With it’s easy accessibility and zero permit fees, it’s an easy climb right?
Well it has some surprises.
Being a relatively seasoned mountaineer (no pro but no novice either) I went there with no big qualms. Thousands climb the peak every year and it’s tremendously popular with those with no mountain experience due to the amount of guides that haul them up the peak.
Tim and I went to the Alps with training at altitude being the focus rather than a Mont Blanc summit. It would be our last training excursion before this year’s mega expedition; Tajikistan, and a Mont Blanc summit would simply be a bonus.
We arrived in Chamonix after the 12 hour drive and headed to Les Houches – the starting point for Mont Blanc, a few minutes drive from Chamonix.
We soon realised we were very different to most on the mountain. As we packed our bags beside our car, other climbers strolled past us with their tiny, light alpine bags. We stood there with our gigantic 120 litre rucksacks with all the weight we could handle… Not the French way! They must have been laughing inside!
We thought we’d at least treat ourselves to the cable car and tram ride to 2000m (skipping the forest 1000m walk) but after buying our tickets we were informed that the tram was hardly running and wouldn’t go to it’s normal stop anyway.
We jumped on the cable car with our stupidly British bags and after a few minutes we were as far as it would take us… Not exactly worth the 18 euros!
We began our walk and it was apparent that yes, our bags were indeed as heavy as they looked!
Shortly after leaving the spot where the tram was ‘not meant to go from’ a tram went past us with a bunch of climbers on… I’m still convinced the French were taking the micky.
Despite this however, it was all good ‘training’ I suppose.
Eventually (after five hours) we got to the only spot climbers are allowed to camp on the mountain. The French seem incredibly strict about camping which is something I am not fond of but due to the popularity of the mountain I kind of get (only kind of).
There’s one designated camping spot outside the Tête Rousse hut at 3167m. Most climbers stay in huts all the way which means no need to carry camping equipment nor food or fuel. It’s all rather pricey to do it the hut option and not really the way we tend to do things and again, it was all good training (The moto of the trip!) to carry what we would normally.
After a day of acclimatisation at Tête Rousse, it was summit day. We awoke at 2am and set off with our over sized bags in the light of our head torches. Leaving this early is key from here as it means crossing the most dangerous part of the mountain in the coldest hours. The Grand Couloir is notoriously dangerous because it funnels falling rocks. The rocks gather immense speed and fall every few minutes on a hot afternoon. The couloir must be crossed in order to ascend.
It was fine crossing it the first time. A quick scurry in crampons and then the hard work of climbing up the rocky ridge for two and a half hours began, all before sunrise.
Above this rocky section is where a lot of climbers start and end on summit day because the rocky section alone is pretty taxing. There’s a hut here – The Gouter hut. It wasn’t an option for us to set off from here because camping is banned. Of course this meant our day was 6 hours longer than everyone else’s but hey, good training!
From the Gouter hut it’s more of an all-round mountain experience.
The route is split into a few sections after this: Crossing a few glaciers, a few steeper than expected sections followed by the summit ridge (with a few false summits thrown in there just for fun).
Because of the fairly rapid altitude ascent, I could definitely feel the lack of oxygen and pace was slower the higher we went. All that was on my mind though was, boy, this is nothing to what I am about to go and do! I can’t quite imagine what 7000m will feel like but I guess I’m about to find out!
After a few photos at the summit (4807m) we turned around and headed for our long descent back to our tent at the Tête Rousse.
We crossed the couloir at completely the wrong time on the way back. As we descended the ridge next to the couloir, rocks were falling constantly. By the time it came to crossing it for the final time, the adrenaline was definitely going… Sometimes it’s luck of the draw and sadly some are not as fortunate.
The peak was cheekier than expected and it’s certainly a mountain that should be respected and taken with great care. I know it’s advertised to those with no experience if you go with a guide but it has its own challenges regardless.
I can say that if you want the extra test (and you’re experienced without guides etc), do the summit from Tête Rousse and back in a day. With stops it took us around fifteen and a half hours. (The heavy bags are made heavy with safety equipment - sleeping bags, bivy bags, fuel, stove, big down jacket etc - just in case the weather turns and a night on the mountain is the only options... Again, not really the French alpine way but it will be our Tajikistan 7000m way!)
Two weeks now until departure for Tajikistan. It’s coming around so quickly. I’m looking forward to returning from it and sharing my stories.