Chamonix is one of my favorite places. We had time to do some sightseeing and enjoy a delicious dinner in the city center. In France there is a guarantee of great food! The city was crowded with trail runners from all over the world. The famous UTMB – Ultra Trail Mont Blanc is in one week. We were pleased, that our accommodation, a nice French chalet called “Auberge Le Monatagny” is outside Chamonix in a remote area called Les Houches with a great mountains view.
After a nice breakfast and the great hospitality of the Auberge owner, we packed our gear and headed directly to the station of the Aiguille du Midi cable car.. The Auberge owner scared us, when she said, that in the main season, there are daily 3000 -5000 tourists going up and we might not be able to get a ticket…This was definitely not the case…The ticket counter was almost empty.
We got our tickets and went to do some shopping, mainly hand and feet warmers. Those are amazing. When I went for Everest, I had almost 3 Kilos of them. It’s unbelievable, that they stay warm even in high altitude above 8000m. Than we took the cable car to Aiguille du Midi. It was interesting to see the joy and happiness of all those tourists, who probably have never been higher than few building floors seeing those being mountains standing just few meters far away from them.
Once we arrived in Aiguille du Midi, it took us a while to find the exit for alpinists. We had to take the direction of Col de l’Aiguille du Midi, and then we saw a little exit on the left. We had to jump over a short gate. For security reasons, it can’t be opened. From here, we put on our crampons, helmet, got roped and we started our descent towards Refuge Cosmique. It stands on the a beautiful Moreen. There were several crevasses on the way, so the full glacier equipment is needed for that crossing. After 30 min, we were in this beautiful mountain hut, which is run by a private person and not the French Alpine Club.
We were surprised, that the hut was almost empty. In fact we became worried about this. One of the hut’s staff gave us binoculars to analyze the route, which you can watch entirely from the hut restaurant. The hut manager, a young lady, more a hipster than a mountaineer, gave us some feedback from the group, who went up the same day and tried to comfort us since we seemed very worried. We had concerned about the icy slopes on this route and the seracs as well as the big crevasses to cross. At the opposite of Everest, here there are no ice doctors to fix all that. Still there must be some fixed lines in the critical parts. This is the most technical route to the Mont Blanc and we had to be prepared.
The first Obstacle
After a delicious 3 course dinner, we went at 8:30 pm to bed. In our dormitory, there were only two German young guys taking the same route as us.
I slept only 3 hours but so deeply, that I woke up at 12:30 incredibly fresh. Got ready and head to breakfast. Only 4 of us in the dining room, all silent and very concentrated.
We started at 1:40 am. I had never started so early in the Alps before. The two guys left 10 min earlier and they were very quick some few meters ahead of us. This made my buddy nervous, so he kept speeding up. Far above us, we saw two head lamps. Those were probably the climbers, who we saw camping below the hut. They must have started at least 1 hour before us.
As we reached the first technical spot, which is a 4 m wall of Ice with fixed ropes and nice steps, we met the two guys again, who were arguing how to manage this part. Just below this wall, there was a large crevasse. So to reach the wall you need to make a huge step to cross the crevasse and at the same time put a foot in the wall already and pull yourself up. This first step was a bit difficult for me because I didn’t have two ice axes so I had to pull myself using the fixed ropes. After this the game was manageable. On the top, we were both relieved, that we managed the first obstacle.
I took the lead on the rope to maintain a slow and steady rhythm. This is what I learned from all my previous high-altitude climbs. My buddy thought, we would never make it to the summit with this speed. He was definitely wrong.
We were making good progress. We reached the col of Mont Talcul and we continued towards the Col of Mont Maudit, the steepest part of this climb and the most technical one. Once we arrived to this 40° steep wall with nice steps and still enough snow, we met the two German guys again arguing how to tackle this.
We went up for may be 100 meters, before arriving to the start of the ice wall. There two fixed ropes. I was holding one fixed rope with my right hand and using my ice axe with the left hand. There were nice steps in the wall. Still focus and experience climbing icy walls were required. My buddy had two ice axes, it was much easier for him to climb up. A 2 m long spot was very icy and required much more technical skills. I had to kick the front points of my crampons very hard to have some grip. After 100m on this, we reach the top of the wall. I had very cold hands and feet at that stage. The ice on the wall reflects cold. I recommend very warm gloves and warm boots for this tour.
Later on, the sun started coming up warming our bodies and our souls. We had one of the best sunrises, I had ever seen.