Sitting down to write and tell you about the second quarter of my #Walk2016 with ViewRanger I can’t believe we are already halfway through the year. Where has the time gone!? After a shaky first three months, interrupted by injury, I am pleased to say this quarter has been much better and I have nearly caught up on the lower mileage months.
May through to July has seen an eclectic mix of routes… There have been stunning sunsets, bog trogs, city ambles and walks that may have well as been swims! All of which in their own way have been fantastic! However, there is one clear highlight of these months that stands head and shoulders above the rest – reaching the summit of Mont Blanc, my first peak over 4000 meters.
Any of you that follow me on social media will know I have been somewhat taken by Chamonix (to say the very least). After two weeks of living out of a tent fueled on pastries; climbing, running and walking up as many mountains as I could, I have fallen in love with the area. I literally can not wait to go back. I can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures out there.
Mont Blanc was not initially on the ‘to do list’ for Chamonix – the plan was a little more low-key – but midway through our second week we had a good weather window, and Tom mentioned it might be (I quote) ‘quite nice to bag a summit’. Having not done much at altitude before I didn’t give much consideration to how hard it might be and agreed it was an excellent idea!
First port of call was to ring the Tête Rousse and Goûter Refuges to see if there were any beds available. As we suspected, having not booked well in advance, they were full. This wasn’t a problem – we had the tent so could easily camp on the Tête Rousse Glacier. That sorted all that remained was to pack our kit up and catch the Tramway Mont Blanc to Mont Lachat where we would start our hike.
Compared to our other adventures the bags were *pretty* light as we didn’t need to take all the climbing gear with us and only needed one rope. However with the sleeping bags, mats, tent and food they were a little bulky. I was also aware I looked a little odd as not only did I have a baguette strapped to the outside of my bag (lunch!), I also had a collection of sticks… The point of these were to act as large pegs when pitching the tent in the deep snow. It seemed perfectly logical to me, but I did get some funny looks!
Day one allowed for a pretty relaxed start. Jumping off the train at Mont Lachat, all we had to do was to get to our base for the night – the Tête Rousse Glacier. This involved a hike of around 1.7 miles with about 810m of ascent – short and steep! Soon we were there and picked a spot to pitch the tent. The view was breathtaking (although I am told that may also have something to do with the altitude!) and at 3167 m looking over the clouds and mountains, I was very pleased to be camping.
After a bite to eat we pitched our tent and set about melting enough water for dinner and the next day alongside getting our bags ready. All in all, I think this was probably the biggest rest day we had over the whole holiday! At the same time as this Tom also gave me the low down on the route for the next day – the plan was to get up at 3 am to scramble up to the Goûter Refuge. The aim was to be here by around 5 am latest, then push on to the Vallot Refuge for around 8 am and hit the summit at 9 am. Sticking to timings was important – if we were to slow, we would have to turn round. One of the reasons for the early start was to avoid the rockfall from the Grand Couloir – as it would be dark at 3 am the sun would not have had a chance to warm and soften the snow, increasing the amount of loose rock.
The logic of this and the potential dangers of the Grand Couloir were further highlighted when we saw two individuals making their way across it at about 6 pm. As it had happened, Tom had been pointing out the route as they were crossing it. Surprisingly, not in any rush they did not pass it quickly and seemed to stop in the middle for a long time (it looked like they were debating continuing). This did not seem like a good idea. Not focusing too much on their progress, we returned to our sorting/cooking until we heard rockfall. They were still in the middle of the Grand Couloir, and it appeared one of the pair had been hit – this was confirmed by the arrival of the Gendarmerie helicopter. The rescue was precise and seamless – although very sobering, it was incredible to see it in action. I do however sincerely hope the individual is okay and has made a full recovery.
That night I did not sleep well – I think it was a combination of nerves, excitement and knowing I had to wake up soon. Both Tom and I were awake at 2.15 am so decided to get going early. Stepping out into the night it was so quiet. The stars were incredible, and you could see a tiny trail of lights already heading up the mountain. Looking back I think the section from our tent to the Goûter Refuge was one of my favourite bits – it was super steep, but I enjoyed the fact it was a bit of a scramble over a mixture of snow and rock. After a fair bit of practice throughout the two weeks, I was beginning to get the hang of climbing in boots and crampons (and enjoying it!).
We reached the Goûter Refuge as the sun was beginning to rise, it was stunning. I am not sure words can do it justice, and neither can the pictures to be 100% honest. The combination of not having done much walking with a heavy pack, the past two weeks of intensive exercise, my first time at altitude and not quite eating enough meant I was finding it hard. I am sure there are people out there who have done far tougher and more challenging things, but for me this was big. I had not expected it to be so physically draining – but trust me when I say it was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
Tom had described the next section as a long slog – it certainly was! From the Goûter Refuge to Vallot Refuge it was a case of keeping going and putting one foot in front of the other up a long and relatively steep snow slope. I couldn’t believe how out of breath I was – I could feel the altitude, each step was notably harder. Determined to keep to the schedule, so not to have to turn back, I dug deep and continued.
Passing the Vallot Refuge we were on time but in the back of my mind, I was wondering if I had what it took physically to get to the summit. I felt pretty low on energy but was adamant I did not want to turn around. Luckily snacks and a few words of encouragement boosted me up, and things started to look up as we made our way along the snow ridge to the top.
We reached the summit at around 9 am. I am not sure if I wanted to jump in the air, laugh or cry – I couldn’t believe I had done it! Although the wind had picked up a little and it was very cold (down jacket to the rescue) the skies were clear, and we had an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. I even manage to spy the Matterhorn. I wish we could have stayed on the top longer. However, we were aware we didn’t want to get cold and still had to get down, so after a few snaps started the descent back the way we had come.
Initially, I was on a high from reaching the top, but as we made our way down this started to dwindle – we still had a long way to go, and I was so tired! Despite wanting to be hardcore and tough, more than anything I want my blog to be honest… Just past the Vallot Refuge my pole broke, and so did I!
Suddenly it was all felt a bit too much, too hard and too far – I sat in the snow for a few minutes and burst into tears. Looking back, I am not entirely sure why – but I think it was probably a combination of extreme tiredness and lack of food. As I have said before I realise for some people, this may sound ridiculous as there are far harder things. After giving myself a bit of an internal talking to and some more food, I got a grip!
The rest of the descent continued relatively paddy free! I was relieved to reach the Goûter Refuge and get back to the rock and scrambling – oddly enough I was finding this easier and more of a distraction than the endless snow slopes. By now the sun was up, and it was getting hotter, I was very much looking forward to getting back to the tent and the shade. After around 11 and a half hours on the move we made it to the Tête Rousse Glacier – I was exhausted! The original plan had been to return to the station from here, however, conscious the last train may well be full and that it would mean walking further with heavier bags, Tom made the executive decision to camp for another night. Although a little sad not to be in the valley eating my ‘steak frites fromage baguette’ this was the right call, and it was lovely to have another evening in the mountains.
I will admit there were certainly moments I thought why the hell am I doing this, but after a good meal and a night’s sleep, it quickly turned into being one of the best things I have ever done. It was tough, but it has made me feel like I want to train better, push harder and get to a point where I can do more. Believe me; this is just the start of things. There are so many mountains I want to climb and summits I want to see. Climbing Mont Blanc pushed me, but in doing this, it has certainly spurred me on to want to do more – watch this space..!