It didn’t occur to me that this would be a year of extreme climbing on the biggest mountain in EU, Mont Blanc. I am proud to share this unique experience about this sleeping white lady and also hope that you can enjoy in it through the photos that you can see here.
The journey that had been planned for several months was about to be made. My journey started in Belgrade and for the other members of our team in Moscow (four Russians and I were in the team for this venture) and we were supposed to meet in Geneva. There we rented a car and headed off to France, or, more precisely, to Chamonix, where we chose a base for the following eleven days. The main goals of the expedition were to get trained for the alpine glaciers climbing at very low temperatures (to get prepared for one of our main projects this year), purchase the necessary equipment for some future expeditions, go free riding on deep and immaculate snow, go base jumping from the top of these beautiful mountains and, of course, to climb Mont Blanc, if the weather conditions are favourable.
As soon as we arrived there we checked in a hotel and got the suite which had been booked in advance. We spent the rest of the evening buying the equipment we hadn’t had or things we had planned to replace. Finally, we went for dinner in a lovely restaurant with great food and ambiance.
The following morning was gloomy and cloudy and it didn’t seem that the weather would warm up. The temperature was about -8C, and it was quite cold. However, we stuck to our original plan and headed off to Index gondola which ferried us to 2396m high mountain summit. We got warmed up a bit by skiing down the wonderful skiing paths. After that we started our first climbing as a part of the training for the coming adventures. The time had come to take out our crampons and sticks and repack our equipment. Then we began climbing. The very steep path ahead of gave us a hint of what we were about to experience during the following days. We climbed the summit called Crouches-Berard at altitude of 2701m quite easily. All the effort we made to reach it was forgotten as soon as we skied down the mountain, through the intact snow, far from skiing paths. Soon, we climbed up again to the place where saw a beautiful landscape and path that led to our final destination – Le Buet.
After we had come back to Chamonix by train, we stopped to the meteorological centre to check the forecast for the following days. Even though the French woman who worked there was very kind, the information she gave us wasn’t encouraging. We found out that temperatures were going to go down even more, and that made us think whether our project of climbing Mont Blanc was going to be successful.
We also found out that nobody, I repeat, nobody climbed Mont Blanc at this time of the year. Everyone waits for April or May. The reasons were the cold weather and the risk of avalanches. When we asked the woman what temperatures could be expected up there at the top, she answered: “I really don’t know. Nobody has been there lately.” Valery then told her: “Thank you for all the information, and concerning the temperature at the top, we will inform you soon.” Did she take us seriously? …I am not sure!
We started our next training on a gondola called Brevent which had had its own line through the mountains in 1928 when it had been used only for trekkers and in summer. Many different tracks lead from Brevent summit which is 2525 m high, but many of them have been closed due to various perils.
After we went down the half of the slope we climbed again to the gondola station called “North Face of Brevent” The track we had chosen didn’t look easy to climb at all, and soon that turned out to be true.. But all the thoughts that spring to mind such as: “What am I doing here…and why…, believe my words, all vanish as soon as you reach the summit. The view from the top captivates you and you immediately forget all the difficulties. Besides that, hot tea from thermos flask assures you that small things really can make you happy.
But I certainly won’t forget the ascent of the mountain! And the descending from the top was definitely something special. White snow ahead of us was exquisite.
We are certainly always aware of the great risk of avalanches, but snowboarding or skiing definitely offers more that just an unforgettable pleasure.
Next day we had a new training. The beautiful sunny day made us choose one of the most demanding climbing locations. We brought the full equipment (crampons, snowshoes, and a lot of other useful things we had been using the previous days). First we drove to the place called “Grands Montet” where we went on a gondola that took us to the 2200 m high summit. Then we changed the gondola. The gondola “Grand Bouchard” helped us reach the 3300m. Descending down the wonderful glaciers that were shining in the sun was only a beginning of an adventure that was ahead of us. We headed off to a valley that was 2260 m high. We took a break and took some photos before we started climbing. Step by step we were approaching our starting point. I realized that my physical condition (although I was quite well trained and fit) wasn’t good enough. The whole team was ahead of me and I was struggling to maintain the climbing rhythm. I managed at last and continued climbing, while I was fighting the various thoughts and the incredible silence around me. I was constantly adding some snow to the remaining tea in my thermos flask which only made my thirst even greater. The scorching sun made me think of it as a more serious enemy than snow and ice. We all gathered at the bottom of the mountain preparing the necessary equipment (icex, crampons, ropes) that we needed for climbing the steepest slope on our way to the top. After five hours of climbing we reached the “Com du Passon” summit, which is 3028m high. And again, we were thrilled by the scenery. It was windy but the snow looked perfect! It took us 60 minutes to descend to the place called “Le Tour” which was 1300m high. Everything was very exhausting, both physically and psychologically. Was it worth it? Yes! Would I do it again? No!
