Mont Blanc

neil On July - 28 - 2011Comments Off

We started off with an not so early start on Sunday, we got to the cable car at approx 10.30am, we hopped off the top and started the long walk to the Albert Premier Hut. It’s a two and a bit hour slog to the hut, walking at an easy pace, we blasted up there in just over one and a half hours. This season the snow was as far down as the cable car, it had been bad weather up until we arrived with large snow coverings up in the mountains. The Albert Premier hasn’t changed a bit; they treat you so bad, and then charge you to stay there.

I had prepared myself this year though, by the time that we reached the hut, I had consumed more than 4 litres of water, this is to combat altitude sickness, and you’re also supposed to climb 500 mtrs above where you intend to sleep, as they say climb high sleep low. So this was my intention, we ate our dinner at 6.30pm and after we were finished I said to Radek “I’m going to climb the ridge behind the hut” it was a great night, the sky was clear and there was no wind, so I headed up a reasonable scramble, I knew that I that the ridge wasn’t 500 mtrs, and I topped out at 250 or so mtrs, the clouds then came in less than a min, and I thought it was best to head back.

It was a mixed climb, the face was covered in snow with rocks jutting out of the snow, to be honest it was more technical than I had predicted, and if I had read it better before setting off I would have put on my crampons. About half way down, I started my way down a large sloped face, which was half covered in snow, as I placed my first foot onto the snow I slipped and slid down the face and off the end, in the panic I instinctively put my hands down, but as I slipped off the end into what I expected to be hard snow, my left hand went straight through, but as it did my thumb took the weight of my descending body on what must have been a rock below the Snow, bending it back until it gave way, letting the full weight of my body land on my elbow, onto what I presume was a sharp rock. I knew instantly that I had hurt my hand pretty badly, I lay in the snow for a min of so, the feeling of nausea hit me and I sat up, I watched my hand swell up like a balloon and felt the burning sensation in my Elbow grow, I sat there for a min thinking you idiot! I got up and as I did my phone rang, it was Radek, I had been gone now for over an hour and the visibility was poor, I answered it and said “I’m good” but the reception was poor and I couldn’t hear him.

As I made my way down, I run through the ideas of whether or not to mention it to Radek, I was assessing my hand all the way down, convincing myself that it would be fine and that it would sort itself in a day or two, I kept saying ” as long as it’s good for Mont Blanc at the end of the week” my elbow didn’t matter, but you need two hands to climb, I suppose that I was a little embarrassed to tell him, after all we had just arrived and I possibly had put our expedition at risk of not going any further.

However I did tell him all be it in a matter of fact kind of way, I played it down, but the truth is I couldn’t move my thumb very much, and I defiantly couldn’t use it for even the basic of tasks that I would need to perform over the next few days. My altitude sickness wasn’t too bad that night, the thing with the Albert Premier is that there are so many people crammed into the rooms that it gets really hot, so if you feel a little off it seems to be multiplied by tenfold. Anyway I made it through the night and we headed off at about 7 am, this in mountain time is late, the first to rise do so at 4am and head out as quickly as possible, so we we’re some of the last to leave the hut, when we arrived the night before we had bumped into Veit, he was leading a team of 5 clients, Veit is the German guide that we used last year, I have kept in touch with him, so it was good to see him again.

He was first to leave that morning, and had to break trail, no easy feat to do with new clients. We had planed our route before we even came to Chamonix, but after talking to Veit we decided to change our coarse and head straight for a 3520 mtr peak, our route for the day would take us some 8 miles, with an altitude gain of about 810 mtrs, all round a pretty tough day. By the time that we got to the base of the peak we could see that the summit was quite crowded, so after accessing the surrounding area we made the decision to ascend a peak off to the right, as no one was on it, it also had a ridge that followed over to the peak that everyone else was on, so we figured that we would climb the ridge and bag both summits before heading to the Trient Hut.

The first summit had no technical difficulty in it at all, the ridge on the other hand was a different kettle of fish, and it wasn’t till we were across that Radek said casually that Veit had said not to cross the ridge as it was quite dangerous. By this time the second summit was quite clear as most people had started heading back to their huts, so we got to the top, took some photos and then headed for the Trient Hut, Veit had told us that there was an abseil point at the bottom of the second peak that would take us straight down into the col, avoiding the long walk around that you would normally have to take, which eventually meets up with the broken in trail.

