2009 – Mont Blanc

On August 2nd we travelled to Chamonix in France to summit western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc (4808m). We made all of our own arrangements, without using guides.

Upon his return home Eivind Trippestand sent us this trip report:

On August 2nd myself and Bjørg-Anita travelled to Chamonix in France to summit western Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc (4808m). We had arranged and organised the trip ourselves, without the use of a guide.

We spent the first 2 days acclimatising on Aiguille du Midi (3800m) and down on the glacier. Unfortunately, Bjørg-Anita had to spend the rest of the trip in the hotel, after she was unlucky enough to strain a muscle.

The forecast was for bad weather the first couple of days, so on day three I attempted the summit, without success. I had slept very little the first few days, and had not had enough to eat. I spent another couple of days acclimatising, before I again traveled by train from Chamonix to Nid d’Aigle (2372m), France’s highest train line Tramway du Mont Blanc.

The path wound up through the scree until Baraque des Rognes (2768m), before becoming steeper up the ridge to Tête Rousse glacier (3100m). I carried on past the Tête Rousse hut (Refuge de la Tête Rousse 3167m) and further up the scree slope before I unrolled half the groundsheet and a thin wind/waterproof summer sleeping bag on some rocks, to have something to eat and rest a few hours before the summit attempt.

The alarm clock rang after a few hours, I had breakfast at 0100 and was packed and ready to go by 0200.

I climbed up the ridge towards the infamous Grand Couloir. There’s normally snow here which descends along the slopes of the Aiguille de Goûter, but there was none here now. Rocks fall regularly in this area, and you have to cross the chute. I made my way over safely, but in the afternoon I could see stones tumbling down the chute. People normally call out from above if rocks are falling, but not everyone knows this spot is dangerous and venture onto the chute, meeting with rocks as the reach the middle. There’s a wire across here to attach yourself to, and you just have to make your way over as quickly as possible. Further up at Goûter hut (Refuge du Goûter, 3817m) the rocks are loose and it’s quite steep, and in some places there’s a steel wire to connect to. I ate a small amount of lunch outside Goûter hut; most people start their summit attempt from here, but I chose instead to go all the way from Tête Rousse to the top.

The way ahead lead to Dôme de Goûter (4304m). This is a very long and steep slope. It was strange to see other rope teams on the mountain side, each with a headlamp shining. I was in surprisingly good shape with not even the slightest headache, so I knew that I’d acclimatised. It is amazingly lovely to see the sunrise from so high up.

I descended a few meters and back up the first slope on a ridge called Arête des Bosses, towards the Vallot hut (4262m). Then I reached Bosses du dromedaire, the dromedar humps, two narrow ridges on Arête des Bosses. Thing got a bit weird on the ascent when the weather turned quite quickly, and suddenly I was in the middle of the clouds with lots of wind and poor visibility. A few rope teams turned back at this point. I knew that it was pretty cold even if the sun appeared every now and then; it’s not easy to keep warm when your progress goes so slowly.

After passing Grand Bosse (4513m) and Petit Bosse (4547m) there was just the last long slope past Rochers de la Tournette (4677m).

Then the summit of Mont Blanc itself is ahead, the border with Italy crosses the summit here. The summit ridge is quite difficult, but the biggest problem was the descending climbers, and it got quite crowded on the narrow ridge.

It was great to get to the top of Western Europe and look out over large parts of France, Switzerland and Italy. As I looked down the mountain, I could see the clouds I had passed through on my way up, it was easy to see that the wind strength was considerably higher there than here on the summit, where the sun shone and warmed slightly. I spent 30 mins on the summit, was given a cup of tea by a Russian who couldn’t speak English, but he gave me a lecture in Russian anyhow. And then it was down the mountain to Tête Rousse again.

With breakfast at 0100 and a start of 0200, I was at the summit at 0900 and back at Tête Rousse again by 1300.

On my previous summit attempt I’d reached the Goûter hut, but with a headache and vomiting. Too little sleep and food, and poor acclimitisation were to blame. This second attempt went smoothly, apart from a slight headache on my way down off the mountain.

The day after I got back to Chamonix I took the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi and the plan was to summit Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m) before heading home. The hike starts by crossing a airy ridge down on the glacier Col du midi, which is below the Aiguille du Midi, then past Cosmiques hut (Refuge des Cosmiques 3613m).

It’s wonderful up on the glacier, but here you need to be careful.

A couple of years ago 7-8 people died here in an avalanche, but there was no such danger here now, with firm and stable snow conditions.

After some pictures on the summit I descended and passed several tired people on the way down, having gone this route up Mont Blanc.

I believe that those who walked two and two tied together got a false sense of security; one of the last days I was there a tourist and a guide disappeared. The tourist fell off an escarpment and took the guide with them. The vast majority always climbed in a rope team wherever they went, and that’s probably the safest, but if one is cautious enough and plans carefully things mostly tend to go fine.  Part of the pleasure for me is actually to plan the trip myself, and not be connected to a guide who decides what to do or not

This was a wonderful trip in the French Alps; it was bad luck that Bjørg-Anita was hurt, but there will always be other opportunities.