Mont Blanc summit day and return (the Full Monte)

Hi everyone,

Here is the full story of our climb to the roof of Europe. Mont Blanc to the French and Monte Bianco to the Italians.

Our alarms roused us from lack of sleep in the noisy 12 person dorm in Tête Rousse at 03:45 Monday morning. Breakfast was at 04:00 and comprised cereal, bread and butter with cold meat, cheese and jams with fruit juice and coffee or tea. Such luxury at 3167m. There was only one problem: I couldn’t see properly through my left eye. To avoid messing around with putting in my contact lenses at oh God o’clock with grubby fingers I left them in overnight. I had done this many times without problems, sometimes up to 5 days, but today the left lens had gone. Where I didn’t know. It could have come out during the night if I’d rubbed my eye carelessly, or it could have disappeared around the other side of my eye. As it was unlikely to have fallen out I assumed it was dislodged and repeatedly massaged my left eyeball to bring it back. By departure time it still hadn’t reappeared and I was managing, in effect, with only one working eye.

Fully ready for our big day in the Alps, and having packed our rucksacks yesterday evening we heading for the ‘sharps’ room at 4:30. The sharps room is where the items of mountaineering apparel not welcome in the dorms are kept. Items like crampons and ice axe of course but also less sharp but nonetheless unwelcome things like mountain boots, harness and rack, poles and helmet.

Grabbing our gear and finding no room to don it inside we headed outside. This is Stephen fitting his crampons under the watchful eye of David, our guide.

I had let David know about my eye issue and we agreed that it was probably still hiding at the back of my eye and I would set off in the hope that exercise would bring it back. At about 5am we headed out on the first leg of our journey to the top around 1600 metres vertically above us. We were to climb to the Goûter Hut, 600m higher and the place we were to sleep this evening irrespective of today’s climbing outcome. This meant that we could deposit things that we wouldn’t need until this evening in the hut and avoid lugging them to the top and back. Things like sleeping bag liner, spare pants, contact lens fluid and washing kit. Not much but unnecessary extra weight.

The route from Tête Rousse to Goûter was not straightforward. Starting up the left hand side of the Tête Rousse glacier the mixed icy snow and rock terrain gradually got steeper and ended in a series of ledges. This route is in itself a significant climb requiring the use of rope, crampons and ice axe. The most significant obstacle is the Grand Couloir. This is a shute of snow and ice that sweeps down the west face of the Aiguille de Goûter frequently bowling rocks upon the unsuspecting.

Guidebooks advise the Grand Couloir should be crossed extremely carefully and as quickly as possible. While there was plenty of evidence of recent rockfall in the couloir we crossed without incident. Our departure from Tête Rousse had been timed to arrive here in daylight, while the snow was still solidly frozen. This reduced the risk of being struck unawares. In passing we were treated to a view to the west which featured the shadow of Mont Blanc.

Once across the Grand Couloir we continued to climb steeply towards the Goûter Hut. This 90 minute climb was quite tiring as the elevation was steep, evidenced by the number of steel cables fitted to the steepest sections to aid protection. This was my view about 30 mins from the old hut, which can be seen at the top of the rocks. There is a new hut not far away.

We reached the Goûter Hut at about 7 and dropped our ‘not needed for the summit’ gear. As my eyesight was still not optimal I figured that, no matter how unlikely, the left lens had simply fallen out so I replaced it with a spare. Instantly I felt better but was nonetheless confused as to what had transpired. All I kept thinking was ‘why now???’.

After a bite to eat and drink we set off up the big hill at about 7:30. The ever-vigilant David checked our gear and estimated arrival at the summit around 12:30. Here he is on the snowy crest of the Aiguille de Goûter getting ready to get us roped up for the journey ahead. The amazing space capsule-like new Goûter refuge may be seen in shadow just over his right shoulder.

The next stage of our journey was to climb the Dôme du Goûter. The start was a gently sloping snowfield with a couple of hillocks. Not especially taxing at sea level but now approaching 3900m in softening snow it brought challenges and shortness of breath. The scale of the Dôme may be seen in this photo of Stephen striding out. The keen eyed will see a team of 3 climbers making their way up a track slightly to the left of the ridge in the middle of the photo.

The slope up to the summit of the Dôme de Goûter gradually increased but our route made this a little easier by following the zig zag path already trodden by others and which avoided the crevasses. It wasn’t necessary to crest the Dôme; instead having caught up with another group we followed the trodden path to its left towards the Col du Dôme.

Once around the Dôme, after about 2 hours of climbing from the Goûter refuge and having reached about 4250m, we were presented with our first relatively close up view of the summit of Mont Blanc, still over half a kilometre vertically higher than we were. Once again we were struck by the scale of our endeavour and the size of this mountain snowscape. This may be seen though the minuscule figures of 6 climbers on the right of the diamond-shaped track in the middle of the photo by the Col du Goûter.

