Winter has well and truly finished here in Chamonix so climbing and running has taken over. Finishing the winter with our attempt of traversing the Mont Blanc massif pushed me into thinking that 2000m isn’t a big day anymore! The first day of our traverse was 2700m with heavy packs and skis on so what could I do with a light pack and without the 5kg of skis?
My summer goal was to try and hit the biggest peaks of Italy, France and Switzerland all in single pushes. Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc. Each climb would be a little bigger than the last with the aim to finish with a Valley up Mont Blanc at the end of the summer. But for some reason I went and did Mont Blanc first.
I had already climbed Gran Paradiso in a single push with Tim back in December and wasn’t really looking forward to doing it again without the prospect of skiing the 2000m back to the car, so I sort of scrapped that one. Monte Rosa was next on the list. I have never been the the Monte Rosa massif before so had no real understanding of what would be in store for me. The idea of climbing it over two days, like normal, on a scouting mission and then returning to climb it in a single push really put me off. Especially given I’m a massive tight arse and driving through the tunnel and on Italian tolls means I would have to work more/harder during the summer months, something I’m not quite prepared to do! So this just left Mont Blanc!
I chose the Gouter route as it is safer than the Grand Mullets route at this time of year and is also the more sensible option given I was going solo. It was also the first route I did up Mont Blanc back in 2012 ( my 3rd alpine route and first solo!) so I had a vague idea of where I was going!
The weather looked good for my 3 days off and rather than waste my first day resting I finished work around 6, had some food then went to bed before waking up at 10:30pm and getting ready to go. The forecast was for a warm night so I chose to get the initial slog up to the Gouter refuge out of the way before day break.
11pm- Leaving Les Houches Church, walking up the tarmac road to the start of the trail I passed a group of friends having a BBQ and some drinks, I was envious of them I’m not going to lie. They probably looked at me and though ‘what an idiot’, I couldn’t disagree. The first 15 minutes are always the hardest for me. Thoughts are going through my head- why am I doing this? I could be drinking a beer on my sofa, I want to go to bed, so on and so forth. But I suppose thats what they call the mental element of these things. As soon as I got into the woods and turned Creedence up in my head phones I started to get into it a bit more. Sweat was pouring off me wearing just a t-shirt and leggings, it was so hot! As I got closer to the Tete Rouse someone caught me up, a lone french man armed with a parepente who was hoping to fly from the summit. We ended up chatting and walking together for the next hour until we reached the Gouter refuge, at which point he packed it in and was going to fly back from there. Taking only 2 litres of water and topping up what I had drank along the way from streams I was really looking forward to a can of coke at the Gouter only to find out that its open 2-3am and then from 7am onwards. Arriving at 5am I wasn’t going to wait around, so donned crampons and continued the never ending slog without my much needed sugary beverage.
The sun started to come up and it was turning out to be a beautiful morning. As I got over the Col du Domes the wind picked up and I put on my last layer of clothing and continued to the Vallot where I took shelter for ten minutes and tried to eat another snickers. Lack of water made this difficult. I had just under 1L left but knew it was going to be a long, hot walk back to the Midi so was trying to save as much as I could.
The Vallot and the summit
From the Vallot onwards I passed several people going up and dozens of people coming down, Fearing a crowded summit I made sure that no one overtook me and hoped the windy would deter people hanging around too long up there. So just over 9 hours after leaving Les Houches and 3900m of climbing I reached the top, It was very windy but it was all mine. Not another sole in sight. It was quite surreal at the time and I don’t think I stayed long enough up there to appreciate it. I have been on the summit several times now and although its still amazing its never as good as the first time for me!
As soon as I had reach the top the daunting fact of the descent quickly overpowered the joy of summiting. I made quick progress to the Col Maudit where I was greated with a awkward, icy down climb. Not normally an issue but wearing glorified running shoes combined with crampons tied together with string and a 240g axe it was a down climb not to be underestimated! Only to be made worse that after the down climb you had to traverse a steep slope littered with rock fall debris and over a menacing crevasse! Why do I like mountaineering again? A short snow slope followed this then a 300m traverse under millions of tonnes of ice and I found myself lying at the Col du Tacul eating the last of my haribos trying the regain the energy I just consumed on my serac death run.
It was getting pretty warm now and time was ticking on, it was around 10am when I reached the shoulder of the Tacul and started my last descent to the Col midi. This felt like it went on for way too long! Arriving below the Cosmiques refuge I called my Girlfriend (she worries) ‘as long as I don’t fall off the arete I should be home safe’ I told her. The walk back up the midi arete always seems to take a long time, whether it be from a spring ski or an alpine climb, but after already doing 4200m of ascent this time it seemed to take a little longer!
Finally reaching the cable car there was no queue, which was a shocker for a Sunday in the summer but I was relieved to be able to sit down for both 5 minute rides back to Chamonix where a pint and burger were waiting for me! What an adventure!