Vincent Lowe Photography - The Ascent of Mont Blanc
Back to IndexThe Ascent of Mont Blanc
Published in 'Climber & Rambler' magazine, Sept. 1977.  Text by Walt Unsworth

Mont Blanc is the highest summit in the Alps, 4807m.  That alone would make it popular, but by a happy chance it is also a superb ascent, even by its easiest route.  Seen from the Dômes de Miage, as in this picture, the details of the ascent can be picked out.  On the left is the broad hump of the Dôme de Goûter (4304m), whose endless slopes are tackled in the morning dark, then comes the Col du Dôme, where the Grand Mulets route, once the principal way but now much crevassed, joins the ridge.  The Bosses ridge rises steeply and the two Bosses, Grande and Petite, can be seen clearly, like the humps on a camel.  The summit isn't far above, but in the picture is hidden by cloud.
The day begins with a short cable car ride up from Les Houches to Bellevue, where it is usual to catch the Mont Blanc Tramway - a Noddy train which rumbles up to an improbable halt at the Nid d'Aigle.  Then under a hot sun, comes a long, long, grind up to the Tête Rousse Glacier, with occasional views down into the Chamonix valley.
Beyond the Tête Rousse is the high broken rock face of the Aig. du Goûter, seamed with ribs and couloirs.  The usual trick is to go up on the left of the most obvious couloir for a short way, then cross it rapidly to the opposite bank.  If you are unlucky you could have a nasty experience with stone fall here, but once across, matters improve and there is a scramble up a rib to the steep chossy snow and rocks below the Goûter Hut.  Cables help in the last few feet and you pull straight on to the hut balcony.  For hours, in the background, has been the superb ice faces of the Aig. de Bionnassay.
It is 2 a.m. and a confused jumble of bodies, ropes and rucksacks in the hut.  Suddenly you are out on the white slopes behind the hut, one of a myriad of flickering lamps strung out in a line like regimented fireflies.  Head down and keep plodding, round the shoulder of the Dome du Goûter and into the dawn.  Almost imperceptibly the agony eases as you shift into downwards motion.  A broad col lies below, and above it, the mountain you have to climb.
The Vallot Hut, or more correctly, huts.  Stakes in the snow to show the route when conditions are bad, as they frequently are, for the Col du Dôme is a confusing place in a cloud, and you could easily head off into Italy or down to Grands Mulets.  The hut, reversing the usual trend, seems miles away and isn't.  It's small because it's small, not because it's distant.  Thank God for a rest!  A drink, more sun cream.  The summit looks awfully close.
So this is the Bosses Ridge.  Well named, mate!  Up and down like a snow-filled switchback.  But good for all that.  A sense of space and wonder with fantastic views all round.  The Vallot Hut drops away and even the Dôme du Goûter sinks to insignificance.  If the wind gets up it can be cold here: if it really blows it can send you hang-gliding down to the Grand Plateau, and frequently has.
Surprisingly, some rocks appear, the Rochers de la Tournette, which means the top is only 130m. above.  Time to stand and stare at the Dôme du Goûter, traversed in the morning darkness, and reflect that you were totally unaware of the steep drop on your right hand side!  Ah, well.  Much better to look at the splendid spire of the Bionnassay.
The last few feet.  Surprise again - it's a sharp ridge and the summit is positively arrowlike, at least from this angle.  The world feels good: a few more steps and you are on the roof of Europe.
The top turns out to be a plateau after all, albeit a little one.  Plenty of room to sit down, relax, munch butties and view the world from a unique vantage point.  Mont Blanc de Courmayeur sticks out into Italy at the end of its ridge and beyond it lie the tumbled Graian Alps and the long trough of the Aosta Valley.  Somewhere down there they've built a motorway.


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