Mont Blanc - 15,770ft - August 26, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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After our successful traverse of the Matterhorn in the middle of the month we relocated from Zermatt, Switzerland to Charmonix, France to put all of our focus on claiming the Mont Blanc summit. Our chosen route was to be the Three Monts Route up and the standard route down. Unfortunately weather the second half of this month has been a huge challenge keeping us from attaining any 4000m peaks after arriving in Chamonix. We kept ourselves busy rock climbing all over this area which is world renowned for its rock climbing.

On the 22nd of August we relocated from to the Cosmique hut at about 11,500ft a 45 minute traverse from the top of the cable car station. We planned to make our ascent on August 23rd but winds of 70km/h – 90km/h turned us back to bed after eating our breakfast at 1:00am. This day we claimed the Arretes des Cosmique a great mixed climb that was a lot of fun but disappointed that Mont Blanc was not an option. However on this journey I did get a great view of our route up 2 of the 3 mountains we needed to traverse. Its looked quite tough and that made me want to climb it more to see if it actually felt that tough.

We then returned to town that evening to wait out the weather hopefully and spent another rain day touring the town. I have now developed a wicked chest cold that sends me into torrents of coughing that won’t stop.

On August 25th we decided to go back up to the hut and maybe see if we can make an attempt starting at 1:00am on August 26th. We get up to the hut around 4:00pm and after our 6:30pm dinner realize that someone has swiped my crampons. This route is not possible without Crampons – fortunately one of the serving staff had some really old (I’m guessing 1980s) pair of crampons that were mis-shapen and very worn – they would have to do I guess.

We are up at 1:00am to howling winds but a clear sky with a brilliant moon and stars. We have a quick breakfast and our high altitude cocktails – because we are no longer acclimated we take a Viagra (for circulation), Dexamethazone (for brain swelling) and a Diamox (for the lungs). We are climbing by 1:40am with headlamps – likely 50 people have set out on our route. The conditions clear and seem okay except for the wind which is 70km/h plus the entire climb. This wind makes it a challenge to keep from being pushed off of ridges or steep faces. People are constantly turning around and passing us as we continue heading up. By 2:30am we have climbed the shoulder of Tacul du Mont Blanc the first of 3 and are heading towards Mt. Madit. At 5:30 we finish the crux of the climb which is a steep ice face up the headwall of Mt. Madit. At this point most everyone has turned around due to huge winds and now the clouds have created very poor visibility. Norm and I discuss the possibility of turning around but he feels good and I’m okay.

Through whiteout conditions we find our way over the knife edge ridge in high winds to the col. leading to our final push up the face of Mont Blanc. The sun is starting to rise and it is really really cold especially with the wind chill. You can’t move fast enough to create body heat as your lungs limit your speed. We stop to add every piece of clothing in our bags – I add my gortex pants as well and slip them over my harness and crampons – it looks silly but its warmer.

At about 9:00am we were standing on the summit of Mont Blanc. Very few came from our side but a number made it up the standard route which is not nearly as technical but is very exposed with a very long knife edge ridge.

The summit was a joyous occasion for me that actually put tears in my eyes. Every summit is different for me – sometimes I’m indifferent, sometimes I’m totally charged but this one was emotional.

The decent required a very long knife edge ridge that was directly into the wind so being blown sideways was of little concern down the standard route that was comparatively a lot easier. After reaching the Goute hut on this route we stopped for water and then decending a long rock ridge that required some rock skills and then decended to the train station.

All in all the traverse took 15:40 and we were wiped out last night when we got back to our hotel.

I feel more than any other climb this climb represented my maturing as a mountaineer. It required overcoming adversity in being previously turned away by a mountain. It was good for my altitude confidence as it required an extremely quick rise to altitude (3000ft to 15,800ft in less than 24 hours) with a serious chest and head cold. I was pleased to climb a route that was psyching me out visually since the week prior as it looked tough but I could see about 60% of it from the cable car station. It required patience as we waited out the weather since before leaving Zermatt on the 18th. I climbed it was faulty gear – i.e. very poor replacement crampons that blew out twice. It required a calculated decision to keep going when mostly all others bailed which was believing in our own abilities while not being stupid about it.

As I sit here writing this the day after resting in Chamonix - whilst a storm rages outside. I smile knowing we capitalized on only chance we had even though is was a very marginal one. Now I’m going home back to Calgary counting the month as a great success. I’m a better climber now than when I arrived.

The video will be up shortly, stay tuned.

Borger out…. until the next climb.

Partial list of completed climbs -

*First ascent