After a summer of very dry conditions in the mountains above Chamonix, the end of August heralded a change. Weekend storms brought much lower temperatures, and a reported half metre of snow at the Gouter Hut. Paul and Frank's Mont Blanc week started at the Torino Hut, and the bad weather prevented us getting much done, beyond the essential process of acclimatisation.
A further hour of driving into Italy brought us to the Gran Paradiso area, and it became apparent that the storms hadn't made it this far. A mere dusting adorned the ridges and summit rocks of Paradiso, but allowed for a steady ascent. Much of the glacier above the Chabod Hut was in dry state, and we didn't have to rope-up until we hit 3300m. Cloud clung to the mountains, and reduced visibility to around 100m, but a successful ascent was made.
After relocation back to the Chamonix valley, and a well earned lie-in, we switched our focus to Mont Blanc. We had heard of teams turning around at the Grand Couloir two days previously because of dangerous avalanche conditions, but I was confident conditions would have stabilised quite quickly. The Mont Blanc Tramway had closed for the summer a couple of days previously, which makes the whole venture that bit more strenuous, starting from Bellevue at 1800m rather than the usual Nid d'Aigle at 2360m. But we arrived at the Tete Rousse Hut with plenty left in the tank after a pleasant walk up in cool conditions.
With improving weather, and a sunnier forecast for later in the day, we allowed ourselves the luxury of a 5am breakfast at the Tete Rousse. Much of the recent snow had already disappeared from the Grand Couloir, but fairly cool temperatures made for safe conditions. Half of the scramble up to the Gouter Hut was done without crampons, as we made slow but steady progress. After a quick pit-stop for a hot chocolate at the Gouter Hut, Paul and Frank discovered a new gear on the long glacier slopes up to the Dome du Gouter.
Surprisingly mild temperatures and little wind made the upper mountain a fairly laid-back experience. We arrived at the summit at about 2pm, less than four hours after leaving the Gouter. On this occasion, summitting in the afternoon also made for a quieter experience, and apart from three or four other teams, we had the summit ridges to ourselves.
The extent of out effort began to be felt on the way down, and the pace slowed. It was with weary heads and legs that we arrived back at the sanctuary of the Gouter Hut, in time for dinner and a glorious pink evening sunset.
Well done to Frank and Paul, and thanks to Rob at http://www.highmountainguides.com/.