Beyond where the team of 6 were and up a significant rise is the Abri Vallot shelter. This isn’t manned but, at 4300m, it provides a simple shelter for those who need it. We stopped for some food and drink here. Not for long, but long enough to fuel up as the going ahead was daunting. More to the point we could see from here that while the mountain was bathed in warm golden sunshine there was a significant wind blowing higher up. From our vantage point we could see the Bosses Ridge and beyond it the awesome summit ridge. All the way, and particularly along the summit ridge, a strong wind from the left was blowing plumes of snow and ice over and beyond the cornices that line the route from now to the summit. Here is a close up of the summit ridge showing the plumes.

In light of this any lingering foolishness about summiting in shorts and t-shirt were finally dashed as we donned hard shell (wind and waterproof) jackets with hoods raised. At about 10am we struck out for the the first feature of the Bosses ridge, the Grande Bosse. As the name suggests this was a monster ridge. If ever there was a moment of doubt about our capability to climb Mont Blanc it was here. This was ‘heads down and dig in’ time and we did just that. With the wind gradually picking up and driving shards of ice into any exposed skin we kept our heads down and climbed. Every step felt like a Herculean effort but if we wanted to summit, the Grande Bosse had to be climbed. And so it was. And so the belief in eventual success grew. Each painful step climbed was a step closer to the summit and after 30 minutes upward slog we reached the top of this Bosse at just over 4500m. Just 300 vertical metres to go.

Next we had to climb the Petite Bosse. The same approach and focus was required even though this was a lower Bosse.

Then we were onto the summit ridge, starting at about 4700m and rising to 4810m at the top. We still had work to do but we were getting there. We were now so very near and the emotions were kicking in.

Due to the wind from the left, the French side, it was necessary to follow the trodden path just below the crest cornice on the Italian side. “Just 10 minutes more” called David above the howl and I felt a wonderful glowing rush knowing beyond doubt that despite the rising wind I was going to get to the top of this magnificent mountain, clothed as it was in white but today with a mantle of deepest blue.

As we approached we could see the group we had had in our sights. They were whooping and cheering and then we were with them. It was midday exactly, around 30 minutes sooner than David’s estimate when we left the Tête Rousse 7 hours earlier. There was a wonderfully spontaneous upwelling of emotion as we stepped onto the highest point in Europe. Ok, Western Europe if you insist, but we were there high fiving, handshaking and back slapping. The emotion became too much and I grabbed Stephen’s jacket at his chest with both gloved hands and buried my sobbing face into it. Just for a few seconds then everything was ok again. Extraordinary.

We asked for a team photo from one of the other group. Here it is:

We had to have a selfie too of course

And Stephen took this one of me.

Once we had calmed down a bit, David gave us a panoramic calling out the names of all the significant peaks below, including the Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso. The Aiguille du Midi which towers over Chamonix was a tiny spike far below us, as was the plane that flew by. David even showed us Lake Geneva many miles away in Switzerland.

We could only spend a few minutes up there. While it isn’t obvious from the photo it was pretty cold. David estimated the summit wind to be 25mph gusting to 35mph. We needed to move off. Getting to the summit was only half way, but what a journey it was to half way.

We did get back to the Goûter in good shape and in good time and had a fairly good night’s sleep. The following morning, on Tuesday, we had breakfast at 7am and then retraced our steps down from the Goûter Hut.

This meant crossing the dreaded Grand Couloir for the second time. There was evidence of recent rockfall and I took this photo of a following group, but nothing befell us.

With this behind us there were no more objective dangers and our job was done. We didn’t stop at the Tête Rousse Hut instead preferring to head down to the Chamonix valley by the fastest route. This was glissading (bum sliding) down the snow and icefields almost all the way down to the Mont Blanc train station. What had taken 2 hours to climb on Sunday took about 20 minutes. Thereafter we took the train to Bellevue and the cable car down to Les Houches.

It had been quite a few days and we group hugged for a final time.

We 4 have been quite a team: David, Stephen, me and you. Thank you for being with us. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

Goodbye until next time 😀

Day 6 – summit day (a quick update)

Hi everyone. It’s now 5:30 pm CET (French time) and we are in the Goûter refuge safe and sound if a little weary following a most amazing day. The story of our day deserves to be told more fully than I feel able to do today as I’m fairly tired and the refuge has a strict ‘lights out’ policy at 8pm and we need to repack for tomorrow and eat. However I know you’ll want to know the outcome. The weather turned out not to be as balmy as forecast but I am delighted to tell you that David, Stephen and I stood on the summit of Mont Blanc at midday CET, that’s 11:00 uk time. We are all in good shape and looking forward to being back in Chamonix Tuesday afternoon. I will blog the story tomorrow or Wednesday.

Day 5 – at the Tête Rousse launch pad

As outlined yesterday, today’s objective has been to establish us in good shape at the Tête Rousse Hut, the springboard for our summit attempt tomorrow. And we have achieved that.

