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
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
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
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.