The bunkhouse light came on at 2:30 AM, the signal to get up
for a continental breakfast (if purchased) and to start climbing.
We were climbing by about 3:30. The first goal was to get to the
top of 14,100 feet Dôme du Goûter. After about an hour, the
Army troops marched past us.
Shortly thereafter, I pulled up with a broken crampon. I had
failed to inspect them since the Mt. Assiniboine climb in August
and had never had a problem with them in 10 years. Somehow three
screws had worked themselves out and were missing. Fortunately, I
carried an Allen wrench and some spare screws, three to be exact.
I repaired my crampons in about a half an hour and continued on
with no further crampon incidents. I thought how lucky I was to
be able to repair them. Otherwise, an immediate descent would
have been required.
Philippe was also having crampon problems, but of a different
sort. His crampon straps were a little too small for his new
boots, so he had to tighten them to the point where his feet were
unable to warm up because of the constriction. The temperature
that morning was around 0 degree F.
After we got to the top of Dôme du Goûter, there was a small
downhill section followed by a succession of ridges leading to
the summit. We stopped at Refuge Vallot, an emergency bivouac
shelter at 14,300 feet. Philippe took off his boots to warm up
his feet while I brewed up some hot tea. We spent about an hour
at Vallot having breakfast and trying to stay warm.
finally got everything squared away as the sun was coming up and
took off again for the summit. We ascended a series of steep
ridges and the usual false summits before reaching the final
narrow ridge walk to the summit. It was quite spectacular with a
beaten path about two feet wide with drop-offs of a couple
thousand feet on each side.
We reached the 15,774 foot
summit at about 10:30. The views were incredible with Switzerland
to the North and West, Italy to the South, and France to the
East. We stopped for a short while, but knew we still had a long
day ahead of us.
As everyone else
turned around at the summit, we continued down the other side.
The completion of the traverse required a series of ups and downs
as we skirted the tops of two of the minor summits of the Mont
Blanc massif, Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc du Tacul.
There was one
pretty hairy section (the French describe it as
"superb") at Col du Mont Maudit that required an ice
screw, some slings, and belaying. Otherwise, the rest of the
climb was standard glacier climbing.
We reached Col du
Midi, our planned bivouac site at 11,600 feet, at about 4 PM. We
dug in a platform, melted snow (we were very dehydrated),
prepared a small dinner, and crashed. We finally got to use the
sleeping bags, bivvy bags, and shovel that we hauled all the way
up and down the mountain. The orange light of sunset of Mont
Blanc du Tacul was spectacular from our bivvy site, and we
enjoyed the view of starry skies that night.
We waited in our bags for the Wednesday morning sun, then got
up after the best night of sleep in three days. A final climb of
1000 feet brought us to Aiguille du Midi where we caught a tram
ride down to Chamonix.
hitched a ride to Les Houches to retrieve the car. We then
celebrated with a couple beers and a lunch of steak and frites at
a sidewalk café. That evening, the rain returned.
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