The weather has been superb and after David explained the route we took the cable car from Les Houches to the Col de Bellevue.

Then the Tramway de Mont Blanc (TMB) from the col to Nid d’Aigle (the eagle’s nest) in brilliant sunshine. The views from the train back down to Chamonix as it progressively gained height were stupendous.

After the 20 minute ride, at about midday we arrived at Nid d’Aigle. It was a glorious cacophony of people bustling to get on the train to head back to the valley and people trying to get off the train with all the gear necessary to head to the higher ground. Some, like us, were destined for Mont Blanc but not all.

From Nid d’Aigle we were walking in the most glorious weather in stunning scenery for about 3 hours climbing up to the Tête Rousse Hut (3167m) where we will spend the night. The terrain was mixed snow and tock. It was steep in some places and fairly steep elsewhere.

Then it got more snow/ice than mixed. And more steep as we approached the hut, not actually as close as it looks, perched on the rocks to the right of this photo.

Beyond this slope it got really steep and with the heat the snow was melting. Several times one of my feet broke through the snow crust and I ended up with my whole leg down in wet snow. All the way. It was jolly uncomfortable and not a little chilly. But eventually we made it up to the ‘hut’. Time for a big grin.

The hut has been newly refurbished and the rooms are clean and not too crowded. Stephen and I are in the Fitz Roy room which sleeps 12. We are side by side on the top row. Cozy!

After settling in we repaired upstairs to the bar/dining room for some water and a can of Leffe beer. We’re worth it. But just the one! The second beer was something different.

Then, while we waited for dinner something magical happened. Someone from another group pulled a guitar from somewhere. He played and sang Oasis’s Wonderworld and a singsong started. You just have to be here to appreciate how unbelievable this atmosphere is. I’m almost lost for words. It then got even better. He played and sang Pink Floyd’s Wish you were here. And I do. I really do! This is amazing.

Dinner at 6:15 was really good. At our clean wooden table for 6, shared with another team of 3 climbers, we were served with a selection of cheeses and olives followed by a delicious roast pork with rice and steamed vegetables. Dessert was a choice of chocolate mousse, creme brûlée or a monster profiterole with a glazed caramel top. I had the latter and it was wonderful. I don’t normally do dessert but this is a special occasion.

Once dinner was finished we had to vacate the table for the second sitting but there was a spare table which we claimed. David and Stephen promptly engaged on a re-match of chess while I wrote to you. In normal circumstances we might be tempted to stay for a while in the hope the guitarist starts another session but we have to be a little sensible. We have to be up at 3:45 tomorrow morning for breakfast at 4:00 and a 5am departure. We want to leave early to enable an early summit and return to the Goûter Hut before this extraordinary weather turns the snow into mush again. The last 30 minutes this afternoon struggling up slush rather than crisp icy snow wasn’t too much fun.

But leaving that aside, I really wish you were here! Right now. To experience this for yourself. My words are so inadequate.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. Time for bed. It’s a big day tomorrow but I’ll leave you with the weather forecast for summit day. It doesn’t say ‘scorchio’ but in Alpine weather terms that is, actually, what it says. I won’t be in shorts at 5am but a summit with knees out remains on the cards.

We hope to be on the summit tomorrow by 1pm. I’ll let you know power willing as soon as we get to the Goûter Hut. Later in the day.

Day 5 – start of day spectacular

At 5am, with a dawn chorus accompaniment, the Mont Blanc siren called me. Bathed in moonlight, in calm conditions, warm air and not a cloud in the sky this is the most beautiful sight in the world.

I am so excited to be able to share with you this view from my window.

Looking from the right the first peak is the triangular Aguille de Goûter (3863m). Next is the Dôme de Goûter at 4304m. Just to the left and beyond the Dôme de Goûter is Mont Blanc. 4810.06m. The roof of Europe.

Day 4 – ’Rest’

The weather continues to be variable, but it is still looking good for tomorrow and Monday.

Today we were to have had a walk out on the glacier with perhaps a short climb but that was practical. It didn’t matter as we are in good shape but a leg stretch at altitude would have been good. Nonetheless going out and getting soaked when we’ll need dry gear wasn’t sensible. When we woke up the world outside was white with zero visibility. About 7:30 it cleared a bit and revealed over 6 inches of snow had fallen overnight. The snow clearer was out at the refuge.

In light of this we reverted to an inside activity enabling us to stay at altitude and acclimatise for a few more hours.

David and Stephen played chess.

Their match turned into a bit of an epic and by the time it was my turn the weather had improved and I was spared. The improvement was too late for us to go for a walk as we had already packed our gear ready for departure and we needed to be back in Chamonix by mid-afternoon for some admin and kit prep.

The view from the Refugio window before we left was spectacular.

Before leaving we went to the cable car observation platform to check out the view. We were in for a treat. For a short time the clouds parted to reveal Mont Blanc. The team photo was inevitable, with Stephen on the left, David on the right and Mont Blanc taking a backup position poking its head above the cloud into the deep blue sky.

