Mont Blanc and the surrounding valleys, particularly Chamonix, are often considered the birthplace of alpinism; climbing in the Mont Blanc massif is a rite of passage for any serious mountaineer. Alas, neither Paul nor I had ever climbed in Chamonix until earlier this summer. I’d been there once or twice as a hiker and runner, which mirrors my strong suit: non-technical high altitude work. Paul - who is the bona fide alpinist among the two of us with his ascents of Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy, and Denali’s South Face - had never even laid eyes on Mont Blanc.
With big alpine objectives coming up this summer, we decided to rectify this gap in our respective mountaineering resumes and set plans in motion to spend the better part of June in Europe. I’ll mostly let the photos speak for themselves, but here are a few things we learned during our inaugural climbing visit to Cham:
Access to the mountains above Chamonix is truly unparalleled. Unfortunately it comes at a steep price - literally, if you decide to use one of the many cable cars to cut what would otherwise be a 9000ft+ ascent approach down to an easy walk.
Another side effect of the easy access and prominence of mountain sports in the area is that it gets busy up there; REALLY busy. We found that if you spend time on easily accessible routes in decent conditions you 100% will get climbed over, passed or elbowed - unless you choose to do the same to the parties ahead of you, or get up several hours prior to the typical alpine start to ensure you are the absolutely the first among many eager parties queuing up for the same route.
It IS possible to get away from people and enjoy an uncrowded experience as long as you are willing and able to walk farther, climb stronger, and spend more nights away from town. After our experience this past month, Paul and I are already jonesing to get back to the Mont Blanc massif with more local knowledge (and time, and stable weather) and do just that.
The local ibexes are about as habituated to hikers and climbers as elk are in Estes Park! On the same note, there may not be any friendly humming birds (Paul and I greatly enjoy their frequent visits to our van all over the American west) in Chamonix but the butterflies do a pretty darn great job to make up for that.
When it rains, it pours. Literally. We put our GoreTex layers to great use throughout our time both in the mountains and valley over there.
Wine is cheaper than beer. And while food is pretty pricey all in all, you can buy yummy gazpacho in any super market for next to no money. I wish the US was like that…
But, now I’m rambling. Without further ado: hope you enjoy the photos!