Since December, when I decided that I wanted to try to climb Mont Blanc every weekend since January was dedicated to training and every time it come to mind Big Mountain (as Ioana used to call it), I felt as my pulse/heartbeat was rising.
Although we initially chose to go with a guide, somehow our plans have changed along the way and my stubborness chose the hard way, to go without one. As usual, things tend to go by theirself – not our way, but the proper way, so the group who left on July 22 on the road,determined to climb Mont Blanc and Grossglockner was 4 people – myself and 3 boys.
The initially decided route was:
Romania – Heiligenblut, Austria -> Grossglockner
Saint-Gervais-les-Bains / Chamonix -> Slovenia-Mont Blanc
eventually> Triglav – Romania.
The expected expedition time was two weeks.
So on July 22 we stuffed our luggage (and I’m not kidding, we barely fit 4 people with mountain equipment) in a Volkswagen Passat wagon.
Along the way, we kept checking the weather on Grossglockner and we came to the conclusion that we had no chance to climb it in next 5-6 days, so I asked the boys to change the route towards Mont Blanc. After some debate, we managed to reach the same conclusion – it is ideal to take advantage of good weather that lies ahead Mont Blanc and then decide how to reach Gross too.
The first stop for Mont Blanc : campsite in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains – elevation about 800 m. We only stopped one night here. The next day was planned to begin climbing the Big Mountain.
The campsite is very well organized and equipped – with toilets, showers, washing machines and a nice restaurant right at the entrance.
We woke up in the morning, we organized our expedition luggage and left. Distance from camping to train / tram that was to take us to the Nid d’Aigle (about 2400 m) is 2-3 km. You can walk through without any problems if you do not drive.
As and advice, it’s better to arrive approx 30 minutes before train departure to ensure you have time for buying tickets. You can find the train schedule at the camping reception ( it usually came every 1-1.30 hours) or even from its station.
The train will leave you at the base of the mountain. Good to know that the same ticket is valid for returning, but keep in mind that it has to be registrated(at the ticket office in Nid d’Aigle) for seat reservation to return. Because the return may be uncertain, the recommendation is to register the ticket just before boarding the tram back.
The route we traveled was to Tete Rousse hut(3165 m). The difference in level of 800 m can easily be walked in about 3 hours.The route is easy to identify and follows the path, quite large. In some parts indicated by a red/fuchsia dot.
On this route there aren’t any water sources, so it is better to estimate fluid intake for 3hours of trail with luggage and a level difference of 800 m.
The last part of the route is on the slightly steep and rocky (similar to portion Tete Rousse – Gouter), but far from being technical.
Finally, near the plateau on which Tete Rousse hut is built , suddenly appeared snow. It is a relatively easy to go without crampons – personally, I chose to climb using my trekking shoes (a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3), and boots winter I had, were still in the backpack. If I had to choose now, I’d climb wearing boots because it was very difficult to carry them in the backpack, and the temperature on this portion was not so high so that I couldn’t use them. Before starting the trip, lots of friends recommended trekking shoes because they are more comfortable and air could circulate more easily in them, compared to boots. It is still a subjective choice, but it did not help very much to carry 2 kg extra to my already heavy backpack.
The afternoon at Tete Rousse was not very pleasant for me. I couldn’t get acclimated that quickly and I had nausea, dizziness and headaches.The most difficult part was that I could not eat – I was already behind with sleep and eating, I admit, I was not too careful with these issues and they felt the most in the two days of climbing.
The food available at Tete Rousse hut seems to have been quite ok (I did not get to test because of the nausea). My recommendation is to have some bars or dried fruits or any food that you know you do well, you like and is easy to carry.Avoided heavy and less consistent fruits (such as apples, for example).
I don’t eat meat and this limited me even more in terms of food. For those who eat meat, both the Tete Rousse, and the Gouter you will find a warm meal (to keep in mind that prices are quite steep though).
Breakfast is served at 1.30 at night and 7 am – depending on how you choose to leave the route.
Water – the only sources of water are bottled water (5-6 euro per liter) at the cottage or melting snow with Primus, if you’ve got one with you.
The boys chose to stay in tents. There are times when the tent area is placed on snow and periods when they are placed directly on the stones. Camping is free, but I recommend you to have isoprene and a mattress to attenuate the surface that the tent sits on – it’s more uncomfortable than a normal camping.
Accommodation at the cottage – rooms can fit approximately 20 . Booking must be done before reaching the cottage, otherwise you may not have a place to stay. I rang before we get on the tram and they confirmed that they have places available. Also, as an advantage from the insurance I got from the Austrian Alpine Club, we got discount on accommodation.
We decided to leave at 2.15, however, because none of us had been on that road, we set out to not be the first to go so we can guide ourselves in case we got lost.
At 2.15 I was present in front of the boys’ tent – with a worse nausea than the previous day. I told them that I will try to climb, but if I won’t feel OK, I will go back alone. One of the boys chose not to go, so we were only three left.
Gouter route started with a pretty rough climb, but not too long (15-20 minutes) – where we caught snow and which we had to climb with brackets on.
Suddenly, the snow disappears and rock area starts with portions of via ferrata. But there are times when the rocky portion is covered by snow as well.
5-10 minutes after entering the rocks area you have to cross the Grand Couloir – a horizontal portion traversing a valley between the ridges slope that connects Tete Rousse with Gouter, not very long (up to 30-40 m) where you can be caught by a stone avalanche.weI crossed the corridor one at a time. Each of us watched if they hear rocks falling. The rule was that if there are stones falling before we reach half the way,we had to get back as fast as possible. If there were stones after passing half of the corridor, we had to force ourselves out of the aisle. The tricky part was that crossing the aisle was pretty bumpy, so we had to pay attention to how and where you step, especially because it was night and the front had a limited range of vision. Fortunately, we had no incident so we continued our route.
Note: The photos are made on the return way, we climbed between Tete Rousse and Gouter during night time.
As we went forward, there were portions of via ferrata, and in their absence, the path was quite removed – because of loose rock falling and covering the tracks. At one point, we went a little off the route and got to the debris, in a valley close to the ridge that was supposed to follow. It was the most difficult time – it took at least 15-20 minutes to complete a few horizontal meters among the rocks which were completely moving under us and we had nowhere to fix our hands or feet so we could step.
The route is zigzag on the ridge and has portions of via ferrata at times. It isn’t extremely difficult, but it requires attention. Can go smoothly without insurance rope, but I recommend wearing a helmet. The difference in level is about 600 m of between Tete Rousse and Gouter.
Note: The photos are made on the return way, we climbed between Tete Rousse and Gouter during night time.
Gouter was at the beginning of the glacier, whatever the weather, the temperature is slightly lower than the Tete Rousse,you can fell the smell of snow and wind stings easy – even when it is sunny.
That is the ultimate source of water to the summit (4810 m) – the prices are about the same or slightly higher than the Tete Rousse – 6-7 euro per bottle of water (1-1.5 l). If you arrive after the bar opening, you can drink tea, eat a soup or you can have breakfast.
For accommodation at Gouter: bookings are made exclusively online , in April for the season from July to August of the current year. Payment is in advance and you will have a discount if you use a card / insurance from Austrian Alpine Club. If you do not have reservation, you can ask if they have places available.Otherwise, there is a chance to get the equipuing rooms, but prices can reach up to 80 euros per night, as opposed to about 50 euros for normal reservation.
From Gouter refuge, the Mont Blancpeak is not visible, but you can see a very high and steep ‘hill’ that you have to climb.
My nausea got worse, although I had managed to climb to the Gouter. Traian has movead ahead from us, I told Cristi I will go on, and if I feel that I’m not ok, I will stop. He supported me and we continued to go at the same pace from now on.
Besides nausea I began to feel the altitude as well, so I greatly reduced the steps and I relented to avoid frequent stops. I tried to temperate our pace so we could go to somewhat constant. The big and steep “Hill” ‘finished’ at about 4300 m – from there you could see so beautiful the Vallot refuge, and also the peak.And the peak seemed so far away. We stopped to rest and eat something – I tried a piece of bread and I was surprised and amused that, standing on the snow, I was getting tired eating, which never happened to me before. I was convinced that I was at the edge of my powers and that I’ll stop soon.
We continued with a short descent and another climb, until the Vallot refuge (4362 m). Here we stopped for a little while, I tried to lie on ‘beds’ in retreat, but I was nearly impossible because they are made of iron stiff and cold, obviously.
Although I had again the feeling that I won’t resist, we ran out of water (I forgot the 1 liter reserve bottle at the Gouter refuge) we decided to try to climb slightly more.
Steps have also become smaller and more rare, and the climb seemed more pronounced – I keep wondering if they can make smaller steps than that.
Of nearby, I reached the narrow ridge and I kept looking at the watch to track altitude. 100 m before the top I stopped and sat in the background and I told Cristi:
“This time I really feel that I have no resources left”.
His calm response was “Let’s sit to rest for as long as you need and then see what we’ll do.”
Well, with the smallest steps that I made in my life, nausea and without water we found ourselves on a horizontal surface where you see a black dot. I asked Cristi:
“Is that the top there?”
He laughed and told me “Let’s see”.
It was the top, a cross covered in flags and messages.
Note: The oxygen level at 4810 m was 54.7%. The watch I was wearing during the trip is a Suunto Ambit3 Vertical.
On our way back, we decided to stick to Vallot overnight – which I do not recommend anyone, but Gouter was full and wouldn’t have received us, and I was afraid to climb down the portion with cliffs between Gouter and Tete Rousse with the nausea I was feeling. The night was long, I could not sleep on the iron beds, the shelter was very cold, I was still nauseous, neither Cristi was to fresh too, but as soon as the Sun rose, we left.
And all night without sleep, without heat and without food or water – I completely forgot it when weI left the refuge.The Sunrise was perfect.[
The road to Tete Rousse went somehow normal – except for a small avalanche of stones in the Grand Couloir. The descent can be done without problems until Saint Gervais same day.
Only after reaching the Tete Rousse my sickness began to disappear, feltless fatigue and much, much happiness for the stunning landscape that delighted my sight that morning. I think it was ideal that wh stayed at the shelter overnight. The landscapes are priceless in the early hours of the morning.
Mont Blanc mountain is a do-able, especially in good weather conditions. Obviously there are risks, but with respect for the mountains and for your body (rest, food, acclimatization, hydration) it can be climbed. For me, the difficulty came from the fact that I have not felt good physically. As a mistake I did, but I learned so much about how to approach relatively high mountains (until now there had been only in Romania and Musala) was not respecting my body. We were lucky to excellent weather and a mindset which pulled me to the summit and back.
I found that I am stronger than I thought and that every problem or difficulty can be solved with small steps, small, patience, perseverance and endurance. The power is in us.
I found that the trivial things that we enjoy daily: water, food, a soft bed, the fact that we are healthy and I value everything around me and I am happy and more than anything.
Life is wonderful, the people are beautiful!
Bookmarks & tour details:
Saint-Gervais-les-Bains – Nid d’Aigle approx 2:00 hours:
- 2-3 km walking distance from camping to tram
- Approx one hour tram
Nid d’Aigle – Tete Rousse hut about 3:00 hours
- Difference level 800 m
- Length of 3.4 km route
- Red dot marking, not very visible
Tete Rousse – Gouter about 3:00 hours
- About 600 m level difference
- 9 km length unmarked path
Gouter – Vallot refuge about 1.5-2 hours
- About 630 m level difference
- 5 km length
- Unmarked path
Vallot refuge – Peak – about 2-3 hours
- 480 m level difference
- 8 km path length
- Unmarked path
The level difference between Nid D’Aigle and Mont Blanc – about 2400 m, length 10.6 km approx.. (obviously, it may vary – not with much – depending on weather and how you climb / descend, portions of snow, crevasses etc.)
- No water sources on the route
- Can buy bottled water from Tete Rousse and Gouter. The price is about 5-7 euro for a bottle of 1-1.5 l.
- Can use Primus for melting snow. It is possible that snow occur at 2500 m and only after Gouter (3800 m) depending on how it snowed in the previous period
Mont Blanc mountain is considered a medium difficulty. Problems or situations that may appear: acclimatized body – recommendation is NOT to do as I have done. It is quite difficult climb if you’re sick, tired or dehydrated. You can stay in one of cabins until your body gets used to the altitude conditions (lack of oxygen). You can even descend to a lower altitude if symptoms are emphasized. Ideally, before the Mont Blanc climb a mountain of 3000-3500 m to allow the body to get used to, but that’s not absolutely necessary. Our body is extremely adaptable and powerful, just give it time. There are people who do not feel at all altitude.
is quite fickle and can change in minutes – from sunny and slow wind, to strong wind – storm. These conditions can aggravate climbing, especially on the ridge. Most people who climb ensure rope. Myself and Cristi considered it unnecessary, but it is a decision that everyone should assume.
- 40-45 l Backpack
- winter altitude boots (5000 m)
- 3 seasons boots / trekking -If you choose to climb up to the Tete Rousse shoes other than altitude boots
- touring ice axe
- GoreTex jacket
- GoreTex garments
- body blouse
- padded coat
- gloves – preferably a thick gloves supramanusi
- first layer pants (possibly merino)
- summer trekking trousers – you can go in shorts or GoreTex pants
- in front flashlight+ spare batteries
- survival foil
- sunscreen – especially for mountanside it’s very important
- ski glasses – in case of storm
- trekking sticks
- socks – recommended winter socks (merino)
- buff / hood
- water tank or Camelback
- optional slicker for backpack
- knee protection- if necessary
- snowfence- boots on I’ve used have snowfence included if you have classic boots are extremely useful.
- Power Bank + Phone Charger
- ear plugs
- wipes + towels
- dry towel
- Medical kit (here are some ideas, everyone should take as necessary): aspirin, acetaminophen, an analgesic, gauze + rivanol, alcohol in a small container, baby powder, a cold, a stomach pill
- salts sachets
- rods / gels summit days
- glucose – very useful, better than chocolate
- euro cash -at the cabins you can not pay by credit card
- If you decide to stay in the tent, you need to take into consideration the necessary equipment for this:
- sleeping bag
- Mattress and / or isoprene