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New Route in Mont Blanc Massif - Ultra Traversée de la Mer de Glace

© Charley Radcliffe

Over nine days, French alpinists Fred Degoulet and Benji Ribeyre circumnavigated the Mer de Glace in the Mont Blanc Massif, opening up a new route in the heart of the Alps.

Fred and Benji on the Rochefort Traverse.  © Charley Radcliffe
Fred and Benji on the Rochefort Traverse.
© Charley Radcliffe

Starting on 8 July, Fred and Benji set out on their second attempt to climb from Chamonix to Chamonix via the ridgeline surrounding the Mer de Glace. At over 54km with more than 10,000m of ascent, the route takes in eleven 4,000m summits, traversing some of the most iconic mountains in the Alps.

Fred and Benji enjoying fresh food at the Salle à Manger.  © Charley Radcliffe
Fred and Benji enjoying fresh food at the Salle à Manger.
© Charley Radcliffe

Seeking a Himalayan experience but closer to home, the two alpinists set their sights on this unclimbed loop in 2021. A horrendous start to last summer stopped them before even reaching halfway, as they battled blizzards, storms, and winter-level snows. This year, the dry conditions enabled them to move faster while also going much lighter.

The current heatwave was also a hindrance, though, as the blazing sun and warm days made for loose and dangerous rock along most of the traverse as well as requiring them to drink 5-6 litres of water each per day, all from the melted snow and ice they could find.

Fred and Benji coming over the top of the Pointe Walker on the Grandes Jorasses.  © Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe
Fred and Benji coming over the top of the Pointe Walker on the Grandes Jorasses.
© Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe

The pair completed the loop over nine days with 96 hours of non-stop climbing, testing their mental and physical endurance to the absolute limit.

The Traverse begins in Chamonix town centre and leads up over the Aiguille Verte, the Droites and the Courtes before tracing the backmost corners of the Massif over Pointe Isabelle, Aiguille de l'Eboulement and the Leschaux glacier.

Fred and Benji traversing the Aiguille du Toule under the watchful eye of the Dent du Géant.  © Charley Radcliffe
Fred and Benji traversing the Aiguille du Toule under the watchful eye of the Dent du Géant.
© Charley Radcliffe

The pair then moved onto slightly better-travelled ground across the Petites and Grandes Jorasses traverses to reach the heart of the summer guiding region.

Fred and Benji climbing the South West Ridge of the Tour Ronde.  © Charley Radcliffe
Fred and Benji climbing the South West Ridge of the Tour Ronde.
© Charley Radcliffe

From there, they crossed the Rochefort Ridge, the smaller summits separating Italy from France, and moved onto the Kuffner Arete before looping round to a full traverse of the Chamonix Aiguilles and descending to town.

Fred is an IFMGA High Mountain Guide originally from Lyon, who now lives and works in Chamonix Mont-Blanc. In 2018, he won a Piolet d'Or for his ascent of the South Face of Nuptse, Nepal.

Fred and Benji arriving at the Dent du Geant after the Rochefort Traverse  © Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe
Fred and Benji arriving at the Dent du Geant after the Rochefort Traverse
© Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe

On his latest adventure, Fred commented:

"We treated the UTMG like a remote expedition in the Greater Ranges with the same ingredients of logistics, effort management and heading into the unknown. This epic mission to enjoy, explore and rediscover this massif was physically and mentally very hard. Physically, due to the effort required to move forward day after day for 10 hours+ at a time and mentally due to the drastic deterioration of the mountain conditions along most of the way."

Fred and Benji at the finish of the UTMG, the Chamonix Church, showered in Champagne.  © Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe
Fred and Benji at the finish of the UTMG, the Chamonix Church, showered in Champagne.
© Charley Radcliffe/@charley.radcliffe

Benji is also an IFMGA High Mountain Guide, originally from Romans sur Isère, who now lives and works in La Grave. His climbing has taken him from Alaska to Nepal, and beyond. In 2020 he completed the Arctic 12, climbing and connecting the twelve mountains over 2000m in the Arctic Circle of Sweden.

Beji emphasised the good fortune that the pair had experienced in everything coming together for the Mer de Glace traverse. He said:

"The success of this project is a combination of factors combined with the same level of luck required to win the lottery. Having the right rope companion, the right conditions on the mountain, a ten-day weather window and all while not getting hurt despite the poor quality of the rock. It has been an incredible opportunity!" 

Key Statistics

54.6km route

>10,000m+ of ascent

9 days / 96 hours of climbing

View this FATMAP topo of the loop.


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19 Jul

Fantastic achievement. But if ever an article was in need of a map......

Check the FATMAP link at the bottom.

19 Jul

If that's not inspirational I don't know what it is 👏 awesome!

20 Jul

I'm pretty sure that quite a while ago Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins attempted this voyage a couple of times.

20 Jul
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