Maybe Mont Blanc deserved top billing. Here it is. 1341 metres (4400 feet) above us. Can’t wait to be there!

There was another great view to be admired. Yesterday’s climb, the Aiguille Marbrées, was in full view. You may be able to see a group of 7 climbers bottom centre making their way towards the left of the Marbrées.

In this close up of the left hand end of the Traverse you may be able to see a little figure on the peak of the needle. That’s where we were yesterday.

And we looked like this close up.

But that was yesterday. Back to today. After visiting a display of crystals from around this area of the Alps, including this magnificent example of smoked quartz from the Aiguille Marbrées, we headed for the cable car back to Chamonix.

It was fine, but the weather was due to turn again mid-afternoon which gave David time to work with Stephen on his rock climbing and abseiling technique while I lounged in the shade writing this blog to date. I could have joined them but chose not to. It wasn’t necessary for Mont Blanc and I am being very careful not to stress the lingering shin splints. They had a brilliant time in the sun on warm rock.

The rest of today was largely admin. This entailed buying sandwiches for lunches over the next 3 days and Titanic-sinking quantities of my favourite mountain snack: Snickers bars, then repacking my rucksack for the next 3 days and rehydrating. Taking the latter chore first, while on a walk into Chamonix to find a chemist we happened upon the ‘Beer O’clock’ bar. This is a concept bar where you can self serve your own beer… ! You buy a card from the bar and collect a glass. You select which beer you want from the 12 on offer which included IPA, stout, and tripel and place the card on a token marker. You then pour yourself a glass and the machine measures how much you poured and reduces the card balance accordingly. Brilliant! If it hadn’t been for an engagement up high tomorrow we would have tested more than two small ones. But on this occasion we had a more important matter to attend to; how to adjust out pack for the ascent to account for unusual weather. I’m talking about sun. Not just a little but a lot. The forecast for Sunday and Monday is for hot sunshine in the Chamonix valley. Of course it won’t be 30°C higher up but it will be warm and we will be working hard. David’s advice is to pack as light as we can. Socks should be as thin as possible without making boots loose. Trousers should be light trekkers rather than the heavy mountaineering trousers worn previously. Tops should be light and one or two thin layers only, with a second and third layer available but not worn unless necessary. We were still to take full waterproofs just in case but carried closer to the bottom of the rucksack than is customary. We wouldn’t need heavy gorilla-like gloves nor a polar tech fleece hat under the helmet. I jokingly suggested t-shirt and shorts and to my astonishment he said ‘Why not? Just make sure you have backup’. So that is the plan. I travelled over in trekking trousers with zip-off lower legs for use in Chamonix. Now they will be going higher as will my favourite red and grey trekking t-shirt. That t-shirt was well soaked on the Capital Ring on deluge Monday just over 2 weeks ago, and was previously commented upon by Mark Horrell on the Great Glen Way as it often zipped past with me inside. Now it was heading to the top of Western Europe.

This is surrreal and I won’t believe it until I wake tomorrow and see the sunshine.

All things being equal we will leave the hotel at 10am. As I’m not sure about the coverage tomorrow I will give you a short summary of proceedings, in case I can’t get a blog off.

Tomorrow we will go by David’s car to the Bellevue cable car station at Les Houches, just down the valley from Chamonix. We will take the cable car to the Col de Bellevue then the Tramway de Mont Blanc (TMB), the highest rack-and-pinion railway in France, up to Nid d’Aigle.

From Nid d’Aigle we will be on foot for 2 to 3 hours climbing up to the Tête Rousse Hut (3167m) where we will spend the night.

Hopefully I will be able to share some photos and an update from the Tête Rousse Hut tomorrow but don’t be concerned if not. Everything will be fine! 😀

Day 3 – extreme skills training. Aiguille Marbrées Traverse anyone?3

I left you yesterday anticipating a big day of routine skills training in fine weather.

We should have guessed shouldn’t we?

Today didn’t dawn fine. At 6:30 it was snowing and whited out. We couldn’t see a thing. It was still like that at 7:00 and 7:30.

The plan for the day was to walk to the Tour Ronde (Round Tower) about 2 hours walk away across the glaciers. At 3792m it offered an introduction to alpine climbing of all grades and the walk would refine our rope and crampon discipline. But if it was a whiteout the walk out would be slow and the climb fun factor would be reduced. More importantly a storm was now forecast for 3pm and we needed to be back at the refuge by then. Alpine storms are not to be trifled with. In the event we agreed to wait until 8:00 and then decide whether to stick with Plan A or stay and climb locally. The issue was that a trip to Tour Ronde was about 4 hours return and the climb was anticipated to be about 3 hours. If we didn’t leave by 8am we wouldn’t be back by 3pm.

