- Bill losing his pole
- Josh sliding off an icy ridge
- Steve stepping in a crevasse
- Jan bonking
- Josh boarding into a crevasse
- Skiing through mashed potato avalanches
- Commando skiing over shrubs, dirt, and logs
Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France
Ski 12,000 vertical feet from the 15,780 ft summit of the monarch of the Alps. Bergshrunds, crevasses, and icefalls galore – an amazing two-day trip.
Ski Slogging up the Three Monts Route
April 30, 2005
We set out from the Cosmiques Hut at 3:30am and headed out onto the glacier under the light of our headtorches (UK for headlamps). So it was guide Steve, Jan and me on one rope team and guide Graham, Josh, and Bill on a second rope team. Our chosen route, the Three Monts Route, would take us on a grand traverse of two other Monts before culminating on the summit of the highest point in the Alps.
First began the ascent of Mont Blanc du Tacal. We skinned up the increasingly steep east face in the darkness. At one point Bill lost the grip on his pole and we never saw it again. About two-thirds of the way up we reached a bergshrund; we climbed over one at a time using skis as a ladder.
Next up was an ascent of the second Mont, Mont Maudit. A 12-foot-high bergshrund blocked our path in the steep upper slopes, so after some bandying about our guides pierced the shrund and led up a route of ice screws to the ridgetop.
The most harrowing part of the journey occurred next. Using crampons/ice axe with our skis on our packs, we started up a steep pitch at the foot of Mont Blanc. This patch was bulletproof ice, so we front-pointed up the whole way. The other rope team went too far right and had to traverse across the steepest part of the face on extremely dangerous ice with no ice screws. Looking back, we all agreed that this was the most extreme moment of the climb… a fall would have been… bad.
Finally, the last push up the summit ridge loomed overhead. These final 1,000 feet were easily the toughest as the altitude started to play its nasty games. At one point, my guide Steve fell in a crevasse… but only one leg, no big deal. We crested the summit around 2pm, totally spent. “Half way there,” Steve said.
We took the Grand Mulets route down. The narrow ridgeline with intense exposure in places didn’t even phase us as we struggled with the altitude with every step. At some point on this descent Jan completely bonked. When we reached the Vallot emergency hut and put on skis, Jan, a former ski instructor, could barely snowplow. He kept lying down on the snow and refusing to move. I mean, he had nothing left, but obviously he just had to keep going.
The skiing was less than stellar… the snow had baked and then frozen, leaving a one-inch break-through crust on top. It was great to be on skis though -- zooming down and the constant vertical loss rejuvenated us noticeably with every stretch. The route was more about survival and getting down than great skiing. In one stretch we had to negotiate under the death tracks of large ice falls hanging above us. Then there was a section riddled with crevasses (Josh boarded into one actually, but somehow wiggled out to safety). As the afternoon waned, we skied on past the packed Grand Mulets hut and across the Bossons Glacier. This was pretty hairy so late in the day… it was baking and everything had turned to slush – not the best conditions for a glacial traverse.
Since the last tram down had left hours before, we decided to ski as far down to the valley as possible and then hike down when the snow ran out. The last couple thousand vertical was mashed potatoes like I’ve never seen… all of us set off mashed potato avalanches at one point or another. Then it was a long stretch of “commando skiing” of protecting the body from trees, logs, branches, shrubs, etc. while jumping and sliding from one dirty patch of snow to the next. We were surprised at how far we made it down, but when the snow ran out we still had an hour and a half hike down to the valley. Luckily, as always in the Alps, a random trail materialized out of nowhere and we made our way down to the Mont Blanc tunnel entrance around 8:30pm… what a long day.
All in all, a 17 hour day. Sure, we could have gone faster, but then we would have missed out on all the fun stuff:
After several rounds of beer that evening, however, all of these incidents grew trivial and the excitement of our ascent and ski of the monarch of the Alps remained fixed in our thoughts. Epic.
Summitpost info on Mont Blanc
Map of Mont Blanc from tahoebackcountry.net
The yellow line starting from the Aiguille du Midi to the summit is the route we ascended, then skied down the Grand Mulets route