/ Solo summit Mont Blanc guidance needed.

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resource 14 Aug 2019

Hi can anyone give me some advice on a solo attempt on the summit of Mont Blanc.

I will hopefully have an opportunity to attempt this next summer. I have been around plenty of known UK hill routes solo including scrambling routes such as Snowdon Horseshoe, Scafell Pike etc. fortunately none of them have posed too many issues. I now feel ready to attempt a climb on a “proper” mountain. After doing some research I believe Mont Blanc is achievable with the right preparation and not a bad place to start. I am not a member of any clubs and the guided group tours on offer don’t look very appealing  In the end I concluded its probably best to just do it solo and  walk up via the Gouter Route. As I have no Alpine experience can anyone make any recommendations as how best to prepare over the forthcoming winter, fitness etc.? Also advice on route finding and potential pitfalls  (besides the Couloir) along the route up as only thing that puts me off is falling down a crevasse on my own.

Many thanks.

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mrphilipoldham 14 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I soloed it as my first ever alpine peak, with no acclimatisation. Had done Rysy in Winter and Toubkal in the Spring in the months leading up to it. 

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not doable, but don’t believe it’s a safe walk in the park either.. I was probably a bit naive at the time.  Three roped people died between the Grand Couloir and the Gouter Hut on the same day as my ascent, which really put things in to perspective (and strangely glad I didn’t have a partner!)

The route is mostly a walk but there is sustained but equipped grade 1/2 scrambling up to the hut so hill fitness would serve you best.

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Webster 14 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

if your needing to ask these questions then you shouldnt be attempting to solo it!

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GridNorth 14 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I soloed Mont Blanc in 1997 via the Gouter which I also used to descend.  I don't think the 3m's would have been an appropriate route. I didn't see anything that looked like a crevasse but that doesn't mean they were not there.  The trail above the Gouter hut was deep snow but a trench had formed that was about 2 or 3 feet deep. I can't comment on current conditions but I found it very straightforward at the time.  Yes a few rocks came down the Grande Couloir on the descent but to be honest people above me knocking rocks off on the rock ridge seemed like a bigger danger as they were far more frequent.  Depending on the depth of the snow it is often possible to make use of a fixed rope across the couloir.  At the time it would have been more trouble than it was worth to use it as it was a long way out and I would have needed a rope to make use of it so I just scooted across as quickly as I could.

I would add however that I had many years alpine experience before I did it.  I would not recommend it if you do not have any alpine experience.

Al

Post edited at 20:52
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resource 14 Aug 2019

Thank you for all the replies, really appreciate it.

I understand that for some having to ask these questions would suggest it’s not a good idea, however no matter the quantity research I have carried out I don’t have the opportunity to ask those with real experience of the mountain directly as I simply don’t know any, The response from the small group of walkers I know has been “don’t bother”, so not very helpful!   I simply wanted to get to the point and avoid wasting any time being disillusioned by what is involved.

Post edited at 21:24
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In reply to resource:

Just don't forget retreat is long and altitude is significant.

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richlan 14 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Have a read of this:

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/how-to-climb-mont-blanc

Oh, and by the way, "proper" mountain, what are you talking about FFS ? *      **

*I am a country boy on a work trip in London and have been drinking beer and whisky

** Sorry

Post edited at 22:18
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RyanA 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I solo'd Mont Blanc this year (July). It was an amazing experience.  Obviously the advice is to take a suitable guide and put safety first.

I prepared for 2 years for this ascent, and before starting my trip, I had been over the route a million times in various formats from maps, books, satellite and streetview (yep, someone must have been paid well by Google). I would advise getting out in the Scottish winter on some treks etc. Good crampon skills are required, especially for some of the ridges nearer the summit. I bought most of the kit, but did hire a GPS device, which I would recommend. The route was easy to follow, but in the unforeseen events, it's beneficial to have one. Definitely don't skimp on kit. I did take some rope, prusiks, carabiners etc for crevasse rescue just in case. . There were a couple of hefty crevasses on the route this year. Try not to weight yourself down with too much equipment though

It goes without saying that climbing experience is very handy. Being able to rope yourself up, glacial traverse, crevasse identification and what to do when encountered etc will all reduce risk and give you a more safe and enjoyable ascent.

