Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Why climb Mont Blanc?

If you are a peak bagger, a sporty walker, and want to get up to the highest point in Western Europe, the big white fella that looms over Chamonix has appeal.

Whilst we are loving it in the Mercantour, the wishes of some mates, is difficult to pass by, if you have some desire to have a pop at Mont Blanc’s impressive 4810m.

From the UK, fly to Geneva, from where Chamonix is an hour and a half drive away. We lucky Mercantour residents can take a gorgeous drive over a selection of mountain passes.

Great to be in Chamonix and to have a warm welcome from Pierrot at the hotel La Chaumière. Pierrot, runs a guide office, Escapade, in Saint Martin Vésubie. Stéphane, his fellow guide, is a rangey chap, too modest himself to boast of his achievements. We are only to find out several days later that he has, among other things, created a new and very dangerous route up Kwangde, in Nepal.

The training days in the Vallée Blanche were great fun and so inspiring, noteable for the "interesting" descent on via ferrata type iron rungs, and the depressing shrinkage of the glacier in recent years.

We plan to stay in the Tête Rousse refuge (great surreal view!), then on to the l'Aiguille du Goûter refuge mid morning for a summit attempt the same day. This avoids the stone shower that can bash you on the head as you cross the Grand Couloir. More importantly you could also skip the Goûter hut whose reputation rather precedes it.

Best laid plans and all that…

Rather typically, after several days of clear clear blue, the outlook becomes more unstable. Cloud cover increases and by mid morning – well?. We are forced to hole up in the said Goûter hut.

Eager to rest, we ignore the close surroundings and instead concentrate on the stunning views. As the afternoon goes by, we are amazed at the mass of humanity that keeps coming ....and coming......and coming...

I wear the "largest earplugs known to man" but still endure a sleepless night, surrounded by an international mix of people for whom group courtesy didn’t mean a thing.

In the morning there is a grumpy scrummage, and fresh knee level snow as we start out under a clear starry sky, in the motorway trip to the summit.

However Mother Nature likes to play a game and after a couple of hours we are treated to the "big white room" experience, which means that only some of us get to the very top.

Back at the Goûter, we get ready to tackle the freshly iced up route down to the Tête Rousse. Um!

Moving quickly on....we do still manage to leap aboard the last train down to Chamonix at 16.30. Nothing quite like a cheery "Don't worry you can walk down if you miss it" to quicken you up.

The scores on the doors? Eight stitches, four "Flowerpot men" legs, three thumping heads, two slightly frost bitten toes.

After several frothy beers we wonder if we would do it again – yes maybe via another, more technical route such as the Cosmique.

Pearls of wisdom - despite the TV imagery of rufty-tufty types strolling leisurely up Mont Blanc, you need to be fit, correctly equipped (not like the hapless Italian couple wandering about in jeans, trainers and windcheaters!), and guided, unless you feel competent enough to cope if the weather deteriorates.

Go to Chamonix for the fun of it? - certainly - out of season - you get a marvellous eyeful of incomparable mountains, the best range of outdoor gear a shop'oholic could wish for (don't take your credit cards!), and good food - we particularly liked our last night meal at the Maison Carrier, and of course the hearty fare (and good humour of Maria and Mario) at La Chaumière.

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