Peak(s):  Mont Blanc - 15,780 feet
Date Posted:  09/15/2009
Date Climbed:   08/18/2009
Author:  jbchalk
 Mont Blanc - 3 Mounts Traverse  

With the extremely busy summer for Kristine and myself between weddings all over the country, our own engagement party back east, my climb of Rainier back in June, 14ers here and there, and planning our own wedding down in Telluride this October, a seven summit was just not in the cards this year. But, our good friend and climbing partner Caleb Wray (RoanMtnMan) & his wife Jennie wanted to do a climb/trip with us, so we decided on France and Mont Blanc. Tickets weren't too expensive to Paris and it would be fun traveling around the country in a peugot with just the 4 of us thru wine country and climbing Mont Blanc together. Mont Blanc was considered at one point Europe's tallest mountain and a seven summit, but once Russia became considered part of Europe, poor Mont Blanc faded in seven summit fame in lieu of Elbrus getting the spotlight. Even though Elbrus may be 3,000' taller, Kristine and I enjoyed the climbing of Mont Blanc much more as it is a bit more technical with the route we took.

So, we flew into Paris, rented a car, spent two days tarveling thru the wine region of Burghandy drinking lots of wine and eating much french bread and cheese. We arrived in Chamonix and hit a campground. Then, the next morning, wer could see Mont Blanc massif rising almost 13,000' above us:
We decided on the 3 Mounts Traverse route mainly b/c we read that it was much less crowded than the easier and much shorter Dome du Gouter route as well as more exciting and technical. To access this route, we rode the very exciting Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (3,380') to the Aiguille du Midi (12,604'). My ears were hurting after exiting the cable car at the top b/c of the serious elevation gain in such a short period of time (I think cable car ascends like 10 m/s or something ridiculous like that). Here is a pic of the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi from the mid mtn station:
Jennie and Kristine on one of the observation decks on the Aiguille du Midi:
Here is a pic of our route - the 3 Mounts Traverse Route from the Aiguille du Midi. The route traverses over two smaller sub-peaks of Mont Blanc itself, Mont Blanc du Tacul & Mont Maudit, and then onto Mont Blanc - hence the route name:
Climber access thru the rock walls of the Aiguille du Midi:
From here, we donned crampons and axes and descended unroped down an impressive and very exposed knife edge ridge. Talk about excitement right out of the gate! Every step was made very carefully as there is no room for error especially unroped.
Then, we crossed the Col du Midi about 1000' below and made our way up to the Cosmiques Hut (11,867') where we had reservations:
Me peering down a small slot:
The Cosmiques Hut - the french sure do know how to build huts and cable cars!
The Cosmiques Hut was fantastic and very large - probablly 2-3 times as large as the biggest of our 10th mtn huts. We talked amongst ourselves, made dinner on our jetboils, and hung out with climbers from Europe and other parts of the world that evening.
Me and Kristine at sunset from the Cosmiques Hut:
Then, we hit the sack in our 1am wake-up-call bunk room. Woke up at 1am and had a wonderfully prepared breakfast (included in the hut fee) of bread, jam, cereal, and a bowl of coffee. Here is Jennie and Kristine getting geared up:
Then, we descended back down to the Col du Midi glacier (11,588') at 2:30am with numerous guided groups and independent parties in front and behind us. We ascended Mont Blanc du Tacul in the dark, traversed under some large seracs, and then found ourselves on the Col du Tacul and descended several hundred feet. We had some issues with routefinding here b/c some thick fog blew in and combine that with pitch black darkness, its hard to find your way. However, the fog lifted around 4am and we started the ascent of the steeper Mont Maudit (probably 40 deg snow and a couple crevasses to be crossed). It started getting light around 4:45am as we approached the crux of the entire route - a couple hundred foot 50-55 deg icy/snow headwall:
We took a break at the bergschrund at the bottom of this headwall and took in the views with the sky getting lighter:
We then broke out our ascenders and ascended the fixed lines for 200' or so to a rocky section in the middle of the headwall:
Sunrise over our route thus far:
I then free climbed the rocky section holding onto a few of the sketchy fixed ropes and climbed up to the top of the headwall after another 40' of steep snow/ice and belayed Kristine up. Kristine then belayed Jennie up to the top of the headwall and Caleb followed suit. We then traversed over steep snow to the Col de la Brenva (14,117') and took a rest. Jennie was not feeling well and seeing that we still had 1,700' of climbing to do, she decided to stay here while Caleb, Kristine, and I went for the summit. So, we made sure Jennie was OK, had plenty of warm clothes and her down parka on, a stove to boil some ramen, and we set off for the top.

