The first day
Calmly, city by city, i did at MY BLOG reports and photographic posts with full details and funny situations. Here I will limit myself to the main goal for the mind after absorb so much Visual History, see all those places which i only read during my private readings or in History college, mental relaxation and reflection in the French Alps!
My bus was delayed 40 minutes leaving Paris just to increase my anxiety to arrive in the Alps. Several stops, but in the end arrived half an hour ahead of schedule. The bus station from Geneva called Routiere is just a small office of 50 square meters and a parking lot that can fit up to ten buses. I arrived early, 06:30 am, then had half an hour to kill before buy the next ticket. I walked a few blocks and already made some photos of the city's sights that i saw. Got back in time and bought the expansive ticket to Chamonix, 33 euros.
Well, an hour and a few minutes later when I got off the bus, I was instantly mesmerized looking at a Himalayan landscape in France! I'll explain, the town of Chamonix lies 1,035 meters above sea level, that means that many of the peaks you can see from the city itself are close to 4000 meters. That represent a wall of mountains and the altitude difference is close to 3.000 vertical meters! From anywhere in town if you want to look to some mountain, whatever it is, you have to tilt your head at least 30 degrees up! It is truly amazing and beautiful. There is no way to be clear with words, pictures and videos, only seeing we can understand what I mean. And i'm pretty sure loooooads of SPers have seen that. :) The surreal Aiguille du Midi has 3.842 meters, has an altitude difference of 2.700 meters to the city, is the major "star/ mothership". I went to the mountain information center to check weather forecast before going up. The forecast for the afternoon was not very encouraging, snow storm by afternoon with temperatures from 0 ° C between 2.500 and 3.100 meters, and for altitudes up to 5.000 m, -10 ° C. While studying the map on the wall of the nearby mountains, I met two Catalans who would do the same route as me, one of the four normal routes to Mont Blanc, Route Goûter (most visited). After a minute of chat they offered me a ride to Les Houches. Good, I would walk that distance (7km from Chamonix).
We stopped at the market where I bought a snack and some orange juice. We parked in front of the Bellevue cable car, paid and got on. He left us at 1.800 meters, we walked 200 meters where we caught the train that goes bordering the Bionnassay glacier up to the altitude of 2.370 meters. We didn't stop, start walking. I was so excited I started just like i was: T-shirt and shorts. From the train stop to the glacier just a five minute walk with backpacks (two, i always do that!). After ten minutes walking on the glacier the temperature droped from almost 30 ° C to 12 ° C. That I expected of course, for me was very hot even at that temperature because of the two backpacks and a total of 20 or 22kg of gear. I'm not sure.
I had a problem, I went up with my two packs. The great Fitz Roy from the brazilian company Conquista Montanhismo (90 l) with a good 16 or 17kgs on my back, and the new one I bought at Decathlon back in Paris by Quechua at the ridiculous price of 40 euros, weighing about 5kg, that one at my front. However, for only about 10 cm it exceeded the comfort of being in front and not bothering. Knocked on my knees and got out my shoulders every five steps. After about 30 minutes it really became a problem because I was really slow, causing a tremendous physical discomfort and extra power discharge. The Catalans who had invited me to climb, lost patience and said that they would advance faster because they wanted to get to the Goûter hut that afternoon. "I'm fine, i'm not asking to wait for me, this may take a long time!" I said. Five minutes later, thinking, I concluded that perhaps i was a bit rude, but it was not my intention and I know they understood. After all, both took only one backpack that should not weigh more than 7kgs each, they didn't had sleeping bag as they had reservations for the night in the hut, and I did not, therefore i needed to be prepared to sleep on the floor if necessary.
