How to (nearly) climb Mont Blanc - Part 1
December 20, 2019
I will explain exactly how to (nearly) climb Mont Blanc. First I would like to tell you why I wrote it all. Why I think it will be beneficial for all of you. Not only in order to know how to climb Mont Blanc, but also how to cope with your high expectations, goals and potential failure. Failure that will bring disappointment, negative emotions and doubt… a lot of doubt.
Online you can come across multiple various guides and diaries. “How I Climbed Mont Blanc”, “How to climb Mont Blanc” etc., but rarely you will find travel articles describing unsuccessful attempts to climb Mont Blanc and reasons behind it.
Climbing one of the highest mountains requires a decent amount of fitness. It is one of those adventures where technical knowledge or previous experience is not that important. As long as you have good guides, who will make sure that you are safe! Other summits, despite the lower altitude, are in majority more depending and will require at least some mountaineering skills as well as previous mountaineering experience.
I am lucky to be working in the industry and I know IFMGA mountain guides personally and that also helped me a lot with my training plan. Nothing fancy. Running sessions 3-4 times a week with an average duration of 45 minutes, trekking around 50km carrying all my kit (15-18kg!) in my Berghaus 75l rucksack, wild camping all year round – winter is so far my favourite season! In addition, I am an avid snowboarder wandering off-piste and hiking as much as I can to find the best powder runs. Big in Japan, Georgia, Italy, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Chech Republic, Switzerland and still dreaming about Alaska, anyway that is a subject for another post.
I have trained hard, quit smoking, change my dietary habits and allowed myself plenty of time to be ready when the day will come.
I and my old friend Jan, living in Wales, got to the summit of Snowdon via horseshoe route in good time. Very nice challenging day, short of time, no map and lost route also took part in my training plan.
Another adventure, next #chooseyourchallange and everything indicated that I am ready. A few kilograms left behind during months of training were also helpful.
Chamonix – Mont Blanc. True Adventure Clinic
I have arrived in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc a day before the rest of the group. Plenty of time to get familiar with the famous Chamonix – mecca and birthplace of mountaineering and various adventure related activities. True Adventure Clinic! Les Praz, where I stayed, is located twenty minutes walk from the centre of Chamonix. It was a lovely, sunny day and a walk after a few hours spent on Swiss Air was just a pleasure. Gentle stroll alongside a rapid, Alpine river got me to Chamonix in no time. Every now and then I was rising my head to soak up the alpine views. Aiguille du Midi, Aretes de Cosmiques, Mont Blanc and many others shaped Chamonix’ skyline.
The following day I met with the group and our guides Olly and Andrea, both IFMGA mountain guides. After a briefing in the evening, followed by a dinner in a relaxed atmosphere, we started getting to know each other. Having our bellies stuffed with whatever each one of us fancied that evening we went to our rooms to re-pack for the coming 3 days on Gran Paradiso 4061m. The summit is located between Aosta Valley and Piedmont regions, the highest peak fully within Italian borders.
First Acclimatization Day
At 10am the next day I came to know that I am the only one ready to go. The rest of the group had to visit a few shops to collect the required kit. An Italian taxi driver clearly was not happy with the delay. Eventually, with the 20-minute delay, we headed out to Italy for the first leg of Gran Paradiso altitude training. Yes, first days of altitude training, very much needed for a successful Mont Blanc summit.
Beginning of my trip was more of a relaxed hike rather than a climb. I was very confident about my fitness and skills. Long days of trekking vast and challenging moors in Dartmoor National Park taught me how to keep a steady pace and preserve my strength. Three years of indoor climbing and scrambling in the High Tatra Mountains and recent training plan gave me all the rest of the confidence I needed.
View at Gran Paradiso National Park
After a few hours of a steady, enjoyable walk uphill I got to Chabod hut at 2800m, just before the rain. It was my first night in a mountain hut located so high. We were all excited and amazed at how beautiful Gran Paradiso National Park is. I met a hut guardian and got my dormitory assignment. Room was spacious, clean and empty. Today the room was just for my group. Dinner was a proper, hearty Italian cuisine accompanied by a delightful red house wine.
Federico Chabod hut, 2750m
It was about 9pm when I fell asleep. First night on an altitude was difficult. I was waking up every few hours feeling hungover.
Breakfast was very early in the morning: coffee, cereals, toast with jam. I ate it in a rush to pack for a second day off Gran Paradiso climb.
The Summit Day
I departed with my fellow climbers shortly after breakfast. This morning was quite chilly but hiking was warming me up quickly. Once the crampons were on and an ice axe handy we started working our way up. Quick recall of yesterday’s training: steady pace and maintaining distance was my only task now.
Group ready for Gran Paradiso summit. Chabod hut.
One step after another, I was enjoying the new experience, the views and the company. Guides were making sure we are all ok and stopped for brakes now and then. We were slowly gaining altitude. The sun was out and I had to put sunscreen on. Also, I felt first symptoms of the altitude sickness. I had a headache and my muscles were starting to hurt. It will all go away I thought, but it didn’t. We walked in crampons on a glacier for several hours when we saw our destination for the first time.
Making our way up on a glacier
The rocky summit was appearing in a distance. Guides told us to get on a short rope before the final climb. My head was about to explode, muscles in pain and nausea kicking in. I thought I won’t make it. Got some painkillers, left my day pack behind and started to climb the final meters. Rocky scramble and climb using fixed steps and lines were quick and easy, would be easier if I wouldn’t feel so bad.
I reached the summit! I felt great, not physically but mentally. The first challenge is done, time for the big one! I didn’t take pictures but we had a laugh. I just wanted to get down as quick as possible. Get rid of the pain and stop fighting with nausea.
Gran Paradiso summit, 4061m.
Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant! I loved every moment on the Gran Paradiso, but hated it at the same time…
That is the end of part one. Originally I planned to squeeze the whole story in a single post but barely managed to fit the first part.