Prologue

I've been thinking about climbing Mont Blanc for several years now but I have not done much about it. The World is full of 'armchair warriors' and people who 'talk the talk' but don't (or can't) 'walk the walk' and I definitely don't want to be one of them.

In my younger years (through to my 20s) I was a total pussy; shy, introverted, extremely insecure and totally lacking in confidence. I don't know why; too sheltered an upbringing? A lack of physical prowess? A late developer? Or maybe I just hadn't come out of my shell at that time. Things have changed somewhat now. I've shed a skin (or two) over the years. I've seen enough of Human behaviour through all levels of Society to realise that absolutely no-one is perfect and despite how it may appear from the outside, EVERYONE has their fears, insecurities and hang-ups. I also know that no-one has the right to judge me but myself. I believe that no-one is 'better' than me. That's not arrogance; it's just a recognition of the fact that we - Human Beings - are essentially all the same. It's not complacency either; I recognise that I personally can improve myself and get better and I try to do so in little ways every day (sometimes I'm not too successful! But I keep trying).

One of the things I pride myself on is that if I say I am going to do something (even to myself), I do it.

So....to the issue of Mont Blanc...... It's on!

November 2018

At long last I've done something about it rather than just mulling over the idea in my mind. I've booked via a company called Icicle (Go to Icicle Website). They've been doing this for a while and use local guides who know the weather and the risks involved. I went to see them at their UK base in Windemere and spoke to the main man, Kingsley Jones, who talked me through the course and the levels of fitness required for a safe and enjoyable ascent (and hopefully descent as well! Many accidents occur on the descent due to tiredness and complacency). Kingsley seemed a nice enough guy and despite his own climbing achievements, didn't come across as patronising or self-important. I immediately felt that I'd chosen the right company to do this through despite the massive number of companies, both in the UK and in Chamonix itself, who are in this marketplace.

August is mid-season and fits in well with my other commitments as well as giving me a few months to hopefully get back to the level of fitness needed to minimise the risks and maximise the chances of a successful summit.

The History of Mont Blanc

Technically not a difficult climb but still the highest mountain in Europe at 4,808.7 metres (15,777 ft), Ranked the 11th highest in the World and it is one of the most deadly in the World and has the most fatalities annually in Europe. (There's an interesting article here from an American climbing perspective on why Mont Blanc is so dangerous). It needs to be taken seriously and although inexperienced climbers have successfully summitted, there have been other instances where very experienced climbers and guides have been swept to their deaths by avalanches and rockfall. Ice axes and crampons are needed for phases of the climb and athough it isn't exactly Everest, there will always be substantial risks involved in getting yourself to the top of a lump of snow and ice-covered granite which stands at nearly 16,000 feet. The ground under your feet, the weather, how you react to the lack of Oxygen in the air above 10,000 feet (Altitude sickness), rockfall, crevasses and even the people you are climbing with are all variables - any of which can result in a failure to summit. Icicle give no guarantees of a summit as they can't control the weather and the conditions on the mountain can change rapidly.

There are a number of routes to the Mont Blanc summit. TheGouter Route is one of the more popular but the actual route taken will be chosen dependent upon the weather at the time.

The course is booked for August 2019, the flight to Geneva is booked and the accomodation in Chamonix together with Hut passes is all sorted by Icicle. All I have to do is get all my kit together and get myself fit enough to be able to get up there. Easy (not!!)

2019 Mont Blanc attempt with Icicle

4th - 10th August 2019

Day 1. Well, I'm here in Chamonix mid-afternoon on Saturday 4th, having flown Easy Jet from Manchester to Geneva and met up with the pre-booked airport minibus from a company called Mountain Dropoffs which was recommended by Icicle and takes about and hour and a quarter to get to the centre of town. I'm totally solo and not due to meet up for the initial briefing and to get checked in to the accomodation until 6pm. I've quite a bit of time to kill so I have a good look around and eventually find a pizza place and get some late lunch - a pepperoni pizza and a bottle of Valpolicella. The afternoon is warm and sunny and the wine gives me a nice gentle buzz. From down in the valley, you can look up and see some of the mountain tops way above and fuelled by the wine, the sunshine and the security of the quaint town, I'm pretty sure that getting to the top will be a breeze. I do a bit of souvenir shopping, buy a baseball hat (I NEVER wear hats!) and just meander around (dragging all my luggage and kit) waiting for the hours to tick by until we are supposed to meet at a pre-arranged point in a square off one of the main streets.