They vanished glacier above. I kept myself in the way they did, and as i leaned over the ground, the slips were inevitable. On the other hand, I felt better on my own because I was free to enjoy my freedom envisioned, no deadlines on the mountain with no one waiting for me or someone to wait for. It is sad but my freedom on the mountain is almost over, I needed to enjoy without interruptions. When I got to 2.750 meters it was 14:00pm, the weather began to change. At 14:05 pm it was already snowing, incredible. The fame of the massif of Mont Blanc is true. I stopped, put the two backpacks on a small rocky area on the glacier, fleece on, anorak on, hat on, pants on, boots and crampoons. Rambo is ready. I checked the temperature and it was 4 ° C. I knew that was OK because i set the watch thermometer by the information center hours before, and when i did it i fixed my watch in just 0.7 ° C of difference.
I was alone in the small icy slope, caught in a whiteout before the first refuge. I emptied my medium backpack and put all my stuff inside the big one, hung the medium above the big one, another problem solved. Now i could proceed undisturbed. The weather got even worst, got up and moved on. Ten minutes more and I was surrounded by a scary whiteout, I could not see ten feet ahead! I tried to follow the GPS data that I downloaded from the brazilian website RUMOS, also observing the tracks in fresh snow on the glacier. It had to be cautious because only fifty yards to my right there was a sea of crevasses and huge seracs ten feet tall. I promised lili i would not turn into a popsicle and i always keep my word, no matter what.
The whiteout lasted just about half an hour. I didn't stopped, i kept going. Despite the whiteout had dissipated, the snow storm got worse. I was at 3.000 meters at 15:00pm, I still had to overcome 167 vertical meters and about 400 straight meters to the first refuge of the route, Tête Rousse. At this stage of the game is obvious that I had given up Goûter hut to this very day. With the weight and discomfort of carrying two backpacks clumsy on my back, it was a half way to an accident. I always say no to recklessness on the mountain.
It was amazing, the more I hurried, more the snowfall intensified. A short five-minute break allowed me a video, then started again and stronger. When i finally arrived at Tête Rousse hut, at 3.167 meters, which i found thanks to GPS because of the second whiteout, i couldn't see 5 meters ahead of me, i was painted in white. The smaller bag that was lying on the big one, on my back, had like 1kg of snow, i filled my hands three times cleaning. My hat was a total loss, soaked. Once again the weather has cleared, I made a 180° panoramic view of the hut.
Inside the refuge boots are forbidden, and they offer slippers, took off my crampoons, boots, and slippers on. Now I had to try a place to sleep. Obviously it was fully booked. About 100 climbers in the room, mostly French, some German, Polish, Austrian and a few Spanish. Brazilian brunette, wearing a fleece with the brazilian flag and Bolivian flag, just me. Just got in and i pulled out prying eyes whose looking meant only one thing: study. I paid the price for the night: 27.50 euros. Even if there was no vacancy to a bed, and I would have to check again at 20:00pm, i could sleep on the floor. Went back to the locker room, undressed the "wet snow clothing", put on dry clothes and went out to do some shots. The weather was already partially open and the sky blue, really?! :)
I finally got to look at the "grand couloir", famous for the rock rain that kills climbers during their crossing, an icy slope of a 30 ° inicial inclination and only about 30 or 40 meters wide. In these 30 meters of crossing that shit happens. On the wall, I noticed the firefighters Catalans halfway up. Where they were it was still snowing a little bit. At the top of the wall, the Goûter hut. I made some pictures, walked down the glacier. After several hours and much talk with a middle-aged french couple (Marcel - 55, Anne - 53) that i met in the back of the hut (where I filmed an avalanche on the slopes of Dome du Goûter) at 20:00pm, i received positive confirmation about the bed. Yey! Marcel and Anne (who did not speak a word of English and depended on her husband as an interpreter) liked me a lot, then invited me to accompany them the next morning during the climbing of the grand couloir and Aiguille du Gouter. I accepted, it would be nice to have someone to talk during the climb. Pure company. I'm always alone anyway...
