Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe, resting on the Italian/French border and towering over the alps at almost 16,000 feet above sea level. It’s slopes are clad in thick glaciers, and it’s buffeted by constant wind. Last week, my brother
Jason and I traveled to Chamonix and climbed it. Here’s the story.
The week before we had spent in Cassis, Southern France relaxing on beaches and hiking around mellow coastal rocks. We were ready for a challenge, so we rented a car in Nice and drove through Italy to Chamonix, France. For the next week, accompanied with veteran mountain guide Magnus Strand, we climbed icy peaks and treacherous ridges, all leading up to a final summit push straight to the top of
As we drove from Nice up to Chamonix, we stopped by a fuel station overlooking Monaco. This was certainly the nicest gas station Jason and I had ever stopped at, with the best view – looking into Monaco and out to the med.
Driving up into the mountains. As we headed north through Italy, the seaside scenery faded away, and we were soon surrounded on all sides by huge mountains. This pic is in the small trafficjam leading up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel, which we drove through to get to Chamonix. Certainly an epic road trip.
Our home in Chamonix, the Mountain Highs Hostel. This place was basic, but very clean and comfortable, with a beautiful back deck and hot tub, and perfect location a 10 minute walk away from the center of town. I can definitely recommend this place, and would stay here again if I was looking for a basic utilitarian accomodation in Chamonix. They’re also well stocked on firewood!
Backyard of thh Mountain Highs Chalet, Chamonix
Access to the gondola system is by RFID Card, which generally works well. Each gondola ride is expensive, so it made sense for us to get a 5 day unlimited card for all of the gondola rides. Plus, we got a cool card to keep!
Our first day heading up to the mountains to start climbing up Les Grands Montets. Chamonix accesses the surrounding mountains through an elaborate system of cablecars – some of the nicest, most epic spans I’ve ever seen. Whereas most gondolas I’ve ridden on use supporting poles ever couple hundred meters, the cables in Chamonix are strung directly from the top to the bottom, with occasionally placed support poles. Truly epic.
The view from Chamonix up to the mountains, our first training zone of the week. Our first peak was Petite Aiguille Verte. https://www.summitpost.org/petite-aiguille-verte/151529
After the first day of climbing, Guide Magnus Strand points out our route on Mont Blanc, coming up in a few days.
Jason and Magnus ascending the last pitch of the Petite Aiguille Verte, at an altitude of 11.522ft. We were on a three-person rope team, and our belay for most of the climbing consisted of making sure a section of the rope was hooked over a pointy piece of rock, as you can see in this photo.
Jason take a quick break on the way up Gros Rognon – a great climb!
Starting the descent off the top of Petite Aiguille Verte. During our climbing there were lots of other climbiners – some safer than others.
Descending back to the safety and warmth of Chamonix.
Walking around the town of Chamonix. It’s very beautuful, but very touristy – lots and lots and lots of gear shops, cafes, and people walking around. Feels like a giant Vail, or perhaps Vail seems like a small Chamonix. In any case, we had a good time walking around town, ate australian hamburgers, and rented a bit of mountaineering gear from Snell Sports.
Australian burgers after a long day of climbing – tasted good!
Morning 2, the view from our chalet in Chamonix up into the mountains was breathtaking. Jagged peaks loom everywhere, and the morning aiar is filled with a mountain haze. Next stop, Aiguille Du Midi.
The gondola going up to the top of the Aiguille Du Midi is epic – a massive massive span of wire transports the car straight to the top. From Wikipedia: “The cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi, was built in 1955 and held the title of the world’s highest cable car for about two decades. It still holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, from 1,035 m to 3842 m. There are two sections: from Chamonix to Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,317 m and then directly, without any support pillar, to the upper station at 3,777 m (the building contains an elevator to the summit). The span of the second section is 2,867 m (1.781 mi) measured directly, but only 2,500 m (1.6 mi) measured horizontally. Thus it remains the second longest span width, measured directly. The tramway travels from Chamonix to the top of the Aiguille du Midi – an altitude gain of over 2,800 m – in 20 minutes. An adult ticket from Chamonix (as of 9/5/2012 to 30/11/2012) is €50 return.”
