The next mountain on my list to climb was Mont Blanc. Both Elbus and Mont Blanc was mountains I had planned to climb even before starting this project. Since I don´t have that much experience yet I booked this with Adventure Consultants a few months ago. Mont Blanc is actually the deadliest mountain in terms of the most fatalities recorded (over 100 persons died only in the summer 2008) so I didn´t wanted to solo climb it. My experience before this climb is: Elbrus via north route, Mt Toubkal, Mt Whitney via mountianeers route, some volcano in Bolivia, Mt Kosciuszko and a weeks mountaineering course in New Zealand where we also camped on a glacier and climbed Moonlight. So I have done some mountains the last year since I started with this. And growing up in Sweden I have been snowboarding all my life so snow, mountains and winter is not uncommon for me. But still, I know I have a lot to learn and a lot of more experience to gain so using a guide is a great way to learn more and be more safe (even if I don´t expect my guide to save my life if it comes to it. I just have to not end up in a situation where it will be too dangerous for me and that´s where a guide really can make a difference, making the right call cause he/she has that experience).
I arranged my own flight to Geneve where I got picked up and taken to my hotel a sunday evening.
The next morning I met my guide, Sandy Allan a nice experienced mountain guide from Scotland (he have climbed the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat and guided on Everest). After checking all of our gear and doing some food shopping we drove to Italy to climb Gran Paradiso (4061 m) for acclimatization. It was an amazing climb and you can read all about it here!
Two days later we got back to Chamonix for climbing Mont Blanc.
We took the Bellevue cable car up to 1794 m and then the train to 2372 m where the route starts. We were going to the Refuge de Gouter at 3863 m to spend a night before the summit. A hike that took us about 5 hours. As you can see on the sign it was 1445 altitude meter to climb.
The trail was mostly rocks for the first part and not too steep. There was a lot of people going just for a hike and others going to either the Gouter hut or Tete Rousse hut. The Tete Rousse hut is only at 3187 m so if you do the summit from there you have 1623 altitude meters to climb to the top. That´s about 8 hours and then down again so if possible I would recommend to stay at the Gouter hut. But book in advance!
As we climbed it got more steep and after two hours we put our crampons on to pass a glacier to come to one of the most dangerous part of Mont Blanc:
The Grand couloir. It´s very common with rockfall here so you have to be really careful. Some days it´s not even possible to pass. It all depends on the conditions. Rocks are frozen in the snow and ice but when the sun warms it and it melts the rocks get loose and fall down. Just on the path where you have to cross. So you want to pass this part early in the morning when it´s still frozen. We were lucky, it was a quiet day and we could pass carefully and quickly without any problems. But watch this to see how it can look like (crazy!!)
After passing the couloir you start climbing up a ridge. When my guide pointed it out to me from the start I thought he was joking. It looked so steep and I didn´t belive it was even possible to climb it. But getting closer it was not that bad. Actually this was the most fun part of the climb. Here you had to scramble over rocks and actually climb a little for two hours.
From the couloir up to the Gouter hut I had a helmet to protect mostly from falling rocks. Climbing the ridge there is many loose rocks and a lot of climbers before you (and under you) so you have to be careful not to make rocks fall on others.
Look at that crevasse! On our route there was not that many crevasses but you could see them just next to it and that´s not a place you want to end up in… On the other picture you can see the couloir from above. The day we climbed there was snow. The next day the snow was gone and it had been some rockfall.
Climbing the ridge. In the picture in the middle you can see how steep it was (and sometimes even more) and there was some exposure so if you are afraid of heights I guess it could be pretty scary. But you are also so focused on what you do so you kind of zoom in on where to put your hands and feet so you don´t really see what´s next to you. On some parts of this climb there was fixed wires you could hold on to. My guide told me to try to not use them unless I needed to (you use them more for descending) but to practice climbing on the rock instead. He would not say that if he didn´t feel I was comfortable climbing not holding on to them. We were tied in a rope so I felt safe climbing without using them too much.
The Gouter hut! The last part after the rocks were glacier. Looks like a spaceship.
When you come in you put away all of your climbing gear and your boots on the shelfs. There are shoes you borrow that you wear indoors at the hut so you don´t have to bring extra shoes unless you want too. The hut is pretty new, built in 2013 and the standard is very high for 3815 m. Bunkbeds are nice and there is real toilets and a nice restaurant/café/bar that has great food (but quite expensive but what can you expect on that altitude?) There is no water so you have to buy a bottle of Evian. 1 liter cost 7 euro. One night is 60 euro (+ breakfast 16 euro) and dinner is 30 euro. But it´s worth it.
Sunsets from the hut can be amazing. There is a balcony around the hut so you have a great view over the alps.
