Although I dropped off the radar last year, I was still out and about doing lots of things. I had originally booked Mont Blanc earlier in 2012 and was really looking forward to it, but my circumstances half way through the year changed and I even considered cancelling the trip as it was way down on my list of priorities – I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for it. Fortunately, I didn’t cancel as it was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to any budding mountaineers out there. Getting there
I wasn’t the most organised person having only booked my flights 3 days before departure – luckily flights to Geneva are dirt cheap on EasyJet all year round. I also opted for ‘winging it’ as my way of getting from the airport to Chamonix. Having established that a taxi from Geneva airport to Chamonix would cost me 300 Euros (ouch) I opted for the train. Swiss trains are fantastic – always on time and the guards are very helpful telling you where to change. The only problem with this plan was the fact that I had to change three times (meaning waiting around for connections). I didn’t mind too much though as the views of lake Geneva are fantastic and to me it was all part of the adventure. I was due to meet the group in Chamonix at 2pm, but because of the train shenanigans I was late. I boarded the last train on my epic adventure – the Mont Blanc Express (‘Express’ in the loosest sense of the word as it was not fast by any stretch of the imagination) for more fantastic views. Here I met an American and an Aussie living and working in Geneva who were both climbing Mont Blanc. We exchanged adventure stories and having waved goodbye to my new Mont Blanc BFFs, I met with Kingsley from Icicle. He had kindly agreed to come and meet me off the train to take me up to the meet the group in the hut for our acclimatisation walk up Mount Le Buet.
Acclimatisation weekend After a 45-minute ‘trail run’ (Kingsley is like a gazelle!), I met with the group in the mountain hut and later found out that they had done the same ‘walk’ in 2.5 hours! It was great to meet some people from the group. Three of us were in the Mont Blanc group, and one was doing a mountain skills course. The mountain hut as always was basic but boy was the hot chocolate good! After a restless sleep we started our hike up Mount Le Buet. It was a relatively easy hike, but I did start to feel the altitude just before the top (3100m).
After walking back the way we came the day before, we got the bus to the Icicle offices and found out our itinerary, got all our our hire kit sorted out, and got some much-needed rest. If you do decide to climb Mont Blanc, then I think the acclimatisation weekend is well worth doing as, aside from the obvious acclimatisation benefits, it’s always good to meet the people you might be climbing with and get to know them a bit. Day 1: Mer du Glace – Basic mountain skills training
We met for breakfast in the Icicle offices and met with 2 of the guides for our training day to get us used to walking with crampons, climbing and being roped. We took the cable car up to the glacier and it soon became apparent that getting down to it would involve lots of climbing down high ladders. I’m not great with heights at all, but weirdly this didn’t seem to bother and I took it all in my stride. After a bit of a walk, we put our crampons on. I have use crampons before and they take a bit of getting used to. First stop was learning to walk properly in them, running up slopes, and climbing backwards down a wall. This was all great for gaining trust in your equipment as well as learning to be safe.
I loved the ice climbing though, although I stupidly wore my thin gloves and lost the feeling in my fingers for a while! I will definitely have a go at that again. Day 2: Climbing the Cosmique Arete On day 2, we all split up into groups of 2 and met with our guides. The point of this day was to get us doing a bit of climbing and our guide chose the Cosmique Arete (3842m). I’d heard stories about the infamous ridge that you are met with as you leave the cable car station so I was really nervous. Well, all I can say is the ridge is there, it is pretty narrow (about 0.5m wide) with a sheer 1000m drop either side, but I felt quite secure being roped to the guide and my crampons. If you thought that was hard though, then you’d shudder at the thought of the next bit of rock climbing. I’ll leave you with this video so you can see just how tough that was! Day 3: Tete Rousse hut On day 3, I was told that I would be going up for the summit attempt. This involved getting the train, hiking up to the Tete Rousse mountain hut and then a challenging 2-3 hour scramble up to the Gouter mountain hut. Unfortunately, there were 40 mile/hour winds so we ended up staying in the Tete Rousse hut for an extra night. This would mean a very long summit day.
Day 4: Gouter hut and our ascent of Mont Blanc We started out with head torches at 6am for our 1000m scramble from the Tete Rousse hut to the Gouter Hut. I really struggled with this. I think it was a combination of me being not a great climber, tiredness and also the altitude. I was exhausted by the time we got to the Gouter hut. We stopped for 45 minutes, got a hot chocolate and then started the long 6-hour summit attempt. Walking from the Gouter hut to the summit I found a little bit dull. It was just walking on a massive expanse of white. After the excitement of the Aiguille du Midid scramble, I found it a bit of a let down. I think this may well have been the main reason why I didn’t make it to the summit (200m off). I didn’t have the desire to get there and I let the tiredness get the better of me. I think if I do it again I will choose a more technically challenging route that is slightly more enjoyable rather than a long monotonous slog. Day 5: The long climb down Sometimes when you reach the summit of mountains in all the excitement you forget that you have to climb all the way down again. I often wish I could teleport myself down. Granted, climbing down is much, much easier than climbing up a mountain, but I was absolutely desperate for a shower and a cold beer at that point. We managed to walk down from the Gouter hut to the train station in about 3 hours, jump on the train and then a kind local randomly gave us a lift to the Icicle offices. The verdict
I would recommend that anyone at least visits Chamonix and goes out walking. It’s such a beautiful place and there are so many alpine walks that you can do. I am definitely going back to Chamonix again this year and signing up for the Icicle trail running course. If I do attempt Mont Blanc again I’d like to either do another route or perhaps learn to climb it myself (Icicle also run a course for this). Above all, I think I’d love to do it again with friends as it’s the sort of thing that you need a bit of moral support with.
One thing I haven’t done after this trip is beat myself up about not reaching the summit and I refuse to do so. I managed to overcome my fears, learn some great new skills and have a blast scrambling, that the summit walk was insignificant. I achieved far more than I ever thought I would and for that I am extremely proud. Overall, I give it a 9/10 for views, 5/10 for price as Chamonix is very expensive and the lift passes are pricey, and 9/10 for Icicle who were really helpful, friendly and certainly knew their stuff.