At 8am there was no change but the latest weather forecast suggested it would clear by 9am. So we set off through the murk. By 10:30 despite the odd clear spells and a reduction in snowfall (it was now hail) it was still generally murky. More importantly our guide had checked the latest forecast and the afternoon storm was likely to be earlier than 3pm. We could have continued but decided that we didn’t need to risk being caught in the bad weather. The objective of the day was to train, not to get soaked on an unnecessary folly. So we returned towards the hut.

The idea was to find another challenging climb close to the hut which we could tackle in indifferent weather and in the event of the storm materialising, we could beat a hasty path to the refuge.

So it was that at about 11:30 our guide said we were to do the Aiguilles de Marbrées Traverse.

The Aiguilles Marbrées (Marble Needles) is a group of rocky spires in spectacular surroundings on the border between France and Italy, not far from the Rifugio Torino.

There are two ridges of spires; a long South Ridge and a shorter but steeper East Ridge. Either can be climbed but climbing to the peak of the East Ridge and then traversing the Aiguilles and descending by an abseil from the South Ridge is particularly demanding. So of course that’s what we did.

Following a quick bite to eat and some snacks and drink at noon, our brilliant guide David gave the thumbs up and we were off.

David led. Roped behind him at about 6m distance was my room mate and co-Mont Blanc aspirant Stephen, with me roped close behind.

The route was immediately steep with some challenging stretch moves on mixed terrain, ie snow and ice on sharp granite. Slowly we made our way up, sometimes all 3 of us moving together and sometimes with Stephen and I being belayed Alpine style. This involves the belay rope being wrapped around rocks to provide a friction belay. This is much quicker than the more methodical placement of ‘gear’ such as pitons, chocks or other means of providing protection. It requires a lot of skill and trust.

After 20 minutes or so David offered us a choice of the hard route or the less hard. Naturally we opted for the hard. This involved a very committing move beside a fearful drop.

There was some interesting language spoken between words of encouragement. It wasn’t necessary to mention not looking down! That I am writing this tells you we were successful. Apparently this was the crux of the route and earned the entire traverse, full of other challenging and committing moves, an overall grading of AD+. Once safe, there were some hearty congratulations. Stephen had never climbed anything like this before. While I had done some hairy and airy Alpine work in the past I had never climbed above AD-. I didn’t take a photo of the move itself as my hands and knees were shaking too much. In fact it never crossed my mind as I was too busy cursing the laughing David, who had skipped over it and assured us we were well belayed.

We continued to the peak and posed. The distance to the ridge below may be seen in the photo. To be clear that’s not the ground. We were on a pinnacle above the ridge.

Thereafter I was delighted that David asked me to lead several sections of the traverse which comprised some very airy snow ridges no more that the width of 2 feet, and some 6 inch wide ledges involving a very close relationship with granite to maintain balance and numerous clambers over and around granite flakes many of which were overhanging. David of course led the most tricky. Here are a couple of views:

At one point there was a short slip. It wasn’t especially dramatic as there was a ledge not far below but Stephen was relieved that the Alpine belay system worked. David and I arrested the fall within a metre or so and Stephen, very calmly and purposefully front-pointed back up to the icy ledge and continued the route. Needless to say I didn’t release my vice-like grip on the granite to take a photo.

Eventually, after two and a half hours of exhilaration, fear and profound relief, David abseiled Stephen and I off the South Ridge and we made our way back to the Torino Hut for some refreshment.

David had been extraordinary and shown immense trust in Stephen and I. What we had just achieved together was far more demanding than Mont Blanc. This was of course David’s purpose; to show Stephen and I what were capable of. He already knew as he had tested us, quietly and supremely professionally, yesterday.

Come Sunday and Monday when, weather permitting, we will head to Mont Blanc, we shall be in exceptionally good hands!

Day 2 – skills training

A wonderful day of mixed weather but ending with superb views over the France’s Valleé Blanche and Italy’s Aosta Valley.

We met out course leader this morning and after an hour or two of admin we headed through the Tunnel du Mont Blanc to Italy then the Funicle Monte Branco all the way up to Pointe Helbronner. We then deposited some overnight gear in the very nicely appointed and comfortable Rifugio Torino before kitting up and heading out to hone glacier travel skills, ropework and essential knots. During the afternoon we climbed Aguille de Toule 3534 and Le Petit Flambeau 3440 and were eventually rewarded with some spectacular views across the Mer de Glacé / Valleé Blanche towards Aguille du Midi.

