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Mont Blanc

The Mont Blanc ascent trip described here took place in July 2015. The page is divided in three sections:

1. General information
2. Climb route, preparation, tips
3. Photos

1. General information

Mont Blanc is a peak in the Alps on the border between France and Italy, its elevation is 4810m (about 15800ft) above sea level. It is the highest mountain of the Alps, by some people also considered the highest mountain of Europe (the rest claim that Elbrus is also in Europe - I don't know, I'm not an expert in this...). The towns from which one can start the ascent are Chamonix, and smaller, Les Houches, both at about 1000m elevation. That valley is nicely shown in the ski map of the area presented below.


Ski map of the Chamonix valley.


Nice picture of the mountain massif with labeled peaks and shelters - in black and red, respectively (reference).


2. Climb route, preparation, tips

The ascent up Mont Blanc is possible from many sides with many routes. Many people choose the short was by first taking a gondola lift up Aiguille du Midi and then climbing from Mont-Blanc du Tacul side. Another route goes from the side of Dome du Gouter. On this route you can take Tramway du Mont-Blanc which will take you up the first 800 or so meters of elevation. You can also hike all the way from the town of Les Houches - this is the way I did it (tram is cheating!).


A climb route very similar to mine. The visible section starts a little above the last stop of Tramway do Mont-Blanc (reference).


Also a similar route, the one marked with blue dashed line (reference).

In general climbing up Mont Blanc is not difficult in terms of required physical shape (for a fit outdoor person) assuming the weather is perfect. However, even then some sections are scary and dangerous. Ascent and descent together take usually three days, although there are crazy athletes who run up and down in one day. For some people the high elevation and thin air may turn out to be a problem. At such an elevation you can get sick, become very weak, have headache or even vomit. The reason is low pressure and low amount of oxygen in air. Let's just realize that at elevation of 5000m the atmospheric pressure is only about 600hPa which is practically only half of the pressure at sea level! The reaction to such a change is an individual thing and depends on how fast you ascent (how much time you give your body to get used to lower and lower pressure), on the past experience of particular person with such conditions, etc.

The following table shows the timeline of my trip which I wrote down after I got back home.

2015.07.09 - Thursday
    Leaving Les Houches~ 6:00
    Arrival to the Tete Rousse shelter and base camp15:00-16:00
2015.07.10 - Friday
    Leaving Tete Rousse~ 6:00
    Passing by Gouter shelter9:00-10:00
    Passing by Vallot shelter~ 12:00
    Reaching the Mont Blanc15:00-16:00
    Arrival back to Tete Rousse~ 22:00
2015.07.11 - Saturday
    Leaving Tete Rousse~ 7:00
    Reaching Les Houches~ 13:15

The original plan was to reach the summit and afterwards spend the night in the Vallot. Next day descent to Tete Rousse, pack the tent and descent all the way down to the town. However, it turned out that we were at the Vallot as early as at 18:00 so we decided to continue to Tete Rousse the same day and sleep in the tent. Instead of sleeping in a tent at Tete Rousse (this is the only place on the way where placing a tent is allowed) it's of course possible to just sleep inside the shelter, either Tete Rousse or Gouter. However, it is quite expensive and booking in advance is required. The price for one night at Gouter is something like 75 euros, while having a tent at Tete Rousse base camp is free of charge.

The weather is probably the most important factor when planning the trip to Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, it's a factor quite hard to predict, especially in a long term. Because of that if you need to schedule your work vacation early or book a cheap flight, you will need to count on luck to large extent. In my case the decision to go was made the day before but I was traveling by train from Zürich and I luckily don't have much of a problem with a couple of spontaneous days off so short planning was not a big deal. I also have all the gear needed so didn't need to rent or buy anything except for food. The weather forecast for that weekend was really perfect which you can see in the next picture. Fortunately the weather turned out to really be like predicted (in the mountains, you never really know).


Weather forecast for the Mont Blanc peak. From Thursday through Sunday it should be really perfect! (reference - a great website!)

What to take?