The following day was bright and sunny with no sign of any clouds and we enjoyed the sunbeams on our suite balcony. Anton and Sergey decided to stay in and take some rest, and Valery and I wanted to go for the first base jumping since we had arrived. (they jumped, of course, and I was the member of the team who was in charge of taking photos). Looking from the top at the famous Base Jump exit “Lui Philippe” you can notice its shape of a human head. Since I had been watching them jump for years, I got the feeling as if I was doing the same, and I believe that nobody can describe what they feel in those moments.
We went back to the hotel for lunch and then, everything all over again…packing the equipment and going back to mountains. The plan for the day was to take the gondola “Aiguille Midi” up to the 3800m high summit, and then to ski and snowboard down to the camp “Refuge de Cosmique” which is situated at the altitude of 3613m. There we were to have dinner and stay for the night. All this simply sounds incredible. People from all around the world (about fifty) came to an absolutely amazing place to spend the night! As soon as we arrived we felt the mild symptoms of altitude sickness, so I have to say that prior acclimatization should not be neglected when it comes to climbing of this and similar kinds.
Sleeping in the camp was better than we had expected and there is no more vivid description to offer than to mention ten worn out mountaineers in the same dormitory. After breakfast we climbed one, not very high, summit in order to try out some climbing techniques that we might have needed. Valery and Max were eager to share their previous experience with us.
After we had reached the top, we went down one of the most famous and largest path in Chamonix, “Valee Blanche” that is 20km long, starting at altitude of 3800m and ending in the centre of Chamonix, which is at altitude of 1300m. The fantastic glaciers and beautifully carved rocks made the scene unforgettable. After almost two hours we were at the end of this stage of the project. In the evening we spent some great time in an exquisite French restaurant “Le Manche”.
Having been very tired, the next day we decided to spend the morning Base Jumping from the exit point called “Belvedere” which is a bit higher than “Lui Philippe”. The rest of the day was reserved for spa and relax treatments in one of the well-known French spa centres.
The next morning, after a thorough planning, we embarked on, up to now, the greatest climbing adventure. Our mutual goal was to reach “Refuge” and the height of 3063m. Having started from a 2250m high place, we arrived in a hiking centre after five hours of strenuous climbing. My final goal had been achieved and the rest of the team decided to keep climbing to the Mont Blanc summit the following morning. The premises of the hiking centre are very unusual to describe. Inside is even colder than outside! We immediately got down to preparing some hot tea and soup. Cooking food on a gas cylinder we brought with us created a real atmosphere of climbers’ lifestyle. All we could think of was changing into some dry clothes. The mere fact that (as we found out from the registration forms of the centre) the last guests had come there on March 14 (two days before we came) and, that before them, nobody had been in the centre for 8 months (since September 23, 2009) speaks for itself. There were also four French climbers there at the same time as we were, doing the same things, trying to keep themselves warm and saving the strength for the next day and climbing Mont Blanc. Sleeping bags and extra blankets are always there, in the centre, for everyone who might look for a place to spend the night.
The temperature of -8C inside the camp makes you think about other beautiful things in life. At two in the morning everybody woke up and started making tea again. The preparation of food and equipment began. The French climbers had already left the camp and the members of my team followed them. I had achieved my goal so I could stay in a warm sleeping bag, waiting for the sunrays and cold air to wake me up. Then I put on my clothes quickly (I had never get dressed so quickly in my life), and then I made some tea. That day was absolutely perfect for me! I spent time in the camp, watching the walls with various photos, visitors’ signatures and many notes and messages that made this place vivid and unique. I wrote down a note about our expedition in a notepad that had been there since 2005.
After 12 hours of climbing, Max and Valery conquered Mont Blanc, while Sergey and Anton reached the height of 4000m, due to high wind and very low temperature of -20C. Occasional ice avalanches put their lives at risk, which is the reason why climbers don’t usually set off on the journey to Mont Blanc at this time of the year. The moment they got back to the camp we headed off to Chamonix, because it was getting dark.
Although it had been planned to end the expedition at dusk, it wasn’t before 2 o’clock in the morning that we reached Chamonix. The end of this story has to be told some other time (we decided to keep the end of the adventure for ourselves), but it can be said that we found ourselves in a seriously dangerous situation, with avalanches, low temperatures, glaciers and ice cracks…The most important thing is that we were all safe and sound after ten days of the expedition, the expedition that we will always remember as something so different from all the other daily activities. We will also never forget the great time we spent together. And, of course, the new “Extreme Russian Project” is already being planned!
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco (French and Italian, respectively, meaning “White Mountain”) is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises 4,810 m (15,781 ft) above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence. It is also sometimes known as “La Dame Blanche” (French for “The White Lady”). The Mont Blanc Massif is sometimes considered to be part of either the Pennine Alps or the Graian Alps.
