/ Mont Blanc, Where to start?

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Alpine-Fella - on 22 Apr 2014
Hi everyone.

I would like to climb Mont Blanc this summer but I have only been climbing on and off for the last year and a bit. I would say very I'm fit compared to most, I run and race mountain bikes all the time.

I have a few quick questions I'm hoping someone might be able to help with:

1)
I hear the climb is not very technical ( depending on the route you take )Would I need to practice using crampons ? anything else to learn? Also where to learn?

2)
I cant afford to pay an expensive guide to take me up, so where could I find other people that might be interested in climbing with me?

Thanks for you help
ablackett - on 22 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:


Any route will require glacier travel, so you need to learn how to cross snow covered glaciers and get yourself out of a cravasse. You will need to learn how to use Crampons, move together, assess avalanche danger, avoid alpine storms, navigate back to the hut in a whiteout, use a walking axe to cross slopes and self arest. The BMC DVD Alpine Essentials will show you the basics. Then you can either get on a smaller route and practice with a mate, or go for it. If you just go for it you will be taking a risk. The alps are big mountains and if you make a mistake you could die.

Would you climb the longest rock route in the uk if you had learned how to place protection, tie the knotts from a book or dvd?

You will need a climbing partner, try to convince one of your mates, you probably won't find anyone interested in your local climbing club.

Paul Everett - on 22 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

If conditions are good there is no technical difficulty in going up the gouter route but conditions can change and you must be capable of knowing when to turn back.
But you do need to check conditions as new snow on ice can be fatal. You need to practice using crampons, understand the danger of snow build up on the base of the crampons and all the other things. Have a look at the Glenmore lodge U tube videos.
Would not recommend doing it without experienced people. Having said that, that is how I did it. Just a group of three of us who had done a few very easy glacier traverses but we were very lucky with the weather and the conditions.
Try putting a post up on UKC, asking if anyone fancies trying it with you
Solaris - on 22 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Where to start?

UKC, this page, top right hand corner: the search button. Lots of useful advice and information.

To answer some of your questions: the key thing to learn is mountain sense, and that comes with experience. Joining a club or getting out into the hills and learning with some mates would be a good way of building experience.

And count yourself fortunate that you can't afford a guide: nothing against guides but you'll get far more out of climbing MB if you do it under your own steam, even/especially if it's after a few years gaining experience.
blackreaver - on 23 Apr 2014
Bruce Hooker - on 23 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

> Mont Blanc, Where to start?

It's tempting to say "At the bottom", but that might sound flippant. In fact it isn't as climbing Mont Blanc, even by the ordinary route, is not on the same level as climbing Snowdon or Ben Nevis, even in good conditions. The dangers are much greater for the unaware and it's not for nothing that the Gouter Route has the highest number of deaths as any other single route, year after year.

It's quite true that it is technically easy for an experienced mountaineer, but that's the point, the first step should be becoming at least a relatively experienced mountaineer, on glaciers as well as scrambling, used to long climbs, etc. then before the actual climb getting acclimatised to altitude, a couple of weeks is advisable doing lower peaks, then go for Mont Blanc and do it in good style.



scottie390 - on 26 Apr 2014
"I cant afford to pay an expensive guide to take me up"

Can you afford not to hire a guide?
altirando - on 26 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Why not go with one of the trekking groups that include an ascent of MtBlanc after an altitude training ascent of something like the Gran Paradiso? And your questions - do I need to practice using crampons? - do demonstrate you really need to gain some wider experience on less committing mountains first. Don't think I would like to tie on a rope with you!
Mark / Alps - on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

From an experienced climber's perspective the easier routes on MB are not very technical. In good weather, conditions when you are fit and acclimatised it can seem straightforward. Especially if all the decision making and risk assessment is left to someone else / an expert. However, the weather and conditions vary hugely and quickly; having the skills and experience to judge these things ( and learn how to operate safely in different conditions ) takes time / experience / practice.