I left my things in the bedroom, grabbed my stove, gas and went outside to prepare a liofood dinner melting ice to get water. At Decathlon in Paris, besides the backpack, i bought 6 lio meals and a gas. A full dry meal at a price of 4.3 euros each, not bad. I bought a Coke can inside the hut by the massive price of 4.60 euros and had dinner. Went to sleep. Woke up with the movement of 2am from the people who would try the summit of Mont Blanc and/ or Dome du Goûter from there, went back to sleep.
The second dayWoke up when my watch definitely screamed at 07:00am. Before i go to the bathroom I checked the weather forecast, perfect with clear skies in the morning, one more snowfall in the afternoon. Very good because I just wanted to get to the next hut that day, i wanted to enjoy the mountain and not run for the summit. With the intention to save energy, thereby maximizing my chances of summit, I left everything I could in large backpack inside one locker. I Would climb with a 10kg backpack. Good, better that way. I did not take seriously the invitation of Marcel and Anne, then it went outside ready, I needed only to fix crampoons and start walking. I was surprised, when I got outside they were waiting for me. "Paulo, we were just waiting for you, ready?". "Yes, let's face the grand couloir!" I replied.
Everything I read about the deadly Mont Blanc has confirmed so far. Half the people who try to reach its summit are tourist seeking adventure on the high mountain, not climbers. All with a guide on a commercial expedition. On one hand this is good because they are not alone on the mountain, the very fame of the murderer of the Alps makes tourists afraid and they hire a guide. On the other hand it is just as dangerous as if they were alone, in certain situations of course. How far goes the experience and the preparation of that guide? In a situation of imminent danger will he, alone, be able to take care of a group of five or six clients (that's what I saw there!)? How the inexperienced client deal with the psychological fact on "that slope that never ends"? And when that same client arrives at the false summit thinking it was the summit, will he be able to squeeze that extra energy we know how to better than anybody else? Of all those people I saw at the hut, at least ten were guides, about forty clients of these guides and the rest solo mountaineer climbers just like me, or with a friend. While watching the guides giving instructions to clients on how to wear crampoons I thought: "I will not be number 69!"
Each one put his helmet on and went towards the rocky trail. After only a hundred meters of this trail we arrived at the grand couloir, known as "shooting gallery", obviously because of the rocks rolling down the slope, responsible for some deaths in the massif. We agreed on a simple scheme but perfect to save lives: only one pass at a time while the others would observe the ground up with the mission to notify in the case of a rock fall. Marcel crossed, alright. Anne was very slow. I myself am slow on the mountain climb, I am always contemplative. I Always stop to take a look around and take a picture.
But Anne, I believe that by age or the lack of practice, she was going very slowly. Far away, above the slope, i saw a rock the size of a fist rolling down the ramp very fast. i Instantly screamed loud and twice: "Rock Anne, Rock!". She does not understand english, but the urgency of the scream was very clear, she layed in the snow ditch. Fortunately the rock passed about five meters beside her without danger. She got up and completed the crossing. I went after and no rocks at all for me.
Behind us a guided group (1 guide, 5 clients) were on the line crossing the lowest pass, more rock rolling! Fortunately nobody was hit despite being the whole group at the crossing and worse, clipped to the steel cable that passes over their heads. From my point of view that was a serious mistake, i'll explain: 1 - The steel cable passes over the heads about ten feet, making it difficult to the climber to lower himself as fast as he will need to do in a dangerous situation, which could save his life lying in the ditch. 2° - The guide has not done what we did as they were all roped at the same time in the traverse, with a distance of about two meters for each other.
