Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc is the highest summit in the Alps. For guides, that means lots of guiding work. At 4,810 meters (15,782 ft) Mont Blanc is possible with fitness, a few days of acclimatizing and some mountaineering practice. I took a job with Mont Blanc Guides for their six-day summit package. We spent the first three days acclimatizing around the Albert Premier and Trient Refuges, then we climbed the Gouter Route on the Great White Whale.  

The head honcho guide for the trip was Graham McMahon, a Welsh IFMGA guide based in Chamonix. Ben Mitchell and I were the new American guides, working our first summer job in the Alps as IFMGA guides. Ben lives in Tahoe and works for Alpine Skills International, Mountain Madness, RMI and Points North Heliski. When not guiding Ben flings himself off cliffs wearing a wingsuit and BASE rig.  

On the third day of acclimatizing we left the Trient Refuge (3,170m) in Switzerland and crossed the Trient Glacier to climb Aiguille du Tour (3,529m). In the background are the Aiguilles Dorees. 

Nigel, Wendy and Ellen scrambling to the summit of Aiguille du Tour (3,529m). Great practice for the Gouter route on Mont Blanc. 

Mont Blanc above Chamonix as seen from Le Tour. The Gouter route is the right skyline.  

Ibex (Bouquetin in French) on the three-hour hike to the Tete Rousse Refuge. 

Near the Tete Rousse Refuge is the tiny Tete Rousse Glacier. Under 40 meters of ice is a subglacial lake. One hundred years ago a flood came out of this same glacier and killed 175 people. Now, they've drilled into the lake and are pumping out the water for $2.5 million.

We based our climb at the Tete Rousse Refuge at 3,187 meters. The 75-bed refuge was built three years ago. 

The Grand Couloir above the Tete Rousse Refuge. The route crosses the gully down low, then climbs third and fourth class to the Gouter Refuge (shining at the top of the gully). Graham said the Grand Couloir was subdued compared to normal. During our 30-second sprint across the gully we missed the volley of rocks than came down every 15 minutes or so. 

Stephane Comte and some cheesy potatoes at the Tete Rousse. For summit day we had five guides including myself, Stephane, Yannick, Dylan Taylor and Graham giving us a 2:1 ratio for the steep rock section between the Tete Rousse and Gouter Refuge. 

Nigel and Gary climbing cables below the Gouter Refuge at 7am. The cable stanchions work well for short-pitching anchors. 

Looking down the Grand Couloir from the Gouter Refuge. Six hundred meters of choss.

Gary Sloan from England downing a strategic Red Bull near the summit. Gary and I summited together. Thanks for a great day Gary!

Guides on Mont Blanc summit: Joe, Dylan Taylor and Graham McMahon. Round trip to the summit from the Tete Rousse took 14 hours.  

Walking the upper portion of the Mont Blanc Tramway back to the Bellevue Telepherique.