We meet Kingsley for the briefing (he's the main man at Icicle who I met initially at the Windermere shop where I went to gather a bit of info before signing up). After the briefing we are given our rented kit (ice axes, crampons, harnesses etc) and shown to our digs. I have to say, it's not exactly five star accomodation and it's 2 to a room so no privacy but the base in Chamonix is just somewhere to get changed, store kit and put heads down for a few hours and so the fact that it's a bit like a poor man's YMCA doesn't faze me. I am sharing with a guy called Rob who is apparently a Major in HM Forces and is a thouroughly nice guy. Regrettably, Rob's on a different course doing Gran Paradiso but during the week he spends more time in the bars with the guys doing MB than with the people on his own course so he is definitely recruited into our group.We go for a drink and meet up with a few others. Also in the group is another military man who is another Rob. He's Horseguards and so we spend quite a bit of time talking about horses. Additionally we have Kieran, Ben, Mark, Ritchie and Steve. Steve's the oldest in the group, more akin to my own age but the rest of the guys are somewhat younger. Within next to no time, I have determined that they are a great bunch of lads and it must be the nature of the adventure that brings us together that filters out the knobheads (of which there are many in the World). In a very short time indeed, I am happy to call these guys 'friends' and they are remarkably personable, unassuming, entertaining and likeable. I've no doubt the course is going to be fun.

Day 2. Sunday 5th. We are off to a glacier on the Mer du Glace to do some basic ice-wall and crampon training. Weather perfect. More to follow with pics

Day 3. Monday 6th. Climb in threes, roped up. To Mont Blanc du Tacul. Weather perfect. More to follow with pics

Day 4. Tuesday 7th. Turns out to be the beginning of the ascent although that was supposed to be tomorrow (Day 5) but Kingsley for some reason changes the hut bookings to get us off today. Ultimately, that proves to be the wrong decision and even I could see from the weather forecasts I was looking at down in the town that the weather was likely to be challenging today. We hope he knows what he's doing and obviously, starting off up the mountain a day sooner has some appeal. As things unfold, however, that one decision to change the hut booking at the Gouter Hut to tonight leads to the climb failing. But we don't know that when we set off bright and early this morning.

The main issue with Mont Blanc is altitude and altitude sickness. The summit of Mont Blanc is 4,810 metres and the last hut, the Gouter Hut, is at 3,863 metres which is well above the altitude you can feel sick at and generally it is difficult to sleep. It doesn't matter how fit you are, if you climb too quickly then you may get altitude sickness and that is why a 2 day attempt is hard. A 3 day attempt makes more sense but that involves additional hut bookings (cost!) a good deal of waiting around and a longer climb on day 3 but allows for much more acclimatisation. Icicle (and most other guided climb companies) do a 2 day climb.The usual route/intinery is:

  • Chamonix/Les Houche, 1,010 metres: Get the cable car to Bellevue from Les Houche
  • Bellevue, 1794 metres: Get the train. Also leaves from the valley floor
  • Nid D'Aigle, 2,372 metres: Last train stop. Now walk
  • Tete Rousse, 3,187 metres: 2.5-3 hour climb from Nid D'Aigle
  • Refuge Du Gouter, 3,863 metres (last hut): 2.5-3 hour steep climb from Tete Rousse
  • Refuge Vallot Hut, 4,363 metres: This hut is on the way to the summit but is purely for emergency purposes.
  • Summit of Mont Blanc, 4,810 metres: A 3.5-5 hour hike from the Gouter Hut.

