Size matters. Even when it comes to mountains. Everybody knows that Mt Everest is the biggest hill.., so what is the second one then?.......OK, so it is K2. What is the third one then? .....see, now yer stuffed.
The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc. But you knew that. Not only is it quite big but it is still growing. It used to be 4807m high, but latest measurements show it at over 4810m. It is also quite different from our other exploits. The Eiger has one famous chossy face, a couple of decent low angle ridges, that's it. The Matterhorn is a pointy pyramid built by Kodak. Mont Blanc is like an ice cream cup stuffed with too many scoops, all round and kind of piled haphazardly on top of each other.
Neil and I headed to it like a couple of hungry wasps.
We started from the second last staion on the Mt Blanc tramway from St Gervois (Mont Lachat)....not for any sporting reasons but because the tunnel to the last station was being repaired. This gave a starting altitude of 2077m. The walk up was tedious, along chossy slopes, with no views. A classic uphill slog. After three hours of this we arrived at the Tete Rousse hut at 3187m. This is a great hut, only 14Eu per night for alpine club members (-50%), roomy accommodation, pleasant host with attempts at witty humour. I taught Neil to play Spit (a card game) and he promptly thrashed me.
Next day (14 Sep) we got out of the hut at 4:30am. Straight away we had our greatest stuff-up, somehow in pitch black darkness missing the track across the Grand Couloir and instead scrambling up a super chossy shoulder on its left (wrong) side. We eventually realised our mistake and got to the GC. There was no sign of any rockfall as the thing did not live up to its reputation. We then scrambled up the arete on the GC's right (correct) side. If one stuck with the highest spine of the arete then the rock was clean and solid, if occassionally adorned with unnecessary steel cables. On either side of the spine things were chossy. We arrived at the infamous Gouter Hut at 6:30am, just as it was getting light. Here we discarded helmets and lights and put on crampons. It was 1000m of elevation gain from here to the summit, all snow slopes with no rock. A moderate cold tail wind was blowing at 20-30km/hr. We climbed all the way to the summit unroped, Neil with ice axe and me with my two walking sticks. It was all a bit the same, with false snowy summits and endless snowy slopes, counting footprints and sucking in the thin air. The ridge got progressively steeper until a very steep and airy section led to the undistinguished summit. Summit video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXyZAFIOR4s
It was 10:30am and blowing a gale at some 50km/hr, so we did not linger and started descending to the Aiguille du Midi below which lies the Cosmiques Hut. For the first half of the descent there was a strong crosswind from L to R, which made me wish for a balaclava to stop my face from freezing. We then abseiled down from a snowy col just west of Mont Maudit. This got us out of the wind and into a clusterf**k of of about 20 incompetent ascending climbers (some of them 8 people tied to one rope). We had to carefully abseil over the top of them. Apparently this mountain does attracts beginners with grandiose ambitions, according to Neil's guidebook....and now our own experience. If it is like this in the off-season, I would hate to be there in August.
The descent from Mount Blanc du Tacul then consisted of steep zig-zagging among crevasses, this time roped up and fully awake. This brought us to the Col du Midi at 3500m from where it is a short (but at this stage quite vicious) 80m climb to the Cosmiques Hut. The whole summit traverse from the Tete Rousse hut to the C hut took 10 hours. Cosmiques Hut was chockers with guided beginners, offered no discounts as it is not run by CAF (Club Alpin Francaise) but privately, and the host was an unpleasant prick whom I had to get a bit nasty with to get a dinner table. The food was excellent though, the usual 3-course alpine fare of soup, polenta/pork and sweet. Accommodation, dinner and breakfast cost 53E. We went to sleep happy. The last big hill was done. I have now climed the 1st, 2nd and 5th highest mountains in the Alps (Mont Blanc, Dufourspitze, Matterhorn). Will need to fill the gap with Dom and Weisshorn.....and probably do something more technical also. Pics here.