Mont Blanc (4810m)

07 Aug 2018 15:35 - 07 Aug 2018 15:38 #73796 by Stijn
Mont Blanc (4810m) was created by Stijn
I just got back from 2 months in the Alps, exploring several areas from the Dolomites through to Chamonix. I spent most of my time trail running, but also got to do a bit of mountaineering when friends joined in, and one of the highlights was definitely climbing Mont Blanc with fellow South African climber/runner, Stefan Wahl!

I was going to say that things just fell into place, but we actually more-or-less bludgeoned them into place ;) Weather forecasts were hit and miss but we thought we'd at least give it a shot on our last day in Chamonix. We bussed, cable-carred, trammed and hiked our way up to the Tete Rousse refuge (~3100m) without a booking and just loitered around in their dining area, hoping to get going around midnight. It started storming and snowing from 8pm onwards so things weren't looking up and we had a nap on the floor, expecting to have to call it off.

The clouds had lifted enough by 1am so we thought we'd at least go have a look... ;) Despite tough going on the scrambles due to the fresh snow, the weather kept improving and we got to enjoy a relatively quiet day on the mountain, reaching the summit to a gorgeous sunrise. The highest peak I've climbed, an unexpectedly aesthetic snowy ridgeline and a really rewarding day! Thanks Stefan for being game to "go have a look" :-)

Some info on the route we took (Gouter Route, grade PD, the normal route): while it's technically not very difficult by alpine standards, you do need prior alpine experience and be comfortable scrambling loose rock, walking roped-up along glaciers (and knowing how to deal with crevasse rescue), and doing long sections of relatively exposed narrow snow ridges (basic crampon technique). Most groups on the mountain had a guide with them but I have always preferred doing these things independently, acquiring the necessary skills & experience and enjoying the climb as an adventure rather than just a physical challenge.

Despite the route's relative technical ease, there are still some major objective dangers, one in particular being the crossing of the Grand Couloir and avoiding its lethal and often near-continuous rockfall. This 100m crossing kills several people every year... this clip shows how terrifying it can be in dry conditions:

The best way to minimise this risk is to cross the gully (with much haste!) early in the morning (both on the way up and down), before the sun starts melting all the ice in the gully. The main difficulty is the sheer length of the route and the amount of time you spend at altitude. i.e. It is very important to be fit and well-acclimatised. We saw far too many groups on the mountain who were moving very slowly and hence putting themselves at more risk when they would have to cross the Grand Couloir very late in the day on the way down, when rockfall risk is at its highest.

The pic below shows the first part of the route from Tete Rousse Hut (3100m), across the Grand Couloir (flat bit in the middle) and then scrambling 700m vertical up the rib of rock to the Gouter Refuge at 3900m. From there onwards the route is all a snow slog (out of sight in the pic), with a beautiful final summit crest.

All in all, a fantastic, memorable day!

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Last edit: 07 Aug 2018 15:38 by Stijn.

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11 Aug 2018 03:29 #73810 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Mont Blanc (4810m)
Nice Stijn, looks fun!

Loose rock certainly is a consideration. Certainly in Canada it is too - way worse than the Berg. The actual rock is not necessarily as friable as Berg basalt, but there is way more loose stuff lying around, in addition to large slopes and gullies packed with talus and scree. Falling and rolling rocks is a constant consideration here and wearing of helmets is important even on certain terrain that are simply walking across. You do hear stories about people getting hit by rocks here, some with serious injuries. Last season my helmet took two large strikes to the extent that I bought a new one. This season I indirectly loosed a rock onto my buddy and it gashed open his hand.

Other thing I noticed in your photos is that the cornices are not as pronounced and that you are following certain ridge lines very tightly. I'm not sure if that is just the photos or the season. The snow there may also be drier and in less quantities. In the coastal mountains here the cornices can become massive, and very dangerous.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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11 Aug 2018 10:39 - 11 Aug 2018 12:15 #73811 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Mont Blanc (4810m)
You do see cornices in the Alps but in my experience they are pretty minor, requiring only slight deviations from the ridge crest (in summer at least). e.g. This is about the biggest cornice we had to avoid on Piz Palu in Eastern Switzerland:

Interesting that it could have something to do with the dryness of the snow...

Serac collapses are certainly still a threat on steep slopes in the Alps though - the other popular route on Mont Blanc (Trois Monts) is very exposed to them.

Enjoy the rest of the mountaineering season up there!

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Last edit: 11 Aug 2018 12:15 by Stijn.

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12 Aug 2018 20:56 #73819 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Mont Blanc (4810m)
That's a decent cornice and a cool photo.

Yes, out this way cornices seem to get bigger when the snow gets more sticky. They grow really big in the spring.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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