That means the whole group composed by five clients and one guide, six people at a distance of two meters inbetween them, accounted for a total of ten meters in a single line of people in a kiling cross of 30 to 40 meters. One third of the way! The chances of someone being hit was annoyingly large. From that point on, the path turns into scrambled 30 °, with well marked and obvious way. One hundred vertical meters above, that simple scramble becomes a mixed way with small ice ramps and you can bump up with thin layers of verglass. From this point on the attention reached 120% and the pass, 40 °. Later about 250 vertical meters up, steel cables fixed. It is a warning to increase attention to 140%. In the last hundred vertical meters, i could almost touch the hut of so close, but my attention was at 200% because i was climbing using boreal super latok boots and crampoons. The slope was nearly 55 ° or 60 °, the rock ahead was actually over me a meter and a half. A simple fall and i would be bouncing off the rocks and stop probably 50 or 100 meters down dead or alive with multiple fractures. While the climb of the grand couloir is pleasant and a bit dangerous, the downclimbing is really scary and dangerous. Do not mistakenly interpret this reading, I did not say it is difficult, it is really easy. However, take care and be safe at all costs.
At least half the people who went up or down did so in groups and roped. I'll make one more observation about this: From my point of view that was purely "psychological safety", i could not see real security functionality. What good is rope up the group into a rock face without even putting a friend on the rocky wall? The impression I had was that if one falls, everyone fall. They would probably end up hanging the rope on a rock, with some fractured arm or leg. Or this or the rock cuts the rope, since most of the rocks are sharp like knives. Roped in ice climbing is very functional in the event of one fall in the group, others can help you to climb out of a crevasse. Anyway, it's my opinion.
With all possible care, after 3 hours of hiking and climbing, we won the 650 meters and arrived at the Goûter hut, at 3,817 meters. I looked down and saw dozens of people forming a colored line along the grand couloiur. I dropped my pack and I looked at Marcel smiling, but before I could say anything he told me "Let's complete the climb of the day?". I Do not quite understood him but I answered positively. Five minutes and 350 meters farther up the glacier, we were on the summit of Aiguille du Goûter (which names the hut and route), at 3,864 meters. My first european summit.
We took photos and went down just in time around 11:30am, the sky began to change again. On the way down we took pictures with a snowman made by a group of americans who dug a hole in the glacier and camped there, ignoring the ban on camping and the police helicopter passing every hour over inspecting the mountain. We arrived at the hut and once again i got in line for a bed. By the door I bumped into the Catalans, starting the descent. They said they were exhausted, that the climbing was "very hard Paulo, far far away ...". They also complained about the strong cold.
I got my stuff again and went outside to prepare my lunch. Once again melting ice, rather pay the absurd of 4.60 euros for a Coke can than 5 euros for a 1.5 liter bottle of mineral water! After my meal I went back to the hut and was again the center of attention with my flags on my chest, and my dark skin. The only South American. I tried to start smal talks with several climbers but they gave me monosyllabic replies, very closed people. On the other hand the refuge staff was really nice, very receptive to chat. They told me they could not remember the last time they saw a brazilian there.
Marcel and Anne went to sleep so I just sat at a table and spent my time with crossword puzzles until fall asleep sitting there around 15:00pm. Outside it was snowing hard. I woke up an hour later and went outside to make a video and enjoy the snow that remained strong. The couple woke up and came to me and after a few words Marcel asked if I wanted to rope up with them towards the summit of Mont Blanc, I accepted the invitation since they were so friendly, saying they wanted "to repeat the dose of the good partnership" that we had the day before. We agreed to start at 2:30am. At 19:00pm i melted some ice, fix myself a dinner, and stayed on the edge of the hut looking at the landscape, snowing! I should go inside around 20:00pm to get the answer about the bed, but fifteen minutes before a girl found me outside and told me: "Paulo, i have a bed for you, but it is in the guides room and they are very angry regarding to noise, when entering, be silent and you won't have any problem okay? "I thanked her and went to sleep at 20:10pm. Side note: I heard more noise than I wanted but I was as quite as a little mouse! (lol).