After a tasty dinner of roast chicken, peas and potato and a peach for dessert we packed our bage for tomorrow and hit the sack early ready for breakfast at 6 and a 6:30 departure on another day of skills training by way of more walking and climbing in this amazing landscape and the weather forecast is good so it may even be t-shirt weather with lots of sun cream

Day 1 – arrival in Chamonix

Day 1 of my second attempt to summit Mont Blanc is nearly over and, so far so good. The flight into Geneva was uneventful and on time. The transfer to Chamonix by Mountain Dropoffs was equally smooth. Our base in Chamonix is Hotel La Chaumiere, on the outskirts, where I stayed before and nothing much seems to have changed. I am sharing a room with one of the chaps I travelled from the airport with and we hit it off straight away. After we engaged in the customary ritual of whether the right kit has been brought we repaired to Brasserie La National in the town centre for a Grolsch and to collect some snacks. In addition to some Kendal Mint Cake which was a birthday present from brother Richard and a Pret A Manger Love Bar which Clare gave me I now have a million Snickers bars. I should survive but need a bigger rucksack 🤣.

The view towards Mont Blanc from Chamonix was beautiful and inspiring.

I’m now packed for tomorrow but will need to confirm the details with the trip leader when we see him tomorrow. The weather still looks good and the excitement is building. I’ll send an update when I get back to Chamonix on Saturday although if, by some miracle, I have contact from Rifugio Torino I’ll check in with a quick update on how the training and acclimatisation is going.

Bye for now.

Mont Blanc introduction

HI everyone!

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

Copyright prevents me posting a map for you to follow but there are plenty on google:

Goûter Route maps

Otherwise stay tuned and let me take you with me. I’ll keep you updated when I can.


The Capital Ring Day 3 – the green green grass of home

Today is the third and final day of my canter around London’s Capital Ring, ante-clockwise from my starting point close to the Osterley Lock, in Hanwell. The forecast today was for rain by 11am. In light of that, following a light breakfast of cereal and fruit juice I left my lodgings at 5:30 to get as much as possible of this final leg completed in the dry.

The general route to the finish from Haringey was via Highgate, East Finchley, Hendon, Wembley, Harrow and Greenford. A distance of around 25 miles.

Retracing my steps to where I left the route yesterday, I entered Finsbury Park at 5:45 and it was surprisingly busy for that time of day with dog walkers and joggers. Finsbury Park was one of the first of the great London parks to be laid out by the Victorians. It tries to offer something for all tastes, including open green space and extensive mature trees including an arboretum. There was also a cafe (closed at this time of day), a lake, a children’s play area and sports facilities including football pitches an athletics track and a skatepark. The photos that I took don’t do justice to the size and range of the park facilities so I will show you only the cafe. If only it had been later I might have been tempted.


While the park was good within itself, it’s most important aspect for me was as the start of the Parkland Walk. The Parkland Walk is a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) linear green pedestrian and cycle route which follows the course of the old Edgware, Highgate and London railway line that used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, through Stroud Green, Crouch End, Highgate and Muswell Hill. The Capital Ring uses the section between Finsbury Park and Highgate. The walk was declared a local nature reserve in 1990 and is London’s longest such reserve.

Upon starting the walk immediately after crossing main railway line into Kings Cross, the birds were plentiful. Typically robins, blackbirds, crows and wrens but with magpies and others birds less easy to identify too. For most of its length the scenery was unchanging; the unprepared earthen and stony broad pathway flanked by grass and bushes backed by deciduous trees, most commonly oak. However after about half a mile, shortly after I passed under the A1201 my eye was caught by the Cape Adventure Playground at Crouch Hill. This play and youth project building was renovated and reopened in 2013 and offers opportunities for children to explore nature and be adventurous outdoors. That struck a chord with me. This photo shows only a part of the extensive treehouse, zipwire and walkways.


On reaching Highgate I walked through Queen’s Wood, thought to be a direct descendant the original British ‘wildwood’ and so alive with birdsong at this early hour and I was to have progressed through Highgate Wood to Fortis Green. But that was not to be. Highgate Wood was locked until 7:30 and it was only 6:45. I found an alternative, pavement, route to Fortis Green and rejoined the Capital Ring just before Cherry Tree Wood, nestled at the end of a wide sleepy road lined with trees, cars and well-to-do houses with gardens. Cherry Tree Wood was not all trees and included a wide open space and a well-kept childrens’ play area. It also included a little while building offering facilities that I should have used prior to leaving Haringey, and the door was open and the inside uncommonly clean. I liked Cherry Tree Wood very much.


After the peace, solitude and relief of the little white building and the surrounding park it was a bit of a shock to emerge into full rush hour East Finchley style. It wasn’t unpleasant but it was very busy indeed at 7:15. I didn’t loiter as I had a lot of pavements to beat before the next green oasis in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Finding my way through the maze of clean but narrow alleyways in a very nice area of East Finchley just north of Falloden Way (otherwise known as the A1) was fun but not conducive to speed. Eventually, having crossed the A1 to the Lyttleton Playing Fields and the quaintly named Mutton Brook I was back into green space, albeit a noisy green space as it ran beside the A1 heading west. But it was a delight. The birds and squirrels didn’t seem to mind the road noise, or were used it. I mused how lucky I was to be down in the little strip wood and wondered how many of the drivers rushing past were aware of this little bit of heaven barely 30 feet from their exhaust pipes and impatient horns.


