A past climbing partner recently Summited Mont Blanc alone and I asked him to share his story:
My journey involving Mont Blanc ultimately began long before reaching the Alps. My love for the mountains and climbing them originated in the Green Mountains of Vermont, USA, at Norwich University. I have had a couple of friends attempt Mont Blanc before me, but due to foul weather did not summit. To me, the mountain itself is a symbol of mountaineering success, as a young American climbing the highest peak in the Alps. When I was able to take the time, I left for France in August to take my shot at the Gouter Hut Route.
I keep myself in pretty good shape; I run, swim, and lift pretty much 7 days a week and look to push myself often. I believe that breathing exercises and running outside in the Middle East throughout the summer heavily contributed to my overall ability to summit without too much trouble.
I bought about 90% of my gear in Chamonix the day before my attempt. I know it is important to be familiar with your equipment, but I had a comfortable level of knowledge about how to use the things I picked up. My full load out was somewhere around 40-45 pounds, in addition to my travel gear.
Nid D’Aigle-1400h. 2380 m
From Chamonix, I took the train to Saint Gervais and then the Cog railway to Nid D’Aigle. I took some time to appreciate the view when I stepped off the train. The hike from Nid to the Tete Rousse hut was about 3 hours up some rocky but not difficult terrain. I also saw some goats on the way up to Tete Rousse. It was here that I met an Italian guide with his Nepalese partners who had summited Everest twice, and they weren’t shy about letting me know my intention to summit alone seemed foolhardy and dangerous.
Tete Rousse- 1700h. 3180m
I arrived at Refuse De Tete Rousse in the afternoon and set up camp. They had food, water, and some other necessities but they it did’t come cheap because all the supplies to the huts from here on are brought by helicopter. I set up my tent, got rained on and was lulled to sleep by the sound of the rocks falling in the grand couloir, which I began to climb around 2 am. The climb in the dark is incredibly thrilling and quite dangerous. Finding the right trail could have been tricky, but enough people were climbing so I found the headlamps and followed them.
Gouter hut- 0500h. 3863m
I left Tete Rousse around 2 am and got to the Gouter Refuge by about 5 am. The climb up to Gouter Refuge was difficult but not impossible. There were definitely some sketchy boulders that I had to climb over. At this point I had caught up to some Latvian climbers and proceeded up from the Gouter Refuge with them. I still wasn’t roped in to anyone, but the snow conditions seemed relatively benign with a trail already carved out and readily apparent. One of them turned to me and said “this is the most depressing part because you’re walking for what seems like forever.” Him and his friend turned around short of the summit later on but he was absolutely correct. I was traversing a glacier at 4000 meters for 4 to 6 hours alone until I reached the ridge of Dome du Gouter. It seemed as if the slope would never end, while the altitude began to do its work.
Mont Blanc- 1100h. 4800m
The last 400 meters of elevation to the summit were the hardest test, and I was already quite taxed. This is where people around me began to suffer from altitude sickness and many turned around. My method to avoid altitude sickness was as simple as stopping, practicing deep breathing to slow my heart rate, and then carrying on. There are two incredibly steep and narrow humps before the final ascent and it was definitely a gut-check for my commitment to finish. At this point, I had to stop and catch my breath every 20 steps or so. This went on for a solid hour. You can look down either side of the narrow trail to the summit and see how easy it would be to fall very far. I had to stay focused.
Reaching the summit produced such a surge of elation and joy that I forgot how quickly my body temperature was dropping, so I bundled up and enjoyed the view. As far as the eye can see from this point, you, at 4800 meters, are on top of the world and it is a breathtaking sight to behold. You can see into Italy and Switzerland, and you’re well above the clouds. There are no pictures or words that I could use to explain how beautiful it was and I was truly in awe. However, I was only halfway done.
The weather that afternoon began to turn for the worst, and as I headed down I met some Spaniard mountaineers who didn’t want to risk the weather. I had reached a point of exhaustion to where I didn’t feel safe down climbing from Gouter Refuge to Tete Rousse, so I stayed the night at Gouter Refuge. There, I met two Germans I’d previously met at Tete Rousse who thought for sure I’d be dead but we nonetheless celebrated victory over some beer. A nice Norwegian woman was kind enough to lend some painkillers. Gouter Refuge is essentially the international space station of mountaineering, with people from all reaches of the world gathered. I did experience pounding headaches from the altitude and dehydration throughout the night, so I took steps to recover so I could make it down safely the next morning.
For lessons learned, I should’ve brought more of everything. I should have brought more food, brought more more water, applied more sunscreen (my whole face paid for that), changed my socks more often, and gotten a sleeping bag. The extra weight would have been worth having those extra items. I was lucky that the weather held long enough to summit and get back to the Gouter Refuge. My preparation was rushed, but I was confident in my abilities and with what I can handle physically. If you ever decide to do it yourself, don’t make the mistakes I made and always Climb to Conquer.