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WINTER ASCENT OF MONT BLANC 4810m (Jan 2008)   photos

Why in winter? To get away from the crowds, of course. The mountain is climbed by 20,000 people a year, but virtually all of them come in the summer. Many consider Mont Blanc to be the highest mountain in Europe, although this title has to go to Elbrus in the Caucasus.

Douglas and I chose the normal route as the only sensible option considering the amount of snow that fell recently.  We went by cable car "Bellevue" to 1800m and started walking along the railway.  We made slow progress because of deep snow, and reached the tunnel we where told about.   We didn't actually see it, it was covered in snow.  We had to traverse very exposed rocks and soon it was dark.  We had no camping gear and had to carry on to Tete Rousse hut.  Not an easy task in complete darkness, but there were 3 of us and it gave me some sense of security.  Navigation was difficult but we were never lost and finally arrived in the hut at 1am, after 16 hours of hard work.

The next day we slept until midday because it was a short day to the next hut.  It turned out to be quite strenuous scramble up a steep ridge, after crossing the Grand Couloir where stone fall is a hazard.  There was a large one just 15 min after we crossed!  We arrived in Gouter hut late again and quickly went to bed, in preparation for the most important day.  We wanted to start early because there was still 1000m to the top of Mont Blanc.  First, a long walk up the Dome du Gouter, 4300m.  Snow conditions were good, so we decided to leave snow shoes behind.  We only needed crampons for the final ridge leading directly to the summit.  It was quite steep and narrow in places, which was a surprise because from Chamonix it looks like a dome.  We reached the top at 2.30pm, enjoying fantastic weather and great views.  As expected, we were the only people on the top that day.  Going back to the hut we didn't hurry, just taking in the views.

The 4th day was supposed to be the last one.  Instead of taking the same route back to Chamonix, we agreed to go down the Bossons glacier.  First we went up Dome du Gouter again, and then started a long, 3000m descent.  It was going well at first, deep snow being the only problem.  Later we arrived at a difficult section, with big crevasses.  There was an obvious bridge, and we decided to risk it.  I went first, testing the ice ahead with my stick.  It seemed strong enough, but suddenly it collapsed and I fell down hitting my face.  I didn't even get scared, it was too quick.  Douglas was prepared for this and held me without problems.  I could just reach the surface with my hands, and I managed to climb out somehow.

We had to find a different route and it got late.  There was no other option but to stay the night in Mulets hut.  It sits on top of a 30m rock surrounded by glaciers.  As with other huts, a small part stays open in winter.  However, this one has not been visited this winter, and we soon found out why.  We didn't have much food left, but we thought we would be back in Chamonix for dinner.  When I saw the glacier we had to cross the following day, I knew it would not be easy.  The first half was a labyrinth made of broken ice blocks and seracs.  It took a few hours to negotiate, but the rest looked more flat and easy.  It was going well.  I watched Douglas testing each step and walking slowly.  Then, without warning, he suddenly fell waist deep and, after a split second, he disappeared under ice.  The rope pulled me with force but I fell onto deep snow and held him without problems.  But I had to do something, because the rope cut into my shoulder and I knew I couldn't take it much longer.  I shouted to Douglas but he didn't reply.  I managed to clear enough snow for an ice screw.  I tried for some time but it just wouldn't enter.  Then I decided to crawl to the left, where a big boulder could give me some support.  Fortunately I found a place where my ice screw went in and I was able to put some of the weight on it.  One more screw and finally I was free from the rope, now attached to the screws.

I stood on top of the boulder and was able to communicate with Douglas.  The crevasse was huge, and he walked above it for 3m before he fell in.  When he did, the rope cut through the ice and he found himself 3m away from the hole, with a roof blocking the way out.  Actually, the whole place was a minefield.  I also fell to my shoulders when walking unprotected around the boulder.

I tried calling emergency with a mobile phone, but there was no signal.  Douglas in the meantime secured his rucksack on an ice screw and climbed up to the roof.  He managed to open a hole above his head, and this allowed me to throw him another rope.  Soon after he climbed out of his grave!  What a relief!  Unfortunately his bag was lost and it was very late.  We had about 1km left before leaving the glacier and it was already sunset.  I don't know how we did it, but we found the way out in the dark.  But it was not over, we had to traverse in deep snow to the cable car station.  At some point we gave up and just walked steeply down, following some snowboarders.  If they got down that way, than so should we.  It was a long struggle in snow waist deep sometimes, but we made it down to the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel.   I have no words to describe the feelings after this 18 hour ordeal, mentally and physically exhausting.  We still had to walk to Bossons, and  at 3.30am we knocked on the door.  It was over.   photos