The mountain lies between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Haute-Savoie, France. The location of the summit is on the French-Italian border but French and Swiss cartographers place it within France’s boundaries on maps. Recently, at the end of his studies of many different maps and with auxiliary of Istituto Cartografico dell’Esercito, Antonio Napolitano, the Italian leader of a mixed commission, claimed exclusive Italian ownership of the summit.
The two most famous towns near Mont Blanc are Courmayeur, in Aosta Valley, Italy, and Chamonix, in Haute-Savoie, France — the site of the first Winter Olympics. A cable car ascends and crosses the mountain from Chamonix to Courmayeur.
Begun in 1957 and completed in 1965, the 11.6 km (71 mi) Mont Blanc Tunnel runs beneath the mountain between these two countries and is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes. The tunnel is sadly famous for a major accident which occurred on March 24th 1999, when a truck caught fire inside the tunnel and caused a fire that lasted for 53 hours and cost the lives of 39 people. The Col Ferret separates it from the Pennine Alps; the Little St Bernard Pass separates it from the Graian Alps; the Arve valley separates it from the Aiguilles Rouges and the French Prealps. The French side of the Mont Blanc Massif is drained by the rivers Arve and Isere. The Italian side is drained by the river Dora Baltea. The Swiss side is drained by left tributaries of the river Rhône. The three borders converge near the summit of Mont Dolent.
Mont Blanc Massif is popular for mountaineering, hiking, skiing and snowboarding.
The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on 8 August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel Paccard, and the first woman to reach the summit was Marie Paradis in 1808.
The mountain was the scene of two fatal air crashes of Air India Flight 245 in 1950 and Air India Flight 101 in 1966. Both planes were approaching Geneva airport and the pilots miscalculated their descent; 48 and 117 people, respectively, died.
The summit of Mont Blanc is a thick, perennial ice and snow dome whose thickness varies, so no exact and permanent summit elevation can be determined. But accurate measurements have been made. For a long time its official elevation was 4,807 m (15,771 ft). Then in 2002, the IGN and expert surveyors, with the aid of GPS technology, measured it to be 4,810.40 m (15,782 ft 2 in).
The actual rock summit is at 4,792 m (15,722 ft), and is 40 m (130 ft) away from the ice-covered summit.
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc or, more commonly, Chamonix is a commune in the Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It was the site of the 1924 Winter Olympics, the first Winter Olympics. The commune’s population of around 9,800 ranks 865th within the nation of France.
Situated near the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix shares both the summit of Mont Blanc and the title of highest commune in France with its neighboring commune, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. The commune is well known and loved by skiers and by mountain athletes of all types. Mont Blanc, at a height of 4,810 metres, is the third most visited natural site in the world. This lends the area a notably cosmopolitan atmosphere. With an area of 245 square kilometres, Chamonix is the fourth largest commune in mainland France.
Chamonix is a popular winter sports resort town in France. As the highest European mountain west of Russia, Mont Blanc holds a special allure for mountain climbers, and Mark Twight has described the town as “the death-sport capital of the world” because Chamonix serves as an ideal playground for almost all types of outdoor activity, especially in their more extreme variants, such as ice climbing, rock climbing, extreme skiing, paragliding, rafting, and canyoning.
Chamonix is famous for its spectacular cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m). Constructed in 1955 it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Point Helbronner (3462 m) from Entréves in the Aosta Valley (Italy) it is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc Massif by cable car.
In the summer months Chamonix is a mecca for alpine mountaineers, drawn to the area by challenges like the north face of the Dru, the Frendo Spur on the Aiguille du Midi, traversing the Alps on the legendary GR 5 footpath or more accessible challenges like summitting Mont Blanc (by a number of possible routes).
Apart from high-mountain summer sports, Chamonix is also a destination for the hardcore mountain biker. As well as the obvious lift-assisted areas for Freeriders there are hundreds of kilometres of challenging hidden singletrack trails – often only found with the help of guides.
The west face of the Petit Dru above the Chamonix valley near the Mer de Glace.
Chamonix is also a haven for advanced skiing and snowboarding. The Vallée Blanche glacier runs down from below Mont Blanc du Tacul and the Aiguille du Midi to the valley. This spectacular route can be skied or snowboarded, though care should be exercised due to crevasses. Aside from that, the valley has about six separate ski areas, including Le Brévent (a short but steep walk from the town centre), La Flégere (at Les Praz), Les Planards (ski area for beginners and early intermediates), Les Grands Montets (at Argentiere) and Domaine de Balme (at Le Tours). Many of these provide challenging terrain, especially off-piste, with runs down to Switzerland.
The holding of the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924 further raised Chamonix’s profile as an international tourist destination.
By the 1960s, agriculture had been reduced to a marginal activity, while the number of tourist beds available rose to around 60,000 by the end of the 20th century, with about 5 million visitors a year.