/ Mont Blanc guides worth the money?

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Sam Maher - on 30 Sep 2012
Hi,

A Friend and I are looking to climb Mont Blanc for the first time next summer (2013) via the Gouter route. I was wondering what the general consensus is on hiring a guide. Mainly is it worth the money?

I currently have no experience of winter walking, although I plan to change this over the coming winter with trips to Scotland and hopefully, attending an alpine course at either Pyb or Glenmore lodge. My mate has several Scottish winters under his belt and we came to the conclusion that we'd rather pay to learn the skills for ourselves than pay someone else to know them for us.

We've both been climbing for 2 years (and walking, leading groups in 3 season conditions, for over 4 years each) and know that despite some people saying the Gouter route is easy, you underestimate routes at your peril.

As students fitness is not an issue although (I suppose as always) money is.

Would be greatful to hear your thoughts on our situation.

Sam

CurlyStevo - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher:
A lot of the literature suggests the jumping straight on to Mont Blanc is not sensible for 'novice' unguided alpinists and that you are better building up experience with a string of other peaks to gain experience slowly. I'm not saying you can't do it or that others haven't done it tho'.
Dave Kerr - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher:
>we'd rather pay to learn the skills for ourselves than pay someone else to know them for us.


Sounds sensible to me.
Tibbett - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: I gave Mt Blanc a try (Via Gouter) a year last summer. and due to bad weather was unable to get to the top. I did it this summer with just 2 of us, and had no issue. I have very little experience at altitude or in snow. I will never know quite how safe it was. but that is in nearly perfect conditions. So for me I feel a guide would have been a waste of my money.
CurlyStevo - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher:
I guess you relise the alpine courses are not actually "at either Pyb or Glenmore lodge." Indeed do glenmore lodge do alpine courses at all?

For a first trip to the alps irrelevent of UK experience I would suggest you either do an alpine course in the alps, get a guide, or go with someone more experienced. What ever you choose I'd get some descent books to read up before you train / go also.
JIB - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: Suggest you look at the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust courses first:-
http://www.jcmt.org.uk/courses/
http://www.pyb.co.uk/courses-conville-alpine.php

As for hiring a guide, try the Conville course first and talk to the guides who run the course. They'll provide an honest assessment of your prospects and, from your time on the course, you'll know what they're talking about.
altirando - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: Can't see the point in being dragged up by a guide. But of course Scottish winter doesn't begin to qualify you for glacier ascents in an alpine summer. As advised, try a few easier, lower snow peaks first before rushing up MtBlanc. You will enjoy the experience more.
highclimber - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: if you do get a guide, make sure it's a british one!
Darkskys - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: One of the best things to do is make your own judgement...I solo'd it after building up confidence climbing solo above the british equivalence carrying all the equipment on multi-day hikes and scrambles.
I also bought and looked up many routes to make sure the route was the right choice, although one thing I didn't do what I'd do again would be to acclimbitise correctly. I was up and down within 24 hours and felt absolutely dog s**t.

One of the best books I found was 5 ways to the summit by Francois Damilano.

As for crevasse rescue etc. I mucked about at a local park abbing off a bridge then prussiking up the rope.

Best of luck on a decision either way!
Tyler - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Sam Maher:

Are guides worth the money? Yes
Would hiring a guide give you the best chance of summiting? Provided there was a suitable weather window co-inciding with when you hire them, yes.
IS it the best way to go about it? Possibly. From my understanding British guides don't just drag you up a route but impart knowledge as well so you will learn a fair bit. On the other hand as students you will be time rich and the cost of a guide for 5 days could sustain an entire summer in Cham and may be more fun.
Tyler - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Tyler:

I should have said you *may* be time rich. I could claim the dole during summer hols when I was a student so never needed to work, I understand times have changed!
CurlyStevo - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Darkskys:
"As for crevasse rescue etc. I mucked about at a local park abbing off a bridge then prussiking up the rope."

there's a little more to crevasse rescue than that, in any case if you were soloing it won't be much use.
Darkskys - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: I guess but my plan was to do it with a friend, when crossing the crevasses (that were more than a leap) I planned to drop the rucksack as my secondary with a few knots in the rop at various places to help slow me down if I fell.