In terms of acclimatisation, my itinerary was as follows;

- Ascend to Refuge Bellachat and stay (2.3k)

- Summit Le Brevent (2.5k)

- Cable car up the Midi and stay at Cosmiques (3.8k and 3.6k). This was an amazing night.

- Ascent MB to Tete Rousse

- Summit day and back to Tete Rousse

- Return back to the valley.

I did incorporate a rest day after Le Brevent due to timings of getting down. Obviously it goes without saying that everyone acclimatises differently, but it is not to be underestimated. Especially if you have not been at altitude before. Ideally you should have experience of this. You should also plan this carefully and alternative options.

I would strongly recommend lots of aerobic training as well. Summit day can be circa 14 hours and it does get tough. Mentally, going solo is difficult as it's just down to you to push you up, rather than a group encouraging eachother on.

The Couloir to start in darkness was pretty dangerous. Even at 1:00am, rocks were falling. I'd take your time getting up the ridge to the Gouter, making sure you are safe, and using the fixed line where possible.

As long as you have prepared sufficiently and are in top fitness, this 'should' be achievable. Just remember that the mountain will always be there. If you don't feel prepared enough, defer it for another year. It's worth the wait. Also, when you are there, remember that the summit isn't everything. If the conditions don't permit, or start to change, don't hesitate to turn back and go another time. Once again, it'll always be there. Don't become a statistic of people who just want to 'bag the tall mountain' and end up being wholly unprepared and underestimate it.

There is a wealth of information out there on this and people on here with great experience and knowledge. Also remember that people who tell you not to do it are just looking out for your safety.

Bring ear plugs!!!!!

Good luck and stay safe!! 

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teh_mark 15 Aug 2019
In reply to RyanA:

> I did take some rope, prusiks, carabiners etc for crevasse rescue just in case. . There were a couple of hefty crevasses on the route this year.

Just curious: what were you going to do with those once you'd arrived at the bottom of the crevasse?

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Heavywater 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

The list of your "mountaineering" experience is painfully short.

May I suggest that you first try something with an experienced partner?

People die on the Gouter Route regularly, most have problems with altitude.

4-6 days of acclimatization should be enough to sort the altitude issue out, if you work hard on those days.

Do you have any crampon, ice axe, exposed ridge experience?

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Howard J 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

The UK routes you mention bear no resemblance to the Alps.  You don't mention whether you have any winter experience in the UK - familiarity and confidence with using ice axe and crampons is essential.

I attempted the Gouter route a few years ago but had to turn back due to altitude, so I descended solo while my companions carried on.  I was confident doing so because it isn't particularly technical, and you should have no difficulty from that point of view.  It had felt fairly safe going up, however descending in daylight I was surprised to see more crevasses than had been apparent when going up in the dark.  The path is obvious, and I was not the only one travelling unroped, but the thing about crevasses is that even if plenty of people have passed them safely you can never be quite sure until they open up beneath you.  If that happens when you are unroped you are in big trouble.

I believe that the upper part of the ridge is quite narrow, and you could face parties travelling in both directions.  You will need to be confident being unroped on steep, exposed and icy ground while other climbers try to push past you.

The truth is that soloing comes with enormous risks, especially in the Alps. What worries me is that you don't appear to have sufficient experience either in the UK or the Alps to make the necessary judgements.  I was appallingly naive on my first few Alpine trips, and when I look back I now wonder what on earth we were thinking - but we didn't go alone and unroped. 

I certainly wouldn't be recommending to anyone with no prior Alpine experience that it is OK to solo anything (anyone with experience shouldn't need to ask).  Whilst you'll probably be absolutely fine and will wonder what the fuss was about, there is a fair possibility that you might never be seen again.  At least there will be plenty of other climbers on the Gouter route, but if you get into trouble when unroped they probably won't be in a position to help you.

Somewhere on Youtube (I can't find the link) is a video of someone who clipped into the wire across the Grand Couloir with a sling to his harness.  He ended up being lifted off the ground by the tension in the cable and was suspended swinging helplessly right in the path of the stonefall, unable to move or get down.  Don't do that!

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JStearn 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I would ask, why plan to solo? It's easy to find a partner in Chamonix. I do solo things on occasion if I can't find a partner for whatever reason, but on a route like the Gouter your main risks are altitude problems, or ending up in a hidden crevasse. Both situations in which you will want a partner.

