Europe,  France,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Conquering Mont-Blanc from Chamonix (France): part 1/3

Part 1 : Conquering Mont-Blanc from Chamonix

Part 2 : Night at the Albert 1er hut and ascent of the Aiguille du Tour (3540 meters)

Part 3: 4 summits at Monte Rosa!

Admiring the legends of mountaineering, I learned a few years ago that the summit of Europe, Mont-Blanc, was accessible for beginners with a good physical condition and a few days of preparation

The conquest of Mont-Blanc has since become a fantasy for me

So 4 years ago, in July 2014, we spent a week in Chamonix with my brother Vincent and a friend (another Vincent) to do a Mont-Blanc training course

Unfortunately, the weather conditions (very bad weather) did not allow to attempt the Mont-Blanc. As a consolation prize, we were able to climb the Gran Paradiso in Italy, our first summit at 4,061 meters

The Mont-Blanc was only a part of it

In 2018, interrupting our second round-the-world trip to go to my brother’s wedding in September, I took the opportunity to organize a second Mont-Blanc expedition

My brother Vincent is again part of the adventure and we also welcome my cousin Diane and my friend Etienne. Contrary to 4 years ago, Anh is part of the trip but will stay at the “base camp” in Chamonix

Provisional program: Arrival in Chamonix on Sunday, August 5th. A few days of trekking to get into shape. Beginning of the course on Thursdays and Fridays for acclimatization and technical training before attacking the Mont-Blanc on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays

Day 1 (Sunday, August 5, 2018): arrival in Chamonix and change of program

Back in Paris the day before after our stay at Trans Sur Erdre, we take the train from the Gare de Lyon. The trip is long with two changes and we arrive in Chamonix at 5pm after 7 hours of travel

20 minutes before arrival, I phone the agency that rents us the apartment for 15 days and we meet the employee who gives us the keys and some directions

I am pleased to find the apartment we occupied 4 years ago during our first internship. It is functional, central and offers a magnificent view of our goal: the Mont-Blanc

The rental is expensive (800 € / week) but the apartment is very comfortable and can accommodate up to 7 people. During my research, I did not necessarily find as good / cheaper on Airbnb

Anh offers you a small guided tour of the apartment

Vincent arrives 30 minutes later. Etienne and Diane who were on the same train join us an hour later

Even though we had planned to do some shopping when we arrived, the fatigue of the trip and the excitement of being in Chamonix made us change our mind, it will be restaurant

Chamonix is truly a magical city that breathes adventure. Half of the people we meet are equipped with harnesses, telescopic poles or other running vests

After dinner, we contact our guide who had warned us the day before that the weather conditions were making the ascent of the Mont-Blanc dangerous and that we should consider a plan B

On the phone, our guide Franck confirms that it’s complicated for the Mont-Blanc. If 4 years ago, there was -20°C at the summit, the problem today is the opposite. The heat wave that hits France causes snowmelt that generates rock falls. The most delicate passage to climb the Mont-Blanc, the passage of the snack , becomes very dangerous and you risk at any time to get a stone rain on your head

Even if Franck leaves us the choice, there is obviously no question of risking our lives and let’s accept his plan B: to discover the Monte Rosa in Italy which allows us to chain several summits at 4000 meters

Despite a small disappointment to give up the starting goal a second time, this plan B is attractive and we are delighted with this consolation prize. All the more so as the guides are formal: if the Mont-Blanc is mythical, it is neither the most technically interesting nor the prettiest summit. On the other hand, it is often the most used with risks of traffic jams in some places

A little twinge in my heart at the moment of cancelling our reservation at the mythical refuge of the snack that I had had so much trouble getting. It’s only a postponement!

The next day, the prefecture formally advises against attempting the ascent of Mont Blanc and confirms our choice. There have already been several deaths on the massif since the beginning of the summer, no desire to be next

Day 2 (Monday, August 6, 2018): equipment rental + vertical kilometer

After a good night, we will get back the rental shoes we had reserved and that we intend to test during our first days before the course

A small beginner’s mistake, the salesman explains to us that these are mountaineering shoes and that they aren’t at all adapted to the hikes we had planned for the first days. So we pay for a few days rental for nothing

It is thus with our hiking boots that we set out to conquer the vertical kilometer to get us on our feet

The vertical kilometer is a race only 3.8 kilometers long but with 1 kilometer of positive elevation gain! The best torch this race in 35 – 40 minutes. The guys who do this are raving lunatics

We are less ambitious and will take 2 hours. We unwillingly but salutary take a small detour which, under the trees, shelters us at the beginning of the route from the blazing sun that hits the region

We leave around 10:30 am, we arrive around 12:30 pm and we offer ourselves a refreshment at the altitude bar on arrival. The place is quite crowded because a gondola lift allows us to reach it in a few minutes, either to enjoy the view or as a starting point for many hikes

After our refreshment, a quick picnic in front of a splendid view, we go back down. The descents are often tiring but this one particularly, especially the beginning: rather technical, very sloping and all in dust

We will take 1h45 to complete the descent and the rain will make its appearance while we are 100 meters from the apartment. Perfect timing because the sky is going to get so wild that some areas of Chamonix will suffer serious floods

Day 3 (Tuesday, August 7, 2018): Faulty gondola lift + Lac Blanc

We take a TER for 4 minutes to get to Les Praz from where we plan to take a gondola to La Flégère and then walk up to Lac Blanc

Bad surprise when arriving, the ski lift is down for the whole day! The employee advises us to take the bus to Montroc. We are relieved to find an alternative but it will double the difference in altitude that we had planned: 1000 meters instead of 500

We attack the ascent by the Col des Montets. The slope is less steep than the day before but the heat is still there

It was hard, it was long, the Lac Blanc is magnificent and is deserved. On several occasions we think we have reached the goal, especially when we see lakes but they aren’t the right ones

In the end it will take us 3h30 to reach the finish

Some hikers take the opportunity to take a swim, but the water seems to be cool because of the speed with which they get out of the water. Not having foreseen the necessary to dry us, we are satisfied to soak the feet. Indeed, it is cold!