Some possible options:

1) Find a group of like minded people, read the books, watch the dvds, learn and develop your skills somewhere easy and build up experience. Eg; Crampon and axe skills on the Mer de Glace, ascent of easier and lower routes in good conditions. Eg; Petit Fourche.
Great fun, likely to be a slow process, somewhat risky. ( blind leading blind? ). Many people find this very satisfying.
2) Find an experienced alpine climber ( group ) who is happy to share their skills and knowledge with you. Build skills and knowledge under guidance. Put out a post on UKC and fill in your climbing details on your profile. Perhaps look for climbing clubs / groups.
Great fun, likely to be a much faster process, generally much safer.
3) Join a course or hire a guide with a mate or two. Develop the knowledge and skills fast. The course could lead to an ascent but, IMHO, more satisfying to climb MB independently after gaining the knowledge and skills from the course / guide and climbing other peaks too.
More economical than a personal guide. You know the person teaching you is an experienced expert and does know what they are talking about. Eg: Jagged Globe, Icicle, ISM or a British Mountain Guide
4) Hire a guide to escort you up and down.

Have fun
cb294 - on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

The general rules of climbing apply: Start at the bottom, end up on top, then the same thing in reverse.

Seriously, aiming for MB as a trophy summit when you have to ask these questions is rather pointless.
niallsash - on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to cb294:

This statement was always comin at some point. Just give the advice he asked for or nothing.
tistimetogo on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to niallsash:
No the comment by cb294 was well made. I climbed Mt Blanc only at the end of my 3rd trip to the Alps (each trip being over 2 weeks min) and with over a decade of winter and climbing experience behind me. It should be said that going without much experience increases risks hugely (especially without a guide) and by asking these questions the op sounds inexperienced enough to be facing disappointment/injury/death if they try Mt Blanc.

A few points for the op
-The French normal route (Gouter) can be done without making any technical moves. But that doesn't mean a situation couldn't occur that would require climbing/rope and nav skills. You could slide down an icy slope and have to return to where you were. And it is very likely that you could face a white out and need to use your compass to navigate.
-Acclimatising is hugely important. I would spend at least two weeks min climbing at in between heights before going up as high as MtBlanc summit
-Being experienced with crampons and axes is essential to climbing Mt Blanc. If you haven't used these in Scotland/somewhere else then you shouldn't be on the mountain. There are plenty of parts of the Mt Blanc route were you can die if you stumble/fall. It is a climb, not just a high walk.
-On a more positive note; I had no problem camping a few hundred metres from the Tete Rouse having walked in from Chamonix and have never employed a guide for anything. Alpine climbing can be done cheaply.

Iím not saying donít go for it. But I would suggest that you have a big few learning curves ahead if you want to succeed. My suggestion would be to go on an Alps trip with a few easier targets in mind first (maybe with like minded friends), get the experience that will keep you safe and then come back again for the white lady.
James Jackson on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Be warned that while the climbing on the trade routes is not technical, there is high objective danger - be it in the Grand Couloir or crap coming down from Mont Maudit on the other side. The dangers from those, amongst others are what people mean when they talk about mountain sense.

The routes clearly get a lot of traffic, and most people don't die, but don't let that make you think it's just a matter of technical expertise.
tistimetogo on 27 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Just looked at your proifle. You live in the ALPS! All sympathy just vanished. Find a friend to go practice winter skills and snow/ice climbing skills with.
niallsash - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to tistimetogo:

The point would have been well made if it was followed up by exactly the type of good advice you were prepaired to share. My issue is only against condescending one liners that give little or no help or advice to the op.
BEZZER - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

In my humble opinion you would be foolish to attempt Mont Blanc without the use of a professional guide. Even then there is still a risk. Let's not forget that Roger Payne (a well known and much respected British guide died on Mont Blanc)!

Your call entirely but I would strongly advise you to hire a guide. Good luck and obviously it goes without saying that fitness will be a key part of your preparation.

Simon
ByEek - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:



> 1) I hear the climb is not very technical ( depending on the route you take )Would I need to practice using crampons ? anything else to learn? Also where to learn?