  • Water
What I had were three hiking bottles, 2.5 liters volume combined. I was refilling them from mountain creeks. There is some risk that the water in the creek will be contaminated and cause some stomach problems but it never happened to me. It is good to have some multivitamin tablets (those dissolvable in water) and/or lemon to add to the water. If the water is not pure it stays longer in your body so the hydration is better, and some additional vitamins during such a trip are a good thing. You should make sure to refill the bottles before continuing the ascent from Gouter shelter because from there on there will be only snow. In theory you can melt the snow to get water to drink but even if you fill your bottles with snow it will not melt fast enough.
  • Food
Well, like for any mountain hikes. Something real for breakfast and dinner like bread and cheese, ham, sausage etc. More than you would normally eat, for me a good amount would be 2-3 breads for those three days. Additionally to that of course a few chocolates, some chocolate bars like Snickers, some nut mix (not salty). Chocolates and nuts are also important in case of emergency if you get stuck somewhere and have to survive. I am quite a fruit eater so I also had a couple apples and bananas. If it turns out you didn't take enough food you can also buy some in Tete Rousse or Gouter shelter.
  • clothes
I only had one set plus some fresh underwear and a t-shirt for the way back by train. But it would be actually good to have a spare pair of pants in case one pair gets wet.
  • Gaiters
Very useful, especially for the descent when the snow is already partially melted after a sunny day. But if you have some fancy magic waterproof hiking pants maybe it's not really necessary.
  • Shoes
A pair of hiking shoes that you have for sure tested before and you know that they will not cause pain or blisters, get wet, etc. after several yours of hiking. No need to have anything really fancy.
  • Gloves
Don't forget them! preferably a pair of thin ones plus a pair of thicker winter ones, like skiing gloves. keep in mind that un there even in the middle of the day it's freezing, and also in the lower sections in the evening and morning (when you need to deal with setting up the tent, etc) it will be cold. Generally, you should have winter clothes.
  • Sunglasses
Make sure they have a decent UV filter, at least grade 300. If there's a risk that they will fall off your nose and tumble down the snow it's a good idea to have some piece of string to attach them. Same for gloves.
  • Sunscreen cream
Don't forget! SPF 30 or even better 50. Better to have cream or lotion instead of some liquid spray. With cream you can always apply a thicker layer and it will also protect from wind and frost. Remember to apply the sunscreen on the bottom side of your nose and ears!
  • Hiking poles
If you like to hike with them and they help you during long hikes, sure take them. I didn't.
  • Ice axe
There were many people with hiking poles but no ice axe. I prefer ice axe. If you fall and start sliding down, you cannot break and stop with hiking poles... And there are placed on the way where this can easily happen. If you don't know what ice axe is for and how to use it, there are some Youtube tutorials out there.
  • Crampons
It's good to first have a trip to some lower mountains or even some snowy hill in the neighborhood and try out walking with crampons if you haven't done it before. It's easy to catch the side of your pant leg with one of the teeth and fall. Especially with such a heavy backpack it's not the nicest experience and in case of Mont Blanc can prematurely end your adventure.
  • Climbing helmet
Good to have, mostly because of the rocks falling from above in some sections when there are people climbing above you.
  • Flashlight
preferably a headlamp, and spare batteries. Actually a whole spare flashlight is not a bad idea.
  • Harness, rope
Mamy people didn't have these but in the upper sections where there are snowy ridges it's good to be tied to someone. The rope should be light so that you don't put too much unnecessary weight on your back. For example 15 meters of 8mm diameter rope would be good for 2 or 3 people. I had 60m of 10.2mm rope because this is the only one I have, so I had something to carry... Of course it's also necessary to have a couple carabiners.
  • Tent, sleeping pad
...obviously, if you don't plan to sleep in the shelters.
  • Sleeping bag
Good to have even if you plan to sleep in shelters. You never know what unexpected can happen and where you will have to survive the night and then a sleeping bag can save your life.
  • Cellphone
The network reception is there most of the time. Phone will be necessary to call help if something happens, so you should save battery by keeping it off or in flight mode.
  • Drugs and first aid items
Some pain killers, sore throat tablets, plasters, antibiotics in case of infection - regular first aid kit which you should have for every hiking trip. Additionally aspirin - I've heard (I haven't checked if it's true, though) that from high elevation your head can sttart hurting even after you descent. Then, the aspirin will help, not only as a pain killer but because it thins the blood.
  • Insurance
...covering a helicopter ride ;)

Tips summary:

  • Weather is the most important. The forecast has to be perfect (mostly in terms of clouds and wind) for the days of the trip. Preferably also day before and day after should have good forecast. There is always a risk that the forecast will be wrong but it's more likely that the predicted weather will be shifted in time one way or the other. Not great weather means higher difficulty level and much higher risk (starting from having to turn back before reaching the summit, up to getting lost or stuck somewhere and dying).
  • If the weather is good the ascent is not so difficult in terms of physical shape (for someone who is a hiker, not someone who just got up from a couch in front of a TV). However, it's still about 30 hours of mountain hiking in three days so there is some challenge.
  • Despite the fact it's not very difficult, there are moments and sections where there is risk of falling off the rocks or sliding down snowy slope, as well as sections which are maybe not very risky but are quite scary (more sensitive people might get so scared that they may panic and not want to continue). There is a lot of walking on slippery and moving stones where in case of a slip you tumble down few meters on sharp rocks. On the snow it's easy to trip with the crampons, etc. And all that with large and heavy backpack which makes it difficult to keep the balance.
  • Altitude sickness: for me it was not much of a problem, but different people respond differently. In my case I got a very slight headache above 4500m and I noticed that I breathe much faster and deeper than I would normally do, even when just standing and having a break. After descent to Tete Rousse it all went away and I was fine. It's good to go for a trip and spend a night in some place above 3000m before attempting Mont Blanc, just to see what's your body reaction to high altitude. If you don't do such a test you just increase the risk of getting sick and having to turn back before reaching the summit. It's also good to read about the altitude sickness symptoms and what to do when you notice them.
  • Tying up with rope, climbing helmet, ice axe: if everything goes smoothly it is not necessary. But the risk that something goes not so smoothly, that the weather suddenly changes, avalanche happens, rock falls down on your head from nowhere, is really significant. Therefore I think it's really good to use these means of protection. Keep in mind that every year many people die trying to reach Mont Blanc!
  • Currently (2015) it's only allowed to sleep in a tent next to Tete Rousse shelter and it is regularly checked. Sleeping in a tent at Tete Rousse is free of charge.


3. Photos

I don't have that many photos and they are not so great, but there's something. I don't think I need to mention that looking at pictures will never be comparable to the real experience of being there.


Backpack ready, 22 kilos.


View of Les Houches about 1.5 hours from the beginning.


From the town until the last stop of Tramway du Mont-Blanc the trail looks more or less like this.


A short break right after the one but last stop of Tramway du Mont-Blanc.


Here is the tram seen from the same spot.


Above the last tram stop the scenery changes, now we walk on rocks.


The building on the horizon is the Gouter shelter (3835m). This is a zoom-in picture.


Here the same view without zoom.


There is a lot of mountain goats around...


...and behind my back some nice views.


After climbing up the rocks I finally see Tete Rousse shelter.


Another goat, and Chamonix down in the valley.


Welcome of the base camp at Tete Rousse. This is our tent. If the place is not too crowded it is easy to find a spot left after some other people had their tent there. Otherwise, you must prepare a spot by yourself by moving bigger rocks to the sides and somehow arranging the smaller ones in the middle (on which you place your tent and on which you will effectively sleep) such that they are even. This can take a while and it's of course more convenient to do when it's still bright so it's good to get there before the dusk.


Next day we get up at 5:00 in the morning while many teams are already leaving to continue the climb.


There are people with head lamps hiking up the wall.


The breakfast.


From Tete Rousse to the Gouter the walk is like this. Pretty steep, with the backpack and no protection it is sometimes quite scary.


And on the top of the wall, there it is: the Gouter shelter.


When you look behind you see this. The snow patch down there is the place where the base camp is located.


From the Gouter we only walk on snow, so here is the place where we put crampons on.


This is a few hours later, a view from the Vallot shelter. From now on we are tied up with rope.


The views and space are really stunning.


Here the real mountaineering adventure starts!


Walking on snowy ridges provides quite some adrenalin.


Here I am, on the ridge.


We also pass by smaller and larger crevasses and holes hoping there is nothing like that under the snow we walk on.


The last stretch to pass before the summit. Beautiful ridge with steep slopes on the sides.


And here is the summit!


4810m, Mont Blanc!!!


A short break for a snickers bar and a cup of tea, and of course to enjoy the awesome views. At this elevation the sky is already very dark blue which is an amazing experience, feels almost like if you were in outer space. In fact we are already half way through to the stratosphere!


We are on the way back already, but we need to wait for the next people coming who are already on the ridge (there is not enough room on it to pass one another).


On the way back to our tent we have some views of Chamonix again.


Another goat, this time an old one with big horns like on postcards!


View of Aiguille du Midi with a gondola hanging by.

The End...




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