After a nice rest, some dinner, hanging out with new friends in the hut (something I really enjoy is that it´s so easy to make new friends in these places) we went to bed at 20:00. Alarm was set on 01:50 for a 02:00 breakfast. After eating as much as I could we put on all of our clothes and gear. I had one layer on my legs, softshell pants and three layers on my upper body, a thin base layer, thin down jacket and gore tex jacket. Hat, liner gloves, mountaineering gloves and a buff. Boots, crampons and dubble socks (one thin pair and one medium thick). That was kind of perfect for a few degrees below zero.
We started walking in the light of our headlamps. There was maybe 40 people going for the summit around the same time in small groups so you could see lights on the mountains in different places even if it was really dark.
The first part was a pretty steep hill and then we walked down for a while before it got really steep. When you got up that part you start walking on the ridge as you can see in the picture. It´s really narrow in some places and if you fall down there you pretty much die my guide told me. So I had to stay very focused. The problem was the path was so narrow that you could not put your feet next to each other you always had to put one in front of the other. And with crampons on it´s easy to tangle your feet if you don´t watch out. We also had to pass over a crevasse crack on the way. But it had a snow bridge so that was fine.
When we walked for two hours we stopped and put on a extra layer on our legs cause it got more windy. And I changed to my warm mittens from Hesta cause my fingers got cold as the temperature dropped the higher up we got. My feet were also a little bit cold but I tried to wiggle my toes and told myself that the sun will rise in an hour so I´ll be fine.
My favorite part of climbing mountains except standing on the summit is when the sun rise. I always stop just to take it all in. The beauty. You are up there on this mountain, almost alone and you are surrounded by peaks so impressive and amazing.
Around 07:30 we reached the summit! It took us about 4 h and 15 minutes to get up there including a few quick stops. We were not alone, there was maybe 10 other people on the summit at the same time and another 15 that already been up and more people on the way up. It´s pretty crowded in the summer but I didn´t have a problem with it. Everyone tried to make way for each other. And we never had to wait in line really. If you wanted to pass someone you just said it and you could do that.
We took pictures on the top. I mean how can you not? Look at this light! On every other mountain I had my big camera (Canon eos 5d mark IV) but it´s almost 4 kg with my lens so this time I decided to bring my smaller camera (Canon G7X) instead. I was happy not only because of the weight. I could put it on my backpack within reach so I actually could take pictures along the way.
Then we started the descending and I felt really strong so we quickly got back to the hut where we had pasta for lunch and then we took a nap (for two hours). When I woke up I went to the restaurant and made some new friends. Hanged out with two guys from Lithuania. It was their 4th attempt to summit Mont Blanc. They hadn´t made it yet because of weather. But the weather was going to get worse so I don´t know if they could reach the summit this time either. It was really really windy all night long but I didn´t see them at breakfast at 7:00 so maybe they gave it a try during the night. I hope it went well for them. We were very lucky with the weather. My guide told me only 33% of everyone who try to climb Mont Blanc summit on the first attempt. I felt really humble when he told me that. We met a lot of people that didn´t make it cause of weather, high altitude sickness, just being ill or not fit enough in the mountain hut.
I knew getting in to this I had to work hard so I have been climbing, running, working out at the gym, walking in the forest with a heavy backpack and up the only hill in Stockholm trying to prepare for the mountains. Elbrus was hard cause it was a 14 hours long summit day. But here on Mont Blanc days were shorter so you never got beaten up that bad that you were so tired you didn´t know what to do. So I have really enjoyed Mont Blanc. Even if you get tired sometimes I always felt “I can do this, no problem”. My guide made sure we had a nice and steady pace all the time. Not too fast and not too slow. It was great!
The sunset on the summit day was beautiful from the hut. After dinner I went to bed and slept for almost 8 hours.
After a 07:00 breakfast we started the descending back to Chamonix. When we climbed up the ridge I remember thinking “this is so steep how can I get down here later?” but down was no problem at all. And you had the fixed wires to help you at some spots. Quicker then I thought we were back at the couloir again. We were lucky another day and there was no rockfall. But we still passed quickly. And then we almost run down the rest making it in time for the 10:45 train.
When we got back to Chamonix my guide took me rock climbing at the Piller de Vallorcine for the rest of the day. We did a multipitch of slab climbing. So much fun!
Mont Blanc have been such a great experience. I felt enough prepared for it. We were lucky with the weather and I had a really great guide. Everything went as good as it could. And I had so much fun! Tomorrow I leave Chamonix and going back to Stockholm but only in a few days there is four more mountains waiting to be climbed. Or should I say hills? Going to Baltikum!
Mountain no 2/49