If you insist however, the route is straightforward enough if you have some winter walking experience, but on a much bigger and more serious scale. You would not want to be caught up high in bad weather. If you go in summer there will be plenty of people around if things do go south, but relying on other parties for your safety is impolite at best. Route finding is non-existent in good conditions, just follow the stepped in trail. Fitness wise, a lot of cardio and leg workouts should do the job. Do some other routes to acclimatise, the Aiguille du Tour or Gran Paradiso are good starts.

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ScottTalbot 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Why does your first experience of the Alps need to be the highest peak?

A friend of mine, with plenty of UK hilkwalking experience, did Mont Blanc on a guided Alpine Skills course. He said it was the scariest experience of his life! He has never walked/climbed in snow/ice since...

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Al_Mac 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I have been around plenty of known UK hill routes solo including scrambling routes such as Snowdon Horseshoe, Scafell Pike etc. fortunately none of them have posed too many issues. I now feel ready to attempt a climb on a “proper” mountain.

On a good day the Gouter route to the top of Mt Blanc is little more than a path if you're an experienced mountaineer but that doesn't make it easy or risk free. The couloir has falling rocks and therefore you need to pick your moment and be quick; that means moving swiftly and efficiently in crampons without catching your trousers and falling. Have you used an axe before in anger (as opposed to swinging one about in your hand as you walk)? Have you used crampons on uneven terrain whilst utterly knackered, hungry and dehydrated? Have you navigated down narrow aretes in total white outs while trying to work out where the point is to cut off onto another slope?

Being fit might help you but it's not going to mask your inexperience. People die in the mountains from being unprepared and inexperienced, and most of them will have probably thought that it wouldn't happen to them. But that doesn't help their friends and families who have to deal with the consequences. In the grand scheme of the alpine world Mt Blanc via the gouter is straightforward, but that isn't the same as saying it's easy or risk free.

By all means set your sights on doing it but either pay a guide, or do the necessary prep work before hand. Climbing and alpinism is an apprenticeship but too many people think they can shortcut this and use strength or fitness to achieve their goals. But this doesn't make them skilled if they succeed, merely lucky. At the end of the day you need to have the skills to operate in the alpine and mountain environment safely, and that comes with experience and time spent climbing with people who have the experience already. Crevasse rescue kit is utterly useless if you don't know how to use it, as are axes and crampons. All they allow you to do is get further up the mountain before you need to request help from the mountain rescue when you get out your depth.

Post edited at 15:31
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Mark Haward 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Lots of excellent advice from people above. The BMC article is great, you may find these useful too:

https://www.montblancguides.com/

https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/destinations/how_to_climb_mont_blanc_-_the_two_easiest_routes-5784

https://www.chamonix.net/english/mountaineering/climb-mont-blanc

I have climbed MB several times both solo and with partners and on several different routes over the years, none of them guided. You either need to gain the knowledge, skills, experience, fitness and acclimatisation required as outlined above ( plus ensuring the weather and route conditions are good too ) or join an experienced partner / group or hire a guide. 

    Enjoy the journey

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JStearn 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Forgot to mention, as you did ask what you could do to prepare over winter - get up to Scotland and do some big hill days, get used to walking in crampons and using your axe, stuff like CMD arete or other grade I ridges. 

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ogreville 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

> As I have no Alpine experience can anyone make any recommendations as how best to prepare over the forthcoming winter, fitness etc.? 

Do you have any experience in the UK in winter - crampons n axe etc? Any long winter days in Scotland - Glencoe, Lochaber, Cuillins, Caringorms - starts in the dark etc?  Loads of mileage in this would probably be a good shout for preparation. Also multiple days on the trot at 9/10 hrs a piece.

How about paying a guide in the UK for a 1-1 Alpine Preparation Course - someone who has been there and done it, and can apply their knowledge to similar terrain in the UK - expensive, but less expensive that the cost of repatriation of body back to the UK.

There are loads of previous Mont Blanc threads on here about prep and training.

edit - JStearn just beat me to it with exactly the same advice

Post edited at 16:14
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Enty 15 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

I did it last July as a 50th birthday present to myself. I live less than 4 hours drive away so I said why not?

I drove up to Chamonix, met a friend and we spent a day up in the Aiguilles Rouges. Not very high and not ideal acclimatisation but I only had a maximum of 5 nights away from home.

