24-27 August 2001
A word of advice:
Mont Blanc is not an easy mountain for beginners. One should be discouraged by this story and if interested to climb hire a professional guide.
After have been looking at the weather forecast for the weekend we decided to climb the highest top of western Europe, the top of Mont Blanc (4810,4m). The forecast predicted hot weather with sun, clear sky and stable winds. It was a chance of a lifetime.
We all gathered at my place (Johan K), which of course has a view over The Mont Blanc, to get to know each other and to plan for the weekend. We decided which route we were going to take for the ascent and for the descent, what to buy (i.e. food, clothing, sleeping bags, backpacks etc.) Everyone was in a good mood. We decided to take "Route du Goûter" both for the ascent and for the descent. We also decided not to have a guide to lead us as we had two friends who went without a guide some week before us and made it to the top. None had any serious experience in climbing so perhaps the decision wasn't the best but we all decided to turn back if it was too difficult.
Everyone went buying the things that they needed for the trip. I bought a lot of chocolate, bananas and water (3 liters of water, 1,5 kg of bananas and loads of chocolate bars).
After an early lunch at 11 o'clock in Restaurant 1 at CERN (Geneva) we were supposed to drive to Chamonix to rent all the existing gear that we was missing and buy some breakfast-, lunch for Saturday and dinner for the evening but one of us (Rawi) didn't show up. 12 o'clock we went to his house but we met him halfway on the road. He said that he have had a power failure in his house so he had overslept. We continued to his place and packed all his stuff and went back to the restaurant where the others were waiting. Finally we could start our journey towards Chamonix.
We had two cars and after the first car had been in Chamonix for 15-20 minutes they called from the other car and said that they were stuck on a big one-way bridge 15-km before Chamonix. Apparently the car had started burning thanks to hard driving from Rawi's side. The car is an old BMW from 1977. They used half their water to put out the fire. The car was leaking oil so they couldn't move it. I managed to get hold of a number to a garage which 1,5 hour later picked them up by calling the tourist information in Chamonix.
In the meantime car 1 (me, Johan B and Olof) went shopping. We bought a map (The French IGN series, 1:25,000), a compass, headlights, rope (30m), clips for the harness, batteries etc. We also rented helmets, ice axes, crampons and trekking shoes.
When the others finally arrived we were long after the schedule. Our goal was to take the last cable car up from Les Houches to the train station called Bellevue (1786m) at 18 o'clock. While the others were renting their gear I drove two of us to the cable car station in Les Houches. It took about 15 minutes of driving to go back and forth. Went back and picked up the others (in the car I put the song "Mission impossible" on repeat which I had on a CD). Drove back to Les Houches and there the others had bought some breakfast and lunch for Saturday (10 baguettes with ham and cheese and some yogurt). We made it to the last cable car with the marginal of 2 minutes.
When we arrived to Bellevue we took the last tramway (Tramway du Mont Blanc) up to Nid d'Aigle (2372m). We were the only one in the train. After arriving at Nid d'Aigle we were able to have dinner in a cottage which was almost closing for the night. An omelet with a glass of red wine was on the menu. We all went to bed early after the meal and slept outside under the starry sky. The temperature dropped rapidly during the night so some of us were freezing.
We woke up early around 7pm. After having eaten some of the baguettes we bought the day before we started walking around 8pm (that is 1 hour before the first train arrives at Nid d'Aigle).
After a while we reached a deserted hut called "Baraque Forestière des Rognes" where we had our first long break. As the backpack was very heavy to carry I ate as many bananas I could and threw away the rest. I also re-organised the content of the backpack. After that we divided ourselves into two groups. It turned out to be the car groups. One group was a bit faster than the other but we had visual contact with each other all the way up to a refuge called "Tête Rousse" (3167m). There the slower group (me included) changed the clothing because now we could see the snow just in front of us and it was a bit chilly. We still had too much in our backpacks so one of us (Johan B) left his pair of jeans, shoes, and belt in a plastic bag hidden behind a rock. He said that he would pick it up on our way down. Yes he wore jeans... The climb to Tête Rousse were not that difficult. In the end there were some steep passages but then you had a wire to hold on to so it wasn't too bad. After Tête Rousse we reached "Le Grand Couloir" (3270m). That is a place where rocks constantly are falling down. We managed to get across it without any difficulties but the adrenaline were pumping very hard as we had heard a lot of the passage and about the fast falling rocks. We only used our helmets and not our ropes at this time. Luckily we were there kind of early so the amount of falling rocks were low. As we understood that we had been foolish enough to cross the ravine without being secured to each other we attached ourselves with the rope. There was a wire you could attach yourself to but it was to high up as it wasn't any snow there at the moment so it was kind of useless. It was some icy parts that made it a bit slippery but if you were careful you could easily avoid the ice. Now it started to get steep and far up you could glimpse a sight of the next refuge called "Refuge de l'Aiguille du Goûter" (3817m), which was the goal of the day. This part was the trickiest part of them all with loose rocks and heavy climbing. We had to secure ourselves all the time with the rope around rocks to be able to feel safe. Sometimes we had to hide behind big rocks so that falling rocks that passed us by wouldn't hit us. As time past by into late afternoon more and more warnings about falling rocks from above were shouted out. We saw a helicopter land and take off and later we heard from a Scottish climber that a falling rock had hit a person without a helmet. He had fallen down in the ravine luckily to be caught by his rope tied to his friends. He was ok but with a slight concussion. During all this Johan B's stomach said no so he had to do his needs in the middle of the path. Luckily no one passed by at that time. It seemed that he wasn't the only one who had that problem, as the smell sometimes was very annoying.
For us the steep climbing took 3,5 hours and the time was about 18.30 when we finally reached the refuge at 3817m. The other group had then been there 2,5 hours already and our tents were already in place. The fast group felt a bit of the famous altitude sickness, they had a slight headache, but we who had taken it very easy didn't feel anything special except for the tiredness.
After enjoying the magnificent view over Chamonix and over the mountains we decided to grab something to eat and see if there were any places to sleep in the refuge. I called earlier from Geneva but then it was fully booked but people sometimes don't show up so we gave it a try. We were lucky as there were two places left in the refuge but we could fit three in the bed. I dare to think that it might have been the guy who got the falling rock in his head and his friends who didn't show up.
After some discussion we decided that 4 of us would take an alternative route down called "Les Grand Mulets". We took that decision because with over 20 kg of backpack on the back the descent down the same way as up wasn't really appealing to us. Only the though of it made you feel ill. It was just one problem with this and that were the heavy backpacks. Normally you leave the backpacks in the refuge, as it is too hard to carry it all the way to the top, and then you start the journey to the summit and just to return a bit later to pick it up again for the descent. As we decided not to go back we had a problem. One solution would be if we somehow managed to get a helicopter to bring down two of our backpacks and then just bring one backpack with us up to the summit, which only included the most important things for three people. After have been talking to the personal working in the refuge and after they had discussed it with the helicopter crew the helicopter personal agreed to bring down the two backpacks for a 1000 FRF, a bargain in our eyes as our lives were at stake. With a bed and knowing that the backpacks would be brought down we could go to bed with our goal only set for the ascent.
The refuge was very crowded and I don't know how many people who actually slept in the refuge but it was a lot. I have heard that it would be around 200 climbers there and that there are only 75 places. That might have been the case. There were also a lot of tents outside. We got to bed around 22 after 10 hours of walking / climbing and set the alarm to 01:00. That is one hour earlier than the refuge personal normally wake you up. We did this because the other three in the group who were sleeping in the tents would wake up already at 00:30 to start the ascent and that all the other people in the refuge would be very busy at 02:00 with everyone trying to get ready finding their clothing and eating breakfast etc. I managed to get some sleep even though I was lying very close to a Spanish climber. He told me that they, he and his two friends, were also sharing a bed for two people, which equal 6 persons in two beds for two people. I think I slept around 1,5-2 hours that whole night.
After the three of us in the refuge have had re-packed all our gear, eaten breakfast and left our two backpacks to the refuge personal we started our ascent. First we went to one of the tents to pick up Hayk. He was a bit cold and felt a bit dizzy but it passed, it seemed that he still had the altitude sickness. It was pitch black so we used our headlights. The fact that there were a lot of people walking with headlights made it easy. We only had to follow the crowd and the lights walking before us. We took it really slow and took short pauses very often. It was kind of steep but not that hard to walk, we now walked entirely on snow. The snow border started at 3800 m just by the refuge. Far up in the distance you could see headlights moving in a long line. It got light around 7 o'clock, which eased your mind a bit.
After been walking a while you got fooled very often thinking, "This must be the top that I'm seeing" but when reaching the "top" you discovered that this wasn't the case at all. Another "top" even higher was just lying there waiting for you. After been doing that for awhile we passed another safety hut called "Refuge Bivouac Vallot" (4362m). It was from that refuge our descent would start after the return from the top. We passed it by and continued upwards. Finally we saw the top in front of us but first we had to pass "Les Bosses" (Grandes / Petites Bosses, 4513m / 4547m), which was very steep on both sides especially "Les Petites Bosses". It was very nasty especially when someone coming down had to pass you. When that happened you had to use your ice axe to cling yourself at the side of the ridge. After passing the ridge we finally made it to the top and that was an incredible feeling with a magnificent view. It felt like the top of the world! There we met up with the other two in our party (Christian and Rawi) who had been sleeping in the tents. They had been there for 1,5 hours already as they started walking earlier than us. They were a bit cold and had a slight headache so they decided to go back after the obligatory group picture. We reached the top at 08:30 (that equals 5.5 hours of walking).
We took many pictures and enjoyed the views for about 20 minutes then we started our descent. At this point the descent was not really in our minds but it started to grow on you when we passed the Bosses ridges again, clinging ourselves to the side of the ridge when we met people who wanted pass. After a while Olof's stomach was in uproar, exactly as Johan B's did the day before during the ascent so he had to go hiding, not to far away though with the risk of falling down somewhere, to give his share to the mountain. It seemed that people had been doing that everywhere. After a while we reached "Refuge Bivouac Vallot" (4362m) again where we rested for a while eating chocolate. It was really hot at this time and we had no more water left. We didn't really know what to do about that except for continue walking down. In the beginning of the Grand Mulets route we saw some people walking but after a while there were hardly anyone there except for us which we thought was a bit strange. The answer why we were alone came kind of quickly after two big avalanches passed us by. At first we thought that it was a bit cool as we were standing in safety and it's not everyday you see avalanches but soon we understood that this wasn't a good sign. I have had read that in warm weather the snow gets wet which increases the risk of avalanches. I also knew that this route was very dangerous just because if this. Otherwise the route was fairly simple compared to the other one except for all the crevasses.
The route went down into a huge valley and in the middle there was a small path that we followed blindly. I remember that we were longing for our skis at this point. Eventually we got passed by of three other climbers one, apparently the guide, said that we ought to have the rope longer attach between us as there might be crevasses in front of us and if someone fell that would help us. We quickly changed the length of the rope. We also asked for the way as my map only reached down half of the way. He said that we just had to stay on the path that we already was following and that it would take quite some time to reach the cable car at "Plan d'Aiguille" (2310m). We also found a tent where they offered us something to drink and they also told us that if you we were lucky we would make it to the cable car just in time. There was no time to waste so we continued. When we first encounter crevasses we thought that it had to be a joke as the path just disappeared in front of us leaving nothing of a trace except for a jumping mark on the other side of a huge crevasse that we were supposed get across. I had read about fixed ladders but there were no sign of such a thing. I also recall that without the ladders this route might be problematic. After securing everyone we slowly one after one made it across the first crevasse just to discover more crevasses further down. We took it really slow and really secured each other all the time. After been doing this for a while and taking turns of the heavy backpack we had sore feet. We were sitting down, in debris from an old avalanche, putting on "second skin" on our sore feet when two persons passed by running. One shouted, apparently the guide (again), that we couldn't be seated here with the high risk of avalanches. At that time we knew all about that but we were too tired to think clearly. After that we got to our senses and we continued down.
Not long after just passing the most dangerous crevasse on our descent we saw the "Refuge Mulets" (3051m). Even though we didn't have any water we didn't stop there as we had a schedule to keep. Maybe we should have stopped there but we couldn't afford missing the last cable car. Only the climb to get to the refuge looked painful as it was high up on a plateau. We passed it and head for "Glacier des Bossons". To get to the glacier you had to jump even more crevasses, luckily at one point there were some Portuguese people doing a glacier course so at the worst place we used their fixed ropes to get over the crevasses. Johan B and Olof jumped a 1,5 m wide crevasse but me and Hayk preferred the fixed rope. Finally we managed to get to the glacier which from a distance looked quite easy to pass. We soon discovered that it wasn't that fairly simple. We had to climb down into the glacier and then up and then down again. We also had to do small and big jumps over cracks. We did everything really quick, as we didn't have much time left before the last cable car down. Eventually we reached the rocky area, which meant that we didn't have to use the crampons, which by the way are excellent tools. We continued towards our goal. During all this time Hayk was complaining a lot about the lack of water and his "heavy" burden a backpack, which only contained his sleeping bag. We felt really tired and thirsty as well + we carried the big backpack with over 20 kg but we didn't complain about that as we knew we didn't have any other choice than keep on going or we had to walk another 5 hours down to Chamonix. When we finally arrived at Plan d'Aiguille (2310) at 18.35 (almost halfway up to Aiguille du Midi) we had been walking 16 hours in a raw, 10 without water, just to discover that we missed the last cable car down with 5 minutes. It wasn't really what you wanted to happen to you at that time. When all of us were sitting down resting at the cable car station wondering what to do Hayk suddenly started to throw up. He was so exhausted after the long walk that he couldn't stop throwing up. Other people came by and tried to give him water but that didn't help. It was when he started to throw up bile I called for a helicopter to bring him to the hospital. After 1 hour of waiting and him getting more and more dizzy they came and picked him up. For the rest of us we managed to find a refuge for the night called "Hôtel du Plan d'Aiguille" (2233m). There we ordering three 1,5l bottles of water that we drank immediately. After that we ate soup, cheese, bread and some dessert. The soup was probably the best soup we've ever eaten in our entire life even though it contained nothing special. After that we put our smelly socks for drying and went straight to bed. We slept for 13 hours in a raw in the refuge. Next day we around lunch we ate breakfast and took the cable car down to Chamonix. Hayk had after a quick telephone call set a rendezvous with us at the base cable car station. Apparently he left the hospital in the morning feeling much better. Me and Olof went to Les Houches with a taxi to pick up the car and then we went to Argentière to pick up and pay for the two backpacks that we had sent down with the helicopter. Then we returned to the sport shop and returned the rented hiking gears. There we met up with Christian and Rawi who suddenly turned up very surprised to see us there as we were supposed to be home already a day before so it was a happy reunion in Chamonix.
They had been really worried about us, as they had spoken to a guide earlier during their lunch in Refuge du Goûter. The guide had said that the route we took was far too dangerous to take and that he would never take it again especially if you were lacking the skills of glaciers. Christian and Rawi also told us a really nasty story about a guy who slipped and fell about 300m down and died in front of their eyes. The guy came from The Czech Republic and he had his tent next to us. They were talking to him the day before the decent and he was kind of an inexperienced climber. Luckily nothing serious happened to us except for the thing with Hayk but he seemed to be ok after some food and sleep. Johan B's eyes were not really in a good shape though as he had got the snow blindness the day before. He had, by mistake, sent down his sunglasses with the helicopter and now tears wouldn't stop coming out from his eyes. It took him four days to recover from that. We called him "Dracula", as he couldn't be outside unless it was dark. Olof and me were a bit shaky afterwards for approximately two days but that was nothing compared to what we had been through.
Others that were really worried about us were for instance my parents. As we were supposed to be back on Sunday evening and I never phoned home to confirm that they had called the foreign affairs department in Sweden and they had talked to the Swedish consulate in Geneva who had talked to the Chamonix police but no one knew anything about any missing people on the Mont Blanc. I had sent three SMS messages to them but somehow all my three messages had been sent to them on Monday afternoon instead of the time I sent them. I couldn't call them either as I didn't have enough batteries in the phone and my phone was the only one still alive. We all had a full battery when we started our journey but I had my phone off when climbing that's why mine was still alive. The only reason I can think of why the batteries ran out so quickly must have been that the network is so hard to reach so the phones have to work constantly to search for a network. They got the messages in the end though so they calmed down after a while and called the search off. After having lunch, which contained hamburgers we drove home. Christian and Rawi went with the train as Rawi's car didn't work. All came home without any difficulties but I doubt we will do the trip again. I took 90 pictures with my camera and then there are the others pictures as well. I think that it would be enough for me to calm down for a while.
keywords: Mont-Blanc, Mont Blanc,
This page has been visited times since September 28, 2001 and was last modified: March 10, 2006.
Comments of this page can be discussed here: http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?n=170961