Tackling Mont Blanc – Jim McClarnon

Mont Blanc ascent and acclimatisation

There is only so much time you can mull over and plan something before you do it, i think 3 years was long enough so this year i booked and paid to go to Mont Blanc. The most painfull part was pressing the payment button which immediately took the best part 1900 Euros from my account !

Being a regular weekend walker(bagger) with Glasgow HF Outdoor Club and running 5k  2 or 3 times a week  i still pondered whether i was fit enough to tackle Mont Blanc, only one way to find out.

A very upmarket chalet with views of M.B (and beers at 1 euro and a jacuzzi) gaves us a false sense of comfort,it didnt last long.

Day 1 And acclimitisation,we drove over the border to Italy and set off walking to Vittorio Emmanulle Hut at 750m ,an easy 2 or so hours of walking. Next day we walked to and overnighted Frederic Chambod Hut at 2750m

Next day we left early ish for Gran Paradiso at 4060m,the highest in Italy. Fairly easy angled slopes in ankle deep snow made progess easy until after just 30mins one of our team fell through a crevasse, he was man 2 in a roped up line of 4, so no chance of falling very far, but the 100 feet void below his dangling crampon feet killed the convivial atmosphere instantly.

We carried on until we came to the rocky ridge that leads to the peak that is the top. Little did i know there was a very narrow ledge about 5m long and 10cm wide covered in snow and ice and a very precipitous drop behind was a nice surprise, that wasnt the only surprise and much huffing and puffing and swearing we crossed this obstacle only to find The Virgin Mary standing at the top,apparently this shrine has been there for many years, i’m not surprised she probabaly cant get back across the ledge !

Gran Paradiso at 4060m is a fairly straight forward dare i say easy walk until the line 20m or so,the sting in the tail.

So far so good

That was just the warm up and acclimitisation for Mont Blanc, we returned to France and Chamonix  and after a days rest we set off on cable cars and cog railways and the 2 hour walk to Tete Rousse Hut 3167m where we stayed the night, well half the night, it was lights out at 8pm ! for a 1 am start. The 1am start is necessary to avoid the late afternoon rockfall. 1 am breakfast consists of bread and jam and tea served in cereal bowls ?

It was almost but not quite a full moon but enough light to not need our head torches(but we wore them anyway) for the 600m ascent of The Grand Coulior, not vertical but at 1 am with 3 hours sleep it felt like it. The only real danger is the chute like area at the foot of The Grand Coulior where you have to run about 30m to avoid being hit by falling rocks,after that its a continous scramble with fixed steel ropes in parts until you emerge at the top just next to The Gouter Hut 3817m.

From The Gouter Hut its a relatively easy angled almost plateau to start with then gradual incline until the Les Bossons (The Bumps) why did they have to put bumps there ?

As much as i wanted to go faster on this easy angled slope, i just couldnt. Lack of oxygen doesnt half slow you right down and i could get used to walking at a snails pace talking tiny baby like steps. 5 hours after leaving the Gouter Hut we reached the top in glorious sunshine with blue sky and gleaming white snow, (grade 3 sun glasses required) suddenly all that pain and exhaustion went and we celebrated.

Remembering of course we were only half way through the day, we still had 5 hours to walk back down, but as the clouds had parted the views were stunning and was the most enjoyable descent to celebratery drinks and sleep ! Next day it was back to Chamonix.

I proudly have the t-shirt the car sticker and the cap badge,much to the amusement of my walking club companions.

Dont wait 3 years, book now for next year, regular walking and reasonable fitness will get you to the top.

Jim McLarnon