How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc

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How a storm comes to MB

On Thursday 24 August, 2006, 21 climbers of various nationalities decided, despite a clear meteorological warning, and apparently against the advice of some guide, to attempt the climb of Mt. Blanc via the Gouter route. As predicted, after an unsettled morning, a big storm passed over the area in the early afternoon, reducing visibility to zero even at comparatively low altitudes, with violent winds and snowfall down to 2600m.

The 21 climbers tried to go back to the Gouter hut, but got stuck on the south side of the Dome de Gouter, a very dangerous place in poor weather, as the lack of any point of reference makes it very easy to lose your bearings in a whiteout. In such bad weather the PGHM couldn't attempt a helicopter mission to rescue the climbers, so they had to resort to survival tactics (like digging snowcaves) to spend the night, and wait for morning (and rescue). All survived without significant consequences, but had the bad weather lasted another day, a tragedy would have been highly likely.

[ Note 2007: in the first week of July 2007, with a very similar setup (unfavourable meteo, general instability, "no go" warning from local guides), a group of five, very young Polish climbers got first avalanched then stranded on the Bionassay glacier of the Miage (Italian) side of MB, after unsuccessfully trying the Italian Normal route, and having turned back near the Dome (not far away to the place of the 2006 epic). Sadly, this time the storm lasted three full days; despite a valiant, massive and well coordinated effort from the Aosta Mountain Rescue to reach the missing climbers, three of them (including a girl) died of exposure. ]

All meteo forecast available in the area gave high probability for stormy weather on the 24th, but even without a formal warning, the signs were all those of big trouble coming - and coming fast. The weather had been unsettled all the morning, with uneven visibility, and strong winds. Around noon, the winds turned decidedly from WSW, and clouds started to mass beyond the Col De La Seigne.

On the same Thursday 24th I was returning from a walk up the trail that brings to the Monzino hut, and I made this sequence of pictures. I hope it will be useful to all people climbing in the area to understand (and hopefully, make good use) of the local weather's signs.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 1)

At 14:39, the clouds are massing above the Col De La Seigne, on WSW, from where a strong wind blows. To the right there are visible patches of blue sky. The glacial snout in the foreground is the Italian Miage.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 2)

At 14:50, the clouds burst in.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 3)

Again at 14:50, this is the sky more or less in the opposite direction. This shows nicely how in this area the bad weather almost always comes from West. The peak in the foreground is Mt. Chetif, the mountain that dominates Courmayeur.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 4)

At 15:09, the clouds have invaded the higher Val Veny, covering the entire Trelatete sub-sector (not shown, on the right of this picture). The wind now is very strong, and I heard the first thunder while taking this picture.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 5)

At 15:20,the Jorasses are engulfed by the storm. It's raining in buckets now, and the wind is so strong that I had my difficulties to take this picture. Just below the cloud ceiling the wind is now at 150 kph, if not stronger.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 6)

Now it's 15:30. The visibility in the valley has become very poor, and it's raining sideways. The peak visible through the fog is the little Aiguille du Chatelet, near the Monzino hut, at the base of the south face of MB, so Mt. Blanc proper is more or less 1km behind there. I took this picture at the car park where the Monzino trail starts - the first picture of this sequence was taken below the rock barrier barely visible above the tree line.

How a Storm Comes to Mt. Blanc (pic 7)

Two hours later, at 17:37, the worst of the storm had passed, and over Courmayeur there was a bit of sun. The Mt. Blanc was, however, still completely covered by clouds, and only the Aiguille Noire was barely visible behind the Chetif. By late evening the sky was clearing rapidly over the Italian side, but high on Mt. Blanc the storm continued unabated.

External Links

I'll had all relevant link to MB meteo soon here - a bit of patience!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-12 of 12
Woodie Hopper

Woodie Hopper - Sep 8, 2006 5:04 am - Voted 10/10


words are not enough. I've heard (but not seen) a lot about the infamous storms of Mt Blanc. Thanks for the nice report!