At 4.245 meters we were next to the summit of Dome du Goûter, but i decided to go for it on the way down. It was 4:10am and we continued without any break what so ever. We went down a little and headed to the third and last refuge, Vallot, at 4.362 meters, only used for emergencies, at 05:00am. The sun began to rise, i checked the temperature and it was -6 ° C. Very little windy but the chill was pretty strong, i don't know why. After this last hut the route changes and the risks increase. The way up turns into a single ridge, continuous. I you miss, a fall happens. If you are alone and unable to stop the fall at the flanks up to 60 °, you're gone for sure. If you are roped with someone, still have a chance for someone to stop your fall.
Another serious mistake I noticed there until the end of the climb, many people climbing on the ground with a walking stick in each hand. Does anyone know a walking stick won't do any good to stop a body of at least 70kg going down on the ice at speed in case of a fall?! Not for any inclination that pass 25° or 30 °! It will break in half in a heartbeat! Just a few had a ice axe at hand. Some even had, and where was the ice axe? In the backpack! Still wonder why the Mont Blanc has killed so many? My response is this, reckless people. I do not need ten years of experience to answer that.
The forecast was right again. I was happy as if it was my first great summit! Marcel and Anne also appeared to two children laughing and it was his second time on the mountain, the first was in 1998. We did a warm triple embrace laughing loudly, it seemed that the mountain was our Everest, the top of the world! We made a few but precise photos. Each one took his, I took two for them, I asked for an American to take one of the three of us, it took some time and he told me he did not knew if it was right, I checked and surplisily he had taken four, all good. I thanked him, then Marcelo took me two different views without the sun. I did my picture holding the Portuguese flag, dedicating the climb once again to my mother. For those who do not know, I'm Brazilian and Portuguese descent. My mother was born in Viseu / Portugal, and came to Brazil with two years old on a ship. Miss you mom...
Some more photos:
The wind was fine at the summit, but that little wind was pretty cold, which combined to -10.4 ° C made the task of taking photos very painful, I wanted to do an panoramic of the summit but did not, wanted a video but did not. The hand hurt instantly as soon as the glove was off. After only seven or eight minutes on the summit we began to descend. Long behind us we could see groups still at the beginning of the climb, rising just above the seracs we passed next to the Dome du Goûter slopes.
I couldn't stand the pain, I took two painkillers I bought in Calama (Chile) months before. I took off my boots and bad surprise: The big right toe and a bit of it continuity at the foot were swollen and purple. At the same foot, 6 open blisters and two new ones filled with water made my foot decorated with an unusual leprosy look. Was that frostbite? I don't know but i don't think so. While the couple decided to get back directly I preferred to stay another night in the hut, rest and take care of the foot. Got myself a vegetable soup without vegetables (which was verrrrry different from the photo lol) and a Coke can for 10.50 euros, I asked with another girl who organizes the beds for a new one for the night, and immediately she gave me a bed in the big bedroom, I went inside and slept. After exchanging e-mails and say goodbye to Marcel and Anne of course. They were a very nice company in the mountain!
I woke up at 16:00pm. Still alone in the room, went out and looked around, the cycle was going on again and dozens of people climbing up and down, the route was quite cold and the weather was cloudy. With time more people came. A Polish invasion, counted at least 15 Polish. Went back to the dining room, stayed there until 20:00pm, and I got myself another dry meal under blizzard. After that I went to sleep.
The way back, pain and more pain.Another summit run at 02:00am, fell asleep again. I woke up alone again at 07:00am. Weather clear, blue sky, but a relatively strong wind, which meant strong winds above. When I left the room I noticed that it should have snowed a lot during the night, a new layer of fresh snow covered the entire grand couloir, in many places the snow began to melt and then froze, forming more verglass. My plans of use the salomon boots to go down to spare my foot were long gone. I would have to descend using the heavy boreal boots and crampoons. Damn!