So we stripped off our glacier travel rope, and set up the abseil, when we did so and dropped the two parts of the rope down the face, we realised that our rope was about 10 feet or so short, we both decided that it would be better to try and climb down the last of the steep face than have to walk around, so I went first, to let you understand, the point we were trying to get to wasn’t the bottom, only the end of the vertical bit, the slope went on for about another 300 feet, the trick is not to shoot off the end of the rope when you eventually reach that point, but to stop just before this and kick your front points in and make a good purchase with your ice axe, this all went ok for me, and then I down climbed the last 10 feet, before jumping about 5 feet down onto what must have been an open crevasse on the face of the slope, Radek didn’t have such a graceful landing, he rappelled down till the end of the rope, disconnected from it and feed it down to me, he then moved over the face and made his way down to the level that I was standing at, from where he was, he thought that he would avoid the 5 foot jump, this didn’t work, as the crevasse was all the way along the face, only covered in snow, so he landed on his rear in a pile, all be it at least he never tumbled the 300 feet down into the col!

We arrived at the Trient hut at about 14.40, we were about the last to get there, the weather had been great, the sky had stayed clear and the sun shone all day, the sun on the glacier is very dangerous, not only does it hit you from above, it also comes from below, this catches most first timers out, as it did for me last year, burning the underside of my chin, ears and even my nose, but even with factor 25 on everything, I still looked like a tomato when we arrived at the hut. The Trient Hut is much nicer, the people treat you like you are a guest, and make you feel very welcome, our stay there was good, and we went to bed at 20.00, as we had to get up at 4.30am, as breakfast is served at either 4.00am or 5.00am and no later, our plan for the day was to catch a 3570 peak before descending all the way back to Chamonix, it worked out at about 8.5 miles, we know these figures, as we carried a GPS tracker with us which can plot your entire trip, except when we got to the base of the peak, we decided to leave our packs at the base, with the tracker in one of them.

When we eventually got back to Chamonix it was about 15.30, we could have been back about half an hour earlier if I could have read the bus time table properly. I had a bath then headed down to pub across the road from our hotel and started writing this, about an hour later Veit arrived on his push bike and joined me, with Radek arriving two minutes later, to cut a long story short and about ten drinks later we eventually left at 1.30am, now this was fine for Radek and me, but poor Veit had 5 clients to meet at 8.00 am the next morning, he also had to take them up to the first hut at the Gouter side, that is if he made it home on his bike first! We will find out when we meet him at the Gouter hut on Thursday!!!! Neil

Our First Peak

neil On August - 18 - 2010Comments Off

The Tri’ent hut in comparison to the Albert Premier is like the park hyatt in Milan, there were only the four of us in a 7 man bunk, me, Radek, Lee (ex marine) and his mate Scott, this at least ensured a good nights sleep! We sat down to our evening meal soup, rice with marmout meat and tinned fruit.

I was starting to get acclimatized now and managed to eat my meal then off to bed by 8.30. We had to be down in the main eating area for 5.00am for breakfast. The weather report was still not good and a lot of snow had fallen during the night, there were approx 6-7 teams of men and women, ours being the smallest with only 5 in it. All the guides butted heads and made an agreement that no one was going anywhere so back to bed.

We were back up at 7.00am and Radek had been speaking to the other French team, they had plans to leave within the hour so we geared up to follow them, the other British team were going to follow us. Our intention was to head down the Col Sup De Tour and assent the Aigieille Dutour peak, the track had been broken by the French and two lone Americans but it was still hard work, the snow was still about one and a half foot deep and as we came out of the Col the Americans had broken off to the right so ‘Smiler’ made the great decision to follow them (big mistake!!).

We were all roped up in-case of crevase’s and it was a good job, Lee was the first to fall into one with Scott following about 20 min later, they only fell in to there waists but as we stepped over them we could see an endless hole disappearing into the center of the earth. We made it to the base of the summit, downed our sticks and prepared to climb axes in our hands, we topped out at 3560mtrs after a slow assent due to some slow climbers in front of us. At the top I geared up my head camera for the decent (much to our guides disgust!). Our guide ‘Smiler’ seems like a great guy as we sit at our table eating and resting, he has a thousand stories to tell and he has met everyone famous in the climbing and guiding world. But when it comes to guiding, his people skills and concerns for the paying client are zero. On the first day, albeit was in bad weather, we never got to stop once for a drink, food or a rest and he had no problem in telling you that our interests as first timers in the mountains was nothing to do with him, you dare not ask to stop for a photo or fix your kit! He’s a bit of a prat actually.

We did our peak and headed back towards and down the Col De Balme making a slow but steady pace back to the Albert Premier hut and then back down the mountains to Chamonix for one nights proper rest. All conversations on the mountain were not good, the weather is getting worse, almost one metre of snow has fallen each day at the top of Mont Blanc, our assent is disappearing as all of the guides are starting to bale out!

Neil McDonald