Base Camp Chamonix
Breakfast before going on route
It was back in those days when I spend more time on the mountains rather hanging around in a town and working in a sticky office in order to get a scheduled paycheck like many of my friends from school. It was an unusual hot August when my friend and climbing partner Norbert and I arrived in Chamonix. Trying to find the legendary "Brit's Camp" we heard that the Town of Chamonix closed the insider camp and meeting place for mountaineers from all over the world due to not acceptable sanitary reasons. Basicly the Brit's Camp was just a field with a "Honey Bucket" as a lavatory, hundreds of tents and the air was filled with the smell of mountaineer's sweat.
The only alternative we had at this point was to pitch our tent in one of the civilized campgrounds around town. It was pretty entertaining for the two of us to be in the middle of all the common tourists. At the neighboring camp spot there was that young couple from the British Island on their Honeymoon, enjoying every morning this perfect picnic with the typical blanket, basket, breakfast tea and fresh French Baguette with marmalade. And for real Brits they were traveling in a little cute Mini Cooper. On the opposing lot there was that strange guy from Spain with family. He owned two tents, one was a huge garage tent for his beloved sedan and the other much smaller tent was their sleeping place. That he loved his car more than everything else was obvious because every time we saw him he polished his jewel and his Wife and Kids were sitting next to his "shop" looking kind of bored.
Norbert and I didn't fit well into the scenery here. Breakfast on the hood of our car, with tons of garlic on a fresh buttered baguette with tomatoes. The daily dose of garlic was important to us because we learned about the blood thinning effect of garlic which is important for the thin air conditions in high altitude climbs around Mont Blanc. The delicious taste and of course aftertaste of garlic was important too. Our camp spot had a different outfit as well compare to the surrounding neighbors. A little tent, tons of climbing gear, bunch of boots, ice axes, ropes and a little pile of empty beer bottles decorated our base camp. After our acclimatization day climb, the Frendo Spur at the Aiguille de Midi, the day came closer for our big climb. We were prepared to be on the mountain for 3-4 days with a minimum of gear. An extreme lightweight 35-40 liter backpack, packed with all neccesary ice and rock climbing gear, sleeping bag and bivi gear.
Pockets of fog near Colle de la Fourche
We left Chamonix below us taking a ride with the Aiguille de Midi cable car followed by a long hike over the glacier to the bivouac shelter at the Col de la Fourche. The shelter is located on the crest of the Arête de la Brenva. This place was not crowded at all, we found 2 sleeping spots in the little hut cooked dinner and sipped plenty of hot tea. The next day was our climbing day. We left the bivouac at about 3 AM, walking across the Brenva Glacier in the dark of the night, short decent at the Col Moore and over to the GRAND PILIER D'ANGLE. When the first daylight brought some vision into our blurry picture we approached the bottom of the big couloir reaching down from the Mont Blanc itself. The BOVIN VALLENÇANT COULOIR cuts its line into the NNW face of the Grand Pilier d'Angle and falls into the main couloir at the bottom. This couloir is a TD+/ED1 climb with a 80-90 degree ice climb over the serac before you reach the Peuterey Ridge. You finish the climb following the remaining route of the Peutery until you get to the summit of Mount Blanc (4,810 meters - 15,781 feet). We didn't carry too much water in order to save weight, so we had frequent tea cooking stops.
The Couloir, The Summit and The Descent
At daybreak after a long walk through a maze of crevasses and a short rocky decent at the Col Moore we approached the main couloir located between Grand Pilier d'Angle and the Arête de la Poire. Before we started climbing up the main chute we put our climbing gear on and knotted the rope to our harnesses and started belaying each other. Not exactly sure when we had to turn off to the left into one of the narrow side couloirs, the Bovin-Vallencant climb itself, we just picked the one we thought it might be the right one. After a 80 meters climb and checking the guide book we knew it was the wrong one, and we had to turn around and try the next one up. Starting to climb down we heard a voice shouting "POIVRE" and all of a sudden the air was filled with cold dust of ice crystals and a loud sound of thunder. One of the seracs hanging above the main couloir was sending down this devastating frozen load. A couple minutes after the air calmed down we became aware of our lucky situation taking initially the wrong route. Back at the bottom climbing up to the proper couloir the air was still holding a cool breeze from the just happened powerful play of nature. The first 150 meters of the Bovin-Vallencant couloir was a nice straight forward ice climb until it narrowed down to about 2-3 meters. The couloir now was more like a frozen waterfall with big icicles and combined with some short rock climbs in solid granite. After a great enjoyable climb we reached the end of the couloir and facing the massive serac overhanging a slightly sloped snow field. The climb over the 80-90 degree serac was one of the higlights of the entire route. Unfortunately in the upper third one of my ice axes broke and I faced some challenges. Really mad and swearing about that incidence I finally reached the end of the vertical followed by an other moderately sloped snowfield leading us to the Peuterey Ridge. Here we took a long rest in the worm summer sun, cocked plenty of tea and enjoyed the views into the south-west side of the Mt. Blanc massif with views over to the Frendo Spur. From here it was a long and strenuous stair stepping deal following the last remaining steps of the Peuterey Ridge until we reached the summit of Mont Blanc de Courmayeur.
After our 9 hrs climb and a short walk over to the main peak, we were standing on top of the Alps with a bunch of other climbers, mainly coming up the "regular route". After enjoying a short rest at the peak with amazing views and a deep blue and clear sky with not even a little cloud, we were looking forward to the decent and the approach of the Vallot Shelter. Walking down the ridge with lots of traffic coming up the mountain we finally got to the Vallot but this place was a not a very welcoming one. 100's of people in variable conditions, tons of rubbish, awfully tasting air almost non breathable, we decided to leave that place immediately and heading towards the Grand Mulets Lodge. It was an unplanned and long strenuous walk over glaciers and crevasses in addition to our set daily goal. - Total elevation gain for that day: 1440 meters [3370 m (B.O.Grand Pilier) - 4243 m (T.O.Grand Pilier) - 4810 m (Mt. Blanc)] -- descent to Mulet Lodge total loss of 1759 meters in elevation -- in addition the approach in the morning from the Fourche Biovac to B.O.Grand Pilier, 367 meters descent.
Finally and exhausted we reached the Mulets on time for late dinner. Entering the Lodge the air was scented by delicious kitchen smells, after all a chair and table to rest and the treat and the second highlight of the day, a friendly waitress serving us a monster dinner. That was so sweet and almost heaven after the experience at the Vallot and the additional hard work getting here. After refilling our bodies with carbohydrates we ordered a bottle of VIN ROUGE toasted live and celebrated our excellent climbing achievement. Our tongues were getting heavy quickly after some zips of wine and our heads started getting tipsy and after an other deep view into our glasses we agreed on, that this red wine is just the perfect beverage to celebrate the great success and beautiful day. After lightening up the bottle we went to bed, fell asleep immediately and we slept like rocks for 12 hours.