But I didn't need any of this as you can jump the crevasses.
CurlyStevo - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Darkskys:
Did you ever consider that some crevasses may be thinly covered with snow or the lips of the crevasses may be overhanging (like cornices) on thin snow?

I haven't heard of the rucksack being used as a second man before now, I guess your rucksack was very heavy?
Darkskys - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: My sack weren't too heavy, I just used my witts to assess the crevasses. Walking behind a group helped with elimination etc but thats the risks I had to look at when solo'ing it. I would happily solo Mont Blanc again in the same way except acclimbitising more appropriately :)
CurlyStevo - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Darkskys:
I wasn't really asking if you'd do it again or suggesting that you made the incorrect assessment of risk, as I wasn't there and didn't see the conditions.

Just trying to point out as the OP is not experienced in the Alps that glaciers are not necessarily safe to cross unroped because you can "jump the crevasses" and that the reason you have a rope isn't just to cross crevasses you can't jump!
marmot hunter - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
Seems like there's some staggeringly naive people here!
Using my rucksack as my second: Brilliant, just buy the new Berghaus self belaying model with auto-winch and instant emergency calling features as standard!
If the choice is: use my rucksack as my second (with a few knots in the rope) ro hire a guide I know which I'd opt for.
Indy - on 30 Sep 2012
In reply to Tyler:
> (In reply to Tyler)
>
> I could claim the dole during summer hols when I was a student
Them were the days!! :P
Pero - on 01 Oct 2012
I thought darksys was just trying to wind us all up with his alpine crevasse rescue technique. Then I found:

http://soloalliance.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/solo-glacier-crossingrisk-reduction-and.html

So, it seems there are more madmen out there using their rucksack on the end of a knotted rope! Astonishing! The website does come with the following disclaimer:

"The techniques described are to be interpreted for use by experienced Veteran and Solo mountaineers only! The content is unorthodox and does not conform with conventional,accepted mountaineering practice."

Darkskys - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to marmot hunter: I see where your coming from but it's better than nothing I guess. If you spoke to many top end adventurers who have done some pretty mental things in the past you wouldn't be calling them naive for taking chances.
I basically wanted to do the route with at least some security and if thats in the way of a rucksack, then so be it...it's better than nothing and at the end of the day, I got up Mont Blanc off my own back (minus a horrible headache for not aclimbitising) and would do it all again without a guide!
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Darkskys - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to Pero: Spot on, I got my advice off a friend who climbed Denali, when they carry all teir own gear in they follow the same technique crossing glaciers but with sledges
marmot hunter - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to Darkskys:
You'll be really popular dragging a sack behind you on Mont Blancin summer! Film it, you'll get a massive YouTube hit which will fund another adventure with a guide!
Wonder how many people you'll trip up?
At least you'll learn a few new French phrases too!
butteredfrog - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to marmot hunter:

Zut Alors! :)
Darkskys - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to marmot hunter: Like I said, it was for emergencies and I didn't use it. I'm sure they'd appreciate me doing something like that than dragging my ass out of a crevasse.

Try baggin it on your own without paying someone around 500 to take you up a big hill. It'll also make your balls slightly bigger :)
marmot hunter - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to Darkskys:
I've 'bagged' plenty of Alpine summits, often solo but I'm not dumb enough to cross crevassed areas alone. I assume if you fall in a crevasse and your sack follows you'll be keen/happy for a passing guided group to spoil their day to help you out. Especially as most crevasse rescues involve an upper body/arm injury 9having read the link).
I'm also not bothered about 'bagging' famous summits. I prefer quieter summits no-one in the pub has heard of. Why not choose a non-glaciated summit instead?
Darkskys - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to marmot hunter: I chose Mont Blanc as my friend and I wanted to climb it, I've climb other mountains in the region and across Switzerland and Austria...I'm not trying to brag, I just find paying half a grand for someone to take you up aq mountain is ridiculous

