Let’s go on a Mont-Blanc adventure!
There are some mountains which, on account of their beauty and reputation, capture the imagination of climbing enthusiasts. The so-called “roof of Europe,” like a bridge between heaven and earth, has fascinated men for a long. Each year, thousands of people, set off to try and conquer its summit.
Despite its great popularity and its crowded paths, climbing the Mont-Blanc still is very tought and one shouldn’t embark on this adventure without proper preparation. Sara Berthelot, high mountain guide and Quechua’s technical partner, offers her advice to ensure you’re ready when it’s your D Day!
The Mont-Blanc, victim of its own success
Many people dream about climbing this peak, sometimes out of passion, or a sense of personal challenge, or sometimes fuelled by the desire to return home, at the end of a holiday, proud to have notched up” the Mont-Blanc”. Others with greater knowledge of the mountains, under-estimate it. It’s not uncommon to come across individuals struggling powerlessly against the elements, due to a lack training or appropriate equipment. Starting mountaineering by climbing Mont Blanc is a little like starting sailing by crossing the Atlantic.
A project like this shouldn’t be the end point but rather “the icing on the cake.” The natural progression should be more like: you go mountaineering, you get good at it, you like it and then one day, as part of a natural progression, you may get to climb the Mont Blanc but there’ll be other climbs before that and there’ll be lots of others after! Nevertheless Mont-Blanc is obviously a very beautiful mountain which is why so many people dream of conquering it!
Knowing whether you like being in the mountains
This may seem stupid but you’d be surprised by the amount of people embarking on a Mont Blanc aventure not even knowing if they like the mountain environment or the mountain culture!
If you’re receptive to the beauty of the mountains and the power they exude, then you’re more likely to accept the hardships associated with hiking. Climbing Mont Blanc via the normal path is not technically very hard but it is physically; you need to be able to cope with the length of the climb, and withstand the cold and depleted oxygen supplies. And once you’ve reached the summit, you’re just halfway through as you need to come back down !
Then, it is very important that you have already slept in a moutain refuge. The refuge atmosphere is not for everyone and you also need to learn how to “cope with” the difficulty of sleeping badly then having to get up for a day of hiking.
The ideal preparation
First of all, I always try to get to know my clients better. Being sporty is not enough as mountain trekking doesn’t work the same muscles as running a marathon, for example.
You can get prepared in one year. My main advice is “Go hiking, go on regular outings (with an instructor or alone, depending on your knowledge) for at least 5-6 hours”.
You mustn’t overlook the acclimatization phase, 2-3 weeks before your ascent, to allow the body to adapt to the altitude. The idea is to walk and sleep at 2,500 m above sea level. Ideally you would be spend a few days hiking over glaciers or mid-range mountains. In altitude, the air pressure decreases and there is less oxygen available in each breath you take. At the top of the Mont-Blanc, it’s estimated that each breath contains 30% less oxygen. The breathing rate increases at high altitude; the blood has to circulate more quickly and the heart rate accelerates. After a few hours in altitude, the body realizes that if it keeps going like this it’s going to weaken. So it reacts by producing extra red blood cells. You have to wait a few days to enjoy the effects of these new oxygen “transporters” that make you feel as if you’ve got wings! The process of acclimatization means that the risk of adverse effects such as headaches, nausea, severe fatigue or even acute mountain sickness may be considerably reduced.
I also recommend planning for at least one technical outing with your guide, so you can get to know each other better, improve your technics with specific equipment and check that it is suitable for this particular ascent.
Choosing the right backpack
As a guide, it’s part of my work to ensure that my clients are well equiped and have the right tools in their backpack. I often help them prepare their bag.
Even in the height of summer, it’s important to understand that conditions at the summit can be very wintry, particularly because of the wind. The idea is to find balance between having all the necessary equipment to cope with the weather, without being disadvantage by a backpack way too heavy.
A 35 litre capacity backpack should be sufficient, especially if your guide is in charge of the safety equipment.
Do not forget that although the Mont Blanc is a very beautiful mountain there are many others that you can enjoy especially if it’s the mountain atmosphere you’re after. I’m thinking about the aiguille d’Argentière, the Chardonnet, the petit Mont-Blanc and the Grand Paradis, facing the Mont Blanc that has an amazing view!
Prepare your backpack with Sara!
The guide will carry the safety equipments and prepare your backpack with you.
– ski goggles
– lightweight headlamp
– climbing hat
– very warm gloves & a pair of lightweight gloves
– steel crampons with anti-balling plates
– straight shaft, reasonably long ice-pick
– ear plugs
– a buff to protect your face
– sun cream for face and lips
– a few energy bars and salty food
– thermos flask
– lightweight, telescopic poles
– category 4 sunglasses
– a harness
– warm, crampon-compatible boots
– a lightweight, long-sleeved top
– lightweight, compressible, down jacket
– novadry over-trousers and top
Find this article on the new magazine Hiking on the Moon #9, « BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH »!
Photo credits Home et 1 : Christopher Waddell
Photo credits 2 : Evgeny Averboukh
Photo credits 3 : Quechua
Photo credits 4 :Lo Lo
Photo credits 5 : Loic Guston