Reaching the summit of Mont Blanc is a dream that many realise each year, and here we look at the top 10 tips to help you achieve the summit too. As you’ll soon realise the preparation comes in many forms; physical, logistical, ethical and psychological…
Tip 1 – Take the right kit
The old army adage of the 7P’s Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, couldn’t be truer than for taking the right kit on Mont Blanc. Whilst it is fine to hire all the technical equipment, your choice of clothing is exceptionally personal, and it is key to select good kit that fits well, doesn’t rub, moves well with your body shape, and is light yet tough. This choice comes from experience of long days in the mountains, in all weathers, when you really discover what kit works for you.
Tip 2 – Gouter Couloir
Ghouls can scare themselves silly looking at YouTube footage of incompetent teams in the Gouter Couloir. The photo below shows its meagre size, that is disproportionate to the amount written about it. As long as the timings are respected on the mountain, you help minimise the risks of rockfall. Go early in the day when the couloir is cold and in shade, keep an eye out for any rockfall (impossible in the dark), move quickly and efficiently, and don’t stop for any reason. It’s over before you realise.
Tip 3 – Coping in the dark
An early start at around 3am is required on summit day, to take advantage of well frozen snow, lower winds, and to manage objective risks. Many people aren’t used to being in the mountains in the dark, and the LED light gives a very flat light 2D perspective where it is hard to gauge depth perception. Practise at home going out on training runs or walks in the night, so you build up confidence in dark, and get used to minor details such as finding pockets in the pitch black, and adjusting your hood with gloves on.
Tip 4 – Train to succeed
Every single training session you put in before your trip will raise your chances of summit success incrementally, and in climbing the measure of success is not reaching the top, but returning home with a smile on your face. Someone arriving completely spent on the summit, is unable to take in the surroundings, and then faced with a huge task of the huge 2500m descent of the mountain. Training is not just for the summit, but for enjoyment and to increase your safety. Don’t skip a single training session.
Tip 5 – Look after your guide
The IFMGA mountain guides are phenomenally experienced and well trained, but they cannot pull you up a mountain, and are there for your safety. Don’t forget that they are not climbing robots, and it’s always great to see groups showing interest in their guide as a fellow human. By looking after each other, you develop a personal relationship, that is essential for a successful and happy ascent. Simple acts like buying the guide a drink, or asking about their life away from Mont Blanc, goes a long way.
Tip 6 – Improve your footwork
No previous crampon experience, or climbing rope-work, is required for an ascent of Mont Blanc, however the 1:2 guiding ratio ensures that technical experience can be gained during the week. The one thing no guide can teach that quickly is how you can move quickly and efficiently over broken mountain terrain such as scree, easy scrambling and boulders. The best training for this can be done in the modest hills in the UK, to develop balance, confidence, efficiency and ankle strength progressively.
Tip 7 – It is steep!
Some people complacently state that Mont Blanc is ‘just a walk’. We call bullshit on this claim, as the summit ridge (see the photo below) is like walking along the roofline of a house, apart from in this case the roof is over a kilometre long, with a drop of several hundred metres on either side. When the weather is good, there is a decent track on the mountain, but both you and your guide will be highly attentive to the steep sections. Whilst the route is technically relatively easy, it demands constant respect.
Tip 8 – Adjusting your pace
Good pacing is crucial on Mont Blanc. That doesn’t mean going slowly. It means moving efficiently, not losing time, judging your aerobic / anaerobic threshold, respecting the timings on the route to minimise objective dangers (afternoon storms, rockfall, crowds etc), and keeping safe. The guide’s key role is to set a suitable pace for their group, and consequently all teams generally move at different rates, acting independently from other groups in the mountain. Pacing is an advanced mountain-craft.
Tip 9 – Dealing with the crowds
People often ask when is the quiet season to climb Mont Blanc. Look at the reservations for the Gouter Hut, and you’ll see it is normally fully booked every day throughout the summer. There is no quiet season, aside of bad weather days. If it’s quiet on the mountain, someone knows something you don’t. Prepare for the crowds by training well to get ahead of slow groups, take ear plugs / iPod to sleep well in the hut(s), and pack your rucksack to avoid time lost faffing in the post breakfast pre-dawn melee.
Tip 10 – Determination
Some people claim to be so determined that nothing will stop them. There’s a very strong correlation between these people, and those with no previous experience of mountaineering. Determination is an educated state of mind, that requires some knowledge of what it is determined to succeed on. The most genuinely determined people don’t share their thoughts. They quietly get on with it, constantly learning, taking in their surrounds, and focusing on the job at hand. They succeed.
The most important message in this article, is that we want you to enjoy your ascent of Mont Blanc, not to simply cope. We climb mountains for fun, to share experiences, and to learn about a different part of the world.
We’ve written this article with no commercial edge at all. In fact some of it may be off-putting to some, but we hope this is for the right reasons, and it merely delays your attempt until a year in the future when you are prepared. If you have any questions at all about this climb, please get in touch. If you would like to read more about the routes on Mont Blanc, click here. All those booking on an Icicle course receive very detailed kit lists, training advice, and logistical plans to help you prepare well for your ascent, so we have already countered many of the tips and issues highlighted in this blog post.
In summary we hope the key message is that while Mont Blanc is a busy mountain for commercial ascents, it is your physical, emotional, and ethical preparations which make this a human ascent of which you can be proud. We hope that some of the tips here are really useful to you, and increase your changes of a successful ascent of Mont Blanc. Enjoy!