Next day I parked the car in Les Houches and got the Bellevue cable car up to where you can get the Mont Blanc tram to Nid d'Aigle. I hiked from Nid d'Aigle to the Tette Rousse and got there about 14h. I had two nights booked there and the mountain Gendarme about just down from the TR hut did check I had booked a bunk.

In the afternoon I hiked to the couloir and sat under a safe rock shelf and had a very entertaining hour watching the guides literally drag their clients across the couloir in between the afternoon stonefall.

I was up for brecky at 1:15 and out the door at 1:45. The Gouter ridge in the dark was ace,

Once on the Dome I could turn my headtorch off as it was almost full moon and very bright. Temperature was perfect.

I was somewhere around the Valot hut for sunrise then on the summit at about 7am.

Back at the Tete Rousse for about 11am where I collected my stuff, descended and I just got the 13h train from Nid d'Aigle back to the cable car and I was drinking beer in Cham at 15h.

My only previous Alpine experience prior to this was the Cosmic Arete about 7 years ago.

I had it in my head that in the case of any bad weather or headache I would go down. Only problem I encountered was a group about 12 east European military people all on one rope climbing the Bosses ridge. I had to stop, move to the side and let them through. You wouldn't want to slip here.

Other than that I saw one close crevase near the Gouter hut.

I commited to doing this just based on my cycling fitness (250km + rides in June and July) Problem was different muscles and I couldn't walk properly for about a week afterwards ;-)

Have fun!

E

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Enty 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Enty:

I typed this on my phone with fat fingers. ^^^^^^

Anyone know why I can't see the edit button?

Cheers,

E

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Howard J 16 Aug 2019
Misha 16 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Just to echo what people have said above and on previous threads where a similar question has been asked. It’s true that, for an alpine route, the Gouter Route is relatively easy technically when in good condition. However a relatively easy Alpine route is still way more challenging and dangerous than summer hillwalking in the UK.

To attempt a solo ascent (or even a roped up ascent with an inexperienced partner) without being  solid on your feet in crampons is pure madness. The route crosses very exposed slopes in places. If you slip there (tiredness, ice, tripping over your crampons) and you aren’t well versed in ice axe arrest, you may well die if you slip. Simple as that.

There are a multitude of other risks as well. What if the weather comes in, as it can do surprisingly quickly even on a blue sky day? Disorientated and unable to navigate in a white out, especially if there isn’t a good track (there might not be if there’s been recent snow fall), with the weather deteriorating. Not good.

If you fall in a crevasse, not good.

If you get exhausted due to inappropriate tactics, not good.

Plenty more things that can go wrong and mean you won’t get to the summit or worse.

Yes, relative beginners can do the route but they do it with a guide whose job it is to keep them out of trouble and maximise the chances of a successful ascent and safe return (even then, not everyone will get to the summit - but at least they will get back down safely).

If you don’t know a suitably experienced partner, I would suggest booking a Mont Blanc course with a guide. Ideally a week or longer, so you have time for technical prep, an acclimatisation ascent or two and to get more options with getting a weather window. You’ll have a great time and learn new skills, some of which would come in handy for winter walking / mountaineering back home. A winter walking course in Scotland would also pay dividends.

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Toby_W 16 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

My goodness, street view up a mountain, if I had really good air con and some vr googles I'd be sat on my arse in my office enjoying the view!

Cheers

Toby

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Trangia 16 Aug 2019
In reply to resource:

Mountaineering is inherently dangerous, and staying as safe as possible is all about how we manage and try to minimise the risks. Solo crossing a glacier with hidden crevasses is like walking through a minefield, or playing Russian roulette, it's a risk some are happy to accept, but one which others, including myself, feel is a risk too far. The choice is yours, no one else can tell you whether or not you should take it, but having lost, not one, but two friends, through fatal crevasse falls it's not a risk I'm happy to take. Many decades ago I fell into a hidden crevasse whilst leading and roped to two others. One second I was happily trudging in the sun through the beautiful mountain environment we all know and love, the next I found myself hanging free, suspended over a gaping abyss and could see the outline of my two companions through the frighteningly thin snow bridge above me. Getting out using prussiks was a real struggle as the rope had bitten deeply into the snow. Without that life line I would have died. Ever since then I've had a horror of dying by falling into one and becoming wedged by the constriction of a crevasse sides in the freezing darkness. 

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