My first outing on crampons was up Mont Blanc. It isn't that hard. You just place one foot in front of the other trying not to put a hole in your gaiters.

> 2) I cant afford to pay an expensive guide to take me up, so where could I find other people that might be interested in climbing with me?

Post on here. Also, make sure you do some acclimatisation before making a summit attempt and if you lack confidence to get yourself out of a tough spot, go up onto a glacier to practice the basics before you go for it.

Good luck!
paul fleuriot - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to BEZZER:

For what it's worth...if you want adventure, optimum satisfaction and a meaningful and memorable experience just give it a go. Rely on your fitness,a definate plus, learn from your own judgements when you have to, take advice from whoever you wish, but above all do it yourself. You will not get the full satisfaction any other way. Above all you will learn a sense of judgement and self reliance and self trust. Often the hardest knowledge to gain or, indeed, be taught.
Or just pay someone drag you up, no worries, but you got the 'tick' didn't you?
Rigid Raider - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Many years ago my brother and I who were reasonably experienced British mountain walkers and climbers, decided to go to the Alps and thought we'd start by climbing Mont Blanc. We camped in a field and waited for good weather while trying to work out where to go, reading pages photocopied from a guide book. We went into a climbing shop and bought 30m of 9mm rope, which we thought would be useful, then we realised we had no insurance so we walked into an office and bought some. After a while we got fed up with waiting so we went over to the Bernese Oberland and had a go at climbing the Zinalrothorn. What a disaster! Locals watched and said nothing while we filled our water bottles from a pipe running into a trough then set off in the wrong direction. Soon we realised and had to retrace our steps past the refuge, eventually arriving far too late in the day at a big gap below the main summit where we discovered that we had filled our bottles with soapy washing-up water. The final rock summit looked terrifying so we decided to retreat back down the gully we had climbed, which we managed to do while being strafed by terrifying buzzing rocks and not get killed. A couple of days later we walked up a glacier in fog, realising too late that we were strolling over crevasses filled with slushy snow, then climbed a rocky spur to the summit of the Aletschhorn, just over 4000 metres, which we somehow survived. It was a saultory lesson in the difference between British and Alpine mountaineering. If I ever went up an Alp again I would definitely admit that I lack Alpine experience and take a guide.
BEZZER - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Rigid Raider:

Well written "Rigid Raider". Very sensible advice. I too am looking to get out into the Alps but will definitely do an Alpine mountaineering training course first and then follow it up with some Alpine mountaineering. Both Gran Paradiso and the Breithorn look like good bets for a first Alpine 4,000 metre peak.
jon on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Rigid Raider:

> After a while we got fed up with waiting so we went over to the Bernese Oberland and had a go at climbing the Zinalrothorn.

Ah, bet you didn't find it!
Bruce Hooker - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to BEZZER:

> In my humble opinion you would be foolish to attempt Mont Blanc without the use of a professional guide.

Sorry but this simply not true, loads of people climb Mont Blanc without a guide but as many posters have said you do need a bit of experience in the Alps and then get acclimatised for the actual climb. Absolutely doable without a guide, and infinitely more satisfying. On the other hand whether doing this climb is of much interest from the climbing point of view is another question.
Bruce Hooker - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Rigid Raider:

Sorry to be brutal but I don't think your approach to Alpinism is the only alternative to paying a guide... common sense could creep in somewhere between two don't you think?
butteredfrog - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

... common sense could creep in somewhere between two don't you think?

I thought that too, a read up on glaciers and self rescue, a bit of practice somewhere relatively benign and the application of a bit of common sense are all that are needed to be safe. Its all a matter of staying focussed.
jon on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

> Absolutely doable without a guide, and infinitely more satisfying.