At the junction of the A1 and the North Circular Road, i.e. the A406 – allegedly Britains noisiest road – a signpost told me I was on the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. This is a footpath route in Barnet between the Moat Mount Nature Reserve in Mill Hill and Hampstead Heath and is about 10 miles long. I was grateful for the information but at the time was focusing more on crossing the road. At approaching 8am the rush hour was at full swing.


Without tarrying I headed to Hendon, just north of Brent Cross, anxious to use the pavements to gain some speed before again being distracted by greenware. I was approaching home territory and knew where I was again – an odd feeling following the last 24 hours or so. I recognised the A41 Hendon Way and crossed it quickly before crossing the M1, the mainline to St Pancras, and the A5 in rapid succession. Ahead the A406 flyover at Brent Cross was evident. The scene was at odds with what I had become used to and I was glad that the greenware to which I had become accustomed was much more extensive that the concrete and asphalt. Indeed, there was even greenery forcing a life between the concrete and asphalt.


Then, in no time and little distance, it was almost quiet again. Around 300 yards from the concrete and asphalt, down Cool Oak Lane, I came to the Brent Reservoir, more informally and whimsically called the Welsh Harp Reservoir. This 420 acres of open water, marshes, trees and grassland is less than 10 miles from the centre of London, just a stone’s throw from a major road and rail corridor and is adjacent to the massive Brent Cross shopping centre. It is designated a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and it is home to the Welsh Harp Sailing Association. I designate it magic for it is nothing less. The photos below are just two small parts and regrettably don’t do this beautiful area justice.



There followed just 15 minutes of pavement work to reach another huge natural open space.  Fryent Country Park is 250 acres of unspoilt countryside amidst the suburbs of Brent just north of Wembley Park; not somewhere I had expected to have such a lavish spread of green. Bisected by the A4140 Fryent Way, the park consists of meadows, ponds, lakes, hedges and woodland, and is a designated nature reserve. Apparently over 800 species of wildlife live here, amongst them 21 types of butterfly and 80 birds. Some of these were perhaps still asleep as I passed between 9:30 and 10:00 but it was a fantastic area of wildness to walk through. The area to the right of the road is predominantly open grassland with lanes cut to enable easy walking.


The park is open 24/7 and there is a small area for ponies to graze on as there are stables nearby. There is a car park off the road through which I passed when moving to the area of the park on the left hand side of the road. This area, seen towards the top of the photo above, is quite different in character to the other side, being predominantly wooded and on a hill. At the top of the hill is the delightful little Barn Hill Pond from which there are superb views across Wembley Stadium and further across London if, as today, the weather is fine.IMG_5315.jpg

From the park my route continued through unnamed greenery alongside the Wealdstone Brook. Trapped between residential housing and the Jubilee line from Kingsbury to Wembley Park the noise level rose but it was nonetheless a pleasure to be in light woodland rather than on pavements.


Unfortunately this didn’t last long and I was back to roads around Preston. After a quick stop on a welcome bench near Preston Road Metropolitan line station to clear my shoes of grit I was off to Preston Park. In comparison with recent experiences this was a small and well kept local park with scattered trees, two sports pavilions and a childrens’ playground. My route took me straight through the middle and then through a tunnel under the Bakerloo line at South Kenton station towards the next massive green spaces: Northwick Park, which almost surrounds and dwarfs the huge hospital of the same name, and then the playing fields and surrounding woodlands of Harrow School.

Harrow on the Hill was a busy little urban village which I reached via Peterborough Road, which took me through the school buildings including the grand Harrow School chapel. Harrow School was founded in 1572 under a Royal charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I. At that time attendance would have cost a little less that todays c. £35,000 per year. At the time I passed the streets were full of schoolboys dressed in the traditional daytime attire of blue jacket, black tie, white shirt, light grey trousers and black shoes, completed with a straw boater nattily trimmed with a blue band. Besuited schoolmasters in flowing black robes sailed by between lectures. It was like a scene from ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ although Mr Chipping was long gone.

There followed more pavement pounding and, being anxious to meet my target of a beer in The Dodo Micropub before it closed at 2pm, I pushed on. Unfortunately pain in the lower calf muscle to the left of my left calf bone that had started earlier in the day got considerably more intrusive. Despite my trail shoes performing really well all things considered, continued walking on hard surfaces rather than grass was taking its toll but with only 8 miles to go I wasn’t about to catch a bus. I took every opportunity to walk on grass and tried to walk flat-footed with my left to avoid straining the muscle further. That technique got me home. Heading south from Harrow there was precious little relief from the pavement and I was glad at last to have cleared Sudbury Hill railway and tube stations and gone through Greenford Green to Horsenden Hill.

