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Mont Blanc - a walk on the Wild Side

17/09/2014



I'd been keen to climb the Gonella route on Mont Blanc for a long time before the opportunity arose in July this year. The route requires excellent weather, good conditons, and a fit client.

A late booking from Scottish author Alan McNee for Mont Blanc resulted in me preparing for an ascent of the mountain without a booking at either the Gouter or Tete Rousse hut. I briefly considered the Trois Monts route from the Cosmiques Refuge, but there has been a massive amount of snow in late June and early July, so I thought the avalanche risk was too high. The Gonella however was allegedly in good condition.

After a few days with Alan I confirmed that he was fit, able, and keen to try the Gonella. I made a booking at the refuge and the next day drove to the Val Veny in Italy to begin the 5hour approach to the Refuge. As we left Val Veny we entered another world. We could see no buildings, people, pylons, or any other sign of human existance. As we progressed steadily up the glacier we left the hustle and bustle of valley life behind and entered the tranquil world of the "Hidden Face" of Mont Blanc.

An exposed scramble up rocks saw us at the recently rebuilt refuge in plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon sunbathe. The views from the balcony were incredible, with Mont Blanc on one side and the Tre la Tete on the other other. In the distance the peaks stretched all the way to Monte Viso and Val D'Isere.

Italian hut staff are renowned for the friendliness and cooking, and the Gonella Refuge was no exception. A fantastic starter was followed by a huge bowl of Risotto. I was offered more, and after finishing it was full to the brim. Then the Guardian announced "And now for the main course!". I almost had to roll myself out of the dining room afterwards.

Due to the length of the route (1750m ascent to the summit from the Refuge), breakfast was at midnight. I had checked out the start of the route the evening before so that I could find it in the dark, so as soon as we had finished our breakfast we were out of the door. Somehow we were at the front of the pack, but we just carried on at a steady pace. There were only around 10-12 people doing the route, so it was blissfully quiet.

The wind increased as we climbed, and by the time we reached the Piton des Italien it was very cold. The ridge at this point was a knife-edge, and I was kept the rope tight on Alan as made steady progress. Although the ground was not very difficult, one slip could be fatal. After 30 minutes we were back on easy ground and the sun was beginning to rise in the distance. As we passed the Dom de Gouter we joined the crowds from the Gouter route, and headed up the Arete des Bosses. The wind dropped, and things became much more pleasant as we approached the summit.

At 0815 we reached the top, beating guidebook time by half an hour. After the usual ceremonies of photographs and congratulations, we headed down towards the Gouter Refuge where we took a short break. Continuing on we reached the Nid'Aigle train station early afternoon, and were soon back in Chamonix. The descent (2500m) had been long, but it was worth it to have a shower and sleep in a proper bed !

Alan was in no mood for climbing the following day, so we had a day off to recover. The time allowed us both to reflect on what had been a fantastic journey to the top of the Western Alps, via a quiet and enjoyable climb. I would recommend the route to anyone considering Mont Blanc, but only if they are very fit and preferably have previous mountaineering experience. Enjoy.....


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