| Mont Blanc - 3 Mounts Traverse
With the extremely busy summer for Kristine and myself between weddings all over the country, our own engagement party back east, my climb of Rainier back in June, 14ers here and there, and planning our own wedding down in Telluride this October, a seven summit was just not in the cards this year. But, our good friend and climbing partner Caleb Wray (RoanMtnMan) & his wife Jennie wanted to do a climb/trip with us, so we decided on France and Mont Blanc. Tickets weren't too expensive to Paris and it would be fun traveling around the country in a peugot with just the 4 of us thru wine country and climbing Mont Blanc together. Mont Blanc was considered at one point Europe's tallest mountain and a seven summit, but once Russia became considered part of Europe, poor Mont Blanc faded in seven summit fame in lieu of Elbrus getting the spotlight. Even though Elbrus may be 3,000' taller, Kristine and I enjoyed the climbing of Mont Blanc much more as it is a bit more technical with the route we took.
So, we flew into Paris, rented a car, spent two days tarveling thru the wine region of Burghandy drinking lots of wine and eating much french bread and cheese. We arrived in Chamonix and hit a campground. Then, the next morning, wer could see Mont Blanc massif rising almost 13,000' above us:
We decided on the 3 Mounts Traverse route mainly b/c we read that it was much less crowded than the easier and much shorter Dome du Gouter route as well as more exciting and technical. To access this route, we rode the very exciting Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (3,380') to the Aiguille du Midi (12,604'). My ears were hurting after exiting the cable car at the top b/c of the serious elevation gain in such a short period of time (I think cable car ascends like 10 m/s or something ridiculous like that). Here is a pic of the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi from the mid mtn station:
Jennie and Kristine on one of the observation decks on the Aiguille du Midi:
Here is a pic of our route - the 3 Mounts Traverse Route from the Aiguille du Midi. The route traverses over two smaller sub-peaks of Mont Blanc itself, Mont Blanc du Tacul & Mont Maudit, and then onto Mont Blanc - hence the route name:
Climber access thru the rock walls of the Aiguille du Midi:
From here, we donned crampons and axes and descended unroped down an impressive and very exposed knife edge ridge. Talk about excitement right out of the gate! Every step was made very carefully as there is no room for error especially unroped.
Then, we crossed the Col du Midi about 1000' below and made our way up to the Cosmiques Hut (11,867') where we had reservations:
Me peering down a small slot:
The Cosmiques Hut - the french sure do know how to build huts and cable cars!
The Cosmiques Hut was fantastic and very large - probablly 2-3 times as large as the biggest of our 10th mtn huts. We talked amongst ourselves, made dinner on our jetboils, and hung out with climbers from Europe and other parts of the world that evening.
Me and Kristine at sunset from the Cosmiques Hut:
Then, we hit the sack in our 1am wake-up-call bunk room. Woke up at 1am and had a wonderfully prepared breakfast (included in the hut fee) of bread, jam, cereal, and a bowl of coffee. Here is Jennie and Kristine getting geared up:
Then, we descended back down to the Col du Midi glacier (11,588') at 2:30am with numerous guided groups and independent parties in front and behind us. We ascended Mont Blanc du Tacul in the dark, traversed under some large seracs, and then found ourselves on the Col du Tacul and descended several hundred feet. We had some issues with routefinding here b/c some thick fog blew in and combine that with pitch black darkness, its hard to find your way. However, the fog lifted around 4am and we started the ascent of the steeper Mont Maudit (probably 40 deg snow and a couple crevasses to be crossed). It started getting light around 4:45am as we approached the crux of the entire route - a couple hundred foot 50-55 deg icy/snow headwall:
We took a break at the bergschrund at the bottom of this headwall and took in the views with the sky getting lighter:
We then broke out our ascenders and ascended the fixed lines for 200' or so to a rocky section in the middle of the headwall:
Sunrise over our route thus far:
I then free climbed the rocky section holding onto a few of the sketchy fixed ropes and climbed up to the top of the headwall after another 40' of steep snow/ice and belayed Kristine up. Kristine then belayed Jennie up to the top of the headwall and Caleb followed suit. We then traversed over steep snow to the Col de la Brenva (14,117') and took a rest. Jennie was not feeling well and seeing that we still had 1,700' of climbing to do, she decided to stay here while Caleb, Kristine, and I went for the summit. So, we made sure Jennie was OK, had plenty of warm clothes and her down parka on, a stove to boil some ramen, and we set off for the top.
While the skies were clear and sunny, the wind was extraordinarily harsh for our final push to the summit. It was pretty tough going with 60 km/hr wind in your face. Caleb and Kristine at around 15,000':
We ascended the final 1,700' in about an hour and a half and reached the summit of Mont Blanc (15,780'):
Me, Kristine, and Caleb on top:
The view down from the summit of the 3 Mounts Traverse route and the Aiguille du Midi in the far distance with Chamonix below:
We then descended quickly back to Jennie at the Col de la Brenva and started the traverse back to the top of the headwall on Mont Maudit. Kristine with Mont Blanc behind on the traverse back to Mont Maudit:
At the top of the headwall, there were several other groups trying to descend at the same time and it quickly became a fiasco with teams throwing ropes down all over the headwall. There were fixed pickets at the top for the fixed lines and Caleb and I decided the quickest descent would be to rap the headwall. So, we anchored the rap with the pickets and backed it up with our ice axe. I threw the rope and rapped the 1st 100' of the headwall down to the rocky section and then the girls came down after me. Caleb cleaned it and we all anchored into the top of the 1st fixed line at the bottom of the rocky section which was a fairly solid anchor. We set up a 2nd rap down to the bergschrund at the bottom of the headwall:
Kristine jumaring down the final 15' of the fixed line (our 2nd rap didn't quite make it to the bergschrund):
Glad to be off the headwall and away from the fiasco of people kicking ice down, we made it back down to the Col du Midi without incident and back to the Cosmiques Hut at around 4:30pm. A pic of the cable car over to Italy with the Matterhorn in the far distance on our descent:
We spent another night at the Cosmiques Hut and hit the sack early after a 12-13 hr summit day. The next morning we packed up, headed out across the Col du Midi glacier and back up the 1000' or so to the Aiguille du Midi cable car station after ascending the always exciting knife edge ridge of snow. What makes this knife edge so much more dangerous is that people are ascending and descending it at the same time and there is absolutely no order to it. One guy even held onto Kristine's pack for support on the descent of this ridge. So, we waited for a window for 45 min and then we were off and fortunately no one passed us. Caleb and I measured the snow angle on the Chamonix side and it was 55 deg of icy snow - A fall here without an arrest would put you over several crevasses and then over a 4,000' cliff...not good. I can't imagine that there's never been an accident on this ridge.
Here is the 4 of us back on one of the Aiguille du Midi observation decks with Mont Blanc and the 3 Mounts Traverse route behind:
We then spent 5 more days of traveling to the south of France in our peugot and then back to Paris for a couple days drinking fantastic wine and eating very well. A geat trip with my fiance and good friends Caleb & Jennie.
Parting shot of us relaxing on a pier in the town of Cannes on the Mediterranean Sea:
Thanks for reading...back to preparing for our upcoming wedding and fundraising for our Everest climb in 2010.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):