3.2, E2, AD
Time was running out for our 3 musketeers’ attempt to ski the north face of Mont Blanc. Luckily we saw a weather window in the forecast for the 28th and 29th April so we decided to go for it.
We easily settled on the Grand Mulets route to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard who first climbed Mont Blanc in August 1786 this way.
After gearing up at the Plan de l’Aiguille station on Thursday morning we set off underneath the towering north face of Aiguille du Midi and headed towards the Bossons glacier. After navigating some cravasses and a few tight squeezes, we were on the face leading up to the Grand Mulets refuge where we’d planned to stay the night then leave in the early hours the next day.
We reached the Grand Mulets refuge at 14:00 after 4hrs of leisurely ski touring. We were all on rental light-weight set ups so we decided it was a good idea to keep touring past the refuge and test out how well they skied. Not so well it turned out on my part but I was still happy to be touring on something far lighter than my usual alpine set up.
The refuge is basic as you’d expect but it is uniquely placed which adds some nice ambience. It’s set on some rocks up above the glaciated slope, probably to keep it out of the way of avalanches and serac debris from higher on Mont Blanc. To reach the refuge you need to scramble up the rocks along some loosely placed chains.
Short video of the scramble:
We woke at 01:30 and after some average breakfast, a sip of apple juice and some coffee we set off. It was around 02:45 by the time we left the refuge and it was cold, windy and dark. Funnily enough though, this is the best time to set off because there is a gigantic looming serac on the route that is notorious for big falls which create big avalanches and therefore a big danger to passers by. Leaving this early also gives you the best chance of making the summit and making it back down in time.
We cruised the first few hours in the dark under head torch light. There was around 30 other people going for the same route so we were not alone and thankfully didn’t have to brake trail. It was a breathtaking experience to be on the glacier at that time of the morning, mainly because the ambience was incredible but also quite literally breathtaking as it was bloody cold and windy.
The sun began to rise and we were greeted with the most amazing views. We only stopped once briefly as we wanted to move quickly below the ominous serac and get into the safer zones of the Petit and Grand plateaus.
Once out of the danger zone we reached the Col du Dome and headed for the Vallot emergency shelter which sits at 4478m at the start of the Arete des Bosses, the ridge that leads to the summit of Mont Blanc. We were hoping the wind and cold would die down as the sun rose but nothing had changed. We were extremely cold and it began to become a problem. Just before the Vallot shelter there is a bergshrund to cross and just when we were taking off our skis another guy fell into the crevasse right next to us. We weren’t needed to help as his team quickly set about getting him out, so we carried on and crossed the bergshrund and made for the shelter to get out of the bitterly cold wind.
We decided that our plan wasn’t going to work as the north face looked less than ideal to ski given it was so windblown. We were freezing, losing the sensation in our hands and toes so we decided to put our skis on and make our way down, leaving the summit for another time. It was a difficult decision to turn back with the summit in sight, but I had been before and knew that it was still a long way to go, especially with freezing wind on the ridge.
We crossed the Bossons glacier once more before making the long, frustrating traverse back to the Plan de l’Aiguille station. We got back to Chamonix at 13:30 and found ourselves sun burnt but still cold, confused and tired looking up at where we’d just come from which felt like a long time ago already.
Thanks boys for another epic adventure!