MONT BLANC (26 June - 1 July 2011)
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Mont Blanc (4810m; 15,782ft) – straddling the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland - is the highest peak in western Europe and an excellent place to practice ice climbing and glacier travel skills and techniques for crevasse escape.
I joined a party of seven climbers with two (then four) alpine guides (provided by Chamonix-based Dream Guides). Initially, we spent several days acclimatizing in the mountains above Le Tour - close to Chamonix. We first trekked up to the Albert Premiere Hut and overnighted there. Then we ascended the Glacier du Tour, summitting Petite Fourche (3,520m) - with a nice rock climb to the summit. The descent from the top was followed by a 50m abseil over the cornice on the Col Blanc to drop onto the Plateau du Trient and then a very long slog through deep snow to the Cabane du Trient in Switzerland overlooking the Glacier d'Orr. My crampons seemed to focus my weight on the thin snow crust causing me to drop through every other step - up to my knees or thighs. Very hard going. Snow shoes would have helped. The next day we retraced our route and returned to Chamonix for rest and to prepare for Mont Blanc itself.
The ascent of Mont Blanc itself (2-3 days) may take two different routes, depending on weather conditions:
(a) The Gouter route- via the Refuge du Tete Rousse, the dangerous Grand Couloir, Dome de Gouter, Bosses ridge and summit ridge.
(b) The Three Monts route - from the Aug du Midi, traversing the shoulders of Mont Blanc du Tacul
and Mont Maudit.. Due to predicted adverse weather mid week, this was the route our guides decided on, but thunderstorms and heavy snow delayed our departure from the Refuges des Cosmiques and we had to settle for climbing Mont Blanc du Tacul - see report and photos further below
See some Mont Blanc videos below
Crossing the Grand Couloir
Descending the exposed Bosses ridge
Mont Blanc course
REPORT ON CLIMBING MONT BLANC DU TACUL (4248m; 13,937ft)
The ascent from Chamomix to the Aiguille du Midi by cable car is stunning. A tunnel leads to a platform from where the route descends via the very exposed Aig du Midi arete - the apex in summer is just two feet in width with deathly steep drops to either side - a very real challenge to start the day - especially when passing those ascending (see video below).
From the bottom of the ridge we proceeded down onto the glacier from where the Vallee Blanche ski route starts, and then trekked across the glacier and up to the Refuge des Cosmiques - perched on an arete overlooking the Chamonix Valley with magnificent views of the seraced face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. The aim was to rest and acclimatise and set out to traverse Mont Blanc at 1.00 am. But the weather changed - as predicted - with thunderstorms, heavy snow and whiteout and warnings of avalanche risk. My guide (Hannah Burrows-Smith from Scotland) advised against venturing out until conditions improved. We were eventually able to set out at 06.30 am - but with insufficient time then to attempt a safe traverse over the main summit of Mont Blanc. So we headed up the steep flank of the first of the three monts - Tacul. This was just amazing - zig-zagging up steep slopes beneth high ice seracs in crystal clear conditions - eventually to reach the col between Tacul and the next summit of Mont Maudit - an intimidating face of yet more ice. From the col we climbed up towards the summit and then completed a rock climb to the top of Tacul to savour fabulous views across the Alps - with seried needle sharp summits penetrating the blanket of cloud far below. As we descended, the penetrating cold wind eased and temperatures rose high - so we stripped off outer jackets and mid layers to base layers for the long haul back down to the glacier, and then to climb up (exhausted) the Auguille du Midi ridge to the cable car station and descend to Chamonix. A selection of photos follows of our acclimatisation climbs and from the ascent of Mont Blanc du Tacul
Click below to download a pdf file with my trip report and photos
BARRY IN THE ALPS.pdf
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Type : pdf
Ascending the Glacier du Tour
Petite Fourche (3520m)
With Guide Ross Berg (yellow jacket) on summit of Petite Fourche
Guides controlling abseil over cornice on Col Blanc
Col Blanc cornice (at top) over which we abseiled down to the Bergschrund (crevasse) and then descended by fronting.
Waiting to descend the Aiguille du Midi ridge
Climbers ascending/descending the Aig du Midi ridge
Refuge des Cosmiques
Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul - seen from Refuges des Cosmiques
Aiguille du Midi seen from base of Tacul - our track across the glalcier is visible
Slogging up towards the Tacul ridge
Traversing below enormous ice seracs
On Tacul col about to head off towards the rocky summit climb
Made it !
View to east from Tacul summit
Another summit alpine landscape
Descent traverse of Tacul north face
Steep slopes on descent from Tacul