Mont Blanc
France/Italy
15,771 feet - 4807 meters

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Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in western Europe at at 15,771 feet. Mt. Elbrus in Russia is Europe's highest at 18,513. It is on the boarder between between Italy and France and is called Monte Bianco in Italy. While living in nearby Geneva, Mont Blanc was visible on a clear day. I first climbed the Aiguille du Midi Route with a guide in July, 1995. It was steep, snowy and one of the longest days of my life.

It starts with an easy gondola ride up to the Agile du Midi - a spectacular lookout point for the Alps. It takes about an hour to get to the Refuge' for an short overnight rest. This was an interesting way to start the climb since you are in the observation tower with hundreds of tourists. However you are dressed in Gortex, gloves and crampons with a pack on your back. You get very strange looks as you leave the warmth of the building through what can only be described as an ice tunnel. The tunnel leads to a very narrow ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides. The ridge, about two feet wide, drops steadily then makes a right turn towards the Valley Blanche - a beautifully wide valley that holds the approach to hundreds of snow, ice and rock climbs throughout the year.

Once at the Refuge', I found a spot in one of the several dorm type rooms, layed out my sleeping bag and returned to the dinning room where everyone gathered to chat, read or pass the time until dinner. The evening meal was simple but tasty fare that was served efficiently thus allowing the multitude of climbers to get to bed early.

After a short night, I got up around 3:30 AM. We had a nice French breakfast of muesli, croissants and a large latte - very civilized! The hut was extremely crowded so everyone was jostling for a spot to get dressed, top off water bottles and then put on gloves, hats and crampons. I roped up to my French Guide as well as our other climber, an older Frenchman who spoke as much English as I did French!

Our route was the Aiguille du Midi Route which traverses Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit on the way to Mont Blanc's summit. We made good time down from the Refuge towards the first obstacle, a 20' high snow slope that was actually quite steep. Ropes had been fixed plus there were steps established from the many climbers on the route this summer. We cleared the wall and started climbing higher. As with most "normal" routes on big mountains, it was mostly wide expanses of snow slopes with varying degrees of angles.

Soon we skirted the summit of du Tacul and then Mont Maudit. One more wall stood between us and the summit of Mont Blanc. This was one was 40 to 50 feet high and at a much sharper angle than the first. We carefully climbed the wall and continued across a wide snow covered saddle. With one final slope to overcome, we paced ourselves as a threesome and soon stood atop Mont Blanc.

The view was amazing since the sun was just rising in the east. We congratulated one another, took some summit pictures and had some food and water. It was cold so we did not stay long. The return trip was straightforward but very tiring. At one point we almost ran to avoid a potential danger of an avalanche prone slope.

The final climb back to the Refuge' to retrieve our gear plus the last climb up the ridge to the Agile du Midi took my final ounce of strength. It was an unforgettable 13 hour round trip. This was my first true snow climb and I learned a lot. It set the tone for my future climbs. The next spring I went on a trek to Nepal and sawEverest, Ama Dablam and Cho Oyu for the first time. Remembering the satisfaction of Mont Blanc, I set my sites on Cho Oyu and used Mont Blanc, Monta Rosa and Tour Ronde as training peaks that next year. I summited Mont Blanc two more times solo during my training taking 9-10 hours each time.

All I can say is merci bouc Mont Blanc.