While the skies were clear and sunny, the wind was extraordinarily harsh for our final push to the summit. It was pretty tough going with 60 km/hr wind in your face. Caleb and Kristine at around 15,000':
We ascended the final 1,700' in about an hour and a half and reached the summit of Mont Blanc (15,780'):
Me, Kristine, and Caleb on top:
The view down from the summit of the 3 Mounts Traverse route and the Aiguille du Midi in the far distance with Chamonix below:
We then descended quickly back to Jennie at the Col de la Brenva and started the traverse back to the top of the headwall on Mont Maudit. Kristine with Mont Blanc behind on the traverse back to Mont Maudit:
At the top of the headwall, there were several other groups trying to descend at the same time and it quickly became a fiasco with teams throwing ropes down all over the headwall. There were fixed pickets at the top for the fixed lines and Caleb and I decided the quickest descent would be to rap the headwall. So, we anchored the rap with the pickets and backed it up with our ice axe. I threw the rope and rapped the 1st 100' of the headwall down to the rocky section and then the girls came down after me. Caleb cleaned it and we all anchored into the top of the 1st fixed line at the bottom of the rocky section which was a fairly solid anchor. We set up a 2nd rap down to the bergschrund at the bottom of the headwall:
Kristine jumaring down the final 15' of the fixed line (our 2nd rap didn't quite make it to the bergschrund):
Glad to be off the headwall and away from the fiasco of people kicking ice down, we made it back down to the Col du Midi without incident and back to the Cosmiques Hut at around 4:30pm. A pic of the cable car over to Italy with the Matterhorn in the far distance on our descent:
We spent another night at the Cosmiques Hut and hit the sack early after a 12-13 hr summit day. The next morning we packed up, headed out across the Col du Midi glacier and back up the 1000' or so to the Aiguille du Midi cable car station after ascending the always exciting knife edge ridge of snow. What makes this knife edge so much more dangerous is that people are ascending and descending it at the same time and there is absolutely no order to it. One guy even held onto Kristine's pack for support on the descent of this ridge. So, we waited for a window for 45 min and then we were off and fortunately no one passed us. Caleb and I measured the snow angle on the Chamonix side and it was 55 deg of icy snow - A fall here without an arrest would put you over several crevasses and then over a 4,000' cliff...not good. I can't imagine that there's never been an accident on this ridge.

Here is the 4 of us back on one of the Aiguille du Midi observation decks with Mont Blanc and the 3 Mounts Traverse route behind:

We then spent 5 more days of traveling to the south of France in our peugot and then back to Paris for a couple days drinking fantastic wine and eating very well. A geat trip with my fiance and good friends Caleb & Jennie.

Parting shot of us relaxing on a pier in the town of Cannes on the Mediterranean Sea:
Thanks for reading...back to preparing for our upcoming wedding and fundraising for our Everest climb in 2010.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
Well, that about raises the bar now, doesn‘t it! (insert drooling smiley face) What a great trip report and beautiful part of the world so vividly depicted in your photos. Thanks so much for sharing and posting. Happy trails!


Nice one!
09/15/2009 18:33
I grew up in Les Houches just outside of Cham and have gone up Mont-Blanc several times. Les Cosmiques still is my favorite!


I‘m jealous...
09/15/2009 18:39
Congrats, that looks like it was an absolutly amazing experience!


Cool! Cool! Cool!
09/15/2009 19:13
I‘m very jealous. I can‘t wait to retire and consider a trip like this. A girlfriend along to enjoy it with would be nice too!

Absolutely gorgeous photos!!!



Thanks Fellas
09/15/2009 20:24
Some of the pics (fish eye pics, especially) are Caleb‘s pics (RoanMtnMan), so photo credit should be given to Caleb Wray no doubt. he is a fantastic photographer, especially in the mountains.

Chamonix, very cool you grew up over there and had the Alps as your CO I understand why so many Europeans are such great climbers...look what you grew up with!


