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My Solo Ascent of Mont Blanc from Les Bettieres

My Solo Ascent of Mont Blanc from Les Bettieres

Mont Blanc is one of the most beautiful climbs that any mountaineer can embark on, and one of the deadliest. This past September I had the opportunity to make a solo ascent up what is one of the most heralded mountains in the sport. It was a very challenging ascent, but also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

The views on the way to the summit are beautiful, and the technical challenge of the ascent was something that took all of my mountaineering abilities and put them to the test. It was the ultimate challenge of man versus mountain. If you have the gear and necessary technical ability it is an ascent that I highly recommend you attempt.

Day One of My Mont Blanc Solo Ascent

It is a dreary afternoon and the rain drizzles down. I park my rental Fiat outside the small town of Bionassy in a dirt lot near Les Bettieres. My plan is to trek in as far as I can before the sun goes down in order to knock off a few kilometers in case the weather stays poor for the remainder of my ascent. In the lot a pair of gentlemen are moving furniture up to a chalet, and offer me a ride up to the start of the trail head.

Given the rain and my eagerness to hike on the actual trail and not a dirt road, I gratefully accept and hop in the back of their hatchback with my gear.

After taking me up to the trail head I thank the two locals, who give me advice on where to set my tent up for the night. They suggest setting up camp near the ski area Les Houches.

As I embark to the lodge (closed for the season but still offering a flat lawn area for setting up my tent) I walk alongside the railway that when open during the peak summer months takes passengers as far as le Nid d Aigle, which is next to the Desert de Pierre Ronde.

Walking along the railway I am treated to beautiful views of the valley, as well as the scenic summits that pepper the horizon as I make the trek towards the actual ascent of the highest mountain in the Alps; Mont Blanc.

Mont Blanc from afar.


The French Alps from midway up Mont Blanc.

After about three hours of hiking in the mist and light rain I make it to the lodge of Les Houches and run into two other gentlemen who have made camp under one of the awnings of the lodge itself. I introduce myself and we make small talk as I set up my tent. I learn they are two men from Germany -who speak quite good English- and that they too are heading for the summit.

After sharing a supper of pasta made over my MSR whisperlight we discuss our plans for the ascent and go over the route together. As the dreary day ends we pray for a stop to the rain and mist as tomorrow brings the beginning of the technical aspect of the ascent and the trail transitions from dirt to rock, which will be slick if the perception continues into the morning hours.

Day Two – Le Grand Coulior and Refuge de Gouter

Waking up the next morning I break down camp and bid farewell to the two men I met the night before, who are taking a more leisurely breakfast compared to my quick meal of water with protein powder and a protein meal bar. As I set off the mist is still heavy in the air, but the rain has let up and the ground is surprisingly drier than I thought it would be the night before.

I make my way up toward the first landmark of my day, Refuge De Tete Rousse, and as I begin to gain elevation the views becoming even more breathtaking as the mist rises and the sun begins to peak in and out of the clouds surrounding the summit of Mont Blanc, which looms in the distance.

As I pass the end of the train tracks at le Nid de Aigle and the last stop for the railway I begin to hear what I first think is thunder, booming off in the distance. A sense of dread washes over me but after stopping to observe the clouds and seeing that the sky over Mont Blanc is clear I immediately realize what the sound is; avalanches. The booming sound of snow sliding on the glaciers of Mont Blanc is almost incessant.

Every few minutes it sounds as if dynamite is going off. After a while the booms stop but the sense of awe that they impart upon me lingers and I again realize that I am a part of something larger than myself: I am a part of a world much bigger than the singularity of who are what I am; it’s incredibly humbling.


View near Tete Rousse.

I arrive at Refuge De Tete Rousse and take in the view while taking a short break. The next part of my ascent is one of the most dangerous. In order to get to the next and final hut -and where I’ll be spending the evening- I need to cross le Grand Coulior, which is also known as the “coulior of death” by many locals due to the almost incessant sliding of rocks and boulders that tumble down the coulior as you cross it.

The timing has to be just right when making the crossing or else you could end up becoming another statistic and get hit by a hurdling boulder, knocking you down thousands of feet to your death.

crossing the deadly Le Grand Coulior

Le Grand Coulior crossing.

Instead of clipping in to the fixed line I decide to take my chances and move across the coulior. After waiting for a slide to stop I find my window and move swiftly -albeit not too quickly for fear of slipping out- across the coulior and make it across just as another slide begins and boulders tumble down where I had been crossing moments before.

I took cover on the far side of the coliour and began my ascent up to Refuge de Gouter.

The final ascent from le Grand Coulior to Refuge de Gouter is incredibly steep, and took the last of my strength. As I climb up using the fixed cables to pull myself up I felt as though I was on the edge of the world itself. The pitch is incredibly steep from the coulior to Refuge de Gouter. It is roughly one mile up, but that mile feels like three with the steepness of the pitch.

The views are breathtaking on the way up, and the view from the Refuge de Gouter is one of the most stunning views I have ever seen.

View from the deck of Refuge de Gouter.

As dusk began to encroach on Mont Blanc I make it to the doors of Refuge de Gouter, stumbling in to a warm hut with the smell of soup and fresh bread wafting down into the entry way. I had made it just in time for dinner, and after the day I was famished and ravenously ate what at the time tasted like the best food I had ever had.

The atmosphere in Refuge de Gouter is like nothing I have ever experienced before, and I highly recommend staying here (or at least popping in) to anyone who attempts the ascent up Mont Blanc via the route I took for my journey.

Old Gouter.

Day 3 – Final Ascent To The Summit

I embark on the final ascent to the summit from Refuge de Gouter the next morning. I bring only the essentials in my pack, and made it to the summit in quick fashion. The final portion of the ascent is like a cakewalk in comparison to the climb from Tete Rousse to Refuge de Gouter, and is mostly a ridge walk. After spending a few brief -and quite chilly- moments on the summit I began my return journey.

The summit of Mont Blanc.

I make it down in less than a day, moving quickly from the Refuge de Gouter back down the way I came up. I make another pass through the coulior of death, and follow my way back down to the parking area the same way I came up. The way down feels liberating in comparison to the ascent and took roughly ten hours from top to bottom.

On the way down I encounter a mountain goat walking amidst the rocks and I feel a sense of awe over the fact that something can live in such an inhospitable environment. It is a truly humbling feeling.

The rest of the descent is an awe inspiring journey, as I am reminded how small I really am in the grand scope of life, the Universe, and everything. From being up nearly sixteen-thousand feet to coming down to roughly four, the change in altitude fosters a change in mindset as I go from being one of the highest people in Europe to just another lowlander down in the valley.

Final summit approach.

All in all my solo trip up Mont Blanc is an experience that I will never forget and an ascent that I would recommend to anyone with the technical experience and know how.

Since I have been there are new laws in effect governing who can climb Mont Blanc, and now there are certain regulations requiring a guide for the more popular ascents of the summit (mandatory license), so make sure you look in to the laws before you plan a trip up Europe’s highest mountain. Happy adventuring!

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