Do you have what it takes . . .

to climb Mont Blanc? Should you go it alone or with a mountain guide? How should you choose a mountain guide if you need one? What kind of physical preparation is required? What are the conditions likely to be? What kind of gear should I carry? How do I reserve a night at one of the high mountain huts that access the route? Which route should I take? How difficult is it really? (It’s a really easy 4810m mountain, right? … or is it? )

Perhaps you want to look at my tracking of deaths on Mt Blanc this year (2007) in prior posts

And definitely you will want to look at this new brochure maintained by the High Mountain Office (OHM) in Chamonix which gives the answers to the above questions (you need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the pdf file) entitled “Climbing Mont Blanc is Best left to Experienced Mountaineers” .

The OHM is located next to the old church in the center of town (near the Office of Tourism) and should be a ‘definite’ stop before you climb any major route in the area – they have the most detailed and up to date forecasts, as well as current route information (inside the building). Mountain guides use this office as well as experienced individual mountaineers. You can also find climbing partners who have posted ads seeking others, or post an ad yourself to find a partner to do any of the various mountain routes in Chamonix.


Another Death on Mont Blanc

According to the AP, the PGHM of Chamonix reports that a 60 year old woman from Thiez France (in the Haute Savoie) suffered a fatal fall while climbing Mont Blanc today during her descent on the voie normale (normal route). Her name has not yet been released. The weather today was full sun, and the weather system has been a very stable high pressure system for around one week on the mountain.

We were out hiking this afternoon, and crossed the Bionassy glacier on our way to the Col de Tricot. The Bionassy Glacier runs in between the Dome de Goûter and the Aiguille du Bionassy. This is the region were several people have died this year in bad weather, becoming disoriented and falling on the steep face of the Bionassy.

We heard very loud rock fall and/or ice fall several times this afternoon and saw two planes go into and out of the area. Apparently it was one of those rock falls which resulted in this woman’s death. According to the report, she was thrown off balance by the rock fall while she was traversing the couloir of the Dome de Goûter at 3200m of altitude. She fell around 100 meters, and died despite rapid intervention from rescuers.

 See previous deaths on Mont Blanc this year :

More Mont Blanc Deaths

Unfortunately the recent chunk of good weather did not stop the growing death count on Mt Blanc this summer. Radio Mont Blanc and AP reported today from sources in the PGHM de Chamonix (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne) that 3 Germans (two men and a woman) have perished falling on the ridge of Dome de Goûter after leaving the Grands-Mulets refuge (3051m) on their way to ascend Mont Blanc (4810m). They had apparently chosen a technically more difficult route than the standard and somehow the rope team fell 600m (close to 1000 ft).

The alert that the climbers were missing was only given by relatives who were concerned on Sunday night that they had not returned on time to be able to get to work on Monday. The mountain rescue services were at first not sure where to look for the trio as their relatives could not provide a detailed itinerary. They had searched several areas of the mountain without luck. They finally spoke to some Italian climbers who had remembered seeing the three German climbers leaving the Grands-Mulets hut on Saturday at 1am. In searching the area at the foot of the Goûter ridge not far from the refuge, the bodies of the three climbers were located at 3100m of altitude late on Monday. The weather was very good on Saturday so it is unknown why they fell or even exactly when the accident occured. The bodies were repatriated to the valley late Tuesday morning.

Bitter Cold – Summer Death Count up on Mont Blanc and the massif

People this summer have continued the tradition (since the lift went up) of thinking that Mt Blanc is an easy mountain.

