionnassay and the strenuous Gouter Ridge looming above. The great thing about climbing in the Alps is that you don’t need to carry any camping or cooking gear with you. The hut system is so well done, that all you need is your climbing gear and warm clothing. The huts are equipped with beds and comforters and the hut keepers cook delicious pies to snack on before or after the climb – it was a real challenge for me to pick between the blueberry and the walnut pie!!! – and all-you-can eat meals, with soup, cheese, main course and dessert.
At 1am, we woke up, had breakfast and headed out in the moonless night up the 700m long rock ridge to the Gouter Hut. We encountered one of the cruxes of the route 20minutes into the climb, when crossing the infamous “Grand Couloir”, a 50m wide couloir which sees tons of rock falls and that you need to run across. After that, we scrambled up easy but exposed rocky terrain to the Gouter Hut, which sits on the Aiguille du Gouter at 3817m. Lots of people stay there to climb Mont Blanc, but it’s got a bad a reputation for being extremely crowded and dirty, with people sleeping on tables and rats running around. A new hut is getting built and should be ready to host the hordes of people that climb Mont Blanc by 2012. From the Gouter hut,we follow an almost horizontal ridge toward the Dome Du Gouter (4237m), and onward to the Vallot Hut (4362m)
– a trashed observatory that people go in to find warmth on cold windy days or when waiting out bad weather. From there, we climb steeply up the sometime knife edge west ridge called the Arete des Bosses – The Bumps Ridge -, going over the Grand Bosse (4513m) – The Big Bump – and the Petite Bosse (4547m) – The Little Bump – and along the narrowing ridge to the top of Europe.
My clients today are Josi and Stuart from the UK
. They were fit and we made it to the summit in good time. There is no wind on the summit and it’s a bluebird day with warm temperatures. We snack, rest and my mind drifts to how it must have felt to be the first people – Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard – to summit Mont Blanc back in 1786. People had tried to summit Mont Blanc long before that time, but the main concern was how to get up and down in just one day since the local peasants did not believe that one could survive a night in the open, in the snow, a reference to the old superstition dating from the time when the range was known as the Montagnes Maudites – The Accursed Mountains. When a man, Jacques Balmat, got lost on the mountain, was benighted and came back to tell the tale, he was living disproof of the legend. It would now be possible to climb Mont Blanc in more than a day and Jacques Balmat proved it by summitting on June 8th, 1786. Over 200 years later, Mont Blanc is ascended by an average of 20,000people.
This is my fifth ascent of the peak. I have climbed it through different routes: from France over the Arete des Bosses, the Three Monts Traverse and the Grand Mulets, and from Italy by climbing the Freney Pillar, one of the hardest routes in the Mont Blanc range and one of my greatest climb ever! I always look forward to climbing this beautiful and prestigious peak, for myself or with clients.
Caroline George with www.intothemountains.com