“There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say:
Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”
Some impressions about my spontaneous one-week-trip to Chamonix and the western Alps in August 2017 with the ascents of Gran Paradiso (4061m) and Mont Blanc (4810m).
I’m standing at crampon point, undecided what to do. The glacier is more crevassed than expected, the gaping crevasses look daunting. Should I turn around? Or take a chance and continue alone? No, way too risky. I’m about to abandon the climb before it even started when the French family next to me approach me. They must have noticed my hesitation and offer me to rope up with them. I gladly accept.
I’m attempting to climb Gran Paradiso (4061m), conveniently located near Chamonix and a great preparation for my attempt on Mont Blanc shortly. Yesterday I took the bus through the Mont Blanc Tunnel from Chamonix to the beautiful Valsavarenche Valley on the Italian side. From Pont at the head of the valley I hiked to the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II, from where I want to reach the summit via the normal route.
The ascent over the glacier is straightforward, conditions are fine and my new friends and I make good progress. Just below the summit some exposed but easy climbing is required for a few metres. One by one we gain the top. And what a beautiful summit it is. The rocky summit ridge, the snow slopes of the mountain and the hazy valleys and hills around make for an impressive sight. After a while the small summit area gets crowded and we start our descent. At crampon point we take off our climbing gear and I say goodbye to my French companions. Via the hut I descend all the way to Pont from where I hitch a ride back to Chamonix.
Back in Chamonix the first thing I do is check the weather forecast. And it’s just what I hoped for: beautiful weather for the next couple of days. I’m feeling fit and well acclimatized, the timing seems great. This is my chance!
Early afternoon the next day I take the train to Les Houches, from there the gondola to Bellevue and finally from Bellevue the old tramway to Nic d’Aigle (2362m). From here I’m hiking through light rain, after two hours I reach the Tête Rousse Hut at 3167m. I spend the evening scanning the Aiguille du Goûter with the notorious Grand Couloir, thinking about my climb tomorrow. To my relief, the couloir seems very quiet, I don’t see or hear any rocks coming down.
Next morning I’m having a rather late start from the Tête Rousse at 4:30 am. Most of the other teams have already left and I have some trouble finding the way to the couloir in the dark. Finally I make it to the Grand Couloir which I cross quickly and without incident. Then I follow some steel ropes up the Aiguille du Goûter. At sunrise I reach the top of the ridge and put on my crampons. I pass the old and new Goûter Hut and follow the tracks on the gentle slope until I reach the Dome du Goûter (4303m).
At 9 am I reach the Dome du Goûter, from here I can see the remaining part of the climb via the Vallot Hut and the narrow Bosses Ridge to the summit. I descend a little bit to the Col du Goûter before the slope ascends again. At the Vallot Hut I rest for a few minutes. Mont Blanc with the steep and exposed Bosses Ridge rising high before my eyes makes for an impressive, almost intimidating sight from here. I start the ascent of the ridge, the track is well trodden, conditions are great. At noon I reach the summit and enjoy the great views. It’s a perfect day to stand on the summit of the highest mountain of the Alps.
Unobstructed views in all directions: Chamonix can be seen almost 4000m below, the mountains of the Valais in the distance to the East, Aiguille du Midi, Aiguille Verte, Les Grandes Jorasses and all those other famous mountains nearby. After maybe one hour on the summit it’s time to leave this beautiful place.
Descending the narrow Bosses Ridge with heavy legs is the hardest part of the climb, I have to focus hard not to lose my footing. Soon I’m back at the Vallot Hut where I rest. At the new Goûter Hut I have another rest before the steep descent to the Tête Rousse. I arrive at Nic d’Aigle just in time to catch the last tramway of the day. Dead tired I arrive back in Chamonix late in the evening.