Day 5. Wednesday 8th. Disappointment back down in Chamonix after coming back down yesterday. We look up at the peak of Mont Blanc and the sky is crystal clear. The guides suggest a walk and Chemin de Fer but that's a poor substitute as weather is now perfect on the hill and if the bookings had been left alone, we'd have been up there. The walk/trek is ok and the climbing bits of the Chemin du Fer are fun but due to a lack of communication, no-one appreciates just how long the walk is going to be. It's LONG and I have the wrong footwear on and haven't sufficient water. Most of the guys run out of water and it's quite a hot day. Something else to bitch about. We all go out for a meal at night and generally moan about the lack of communication, the apparently poor judgement and our overall disappointment. To deal with the disappointment, we naturally get blasted. We're all out until very late but Kieran and I who are the real diehards end up in a nightclub at 3 am and I fall asleep outside in the square at about 5 am waiting for him to exit. We stagger back to our respective accomodations and I manage about 2 hours sleep before having to get up and see if anything is planned for the final full day.

Day 6. Thursday 9th. Turns out nothing's planned. Nothing to do now but kill time, do a bit more souvenir shopping and get pissed. I don't spend much time on the souvenirs!

Day 7. Friday 10th. Fly home with tail between legs.

more to follow....just sorting out photos and recollections

2020 Mont Blanc attempt with Adventure Base

Following 2019's 'close, but no cigar' attempt with Icicle, I thought I'd have a look at a different UK-based tour provider to see if perhaps an alternative course structure offered more flexibility around summitting as I don't want to end up 2/3rds up that hill again only to have weather kill the summit attempt. Adventure Base have helped Richard Branson and various other well known individuals to summit and if he can do it, I know that I can. In fact I know that I can anyway based on last year's activity but the weather gods have to be kind and it really doesn't matter how fit or determined you are if the weather closes in, no-one is going to the top. I book the course almost immediately on my return from the failed 2019 attempt as I am the sort of person who, once I start something, I will finish no matter how many tries are required. I booked immediately so that MB wouldn't move from the forefront of my mind. I try to encourage some/all of the other guys to book on the same course but there appears little enthusiasm and I think that for some it was a once-only try and for others, finances and family or work commitments prevent booking too far in advance. So I'm solo again.....

The course date is 7th - 13th June. This time I'm getting to the top of that fucking piece of granite!

But then......

Fucking COVID!!!!! Trip postponed and put back to 2021

2021 Mont Blanc attempt with Adventure Base

Well here we go again. Attempt number 3! It's getting to be a bit like Groundhog Day.

At the time of writing this (Early February 2021) the French authorities have closed Chamonix and Mont Blanc due to Covid-19 restrictions so not even the most coniving social media 'influencer' will be seen on MB. I'm hoping that by the time the season starts, the restrictions will have been relaxed sufficiently to allow the climb to take place. Adventure Base climb Gran Paradiso as part of the training and altitude acclimatisation so effectively, you get two significant climbs/summits under your belt. They seem like a very professional outfit so hopes are high that this year is the one and I'll be able to send a photo of me on the summit of MB to all the guys who were on the first course and really rub it in! Haha!

On the assumption that it can go ahead (and I'll be on the edge of my seat for the next few months) I will get into training. Additionally, just to add some further spice to the mix, I'm not going Ryanair or Easyjet... I'm planning to fly myself in a small aeroplane that I have access to. I should be able to get there in a day (or probably 2 if I take my time) and I have calculated that I can fly from Blackpool or Liverpool straight to Le Touqet, refuel, deal with all the Customs/Brexit bullshit and get off to an airfield called Annemasse which is approximately 45 miles from Chamonix and therefore marginally closer even than Geneva. It will be very much weather dependent and I can't afford to get weathered-in and miss the start of the course but at least I won't have to worry about the weight of luggage or paying the rip-off airlines for my sports equipment as I can just chuck what I want in the back of the plane and go. What could possibly go wrong!?

more to follow....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   
    © Broken Wing Aviation & Paul Squires 2019