Climbing the wrong Mont Blanc

Another Rum Doodle ?

This is not about another “Ascent of Rum Doodle”  – a comic about the ascent of the 40.000 and 1/2 feet mountain in “Yogistan”. Most mountaineers may have got acquainted with this tale, a parody of the chronicles of mountaineering expeditions (notably H. W. Tilman’s account of the ascent of Nanda Devi and Maurice Herzog’s book Annapurna

My post is actually not about not knowing where you are and what you do. It starts with the plan to summit Mont Blanc with two of our boys, Mikkel and Rune in summer 2017. Actually, it came out of a family trip to Kilimanjaro not materializing. The boys were eager to expand their mountaineering experience, so my wife and I proposed to go for Mont Blanc. They have both several more easy outings in the Alps and Norway under the belt, so all had a good starting point as my wife and I have done the summit on our own before.

The whole set-up was with me in the lead, my wife at the back-end of the rope and the two strong guys in the middle. Why ? the experienced at the ends to control safety and speed and the strongest in middle to build their skills.

Mont Blanc is different

Mont Blanc is very different from eg. going up Kilimanjaro. In my view it requires a lot more skills and training in alpine stuff to really enjoy a safe ascent. Also your ability to take more care of yourself and your gear would increase confidence.  We planned a quite comprehensive schedule to beef up both acclimatizing and basic mountaineering skills to get ready and improve the chances of success as well a safe and enjoyable trip.

Unpredictable bad weather

Now, it is not only in Denmark the weather turned out to be bad and very unpredictable this summer. In Denmark it just rained almost every day. In the Alps the whole summer were very hot melting glaciers, snow bridges and bergschrunds away as well as increased the risk of rock avalanches.

On top, the unpredictable weather did not give sufficient safe weather windows to do more than one day climbs to get back in safe conditions.

Despite our good plan to get fit and prepared we could not control the weather and our daily visits to the OHM office in Chamonix did not give any openings for a safe MB ascent.

Several years in the Alps have learned us that if weather reports are consistently bad – the weather will be bad !

Upcoming storm over Grand Jorasses

Be prepared to change objectives

Instead of being disappointed that the main objective of the two weeks was gone the two guys willingly got into other more technical trainings. As the snow were turned into hard ice many places we got plenty of opportunities to do intro in ice climbing and mixed climbing. We also used more time on gear and rope handling and safety issues.

We decided to climb Mont Blanc Tacul as a relative safe objective of the training. Not by mistake as alluded to above, but by choice. It is well above 4.000m, a beautiful route and easily up and down in one day, but still a real climb. Its a mountain I have soloed several times, so I know it well. Yes, I am aware of the objective dangers of large seracs, but the normal route has been relative safe the last couple of years.

The Ascent

We decided to do an alpine start at around 3.30AM to utilize the bit of frost during night hardening the very soft snow. Additionally, I find the whole atmosphere and environment when climbing in the dark very special and focused. We wanted to give this experience to Rune and Mikkel in a relative safe manner. Unfortunately, my wife got ill during night, so only the three of us were ready to leave. Not what we have planned, but again, be prepared to alter plans due to the circumstances. The mountain is still there, so she will have a go another time.

After the usual (not so great) hut breakfast we geared up and went out from the Refuge Cosmique at 3.30.

The ascent went quite well without any major problems. Some of the crevasses and bergschrunds had become quite steep, but the strong boys managed those in great style. We found a good pace where we kept a good speed without too many breaks.
Cravasses on Mont Blanc Tacul

The north face of Tacul is not a place you want to have too long breaks, so I prefer a good, continuous pace until you are at the shoulder of Tacul. Here we made a good break before the last – not so steep, but tiresome walk up the the summit.

The last few meters of scrambling on to the real summit was a bit tricky and scary with black ice on the rocks. However, the confident guys also dealt with this in a good manner – standing at the summit a few minutes later.

Mikkel made a post on the same trip and  a very awesome video on the climb. The video also shows our good time of the days of preparation.  Please click here to visit Mikkels Blog with posts and videos.

What a great way to spend time with the family

 The boys ant the summit

Key take aways:

  • Be prepared on sudden changes of conditions and plans – always have alternatives
  • Do an alpine start if you can – focus and great experience, utilize the good snow and avoid traffic
  • If the weather report looks bad – it will be bad
  • Find the team pace – and keep going
  • Mountaineering is quality family time


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