The Mont Blanc week with Paul and Jules kicked off with the steep walk up to Chabod hut in the Gran Paradiso National Park. After some training in movement skills and ropework, and some much-needed acclimatisation from a night at 2700m, we felt ready for the challenge of Gran Paradiso the next day.
The track passed by some spectacular crevasses on the glacier in the gloomy light of pre-
dawn, but conditions were good, with mild temperatures and low winds. We got our timing right at the summit rocks, with only a couple of other teams around. Spectacular views as ever from the airy summit platform.
After a second night consolidating our acclimatisation at the Chabod, we walked back down to the valley and returned to Chamonix the next day. Ready for Mont Blanc!
After catching the funicular railway up to the Nid d’Aigle station, the walk up to the Tete Rousse feels quite leisurely. Conserving energy for the big summit day is the name of the game. The next morning, after a relaxed 3am (!) breakfast at the Tete Rousse, we settled into the steady rhythm needed to get ourselves up and down Mont Blanc in a good time. The Grand Couloir still has good snow cover, and there were no problems with any rockfall danger as we quickly made our crossing.
Day broke as we crested the Gouter Ridge, and everything suddenly felt less imposing with the benefit of light. Passing the Gouter hut after a couple of hours, and the interminable slopes of the Dome du Gouter are usually where the thinness of the air really starts to become apparent.
After dropping down towards the Col du Dome, the way ahead past the Vallot refuge to the narrowing Bosses Ridge comes into view. Although seemingly a short hop after the distance covered so far, appearances can be deceptive! The final 500m of altitude is hard work for most people, and the pace usually slows significantly as the body deals with the reality of air 45% thinner than at sea level.
Nonetheless, despite a fair amount of new snow, the track was good, and progress was made. Clouds were building a little as we picked our way carefully along the narrow sections of the Bosses Ridge, and after seven hours of effort, we arrived to enjoy a rarity – a deserted summit! After a few brief minutes to enjoy the moment, we pointed downhill, and the clouds continued to build. A couple of distant rumblings of thunder ensured we didn’t hang around for too long.
After a celebratory beer and some recovery sleep at the Gouter hut, conditions cleared in the evening to give a fantastic purple sunset. Which only left the long final descent down the railway the following morning...