Mont Blanc is not an easy summit to come by. The normal routes on Mont Blanc are the Gouter Route / Bosses Arete, the Trois Monts Route and the Pope Route from Italy. While these routes certainly aren't pushing the limits of modern alpinism, they are all difficult and combined with the altitude and potential for inclement weather, there is no "easy" way to the summit of Mont Blanc.
My first trip to Mont Blanc this season was via the Gouter Route and began in a rainstorm. Not exactly how anyone wants to begin a trip, but hut reservations at the Tete Rousse and Gouter Huts and an improving forecast, we made moves up the mountain.
The trip began with an early 7am "alpinist train" from LaFayet to Mont LeChat near the Refuge Ni D'Aigle. The shiny new train loaded its mountaineering boot-clad passengers, let out a comical cartoon whistle sound and rolled into motion up the mountain.
We were let out near the Refuge Ni D'Aigle and began our hike to the Refuge De Tete Rousse. Soon we found ourselves donning Gore-Tex jackets and pants as a thin cloud moved in and began to cover us with a warm mist. Within about 2 hours we made it to the refuge and hunkered down as the storm rolled in. We set our waterproof layers and our boots out to dry, had a great pasta Bolognese for lunch and took a nap.
The next morning was summit day, but with a forecast for nasty weather early in the morning, we pushed our start time to a civilized 7am breakfast and started moving uphill around 8:30. Just above the Tete Rousse is the Grand Couloir, one of the most objectively hazardous areas on the Gouter Route. The Couloir is known for being a being a dangerous section and has been the site of many mountaineering accidents on Mont Blanc.
The Grand Couloir was in good shape, and we shoveled out the deep channel in the middle of the couloir to make travel faster and easier. After crossing the massive, snow-filled funnel we climbed a broken rock and snow arete to the Refuge de Gouter. This section is steep and exposed and many of the rock features were covered with verglas from the morning and previous day's storm. We moved carefully up to the hut where we stashed a few items and purchased some water before continuing on higher on Mont Blanc.
The Dome du Gouter (the section above the hut) was in great shape with firm snow that was excellent for cramponing. We made great time moving up that and the weather was perfect until we topped out on the dome. Here the wind picked up and became steady, strong winds from the east.
By the time we reached the Vallot Hut the winds were intense, and it was beginning to sap our body heat. We ducked inside the Vallot Hut to grab a quick snack and add our Gore-Tex layers to protect us from the wind. Gotta say, it was pretty nice to stop with a little respite from the wind!
Above the Vallot is the Arete des Bosses. This is a steep, knife-edge ridgeline with a series of exposed cornices and wind rolls. With exposure on either side of the ridge, it makes for an exciting section of climbing and with strong winds it can be dangerous. Despite the wind, our team was moving well and we kept climbing steadily higher, goggles and hoods protecting our eyes and faces from blowing snow and fierce winds.
We pushed on and soon enough arrived on the summit ridge of Mont Blanc! Amazingly, we were greeted on the top by calm winds! After soaking in the breathtaking view of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps and getting some food and water, it was time to start the descent.
The wind reappeared back on the ridge, but with a little less ferocity. We moved steadily and made great time back to the Gouter Hut, where we dined and slept for the night.
The final difficulty was descending the Gouter Arete and the Grand Couloir. We started early to cross the couloir while it was cold. Conditions had improved on the arete and the verglas has melted off and the crossing of the couloir was excellent as well - firm snow and no recent rockfall was nice to see!