I’ve been living in Chamonix for almost 4 months now, looking up at the beast that is Mont Blanc and always saying “I’ll climb that one day”. Well it serves me right for being quite so flippant with my comments as I then got an invite to go with a friend, Paul Maine on the weekend.
So with barely anytime to prepare, I set off to meet Paul at The Aiguille du Midi lift station in the centre of town. Luckily for me, on my way I passed Christoph, a great French guy who works in The Mountain Shop just down from where I live. We got talking and he asked the obvious question; where was I going dressed ready for skiing in the middle of summer? With one look at my skis and boots, he laughed quite openly in my face and said with all my heavy downhill gear, I stood about as much chance of summiting as his four year old son! I needed to come with him right away to borrow the correct equipment for such an adventure.
When I left the shop, trading in my fat powder skis and race boots for a feather light touring set up, I felt relieved and eternally grateful I’d bumped into him, I was going to need all the help I could get!
I met Paul at the station and we got the cable car to the mid-station to begin the journey. For the first couple of hours, we were scrambling over loose rocks and gravel before even hitting the snow. With the sun beating down on us, I couldn’t wait to get the skis off my back and start touring.
Finally we were able to get our skis and skins on and made our way through incredible scenery to The Junction where we very carfeully picked our way over the cravasses and bridges for the final tour to the Grands Mulets refuge. But not before the chain ascent to the actual building. I couldn’t believe the punishment they were putting me through, I had just finished my first ever tour and now I was faced with a crazy rock climb, in ski boots and just holding onto a chain attached to a rock face! Apparently it only makes you appreciate your arrival more, Hmmm. Well, at least the bowl of hot chocolate definately felt well deserved.
After a very early breakfast at 1.30am, we started out into the darkness to attempt to summit Mont Blanc. It was a beautiful mild and clear night, made even more stunning by the line of head torches leading the way across the eastern slopes of the Dome du Gouter. It was a slow but steady process, made slower by my lack of touring experience. My pace on the traverse was acceptable but I really fell behind when it came to the kick turns. My technique, or extreme lack of, made my turns clumsy and scrappy but I made it round somehow and continued on with the slog.
Paul is a very accompished mountaineer and climber so offered me plenty of advice and support that I gladly tried to follow. He very patiently led the way until about an hour from the Vallot hut, where we stopped to ponder our mission. By this height, Paul had started to feel knackered and suggested turning round and trying again next week. I think my response of “there is no way I’m coming all the way back up here again so get up off your ass and lets get going!” spurred us both on to make it to the top. After ditching our skis at the hut, we boot packed the last hour and finally stood on the top of the highest peak in Western Europe.
The view was amazing, a full 360 degree view of the French Alps, with sheer drops of both sides of the ridge. I was surprised how narrow the summit actually is, from Chamonix it looks round and flat but actually it’s the opposite! After a quick phone call to my boyfriend Phil to see if he could see us through the binoculars (he couldn’t!) and some quick snaps, the cold set in so we made our way back to the Vallot hut sharpish to retreive our skis. By this point we were both a wee bit shattered and made the decision to stay the night in the hut and make the most of the ski back down with rested legs in the morning. It turned out to be the best move and we had an awesome ski down the next day! After a quick cup of tea and water break at the Grands Mulets refuge, we had some more skiing to do before the 2 hour scramble over rocks to the Plan de l’Aiguille lift station where a very proud Phil was waiting to take me home.