Out of interest Bruce, how do you know?
Bruce Hooker - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to jon:

It's true I've never paid a guide but I've watched them dragging enough coughing, wheezing customers up climbs that we were doing next to them to make an opinion of how satisfying it would be... Sorry to knock your profession. Surely you don't maintain that guideless climbing isn't the best way to do it for those who have the time to invest?
Lusk - on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

Acclimatisation is key!
The two times I've done it were after a few weeks gaining altitude.
Cruised it both times, enjoyable experiences.
Otherwise you'll just have a grim time.
Try getting the cable car to the top of the Midi as soon as you get there to get a feeling of what you'll be up against.
jon on 28 Apr 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

> It's true I've never paid a guide (...) dragging enough coughing, wheezing customers up climbs (...) Surely you don't maintain that guideless climbing isn't the best way to do it for those who have the time to invest?

Bruce, I think you are doing the majority of folk who've ever paid a guide to go climbing an enormous disservice. Admitedly, not in such an unpleasant way as another UKC user who recently (last year sometime) described all clients as 'pathetic'! I personally have never dragged anyone up climbs. My clients in the main are/were proficient climbers who were short of time or short of climbing friends and a few who wanted to learn SAFELY about the Alps and its specific skills. What you seem to not realise is that some people actually want to pay for a guide's services. Bullying them to go into what they perceive as a hostile environment on their own or with some 'experienced' friend is often not what they want to hear. Not everyone has the same level of confidence as you. I've often looked through your windmill thing and have been impressed by some of your adventures but you have to appreciate that not everyone wants that degree of adventure.

Obviously I'm speaking in general terms here as the OP made it clear that he doesn't want to pay for a guide.

Rigid Raider - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

There's a difference between being inexperienced and being idiotically out of your depth, as we were!

The benefit of a guide is that you save an awful lot of time just working out how and where to do your chosen trip. A guide will get you there and up by the most efficient route and will have contingencies in place if the day doesn't work out as planned (as should any competent mountaineer) and will get you back down safely.

We were grateful for our British guide when we skied the Haute Route; on one particular descent off a col in fog, we needed to avoid skiing into two massive crevasses by taking a zig-zag path between them. Without the guide's knowledge we could well have died. After that week with a guide and several other shorter trips I now feel experienced enough to undertake a trip on touring skis.
Bruce Hooker - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to jon:

> Bullying them to go into what they perceive as a hostile environment.. etc.

I don't think I'm bullying anyone, just answering a question. I agree that it's a lot to do with having the time to invest in gaining experience but when someone asks whether the "best" way to get into Alpinism is going with a guide I give my opinion, just as when people ask about whether it's worth taking courses and so on. The truth is probably that when I started most British climbers didn't have the money to do such things so the question didn't arise. Now that more "professional people" and young people earning good salaries climb the situation has perhaps become more like it was on the continent where the use of guides is more accepted.

From the safety point of view, I've lost friends who probably died through taking on something they shouldn't have but know many others who learnt to climb in the old bumbly way and became self reliant. What happens after you do a few routes guided, reaching a good technical level then decide to "go it alone" with a friend of similar experience, aren't you likely to come unstuck too as you won't have gone through the learning process, trial and error? There are arguments for both methods.

PS. Someone who's looked at my site! Miracles do happen after all, but I just noticed that a lot of the navigation buttons don' work with modern browsers and versions of java, also the popup descriptions on photos, so I'm going through it bringing it up to date. Half is done, half left to do.
ads.ukclimbing.com
pneame on 30 Apr 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

It's an excellent site, Bruce. Greats tales and photos. And history

But, on topic - I half agree with you and half with Jon.
i.e., not everyone wants to get scared, and it's probably not necessary.
However, getting scared does give you the ability to get through the being scared process and still make useful decisions. And, more importantly, know that you can.
Of course, you can get scared with a guide too! But they will be making decisions, so you can't be sure that you could do it yourself.
In my old age, I'd very happily hire a guide, however, if I was fit enough to make it worthwhile. Just as I have been known to climb sport routes. They are all aspects of the spectrum of climbing.

