Friday, September 08, 2023

Final Mt Blanc . No better way to sign off.

Father & Daughter on the summit of Mt Blanc.

Generally its not the actual climbing of Mt Blanc that is the challange, rather its getting the reservations for the mountain huts when you want them is the difficult thing. We had made the bookings in March inorder to have beds in the Tete Rousse and Gouter Huts in September.  Always a gamble, because you never know what the weather will be like, nor the state of the Gouter couloir... 

Plus this was to be a very special attempt on Mt Blanc.  I was going to be climbing  it with my youngest daughter Sophie.  Success would mean I would have climbed the mountain over twenty five years with all three daughters and my wife.

We even made the bookings before Sophie decicided to spend 3 weeks descending the Colorardo river in a  vintage wooden boat. The only way she could do the trip down the Colorado and attempt Mt Blanc   meant we were suddenly on a self imposed tight schedule - she arrived back in Chamonix, spent a night at home and then we were off.  Hardly text book preparation.  At least the weather forecast was good.

We arrived at the Bellvue cable car, to discover that it had broken down. Again a stressful challange to be overcome that has nothing to do with mountaineering.  Without the cable car we would not make the connection with the train which  takes you to the Nid Aigle, [if you have a booking in the hut.] Otherwise the train stops at the station before.  Missing the train would add an  extra 3 hours to our hut walk.  Something most unwelcome especially with such a demanding next day.

The solution was to take another lift - Prarion - then walk down to Col du Voza station where we could hopefully join the train.  All the chopping and changing did actually work, but left me feeling flustered  before we started.

I was relieved to actually start walking and finally on our way. We were politely stopped by the "Brigade Blanche" who check that you have a hut booking.  They tick your names off on a list which they carry.  Two hours later we were at the Tete Rousse Hut acclimatising and drinking beer.

Conditions were perfect and as we looked up the Gouter Couloir it looked nice a quiet. 

Looking up the Gouter Couloir from the Tete Rousse Hut.

We sat down for  dinner at 6.30pm  and were in bed for about 8.30pm.  We awoke at 4.30am, ate breakfast at 5.00am and were away soon after.

We headed out of the hut and  over to  the rocky ground which was devoid of snow at this time of year.  This makes staying on the exact best line more difficult.

headlights on the Gouter ridge.

Nevertheless by adopting a slow yet steady pace by sunrise we had passed the earlier groups and found ourselves, more or less  in solitude. 

Looking back down the route of ascent.

We arrived at the old Gouter hut in about 2 hours.  I calculated that I had spent over 250 nights in it over the last 30 years.

Sophie at the entrance to the old Gouter Refuge.

Here we stopped to put our crampons on.  Next we traversed over to the new Gouter Refuge where we quickly went into the boot-room to dump stuff we didn't need for the summit. [Helmets, headlamps, toiletries etc]

The track to the Dome de Gouter was in perfect condition, with a gentle zig- zag ascent where we could keep a steady pace.  The route skirts around the summit of the Dome du Gouter before gently descending, thus giving us a chance to have a rest without actually stopping.  Yet just before we started the climb up to the Vallot Hut we did stop for a drink and a Mars bar, because it was sheltered. We had noticed there was a lot of snow blowing off the Bosses Ridge - suggesting it was windy.

Fortunately when we passed by the Vallot Hut and started to climb the Bosses Ridge, the wind had dropped.  For the first time ever, here, the main challange was  overheating. It was wearily hot.

More often than not, on the highest most exposed ridge in western europe, your wearing every item of clothing you have, while wishing you had more. This time  our duvet jackets and mittens stayed in our packs.

The Bosses Ridge.

Just before the final summit ridge we stopped again, this time to swallow some Gummy Bears.  These sweets are better than drugs and never fail to power people to the top.

Almost there.

We raced up the final section and were on the top- pretty much after leaving the Tete Rousse hut 6 hours ago.  Big hugs and kisses on the summit, with one or two tears shed too.  There was a Mountain Guide from Annecy who made it his mission to take lots of photos of Sophie and I.

Then a quick call to Mum just to let her know we had made it.  She had been tracking us through the powerful binoculars we have at home.

Sophie was carrying a small rubber duck which went  down the Grand Canyon.  Less than a week later she took the same duck to the summit of Mt Blanc.

Sophie & her mascot.

We stayed on the summit for about ten minutes before returning the way we came.  

Looking down towards the two Bosses which give the ridge its name.

Back at the Vallot hut we eat the rest of our food and Sophie finished her water, then finished mine.  It was then back to the Gouter Hut.

Gouter Hut 

Sophie immediatly raced up the stairs and spent €9.00 on a bottle of water, but declined a celebratory beer.

The next morning we left the hut at about 6.00am 

Chamonix seen from Aiguille du Gouter

We were keen to cross the Gouter Couloir before it warmed up.  In the event it was in perfect condition.

Looking towards the Tete Rousse Hut.

We stopped for breakfast at the Tete Rousse hut before making our way down the track back to the Nid- Aigle railway station.  There was no train so we ran down the railway line to the station below where we did pick up a train.

The train took us to Col de Voza, where we were met by a couple of 4/4 trucks which whisked us back up to the Prarion lift station and all was good.

Sophie happy to be on the train.


Phreerunner said...

Well done Mark, and Sophie!
'Final Mt Blanc'? 'Signing off'?
It seems a lifetime since we stayed in John Howarth's apartment in Chamonix and visited you for a cuppa on 7 September 2009.
Good luck for the future.
Martin and Sue

Phreerunner said...

Here's my record, I expect you have completely forgotten!