After a recently failed attempt on Mont Blanc, we spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning licking our wounds and watching the clouds surround Mont Blanc. Weather conditions did not appear any better than what we had just experienced and there was clearly a sense of uncertainty within our group. Brian encouraged us to stay positive and suggested we head back up the mountain for one more shot before the trip was over. We reluctantly loaded our packs one more time, rode the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi, and hiked over to the Cosmiques Hut for one more night. The wind was strong throughout dinner and our hopes of climbing Mont Blanc remained low.
We got up at 1:30 am and stepped out on the hut’s viewing deck. Strong winds had continued during the night and Mont Blanc’s door seemed to be closing on us. Once again, Brian remained optimistic and said that we should at least give it an hour before giving up. A guide in the hut reassured us that the weather would break and winds would die down within the hour. Several parties had left between 1:30 and 2:30 am as we waited to make our final decision. The four of us finally geared up and started across the glacier toward Mont Blanc at 3:05 am.
The wind was not as strong as two days ago, and we made quick work of the headwall up Mont Blanc du Tacul. Due to the several parties ahead of us putting in a boot-pack and breaking trail, we made very good time to the Col Maudit and were quickly closing in on several rope teams. We were now farther than we had made it on Wednesday and continued to make reasonable time up the steep north face of Mont Maudit. I was able to negotiate through other rope teams and effectively pass groups that were slowing in the steeper section of the route. We finally reached the crux of the route just below the Col du Mont Maudit at sunrise. Everyone got chilled as progress slowed and we had to wait for several parties go through the steep ice and snow. The crux is approximately 150’ to 200’ of 50 degree snow and ice that has a fixed line.
We topped out on the Col du Mont Maudit at 14,255’ and now had a clear view of Mont Blanc. We had to descend slightly again to the Col de la Brenva before the final 1,600’ push to the summit of Mont Blanc. Brian, Scott, Kevin, and I shifted into four-wheel drive low and simply grinded out the remaining climb to the summit of Mont Blanc. It took us 5 hours and 40 minutes to climb the highest peak in the Alps. We spent 15 minutes on the summit applying sunscreen, taking photos, and congratulating each other on a successful climb.
The wind had all but subsided, the sun was shining brightly, and we accomplished our goal. We were in good spirits, but knew that there was plenty of work left to get back down the mountain. We descended quickly and found ourselves at the top of the crux. Although ascending the moderately steep snow/ice pitch proved relatively easy, down-climbing the same section proved to be more difficult. We simply all took our time and effectively used our crampons and sole mountain ice axe to safely reach the base of pitch. With all significant difficulties behind us, we continued to make good time down the mountain and even witnessed a helicopter rescue.
We crossed back below Mont Blanc du Tacul and made our final ascent of the snow arete to the climber’s tunnel and cable car station. Our roundtrip time from the Cosmiques Hut to the Aiguille du Midi 11 hours and 40 minutes. I guess our ascent time was about the same as our descent because you have to climb approximately 1,000’ to get back to the gondola on the way out. We rode the lift down to our rental car, slammed all our gear in the back, and quickly proceeded to make our way to Grindelwald, Switzerland. Although we didn’t have an opportunity to try and climb the Eiger due to poor weather days, we still wanted to take a look at the mountain before leaving the country and ending our trip. We checked into the hostel in Grindelwald, took pictures of the famed mountain, and then proceeded downtown for a hearty dinner. The following morning, we drove back to Zurich and quickly found ourselves on a plane back to the United States.