This summer has been bad particularly because the weather in June and July has been stormy and people take off up the mountain at the first break in the weather – sometimes ‘pushing it’ in my opinion because they are on holiday here and maybe they feel it’s ‘their only chance’.  We had some friends of friends stay with us earlier at end of June to climb Mt Blanc. We advised them the weather had been very bad the week before with a lot of fresh snow, and avalanche risks were up. They went up to the Aiguille du Midi to investigate on the flat area that leads to one of the huts, and agreed with us and came back down. The prior week a Swiss guide and his client had been avalanched and killed attempting the ‘Trois Mont Blanc’ route, and the following week the more died. I think they and others who decided to not attempt the mountain made the right decision. Instead they did a lower hike and stayed overnight in a mountain hut and had a good time and are alive to come back and try the mountain another time.

The 3 young Poles either died in an avalanche or froze to death after being avalanched whilst getting lost on the glacier de Bionnassy when ascending in bad weather. Their case also made little sense as the weather had been consistently poor for a week when they set off. Two other companions who had been injured in the avalanche made it to a hut. The forecast had not even called for a break in the weather but they went up anyway and were found separated and frozen to death. 

An unlucky situation (bad weather had moved in faster than prediction) nearly caused the deaths of 2 French teens not long after that. They lost phone contact (battery died) after reporting they were lost and everyone feared the worst as they were lost for over 24 hours, but on their last contact they had built a snow cave. And in that case they had the right equipment to survive including extra food, kept the cave clear of snow during the night and lived to descend themselves to the nearest hut much to the relief of families and rescuers. 

Now this week, a group of 4 climbers died, again without proper equipment. The family in NZ papers is saying they are upset the foriegn press and French mountain police are criticizing the group for being unprepared and call it a ‘tragic accident’. To me a tragic accident is equipment failure or a cornice that has been stable for years breaking as you happen to cross it. In this case, to me when you climb a mountain that is at 4810m you need to be prepared for anything because mountain weather can and does change suddenly – it’s very hard to predict. It is certainly tragic that they died, and yes as they sounded like wonderful people who under other circumstances may have been even friends – but to me their deaths were caused by a tragic misjudgement on their parts and as the gendarmes said – they were fully responsible for those poor choices of ignoring weather warnings and not having the right gear. It’s not what I would call an accident.

They were a woman from NZ, her boyfriend from the UK and a French and a Chilean woman (all students together in Grenoble). They did not have a shovel to dig a snow cave and were said by the French police to not have warm high altitude mountaineering clothes. The NZ woman’s family said she was experienced at climbing (photos show her rock climbing, not mountaineering which is a different game) as was her boyfriend and this was unlike her or him to go out unprepared. Then they spent 3 days acclimatizing in a hut (most people spend 1 day) and then though the forecast was poor for Monday all along and weather already closing in, and they had inadequate equipment for poor weather, they set off at 3am Monday morning. By 3pm they were in grave trouble. By 4am Tuesday they were dead. However, another group of 4 people lost on the very same Monday while attempting Mt Blanc were rescued by Italian mountain police after building themselves a snow cave and surviving the night.

The mountaineering shovels are very light and easy to pack – in a group of 4 at least one person should have had one – I mean how ‘lightweight’ do you need to go for a route that starts out with good hut access anyhow? I just don’t understand why people treat this mountain so casually.

In an unfortunate accident, a father and son team died this week as well when a cornice collapsed as they walked up a ridge. To me this is a tragic accident – they were found when hunters noticed footprints that suddenly ended. Mountain police recovered their bodies.

And oddly (I do not have full details on this one) a French woman died this week while hiking from the Montenvers train station to the Plan d’Aiguille – a normally easy hike done by many families all year round. Apparently she slipped and fell to her death near a steep drop off.

The weekend forecast is for sun.

Toothy Climbing

Standing on the Haute Cime

For the extended 4th of July weekend I took this year (yes I live in France and still get American holidays) we did the Tour des Dents du Midi. What a gorgeous 4 days. The climb up Haute Cime was a slog but in the end worth doing for the views.

Edit: Funny to think that in 4 days I only covered 1/2 the distance and a lot less height gain of what a few months later I (mostly) would run in 20 hours . . . . Of course my pack was not nearly as big when I ran the North Face Ultra Trail CCC.