Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Ascent of Mont Blanc - August 1994

Above: The Grand Moulet route and Bosson glacier. If you enlarge this photo you can identify the tiny specks of climbers descending the route and crossing the glacier.
Mont Blanc summit crowds

AW on the summit of Mont Blanc

The ridge to the summit

Dome du Gouter

Couloir crossing

Reaching the Tete Rouse hut

Approaching the climb to the Gouter hut
By Andrew Wright

It was the summer of 1994 when I was in the Alps. At the end of a trip walking the trails in the Chamonix valley, there was some time to go and have a look at the Mont Blanc route. The weather forecast was good. I had been up to the Bosson glacier some days earlier. Looking across the jagged and angular jumble of blue ice ribs I saw the tiny specks of parties descending the Grand Moulet and then inching their way along the far side of the glacier. I had gone onto the edge of the ice and practised hacking with my new and untested ice axe....much to the amusement of the day tourists there, and my own embarrassment.

I am not a serious mountaineer; I always seem to feel like an outsider, an amateur with dreams. Mountaineering was something other people did with like minded friends, climbing partners. I don’t have any. Entering the world of serious mountains and dangerous situations was the fearful void.

Two days later I lived one of the best days of my life when I reached the summit of Mont Blanc and descended the fearsome Grand Moulet and crossed the Bosson glacier, jumping across crevasses, blissfully ignorant of the possibility of the crevasse edges crumbling. On that summit, on that day, those tourists who had laughed at me were not present. I had entered a different world from theirs. The fearful void had been entered and crossed. The summit day was 17 hours long. The whole expedition was three days long.

There was a down side to the triumph though. After the exhausting, chest crushing, snow plod up to the Dome du Gouter, I was at the limit of my physical resources, I was gasping for breath in the thin air. I rested, hunched over my axe trying to gain control of my breathing and find the strength to continue against the urging voice that said it was too much to go on. It was then that I saw the Scotsman whom he had met at the Gouter hut the evening before. The Scotsman offered encouraging words and advice to take deeper breaths to regain control of my breathing and ease the gasping. It was then that the Scotsman said to me “the Matterhorn is only one grade more difficult”. On hearing these words the seed of an ambition was sown into my mind. I would have to go to the Matterhorn, just to look, you understand.

The fearful void only existed because it was the unknown. To enter it is like a leap of faith. This was the case on Mont Blanc when I had taken the first steps up the steep snow banking up from behind the Gouter hut. The Matterhorn is similar. The Matterhorn is a rock mountain with steep falls and places of heart-stopping exposure to the possibility of a horrible and lonely death. It is the quintessential mountain, immortalised in a million postcards and tourist brochures.
Travel to Chamonix was by the Eurolines bus from London Victoria Coach Station. I took my Mountain Technology ice axe (65cms), a 10 m length of rope, a couple of slings and karabiners and I bought Simond articulated crampons in Chamonix. Accomodation was campsites and wild camping. I suffered sever facial sunburn due to the strong snow glare. I set out from the Gouter hut at about 3 am and reached the summit at about 11:30 am.

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