Mont-Blanc : 4810m

Le CEERRF on the top of Europe thanks to Guillain, K3 student, who shares his expérience :

“A year ago, several reasons pushed me to set myself the goal of climbing the highest summit in Western Europe.

Having stopped the sports competition for a few years, I felt the need to push my limits, on the sporting level, but also psychological. In addition, being driven by the desire to become a physiotherapist, I would have to practice with patients preparing for this type of sports achievement. I thought that doing this climb could help me support and understand them, while doing my job.

The choice of Mont Blanc was then simple. It was the one that seemed to me the most accessible, both financially and technically.

I realized this climb with Jeremy, a former athletic colleague, who became a friend. We started by booking a guide to climb in July 2018.

Before the summer, I had to equip myself and prepare myself physically.

The training was oriented to work my resistance to the lack of oxygen supply and my ability to be enduring. I then started the training with 2 footings lasting from 1 hour to 1:45 and one anaerobic training per week.

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The day before departure: Wednesday 18 July – St-Gervais les Bains – 800m

The day before we leave, we have an appointment with the guide agency , with Greg, our guide, to do a topo on the two days of climbs that await us. He then explains the conditions under which the climb will take place and briefs us on the equipment that we must provide.

Among the different things we need to think about before going on a climb, the one I feared most was the weather. If we can equip ourselves according to it, we remain tributary. Whatever our physical abilities, the quality of our training, our equipment or the strength of our motivation, if the weather is not good on D day and the guide judge the climb too dangerous, the activity will be canceled . When Greg announces that the next day’s weather will be good and should not hinder our ascent, I feel relieved.

On the other hand, we learn that the Mont-Blanc tramway, which we were supposed to take in St-Gervais, does not work. The first part of the trip, 600 meters of altitude difference, normally made by tram, will then be made on foot. To make up for the delay, we have to leave at 5 o’clock in the morning, instead of 9 o’clock. Unlike the weather, this news does not reassure me, but with Jeremy we take this difficulty as an additional challenge.

After this brief, we return to the apartment rented for the night. Many questions come to mind, about my ability to support the altitude and pace to hold. But I feel especially more impatient than ever.

The day of departure: Thursday 19 July – 5H – St-Gervais les Bains – 800m

The wake up at 4:15 is a bit difficult, we slept little, but I do not feel tired, because I’m very excited by the adventure that awaits us. At five o’clock sharp, we leave in 4×4 to reach the refuge of Bellevue which is at 1800m (it is already 1000m less to climb!). We wear our mountaineering boots and the walking sticks that make it easy for us; we must save our strength for the two days ahead!

We follow the tracks of the Mont Blanc Tramway, in which we would have preferred to be seated, to the refuge of Eagle’s Nest 2372m. It is here that we make our first break to have a quick breakfast; water and dried fruits. The breaks are not unpleasant, but we had better breakfasts. The view is clear and we now see the villages in the surrounding valleys. The view is already very beautiful and I realize that I start to take a little height, but I am aware that this is nothing compared to what we have to climb.

Since the Eagle’s Nest, we walk in relatively flat scree, the path climbs slowly, but it tires. This requires being focused not to hurt yourself and to find stable supports. We thus go up to the refuge of Rousse head, at 3167m, in which we take a second snack.

Greg announces that we will not take a break until the Refuge du Gouter which is at 3800m of altitude. He explains to us that, to reach this refuge, we must pass the “couloir du gouter”. This is a corridor in which rock falls are almost permanent; it is the passage that causes the most accidents on the ascent of Mont Blanc.

We then resume the climb, and arrive in this famous corridor. This moment is difficult for me, more psychologically than physically. All morning we see helicopters taking turns looking for a body. At this moment, I wonder if doing this climb was not too dangerous a challenge for someone not experienced like me.

After the passage of this corridor the path is not really traced and we have trouble following Greg, who is very fast and seems little attentive to our difficulties. The climb starts to be really difficult. First on the muscular side then, very quickly, in terms of the oxygen supply that we are starting to miss. On the psychological level, even though we have passed the couloir du gouter, we feel that the danger is still there. We see many commemorative plaques that remind us at every step that we are on a dangerous climb. Nobody has the right to miss! This part of the climb is not a pleasure; we do not have time to look at the landscape and we are tired.

However, it also allows me to find the sensations of top level sport; the realization is always more satisfying when you remember how much you suffered to achieve it.

We then cling to the rhythm of our guide by the will, and perhaps a little by pride. This will allow us to observe an incredible view of the snowy plateau on which is the Refuge du Gouter.

We arrive at the shelter around 13h, the program is simple: eat in 20min, then sleep or at least rest until 18h, take dinner, then go back to bed and sleep to be ready to leave at 2:30 and finish the ascent. But it is not so obvious, the altitude sickness is felt, the slightest movement runs out of steam and I can not sleep. I then ask my climber who climbed Kilimanjaro (5891m) last year. The solution will be for me 7 teas at 5 euros each and 2 aspirin tablets. It is not very cheap, but it will allow me to sleep 6 hours to leave as fit as possible !

The second and last day: friday 20th july – 2h30 – Refuge du gouter – 3815m

After a hard night, we get up at 2 in the morning for a big breakfast. We equip ourselves, at the same time as the other 60 people at the shelter. The instructions for the equipment are simple : we start with the sticks and the crampons attached to the mountaineering shoes and we put all our hot stuff on us (it can be up to -15 ° at the top). We are also equipped with a headlamp and we are roped. For the first part I would be the last roped, it’s not an easy place because we always feel late, but it is reassuring because it is safer.

The ascent at night is difficult because we see no further than the distance at which the headlamp lights. On the other hand, when we turn back we see only the lights of the strings which follow us in the mountain, which depicts a magnificent picture. We follow the “trace” (this is the path marked by climbers-mountaineers who frequent the same route as us.) Until reaching the Vallot observatory which is at 4362m. Here, Greg tells us that we have to put the walking sticks. We will continue with the ice ax because the ridge on which we walk is more and more narrow and abrupt.

From this moment, there are only 45min of ascent to the summit left, but not least! As we walk at night, we have a clear sky that allows us to see the stars and the summit that still seems so far away. The guide understands that we are very tired of climbing, but he does not slow down. He is still not listening and is moderately reassuring. He then tells us: “There is no summit or refuge here, we take one step in front of the other and we blow at every step! You can raise your head when we are up there for now, concentrate on your bases! “. We carry out.

It is coming out of this “tunnel” that Jeremy and I understand that we are on the summit ridge. The day rises little by little, we continue to advance, towards the summit which now seems so close. We finally reach it at 5:15. We did the last part of the climb in 3 hours, which is a good pace and we are not to be many at the top, which is a real pleasure. Arriving, we can admire the sunrise on the different mountains. I then felt the same sensations as on a finish line back to the time I was practicing athletics; a feeling of accomplishment and exaltation that I can not find anywhere else. Surprisingly, we do not have time to enjoy this moment. On one hand, because we can not stay there for security reasons. On the other hand, because we have all the descent to perform and that it presents the same risks as the ascent. We still have time to take a sip of water and some pictures.

The return to the Refuge du Gouter with the sunrise is still a superb sight and we go down without a hitch to reach Saint-Gervais for lunch. It is at this moment that we become aware of the lived adventure and the feelings that it has procured for us.

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I thank CEERRF for funding part of this project which will remain one of the most memorable experiences of my young adult life. I think I have taken a liking to the mountain, despite the risks it generates, through this adventure. I can not wait to dive into the next adventure !