I wouldn't class what as done as dumb, as with all sports especially in the mountains an element of risk will always be at hand, but you can control it to a certain extent. Maybe this technique is unorthodox or even stupid...but if it come to a point where I had to use it, it'd be better than nothing.
Pero - on 01 Oct 2012
In reply to Darkskys: Whatever your views on soloing Mont Blanc yourself, it's not advice for a novice.
splaty on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: darkskys i think hat off to you. too many people have lost the spirit of adventure, self relience and personal responsibility. having said that if anyone wants to pay a guide then go for it, keeps a lot of my friends in jobs! to the op if you have the cash and see this as a short term pass time then go for the guide but mt blancs not going anywhere so youve got years to get the experience, non?
Darkskys - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to Pero: Dude...I done this after my first real winter season climbing, I'm still a novice now. I just done lots of research and read plenty of info on the route.

To the OP, hammer this winter doing long long days doing easy scrambles and climbing and build your confidence up. As nothing goes past a grade 1 scramble one of the main things is to book in a hut early and take it easy acclimbitising. Watch loads of vids on YouTube to see what your up against and also read as many blogs as you can...the more info you read you'll be able to make your own judgement pal
Darkskys - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to splaty: cheers matey...any things possible if you put your mind to it :)
IainRUK - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to Dave Kerr:
> (In reply to Sam Maher)
> >we'd rather pay to learn the skills for ourselves than pay someone else to know them for us.
>
>
> Sounds sensible to me.

But that's what guides do... Unless told.. As an ml some clients book me just for training.. To run them into the ground.. But most want to learn.. Your aim is to make you redundant to them... For me the best part of my job is having clients come up to me after they've finished a classic fell race and thank me for facilitating that experience....
Parrys_apprentice - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
> (In reply to Sam Maher)
> What ever you choose I'd get some descent books to read up before you go.

At least you'll get down ok then.
JIB - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to Sam Maher: I must admit that I thought you were being trolled when I read some of the later responses posted here.

It must be really difficult to make a reasoned and informed judgement when you read the range of opinion presented. The hazards of weather, crevasses, avalanche, route choice and altitude are dynamic factors which do combine to challenge and kill the most able mountaineers.

Yes, mountaineers can be lucky and survive despite their choices. They can attribute it to reading books, following blogs, or just staying in the footsteps of other guided parties; nonetheless, they are alive and others - less fortunate, but more skilled - die on the same mountain. This much is true.

Your options are not limited to hiring a guide. Let's look at them:-
1. DIY - following well-intentioned advice (like this, perhaps?) and practised techniques from books, DVDs and the internet, perhaps you might attend a BMC Alpine lecture; add luck...
2. A mountaineering club - there are numerous clubs in the UK, often with experienced alpine climbers and a European meet, prepared to support climbers such as yourself.
3. Conville Alpine Course - the inexpensive way to learn from a guide in the Chamonix area. If you are insistent on climbing without a guide or an experienced mentor, then this course is my recommendation.
4. Find an experienced partner/mentor on the climbing forums and climb as a rope of three.

Worth the money? Well, that's back to you again - what price are you prepared to pay to climb Mt Blanc?
Rollo - on 02 Oct 2012
In reply to JIB: A good summary JIB.

We skied/climbed this early season 2011 from Grand Mulet via the North Gouter Ridge. Trapped by weather and spent an unplanned night in the Abri Vallot. Summitted with fresh tracks the next day. Good Times!

Anyway, to add my two penneth:

I was the least experienced member of out team and had still had at proably 10+ days glacier travel experience. It would seem to be a big ask to this with next to none.

YES to acclimatisation, whatever your goal, makes it safer and more fun!

YES to investing in your skills- we wanted a PyB-type alpine skills training weekend but didn't want to pay to go to chamonix so got Stuart McCleese to run a bespoke one for us (through PyB). We went through loads of techniques up in Scotland but of course there are no glaciers to practice learning what crevasses look like!

I would lean towards up-skilling yourselves but would strongly suggest that when you experience glacier travel for the first time you are doing it with someone who knows their shit (Guide, Trainer, Experienced Friend....)

Good luck

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