The white mountain – Mont Blanc summit


Insecurity, waiting and trembling. Will the Mont Blanc ascent be possible despite the recently fallen fresh snow? Since we had settled down at the Cosmique Hut, we looked several times a day at the steep face that was enthroned in front of us, marking the first meters of altitude of our tour. At first, nobody dared to go anywhere near the ascent. Too often in the past, when snow had just fallen and sunshine had followed, snow had started to slide. Avalanches had already buried several climbers on the route. No one climbed up the next day either. Only a few curious people we could watch from the terrace of the hut as they approached the steep slope. Finally the snow settled more and more and some mountaineers, climbed up to the first crevasse. Thus already a first line in the snow was created and with the actual ascent, nobody would have to follow in the darkness. According to the experienced host of the hut, the snow should have settled by the time of our planned ascent and an ascent should be possible. To wait one day longer would not have been possible, because the weather changed again. So it was said to use the favour of the hour.

First sunbeams after dark over the Mont Blanc region

The ascent of Mont Blanc began the day before. Before the strengthening dinner and an early bed rest, all our things had to be completely packed. Our guide Marcel reminded us that we would start at half past one in the morning, because the later we would reach the summit, the later we would descend and especially the descent would be in danger of avalanches in this terrain due to continuous sunlight. And also ice falls, Seracs had happened again and again in the last years and had cost the lives of some climbers. So Dani and I packed our few things together and crawled into our sleeping bags early with mixed feelings. At 1 o’clock we had breakfast for all those who wanted to climb Mont Blanc. To the amusement of the breakfast group I managed to distribute muesli on the floor of the common room, as the muesli dispenser was jammed. So I grabbed a broom and quickly swept up the mess. The host of the hut gave all the climbers warm tea to take with them on their way. I had also filled my drinking bladder with water. 3 litres! This was not reasonable, as it meant an enormous additional weight and I knew that the water could freeze temporarily, at least in the cold, but first of all the tour was long and I usually drink a lot and Marcel thought I was fit enough to handle the additional weight without any problems.

steep slopes uphill

At exactly half past two we had fastened our crampons and descended from the Cosmique hut. Then we went steeply uphill over the Col du Midi to the north flank of the Mont Blanc du Tacul. Marcel went ahead. I followed in the middle and Dani formed the rearguard in our rope team. Marcel made big steps in the steep slope and I tried to follow, which required enormous strength in my thigh. But with smaller steps the rhythm of our roped party would have been difficult and I would have had to climb in still untouched snow, which would have also taken a lot of strength. My pulse was at the limit. We left the first crevasse and the Mont blanc du Tacul on the left. We took a short drinking break at the top and then descended into the glacier floor of Col Maudit. Then we went up to the key spot. Now the sun was rising. As expected, the water was frozen in the hose of my drinking bladder and I was glad to have the warm tea of the hut landlord in my vacuum flask.

The key point of the tour is a steep slope made of ice with an incline of up to over 100 percent. It leads to the shoulder of Mont Maudit, which is over 4,300 m high. There is a fixed rope on the ice wall. In the middle of the approximately 70 metre high wall there is a hook for intermediate securing. Marcel climbed ahead. Then Dani and I should follow. To climb the wall, it is necessary to find a hold in the wall with the two front teeth of the crampons and to use the pick and fixed rope with the other two hands. I entered the wall in front of Dani and quickly I realized that it is easier to keep up the pace than to hang statically in the wall. This requires less strength but more stamina and more breathing air, which was easier said than done at this altitude and with the little oxygen. Nevertheless we managed the wall without problems.

From Col du Mont Maudit further uphill

Then again a descent awaited us. There were some crevasses. At one of the crevasses, it was not clear how wide the crevasse was and if the upper part at the edges was only covered with blown snow. Marcel tested the ground at one spot and secured himself with an ice sheet. Without an experienced mountain guide I would not have wanted to be on the way here. Meanwhile it was bright and the sun warmed us. The intensive radiation at this altitude was clearly noticeable. Now the last ascent awaits us. Technically there were no more challenges to overcome until the summit. However, the last 500 meters were steep and walking through the snow was enormously exhausting at this sea level. On the final meters I could watch myself thinking. Every second thought was: “damn, that’s exhausting!”. The oxygen content at this altitude is one third less than in the lowlands. I thought about whether I should lift my arm at all to support myself with the stick, or whether lifting the arm would already consume too much oxygen. I tried to concentrate, looking for the “easiest” places in the snow for my steps, because every careless step might need additional strength to stabilize and keep my balance. Obviously my two comrades-in-arms were no different. With the little oxygen it is a great effort. But finally we reached the summit. Tears came to my eyes. It was a moving moment to stand on the summit and to be able to look down on all the other summits. Arrived on the roof of the Alps! From the other direction, the first climbers arrived at the summit via the normal route, the Gouter Route. The weather god had played along and with the cloudless sky the distance view was gigantic. We couldn’t stay on the summit for too long, because there was a long descent waiting for us and the danger of avalanches increased with every minute.

protracted decline

In the meantime the radiation was so strong that it became really warm. I took off my hardshell jacket and continued the descent only with my long undershirt, which was even still too warm. Only once some veil clouds passed the sun and suddenly it got cold and we noticed the real air temperature, which was only a little bit above zero degrees. The descent over the ice wall succeeded without difficulties. There were still some climbers coming towards us. Also during our further descent in direction to Mont Blanc du Tacul. Marcel shook his head. That was dangerous! For the ascent of Mont Blanc the mountaineers were already much too late. Marcel urged us to hurry. He kept looking up at the ice and snow massifs that were threateningly enthroned above us. At any time a Serac could break loose and sweep us away. We were tired, but we had to concentrate, because in the steep flanks one can quickly start to slide if one is not careful. In addition, the snow gradually became sticky and slushy under the sunlight. Finally we reached the Col du Midi in good condition. As a last tour de force, we had to climb up to the top station, where tourists welcomed us with applause.

View of Col du Midi and Refuge des Cosmiques while the descent
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