The OP probably does need to get a trifle more experience under his belt (and there are much nicer and less crowded mountains than MB to get this experience on).
jon on 01 May 2014
In reply to pneame:

Well Peter, strangely enough I don't completely disagree with Bruce either. It's the (UKC) stereotyped guide/client relationship that I have a problem with - the heartless ruthless angry obnoxious guide dragging the unfit coughing wheezing client up something that he isn't capable of. If this was really a typical everyday situation then the profession of guide would have died out decades ago. I'd point out that in my new role as retired gentleman of leisure, I have little or nothing to gain in defending guides...
CurlyStevo - on 01 May 2014
In reply to jon:

Most the french guides I've met have been chatty and friendly and even asked if its ok to overtake (and only at times it was fine), as well as offering free and useful advice and none of them were dragging up clients.

There was one occasion an out of shape elderly chap was crag fast on cosmic's and that wasn't going as well (stuck at the base of the 4b wall) - but he quite simply shouldn't have been there, the guide was getting quite frustrated but I guess he was trying to avoid needing rescued as he didn't have much time spare!
MG - on 01 May 2014
In reply to CurlyStevo:

I've had Swiss and Italian guides make tea ready for me when they have seen me sweating up to bivi hut. French ones have yet to do this. They need to get their act together.

jon on 01 May 2014
In reply to MG:

> French ones have yet to do this. They need to get their act together.

They just don't like tea. Too English.

CurlyStevo - on 01 May 2014
In reply to MG:
I was on an ice climb in cogne and I got snacks and tea (at more than one belay, but it was only a hot drink rather than proper tea) from the french guide that was behind us for a couple of pitches :)

He did try to overtake once but the ice was quite aerated and steep on the line he took and he thought better of it and waited (we let him pass at the next belay - we were eating lunch anyways)
Post edited at 11:17
pneame on 01 May 2014
In reply to jon:

Bruce has 2, slightly conditional supporters, on one thread. Astonishing.

I've never quite understood the stereotype either, as like CurlyStevo, it doesn't seem to be remotely born out by the facts, even in the "good old days" where I suspect the stereotype has its origin.

However, CurlyStevos' story gives me a mental picture of the more shop steward type of british climber, who stops for a snack. French guide tries to overtake - safely and conveniently.
"Sorry mate, you'll have to wait. We were first."
"But you are stopped and it looks as if you will be here for a while"
[the tea water hasn't even begun to boil]
"Yes, but we were here first. You'll have to wait"
"Sacre Bleu"
[guide, with client in tow, starts the next pitch. Much spluttering and cursing and obstructive behavior ensues from the shop steward. Stereotype is written in stone]
Bruce Hooker - on 01 May 2014
In reply to pneame:

I've never been anti-guide, as in the regular threads where people moan about them pushing past and so on, especially as I'm quiet aware that one of the principal faults of British climbers, on average, is our slowness... myself included - you simply don't have time to faff about stitching a pitch up with extra gear, as you might on a British crag, and so if guides tend to push past a bit I can quite understand it. They are responsible for their client's safety and speed is safety to a large extent.

My difference is that I prefer to do things for myself, learning at my own pace and couldn't stand being obliged to go at someone else's speed and follow his orders. What I always liked about climbing was that you got away from bosses, fuzz and all the other constraints of civilized life and just did your own thing.

So when someone asks which is best I tend to say what I think. On the other hand, Jon's remarks about "bullying" people into climbing in a way that puts them at higher risk than they want, and by extrapolation that they can cope with, is a point, not the "bullying" unless they are really tender flowers but on a forum like this we don't know who we are talking to and I suppose it could encourage someone to take excessive risks, but in that case you'd have to think twice about expressing an opinion about a lot of things. Can we really not assume people reading these forums are responsible adults?
David Rose - on 01 May 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:
I began climbing in the Alps on a Plas-y-Brenin course almost 30 years ago, on which I did five routes in the Ecrins and learnt many invaluable skills. That gave me the confidence to undertake dozens more routes without guides, in summer and in winter, some quite big, but the people who gave me that grounding were, of course, guides. (Mainly the excellent Rob Collister.)