Miguel Angel Perez

Miguel Angel Perez - Sep 8, 2006 7:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Nice Story!

Nice story!


MichaelJ - Sep 8, 2006 11:15 pm - Hasn't voted

Very interesting

Thanks for posting.


climbxclimb - Sep 9, 2006 4:38 pm - Voted 9/10

Good Story

If there is something sure in Val de Chamonix, it is the afternoon storm...I spent 3 weeks there this summer and it happened every day, but sometimes it comes earlier expecially at the end of the summer.
Above 4000m you better choose carefully your day of ascent...


Charles - Sep 11, 2006 3:29 pm - Voted 10/10

Thanks for this

Thanks for you pictures. I certainly wouldn´t want to be up there in such a storm.


edouet - Sep 19, 2006 2:13 pm - Hasn't voted

About climbing Mt Blanc

Thanks for this report.

Many climbers think Mt Blanc is an easily accessible mountain; right, in perfect wheather conditions. Many think that the danger is below the Gouter Hut, that climbing the glacier and the Arete des Bosses is not a big problem. Right, in perfect weather conditions.

Unfortunately, the Mt Blanc, even through the normal route, is underestimated by most of the trekkers. It's an almost 5,000m mountain, requiring 2,600m elevation gain to summit it.
High mountain means physical exhaustion ( especially as people intend to summit it without acclimatizing )and risks of severe storms.
These 21 climbers were lucky, none of them was injured, or worse.

The average death toll on this mountain is 20/year; climb safe, and if you can't because of the weather, don't worry: the Mont Blanc will be at the same location for a few years more...


arturf - Oct 7, 2006 1:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Thank You!

Realy great and so useful information! I'll take everything You've written into accout, when I am going to climb Mont Blanc!

chrisy - Jun 27, 2007 9:50 am - Hasn't voted

Close Call

We were going to try and summit that day via the 3 mont blanc route. We took the warnings in the ohm office seriously and went cragging in the valley instead. Off to try again in a months time. Hopefully the weather will be more stable!

signorellil - Jul 11, 2007 2:37 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Close Call

Hello Chrisy,

be vey careful. Condition this year are absolutely exceptional, as there's been a contininously unsettled weather in the last two months, with short sunny spells. There's a lot of snow high up!

It's definitely possible to coimb MB this year via the normal route, but this will require even more attention and effort than usual. Again, remember this: what kills you on MB is almost always the weather. Other emergencies can be (often, not always!) solved by rescue, but bad weather can make rescue impossible (check the additional "2007 Note" on this page text).

chrisy - Jul 25, 2007 10:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Close Call

Hi signorellil,
Thanks for the advice, I've been monitoring the conditions and weather closely and as if any more warnings were needed 5 climbers died two days ago due to a sudden storm! We're off in a week but MB is only one of many climbs we want to do so plenty of shorter and lower altitude routes to keep us busy.


eza - Dec 30, 2009 9:36 am - Voted 10/10

We were really lucky...

when we summited Mont Blanc, but if I ever get to go back there I'll surely remember the meteorology lesson you have given to all of us. Thanks, signorellil. Good article.


markhallam - Oct 29, 2013 5:19 pm - Voted 10/10

I missed seeing this...

...but have just read it since it came up as a featured article again. This is a fascinating piece with some great photos - and especially of interest to me having spent the night of 10th July on top of Mont Blanc - as a thunderstorm came in. It wouldn't have been as big a storm as you describe - this was a late afternoon convection storm, not a 'frontal' system. However, it was bad enough and myself and my companion both took 2 indirect hits from lightning - and had a miserable night in a not well constructed snow cave. I wrote this experience up in a TR "Alps International Expedition 2013".

I have taken the liberty of attaching your article to my TR as 'related' - hope you won't mind.

By the way - enjoyed your page on Italian Normal Route, which we climbed to reach the summit.

Best wishes

Viewing: 1-12 of 12



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