Incredible view from the bridge connecting the two sections of the Aiguille Du Midi summit structure. From Wikipedia: The Aiguille summit contains a panoramic viewing platform, a café and a gift shop. The Vallée Blanche ski run begins here, and the nearby Cosmiques Refuge is the starting point for one of the routes to the Mont Blanc summit. From the Aiguille another cable car (summer months only), the Vallee Blanche Aerial Tramway crosses the Glacier du Géant to Pointe Helbronner (3,462 m) at the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Pointe Helbronner is served with a cable car from La Palud, a village near Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley (Italy).
Once we got to the Aiguilled Du Midi station, we put on our mountaineering gear and left the comfort of the heated summit houses to take on the snow and ice of the Col Du Midi and Vallee Blanche
We made lots of friends in the Cosmiques Hut, which had great food, and comfy beds. After climbing all day, sleep came easily.
Jason at sundown on the deck of the Cosmiques Hut
The next morning, we saw that we had our work cut out for us. This is the view into the Vallee Blanche
Me and Jason traversing across the Cosmiques Ridge, right before flanking the Arete des Cosmiques.
Climbers socked in by clouds on a nearby ridge
Day 3 of climbing took us up the extremely steep and snow Cosmiques Ridge. From SummitPost: “The Cosmiques Ridge is a supurb varied route which is justifiably popular. It is the perfect introduction to Alpine mixed climbing has enough variety to keep experienced climbers happy. The route is also known as the Cosmiques Arête and South-South-West Ridge. It’s graded at AD (sometimes even PD or PD+) but the crux is hard for its grade and suitable mixed climbing and abseiling skills are required. Much of the ridge can be climbed moving together, however the crux section will likely require a belay to be established. The rock is excellent quality throughout and there are plenty of locations to place protection.
One of the pitches on the Arete des Cosmiques.
Me and Jason standing at the top of the Cosmiques Ridge.
Beginning of Day 4. This is the top Nid d’Aigle station of the Tramway Du Mont Blanc, at 2386m. Easily the steepest railroad I’ve ridden. From here, we begin the long climb up Mont Blanc.
Magnus on the way up the Tete Rouse route.
Entering the Tête Rousse Glacier. From here we walked with crampons, across the Grand Couloir.
Jason and Magnus on the final Grand Couloir ridge up to the Gouter Hut.
The final, very windy push to the Gouter Hut.
The Gouter Hut is incredibly modern and comfortable, considering its extreme location. We had access to a comfy dining hall with hot food and cold drinks, comfy beds, bathroooms, and an incredible view. More on Wikipedia: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refuge_du_Go%C3%BBter
Inside the legendary Gouter Hut, we had good food, warm beds, and met lots of interesting climbers.
The gear room at the Gouter Hut. Everybody stores their sharp gear and boots here before entering the rest of the hut. In the morning, this room is extremely busy with people trying to get geared up and out the door.
Climbing day 5 – our final push to the summit of Mont Blanc. We woke up at 2am, had a quick breakfast and threw on our gear. Climbing in rope teams, following the line of headlamps, and looking at the starry night sky was a magical – and cold experience!
Daybreak on the slopes of Mont Blanc, as we cross over the legendary Dome du Gouter. From SummitPost: “Dôme du Goûter is the third highest summit of Mont Blanc group, and maybe one of the flatest top in the all Alps. Even if most of the people going on Mont Blanc Goûter normal route is going on Dôme du Goûter, the summit is usually neglected.
The final morning push on Grande Bosse (4513m).
The final morning push on Grande Bosse (4513m).
The ridge to the summit – almost there!
Top of Mont Blanc, highest point in Western Europe
Me and Jason finally on the Summit of Mont Blanc!
Jason on the Summit of Mont Blanc
Mountain Guide Magnus Strand on the summit of Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France.
Me jumping on the summit of Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France – 15,781 ft, 4810m.
Descending back to the Gouter Hut for lunch, and then on down to the bottom.