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Mountain Madness Climber

Alps Mont Blanc Climbing School Reaches Summit

MM Guide Ben Mitchell writes about the first Mont Blanc Moun­taineer­ing School of the sea­son. Con­grat­u­la­tions to the three climbers who joined him and walked away with great sto­ries and sev­er­al sum­mits under their belt. 

The sea­son is in full swing over here in the Alps. I arrived at the end of June and jumped right into a Mont Blanc pro­gram. We start­ed off the trip with a ride up the Mon­tenvers train to the Mer de Glacé. It is a gor­geous ride up the train, and a great intro into the world of lift assist­ed moun­taineer­ing, a first for many from North Amer­i­ca. We spent the day hang­ing out at alti­tude to start our accli­ma­tiz­ing and began learn­ing the skills we would need for the upcom­ing climbs. The team prac­ticed cram­pon and ice axe tech­nique, as well as learn­ing to oper­ate as a roped up climb­ing team. 

On the Cos­miques Arête. Ben Mitchell photo

We awoke to rain and clouds in town on day two. Luck­i­ly, a lit­tle rain wasn’t going to stop us from our goals for the day. We head­ed up into the hills to begin our three day tour over the Swiss/​French bor­der and back. We walked for a few hours out of Le Tour to the Albert Pre­mier Hut. Once there we relaxed, talked about a bit of map nav­i­ga­tion, and enjoyed a nice dinner.

Cos­miques Arête. Ben Mitchell photo

Ear­ly morn­ing break­fast and out the door was the name of the game in the morn­ing. We walked up to the Petite Fourche. This is a 3520 meter peak that heads up a mod­er­ate snow slope and fin­ish­es with a short rock scram­ble, per­fect for our first climb. After­wards we rap­pelled down the Col Blanc and into Switzer­land. A short walk across the Tri­ent Glac­i­er end­ed at our home for the evening, the Tri­ent Hut. Aper­i­ti­vo at 6:30, din­ner at 7:00, a killer place to spend the evening. 

On Mont Blanc. Ben Mitchell photo

The final day of our acclima­ti­za­tion tour took us back across the Tri­ent Glac­i­er to the Aigu­ille Tour. This peak is slight­ly more tech­ni­cal than the Fourche and involves a bit more rock climb­ing. The team crushed it once again! We lucked out on both of our two days up high with great weath­er. Going into the trip we were a lit­tle ner­vous, the fore­cast had been pret­ty bro­ken all week!

Sun­rise on the moun­tain. Ben Mitchell photo

When we got home we checked the weath­er again, and I met up with the oth­er guide join­ing us for the sec­ond half of the trip, Dan­ny Uhlmann. Dan­ny and I had just returned from a month long ski trip deep into the Wakhan Val­ley in Afghanistan, and I was pret­ty psy­ched to work with him! With the fore­cast not look­ing super promis­ing, we decid­ed to do anoth­er day trip into the alpine the fol­low­ing day.

High on the moun­tain. Ben Mitchell photo

With mar­gin­al weath­er through­out the day, we test­ed our­selves on the area clas­sic, Cos­miques Arête. The climb fol­lows a ridge of mod­er­ate snow and rock right up to the lift sta­tion. You actu­al­ly fin­ish the climb by head­ing up a lad­der to the obser­va­tion deck at the Aigu­ille du Midi, it real­ly doesn’t get any bet­ter. The climb was cer­tain­ly the most tech­ni­cal­ly dif­fi­cult of the week, and I think every­one walked away pret­ty sat­is­fied! The crux move goes at about 4c, and it cer­tain­ly made every­one work!

On the sum­mit! Ben Mitchell photo

Once again, the weath­er wasn’t look­ing great for our Mt. Blanc ascent, and we were debat­ing wav­ing off and doing a few more alpine climbs. After study­ing the weath­er and talk­ing it over, and talk­ing it over again, we made the call to head up to the Cos­miques hut and make a go at the Three Sum­mits route. The climb tra­vers­es over Mt. Blanc du Tac­ul, then Mt. Mau­dit, then to the sum­mit of Mt. Blanc. It is con­tin­u­ous­ly steep, and has a few quite steep sec­tions, includ­ing one 50 meter sec­tion of 50 degree plus ice. We woke up for 1:00 am break­fast with clear skies and strong winds. The winds stayed strong all day, and made it cold and dif­fi­cult, but nev­er too strong. A bit of new snow in the form of grau­pel, imag­ine sty­ro­foam balls, had fall­en through the night, mak­ing trav­el slow and dif­fi­cult, but doable. It was a tough, long climb, and cheers to the team for mak­ing it in good style! Nathan, Emile, and Dan all sent! It was a fan­tas­tic week, we got a bunch of good learn­ing and fun climb­ing in! Look for­ward to see­ing the team again on the next climb!”

~ MM Guide Ben Mitchell