Sine then I have used guides on numerous occasions when I haven't felt sure I know what I'm doing - mainly off-piste skiing and ski-touring, and family canyoning trips. I have had nothing but great experiences and got to know some wonderful people, and explored parts of the Alps on skis I would not have known even existed. Anyone who knocks mountain guides in an ignorant and prejudiced fashion is, well, ignorant and prejudiced.
Post edited at 14:29
Solaris - on 01 May 2014
In reply to jon:

No, it's because his porter can't speak French!
pneame on 01 May 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

I'd agree Bruce, but as I get older I find that I'm much more aware of lack of time. So, while I'm highly unlikely to hire a guide as I'm hideously unfit and it would be a monumental waste of money, I might consider, for example, getting a guided tour of a museum if it was available!

But who am I fooling? I don't even like those recorded guided things that are so prevalent these days....

Absolutely with you on the positives of climbing. The closest I've got to the summit of Mt Blanc is (1) a fitness/food/liquids/fuel misjudgment on the Italian side a long time ago. Complete failure and one of the better and more memorable days in the mountains I've had, in that I learn't a lot about what not to do, and without coming close to causing myself harm (in my opinion - Jon would likely say I was lucky), and (2) more recently, a walk up to below the grand couloir by myself just to have a look, as I'd never been there. Another memorable day that rather put me off joining the crowds on that route.

So, I'd not dream of hiring a guide for MB by either of the standard routes, I might well consider it for something a bit more technical, like the frontier ridge. And, as it is a bit more technical, I'd expect to do a couple of less committing and easier routes with the guide first, which would likely be fun and where I'd learn things I didn't know as I would ask them to take me somewhere that wasn't a tourist trap.

So, back to the thought that the OP needs a bit more experience, so he can decide
(a) whether he REALLY wants to climb MB
(b) whether he should have a guide
(c) if (b) is yes, how to choose one

And your last question...... well......
But I've already stereotyped shop stewards!

jcw on 06 May 2014
In reply to jon:
Add to that list old age. I started my apprenticeship with a guide more than fifty years ago and I have finished my career with a guide for anything serious. And as a result have had some wonderful climbing, pushed hard but never by anything other than encouragement and a snug rope from time to time! And consequently made some good friendships.
herblai - on 30 May 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

- Mont Blanc's Gouter Route is not very technical but bad weather can put anyone in their back foot. For an inexperienced alpine climbed like me the major challenges are acclimatization and shifting schedule to suit weather.

- yes you need some practise on cramponing but not serious stuff. Watch a video and practise on snow for a couple of hours.

- but the logistic of finding a bed at the Gouter Hut can be a headache. The bed are booked up within 20min once released (exactly 30 days prior to staying). You are not allowed, mountain police check bookings, beyond the tram station unless you have a booking.

Lucky to say I summit via Gouter Route early July 2013.
GrahamD - on 30 May 2014
In reply to Alpine-Fella:

With respect, it sounds like you are trying to get 'an expensive guide' for free !

To be self reliant (not guided), you need time in the mountains - summer and winter.
nation1 - on 01 Jun 2014
In reply

So is it just rock climbing you have been doing on and off (indoor or outdoor ?) Climbing In the alps is incredible but it's a serious game for the ill equipped and can be fatal, anyone that thinks they can watch a video about crampon skills and ice axe arresting etc and then head off and tackle an alpine peak is just silly. You need to be confident and experienced when moving together as a pair, moving quickly and efficiently is key when in the alps, good rope skills, crevasse rescue skills, avalanche understanding and awareness, proper acclimatising and a climbing partner you can trust are all ingredients to succeed successfuly. If you have little or no mountaineering skills maybe look to join a mountaineering club and do your apprenticeship in the uk in summer and winter before moving to the alps, the plas y brenin centre offer great alpine courses by experienced guides. I learned the skills through my club and got to know some great alpinists whom I now climb with.

Wish you luck.

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