Horsenden Hill, broadly surrounded by Wembley, Alperton, Perivale and Greenford Green and with a hight of 276 feet, is the highest land and largest open space in the Borough of Ealing and provides one of the finest natural viewpoints in London. Settled 2500 years ago by Iron Age people whose pottery artefacts have been found in some numbers, it is now an English Heritage scheduled Ancient Monument.  During the First World War a horse-drawn anti-aircraft gun on the high-point offered protection against German airships. Today this wonderful green space of around 250 acres comprises areas of meadows, woodland, grassland and wetland attracting a wide variety of wildlife. This is the view from the summit. Home is out there somewhere.


From Horsenden Hill there was a short walk along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal (Paddington Branch) which I recognised – just over 5 miles to push.

The final section of my walk started shortly after the Westway Shopping Park in Greenford. After skirting the Northolt Rugby Club ground and crossing the A40 I followed footpaths around Perivale Park. This is a very good facility for local people with its wide open spaces, football and cricket pitches and childrens’ playground. In the the context of my walk it was however unremarkable. What followed was not.

With a tingle of anticipation I walked through Brent Valley Park broadly following the River Brent. Being only a mile of so from my home I know this delightful park very well. It is a beautifully tranquil riverside park with meadows, extensive scattered trees. It houses Ealing cricket club and two golf courses, Brent Valley and West Middlesex. I have run and walked here, with friends, family and alone, many times. In my view it crowns many of the parks and green spaces travelled in the last 3 days and I was really pleased to be here.


But there is a jewel in this crown. Adjacent to Brent Valley Park, formally entitled Brent Lodge Park, it was very fitting that my final significant green space on this walk would be the park that local people know very simply as Bunny Park. My pulse quickened.

Still containing the River Brent this beautiful urban countryside park has extensive grassed areas and many trees along the riverside. There is a large maze with a raised viewing platform, there are two children’s playgrounds one including a death slide, or zipwire as I am often urged to term it before boosting the grandchildren along it. Every few minutes high-speed Great Western Main Line trains can be heard in the distance as they scream towards Paddington station over the Wharncliffe Viaduct. This viaduct was the first major structure designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Built in 1837 it carries trains across the lower part of Bunny Park at a dizzying hight of 65 feet. But the occasional whoosh doesn’t detract from the pleasure given by this park. This really is the green green grass of home.

But the best thing of all is Hanwell Zoo, which is part of the park. Indeed some people think that the zoo is Bunny Park, but that’s not the case although there are rabbits in the zoo just after the entrance opposite the budgies. This little gem, open every day except Christmas Day from 10am and very reasonably priced, has recently been reinvigorated. It has a wide variety of exotic birds and small mammals including meerkats and lemurs, reptiles and butterflies and also has a sand play area. It is a really popular local attraction and after an hour or two you can relax in the lovely little cafe next door.

You will be waiting for the inevitable photos but I have to disappoint you, not out of carelessness but because I know they would be inadequate. Please go and see it when you are in the area – you won’t be disappointed. Or google Bunny Park Hanwell.

But I do have this for you. The view of the viaduct from almost under it, by a bridge that my family and I know as Pooh Sticks Bridge as we never fail to play pooh sticks with the youngsters as we pass over the River Brent.


Following the Brent through the tunnel under the A4020 Uxbridge road, between the Viaduct Pub and Ealing Hospital, took me down the last few hundred yards of the river before it joins the Grand Union Canal in Hanwell.

IMG_5347.jpgAt the junction is part of the Hanwell Flight. This attractive flight of 7 locks joins the Grand Union Canal with the Thames. It has an end-to-end height difference of 53 feet over around a third of a mile. The scene was painted by JMW Turner around 1808. He called it, a little enigmatically given he must have know where he was but was working a few years before GPS-stamped photos, “A Windmill, Locks and a Bridge, Probably on the Grand Junction Canal at Hanwell.”

From the junction I turned left and my end-point was in sight; the footbridge over the little river offshoot that leads towards The Fox Inn and home. I term it the Fox Footbridge but there may be another name, or none at all. It was just starting to rain; rain that had been forecast for 11 am and mercifully hadn’t materialised.


I last saw this little bridge shortly after 7:30 two days ago.

Since then I have walked 85 miles, a few longer than the official length of the Capital Ring due to some navigational challenges on day 1, over two and a half days. My step count was approaching 160,000 and with any luck I will have lost a pound or two, and I don’t just mean those spent in the Rusty Bucket on Monday or on the new shorts.

But my memories are not now, and I don’t think those that endure will be, about the distance, or the steps, or the pounds, or the increasing discomfort in my left calf or anything transient. It will likely be a far better and deeper understanding of how green London is. Look at the photos or, better still, walk a section or two. It really is very green, more than many people who perennially occupy cars and buses will appreciate.

The best section of all? That’s tough, because they were all completely brilliant, through the green spaces and the urban, the quietude and the noise, the rain and the sunshine. But I know the best of all was the green green grass of home. It was nearing home through Bunny Park. And the welcome at The Dodo, exactly on time, at 13:20 on Wednesday.

Thank you Hanwell. It’s good to be back.