Fantastic Trip!
09/15/2009 21:45
Great pictures. Thanks for sharing!


Very nice pics of a nice route
09/16/2009 01:19
I somehow ended up leading a CMC trip up that route in 1997. No fixed ropes then, but if there were a place to put them, that headwall is it. On the descent I remember getting to back there and finding about 100 people waiting to get down, with the weather deteriorating. I ended up belaying my team down the pitch off an ice axe. It was the sketchiest part of the day. It looked like you would end up in Chamonix if you slipped...


09/16/2009 16:43
Great report & pics; looks like it was a terrific trip. Congrats.


09/16/2009 22:50
thanks for the new background! Just trying to figure out which one to use. Nice report of the entire trip, now I actually have a reason to go to France. That shot looking towards Matterhorn pretty much paints a pretty vivid picture of the region, thanks for the report.


Gorgeous !
09/16/2009 23:55
Looks like an incredible trip ! Thanks for sharing, and best of luck with your wedding. Wishing you many years of happiness together !


Nice dude
09/17/2009 15:07
Nice work guys! Hope I can join you on one of the 7 summits besides Everest...but that would be fun too. The hut looks a little nicer than the ol‘ diesel hut eh?


Thanks Jordan
09/17/2009 16:27
Yey, man, much much much nicer than that ole diesel hut! It was as if we were expecting/preparing ourselves for a night in an Econo Lodge when we get slapped with a Ritz Carleton Residence!


09/18/2009 02:31
I think I will be on my way over to Chamonix now very soon! I‘ve read about that place; but wow, those pictures make it sound and look even better! I‘ll have to look into studying abroad over there or something! Nice report!


very awesome
09/18/2009 23:46
cham this winter for me!


I‘m jealous...
09/20/2009 14:27
Wow, 3 summits, great job! I‘ve tried a spur of Mont Blanc years ago (D‘ent du Geant) but didn‘t top out, I‘m envious. Looks like you love climbing in the Alps too, no? Loved the pier/beach shot, classic! Great report, thanks for posting.


Thanks Tom
09/20/2009 16:57
Yey, man, I loved climbing over there. I would love to do some of those multi-pitch rock routes on the Aiguille du Midi and ski in the winter over there. As with everything, I wish I could do a couple more trips over there to ski and climb...maybe sometime not too far down the road.


Mont Blanc
09/22/2009 01:36
You stole my report! But sadly my camera was defunct, so I loved your pictures. Anyway congratulations.
I climbed the same route on August 17 the day before you.
Unfortunately non of my old climbing partners were operational and I had to hire a guide - fortunately the same Italian one that I climbed with for 8 days around Mt. Cook in New Zealand in Feb. Took us 6.5 hrs to ascend the ~5000ft and then we went down the Gouter route to Le Nid Aigle and thence to Les Houches. A 14hr day. Since the weather was good we went to the Hornli hut on the 18th and up the Matterhorn on the 19th ~4000ft (5hr up) of 5.4 ish climbing, whereever there were difficulties there were gym sized ropes. Nothing as enjoyable as Mt. Blanc due to about 35 parties jocking for the same holds on the route.


09/22/2009 09:08‘ve inspired me to add yet another incredible climb to my ever-growing ”list”!


Thanks for the commenst guys
09/22/2009 13:53
Malcolml1, sorry to steal the TR That‘s pretty cool you were up there the day before we were. Be fun to get on that Matterhorn at some point. We were trying to make this trip more of a non-climbing trip since it seems all our international trips are climbing oriented, but that‘s not a bad thing at all

COmedic04, gotta love those ever-growing lists!


Thanks for the comments guys
09/22/2009 13:53
Malcolml1, sorry to steal the TR That‘s pretty cool you were up there the day before we were. Be fun to get on that Matterhorn at some point. We were trying to make this trip more of a non-climbing trip since it seems all our international trips are climbing oriented, but that‘s not a bad thing at all

COmedic04, gotta love those ever-growing lists!


My ears were ringing this morning.
11/30/2010 17:28
Can't figure out why I got up so early, now I know. Shouldn't Bill have an auto email go out when one's name comes up in such a memorable TR? Great trip ChalkBergers. Excited for the wedding this weekend in T-Ride. See you at the trailhead on Friday.

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