We take advantage of this beautiful landscape to picnic. Just before going down again, intrigued by other hikers, we go around the lake to discover a second even prettier one

To vary the pleasures, we go down by another path, that of Tré-le-Champ. The slope is steep, technical and we are glad not to have chosen this path for the ascent

However, the landscape is fascinating and we will have some passages with ladders, in the style of a via ferrata. Vertiginous!

It will take us 2h30 to reach the starting point and take the bus back to Chamonix

Arriving in front of the door of the apartment, we feel a few drops. Again good timing!

We are satisfied with these first two days with 2000 meters of positive elevation gain. Not bad for a start!

However, we are challenged by the amount of water we consume. With this heat wave, we make a fresh pose every 20 to 30 minutes and drink 2.5 to 3 liters per day and per person! It is even Diane who helps us on the way down, we were all dry. We have to better manage our water reserves because we can’t carry much more than that on our backs

So we all decide to invest in Camelbak, water pouches that we put in our backpacks. Connected to a hose, we can drink without interrupting the walk. The objective is to drink less but much more regularly to avoid dehydration

Day 4 (Wednesday, August 8, 2018): Lac Cornu, Avalanche and Sauna

Well started by these first two days, we are concocting a lighter program today with only 250 meters of positive elevation gain to do in the morning before resting in the afternoon

On the program: take the Brévent cable car to Planpraz at an altitude of 2000 meters (which allows us to complete Monday’s vertical kilometer climb in 10 minutes) and continue on foot to Lac Cornu

We arrive at 8:15 am for the opening of the cable car in order to be among the first to arrive at the top with the hope of crossing animals. Obviously we aren’t the only ones to have this idea and the queue to buy the tickets is already long

From the arrival of the cable car, we follow the arrows in the direction of the lake until, after a 5 minute walk, we find ourselves at an intersection with no indication for Lac Cornu

What is the way forward? Another group is asking the same question. One of their members looks at the map and points the way. We wait for Etienne to solve his problem of Camelbak before following them. A foreign tourist then asks Diane for the Lac Cornu road before her companion, below, signals that he has found a sign indicating the way. This isn’t, of course, the road we were about to take. The other group is already far away and we are happy not to suffer the same fate, the slope was steep! We learned the lesson: not to trust and to check by ourselves, all the more so if the person who is pointing the way seems as lost as we are

The path is pleasant and quite easy, with first snowy passages and we arrive to the Col Cornu a… 2414 meters. So we have 400 meters of positive difference in altitude in the legs whereas we had planned 250 meters

Planpraz is at 2000 meters, Lac Cornu at 2276. Indeed, this gives a difference of 250 meters. But the mountain, it goes up and down! Another beginner’s mistake

Arrived at the Col Cornu, we thus go down to the lake Cornu and reach our goal in 1h45

It’s a little chilly but the show is great and we are absolutely alone. What happiness

The two courageous members of the group (V. and J.B. for reasons of anonymity) take the opportunity to take a bath. It is grandiose to swim alone in a huge mountain lake

It’s great but cold, so the experience is short

We picnic and do not delay because threatening clouds are coming and we prefer to avoid a sauce. It is in great shape that we attack the 200 meters of ascent to find the Col Cornu. Ascent that we wipe in 20 minutes

We then take about 1 hour to go down and join the cable car

At that moment, I try to identify the source of the distant, muffled noise we hear. We then see an avalanche on the opposite mountain. It is impressive to see such a mass of snow hurtling down the slope at full speed in a huge din. We are very little in front of nature

Back in Chamonix, place to rest. Etienne, Vincent and I go to the aquatic center. This one has an outdoor swimming pool with a breathtaking view of the massif, a jacuzzi, a sauna and a hammam. The facilities aren’t the most modern but we come out of it invigorated and with a little less leg aches

In the evening, we make a small restaurant where we honor tartiflettes, Savoyard fondues and beef tartars

Day 5 (Thursday, August 9, 2018): Rest and equipment purchase

I wake up in the morning with a little ball in my stomach. The real beginning of the adventure is tomorrow when we will have our first day of training with our guide and our first night in a refuge

Are we physically ready? Is our equipment adapted? Will the weather be favorable? So many questions that are running around in our heads without finding answers

No physical activity planned today to be as fit as possible the next day

Franck was right, the weather is bad and it rains all day long, that’s why he proposed us to postpone the beginning of the training course from Thursday to Friday

So it’s a shopping day to buy the missing material. For my part, I warm up the credit card to buy a hat, gloves, socks, a meat bag and washers for my sticks

At the end of the day, we call our guide to organize ourselves. He tells us that the weather forecast is favorable. He will come to pick us up around 10 am and will make a small check of our material before leaving

Not too difficult day in perspective, 1h30 of ascent to reach the Albert 1er hut. We can then work a little on the technique: roped walk, use of ice axe and crampons, ice walking… before a more difficult day, but more exciting the next day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *