We’d come to Chamonix with the objective of climbing Mont Blanc on ski. But, the weather hasn’t really been on our side – we’ve had big dumps of fresh snow, thick cloud on the mountains, hot temperatures, and consequent massive slushy avalanches. However, on Monday morning we got all excited when, from Chamonix, we spied the distant fresh tracks in the snow leading up Mont Blanc… Perhaps the plan could come together? We knew it would be a tall order to pull it off with virtually no proper acclimatisation, and none of the build up to the massive 4810 metres of altitude that we’d planned. But what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
After packing our sacks carefully for the expedition and the varied conditions (baking sun, freezing nights, etc.) we’d be expecting we left Chamonix mid-morning, and skied away from the Plan de l’Aiguille lift station at 11.30am bound for the Grand Mulets hut.
The traverse from the Plan de l’Aiguille is a little tricky, especially so with the difficult snow conditions. The endless traversing gave me a wicked blister on the inside of my (downhill) right foot. A preemptive blister patch – before it got too bad – applied at the old Bossons lift station was required to save the day.
Eventually we could see the Grand Mulets hut…
We had our breakfast at 1.30am, giving plenty of time to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, get back to the hut, and hopefully continue on back to the Plan de l’Aiguille lift station to get back down to Chamonix late on Tuesday.
After breakfast, re-packing our bags, donning crampons to get back down to the skis from the hut’s position high on its rocky rognon, and getting away on our skis it was about 3am.
We were shocked to be greeted to cloud and snow fall when we opened the hut door – the forecast had been for mild (about -4°C) and clear weather, building to another scorching sunny day.
As we were the first to leave the hut the fresh snow made finding the correct track up towards Mont Blanc in pitch dark extremely hard work. Of course being poorly acclimatised, it wasn’t long before we were over taken. But even this didn’t help much, the fresh tracks were rapidly again infilled with blown snow. For now a strong and bitterly cold wind had built.
To add to our woes Laetitia didn’t have any harscheisen (ski-crampons) to help with the steep skinning and Chris’ skins were, to put it mildly, crap! He kept slipping backwards down the steep ski tracks leading up towards the Dôme du Goûter!
Coupling all these factors: unexpected snow fall; cloud; bitterly cold wind; a couple of equipment issues; and a lack of acclimatisation, it seemed more and more likely as we soldiered on that we weren’t going to make it to the summit. I just hoped we could keep going until it was light in the hope the better visibility would help, and that the sun’s power might burn off the cloud and thus end the snow fall. But it wasn’t going to be, we’d already been over taken by several other teams, our progress was slowing, and most of us were freezing!
We turned tail and headed back to Chamonix. 🙁