I got my third and final cereal bar, my last dry meal, went to say goodbye to the staff from the hut, then i wrote at the visitors book. A boy from the hut made me a compliment so that was the least I could do, he told me: "Paulo, you brought light to the shelter. Everyone who comes here is closed, just talk to their own group. You do not, the staff of the refuge liked you." After that, I had to sign the book right? Signed, left the blog url and altamontanha url, packed and said goodbye to everyone at the end.
There I was facing the grand couloir in a way that I hate, going down, and in bad ground conditions, I was tense. Took two more painkillers to relieve my foot, equipped myself and began the descent alone. I was walking over eggs each step. The way the rocks were covered in verglass, an accident would be a lot easier to happen. When I got to the shooting gallery, i crossed almost running. At the other side already secure, I stopped and looked at the route for a guided group, watchful because of the rocks.
One by one they crossed, finally the guide thanked me saying "thank you, you're a good man." I wonder if he was the guide, what was he doing in last?!! From there I went down to Tête Rousse glissading, getting there faster. When I entered the reception the staff recognized me, remembered me, the first question was whether I made the summit or not, i gave a positive response to the Dome du Goûter and Mont Blanc. I was congratulated and told that was great because everyone is blinded by Mont Blanc and ignores the Dome, or don't go to save energy.
I grabbed the backpack in the locker, my 1 euro back (the locker is free of charge but requires an 1 euro coin to release the lock and key), rearranged everything inside the backpacks, I left the gas because it would be prohibited in the flight back to Brazil, hung the smaller backpack on the bigger one and started the descent of the 800 vertical meters to the train station. Two more painkillers for the foot pain during descent, i lost count of how many were they...
Stopped a few times to drink water from melting, the heat was strong for me, 27 ° C on the glacier, took some pictures at other times. Arrived at the train station at 13:00pm. The weather up there was beginning to change again. I found some people saying that the number of summits for Mont Blanc that day was not as good as before, many people gave up because of the cold of -15 ° C near the summit and the stronger wind. I confirmed my descent to the 14:45pm train. I changed clothes, boots and began walking around to take pictures. I talked with a german gentleman (72 years old) who saw that I was brazilian and came to chat. Nice and long chat. When the time came I went down by train to 1.800 meters, and took the lift back to town at an altitude of 1.035 meters in Les Houches. There is a pretty long track to do all this path (lift + train = 1.335 m), but i didn't had to prove anything to anyone and did not wanted to get tired too soon. Even from where I started my climbing the total accumulated climb I did was 2.650 meters up. Quite a bit. Hardly anyone goes by this extra 1.335 meters. From the train station is observed throughout the track, and there was only one person climbing it. In Les Houches, waited for the bus (which i did not pay! He he he) and caught a train (actually i changed trains 3 times) to Zurich at a cost of 68 euros.
The Mont Blanc has four "normal" routes, but Goûter is the most frequented. However, all routes require at least moderate experience in glacier walking, brake in case of a fall, good balance to go through the ridge to reach the summit. To say it is no attempt of self promotion, it is a fact. I passed through the ridge with all care i could have. Before attempting this killing mountain do your research, look for weather info and ice conditions, this information is flying everywhere in Chamonix, Les Houches and the shelters, and for free. This can be the difference between life and death in this easy but deadly mountain that so far has claimed 68 lives (taken as official number I found online, may be bigger.)
My foot: When I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, and I bought a gauze bandage on the toe and part of the foot, I bought and put bandages for the blisters and tried to walk less, which was not easy having to sleep in the street for three nights (Zurich was crowded because of the "Züri Fäscht" fest, three days of partying and drinking with two million tourists in the city - fully booked hostels and hotels), kept the boot untied to relieve the pressure. On the second day I considered to look for a hospital and even talked to Pedro by e-mail, but i decided to "wait another day". It began to get better next morning. On the fourth day I took the bandages off, but the healing of the blisters continued for one week, and my toe nail is shattered until now, months later. I do believe it was a light frostbite, but don't be a fool like me, look for medical attention in case of injuries and suspected frostbite!