Having attempted to summit in 2012 but being thwarted by bad weather on that occasion I have always considered Mont Blanc to be unfinished business. Now I have more time and after a warm-up on Morocco’s Mount Toubkal in April I am returning to Chamonix and the Alps tomorrow.
Though I fly to Geneva independently, once there I will in the hands of Jagged Globe, the awesome Sheffield-based provider of climbing, trekking and skiing trips around the world and on every continent. Jagged got me to the top of Aconcagua in January 2011 and I subsequently did all my Alpine and Scottish Winter climbing and mountaineering training with them before attempting Cho Oyu in Autumn 2013. Although we didn’t make the summit, again due to appalling weather, that amazing trip led me to be in a good position to attempt Everest the following spring. In the event, my first day on the mountain was stymied by the dreadful Good Friday 2014 avalanche which took the lives of 16 sherpas in the Khumbu Icefall early that morning. Through a combination of an inept Nepalese government and strike action with menaces in basecamp by certain local factions the mountain was closed and I came home. But I was actually very lucky. Had the avalanche been 3 or 4 hours later I would have been in the icefall. That experience, plus the collateral impact of the Nepal earthquake the following year and other matters, took its toll on my motivation. In fact this will be my first time in crampons and armed with an ice axe heading for a serious summit since Cho Oyu nearly 6 years ago. But I’m back and re-motivated and I am so looking forward to being in the Alps again.
Mont Blanc is Western Europe’s highest mountain at 4,807m and while there are no certainties and the weather, as always, may cause our climb director to change the approach, at this stage it is likely we will attempt to summit by the Goûter Route on Monday. This is the most assured way of reaching the summit and it is ‘in condition’ more often than any alternative route.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be spent training and acclimatising, based at the Torino hut where we will sleep Thursday and Friday nights. This Italian hut is at 3,375m and spending three days at or above this altitude will give us the best chance of being ready for the ascent to the roof of Western Europe.
On Saturday we should return to Chamonix for a night before starting the summit attempt on Sunday. All things being equal, i.e. if the weather and my fitness are good, a 3-hour climb on Sunday afternoon should see us at the Tête Rousse Hut where we spend the night. The climb to the summit, if conditions are good, is likely to start early Monday morning.
My packing is done, the outgoing flight boarding card is downloaded and the lower left leg shin splints which accompanied me on day 3 of the Capital Ring perambulation last week has subsided with the assistance of Rock Tape and Ibuprofen. I’m good to go.
The weather is looking ok too, but we know how things change. Chamonix is currently basking in the low 20’s Centigrade but with a reduction to temperatures in the ‘high teens’ Friday and Saturday and an increase to the mid 20’s on Sunday. Things are a bit different at the summit. There it will be snowing all week, with the heaviest falls on Friday afternoon, still-air temperatures typically -8 or -9C. However strong winds at over 30 mph peaking on Saturday will result in effective wind-chill temperatures of around -18C or -19C. Thats not good, but Sunday is more benign. There is no snow forecast, the still-air temperature in the summit area is forecast to be only just freezing at around -2C, and with the wind speed reducing to around 20 mph the wind-chill effective temperature will increase to around -9C.
As for Monday, we don’t yet know, but my reading of the forecast is that the easing trend which begins on Saturday will continue into Monday. There would seem to be high pressure building which brings more stable weather in the summer. So, we could be having a mini-heatwave in Chamonix while up on the top the weather could be quite good temperature and wind-wise. But with heat comes melting snow. That’s not just difficult footing but with the heavy snowfalls the previous week there could be an increased avalanche risk. In light of this I suspect we will start very very early on Monday to enable us to make the summit and return to the hut, this time probably the Goûter Hut, before the melt sets in.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is the weather we’re talking about and it could all change. Should you be interested in keeping an eye on the weather you could do worse that check out mountain-forecast.com:
Copyright prevents me posting a map for you to follow but there are plenty on google:
Otherwise stay tuned and let me take you with me. I’ll keep you updated when I can.