At the start of the year I mentioned in a post that this year, 2014, I wanted to start to push the boat out a bit more with regards to my hiking adventures. By push the boat out I was generally referring to taking on some bigger challenges as well as starting to go out hiking in other countries and locations further afield.
The prime target on the list for 2014 was to hike and climb Mont Blanc in the Alps. Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in western Europe at 4810 Meters high and so is much bigger than anything I've ever hiked and climbed up before. To give you a taster, check out the picture below of the summit of Mont Blanc. Looks pretty special doesn't it!
As it is a higher altitude, it of course means that to do it you need to hike in snow, ice, etc. even in the Summertime. Therefore it's not something you would attempt without …
Getting The Right Training
As I will be hiking in an environment that's completely new to me, getting the right training is crucial. It will involve hiking across deep snow and glacial ice which of course brings it's own unique set of dangers and problems like crevasses (a big hole falling away below you in the snow) and avalanches.
To hike in this environment, the right type of gear will be crucial and much of it, I will never have used before. Things like crampons (things you attach to your boots to enable you to walk on ice) will be new to me so again, getting the right training on how to use the right gear in advance is critical.
As well as gear, safety procedures will be paramount. I'll need to be trained on things like roping up. In brief, roping up means you are tied to one or two others by ropes. If someone falls down an aforementioned crevasse or the like, the others keep them from falling to hit the ground as they're tied to them and so can also pull them back up. Sounds a bit scary I know! I think for Mont Blanc, it would be one inexperienced person tied to one experienced guide.
Finally, hiking in high altitude will also be completely new to me. I did a post on altitude sickness some time back and, as I mentioned in that, I will be moving into the altitude sickness zone, above 2500 meters, which I have never done before. As also mentioned in that post too, there is a right way to do things to acclimatize properly to ensure you limit your chances of getting altitude sickness. Again, the training on this will be crucial.
To summarize, all the points above illustrate how getting the right training in advance is vitally important to not only maximize your chances of reaching the summit but also, more importantly, to keep you safe and alive!
Having Experienced Guides With You
This is a must for someone like me who is new to this type of environment and to taking on a challenge of this nature. Having appropriately qualified and experienced guides with you is not optional unless you are an experienced mountaineer and are used to the Alpine environment.
Guides will likely be the ones who do all the aforementioned training with you, to help learn how to use the gear, but they are also critical in exercising judgement. What I mean by this, is that there are lots of factors to consider when attempting something of this nature. For example, the weather plays a crucial role.
Experienced guides know what a certain forecast will mean and how to act accordingly. Obviously, if it's heavy snowfall and visibility is zero it would be a no-brainer and you probably can't attempt to summit. However, there are many more subtle weather possibilities which while not as obvious could still have a significant impact. A certain wind pattern, which may normally mean little under normal circumstances, could have a whole different impact in the Alps and have more dangerous implications e.g. an electrical storm.
That's where the experience of guides is vital. They've been there and know how to react appropriately given certain conditions. They know if it's better to attempt to summit via one route, given certain conditions, as opposed to another route. They also know when it simply isn't safe to proceed and to hold off for another day or simply call it quits!
Ready To Rock!
With the above two priorities in mind, we started the hunt for a good trip provider that ticked all the boxes. There are many ways to approach it but we decided to try and go with an established company that was well recommended.
As luck would have it, when I was skiing in the Alps over New Year's, one of the Guys in our party had used a particular company, who specialize in running trips to Mont Blanc, only last Summer. Uncanny I know, he was a friend of a friend and I only met him at the airport. Within a few minutes of talking to him, somehow it came up. Very good luck I thought! Anyway, he highly recommended a company and so we had a good place to start. It's hard to beat a personal recommendation from a trusted friend!
I did look across several companies as well but I ended up choosing the one he recommended. There are plenty of good options out there. It seems possible to get private guides or to sign-up to a package via a company and probably a few other options in-between. I'm sure they all have their merits.
How Much Will It Cost?
With regards to price, from what I could see it worked out pretty much the same across the board. For a weeks trip including training, acclimatization time in the mountains (with hiking to another summit or two close to Mont Blanc as part of that) and of course your summit attempt, you will be looking at approximately two thousand euro (Accurate at time of publishing in 2014).
Not cheap I know but for the nature of this, I don't think it's a bad price. On top of that, you will need flights, Geneva is the best option to fly to from my research, as well as a transfer to the town of Chamonix which is close to Mont Blanc. You should also factor in a few hundred bucks to hire snow and ice hiking gear like crampons, harnesses, helmet and so on.
Most trip providers will offer gear hire separately or as part of their package. You may also need to buy a few bits and pieces in advance like a good rain jacket or a 30-40 liter backpack. Finally, with a bit of spending money thrown in, I think you would be looking at two and a half to three and a half thousand euros all in (approximately $3400 – $4800 US as of exchange rates Feb 2014). The large gap allows for a significant difference in flight costs which will vary significantly depending where you are coming from.
Some companies do offer several options if you are an experienced hiker / climber and so you could do it just over a few days. This option is of course a bit cheaper as it assumes you don't need training and will make one attempt directly at Mont Blanc rather than doing any pre-summit attempt climbs on other mountains e.g. other lower peaks around Mont Blanc. Not an option for me and my friends at this stage of the game 🙂
It is worth noting here though that your summit attempt is weather dependent so you should try and give yourself a window of a few days to do it. Yes, it is possible that you can go all that way and the weather isn't in your favor and it simply isn't safe to do it. Would definitely be a bummer but of course better to be safe than sorry!
If you're thinking of doing Mont Blanc, here are a few companies to get your search started. I looked into all of these and they all seemed pretty good:
Well, that's really it for this post. I just thought I'd put an update in on this, as it will likely be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, hiking / mountaineering trip that I will be taking this year and I am of course psyched to do it! Can't wait 🙂
I would consider myself pretty fit but I will need to start upping my hiking and fitness activity in preparation. Hiking with weighted packs for longer distances and that type of thing. It will give me a good excuse to get a few other to-do's off the list beforehand, any excuse for a hiking trip 😉
I hope you find this bit of information useful if you're considering climbing Mont Blanc at some point in the future. Personally, I think it will be a great experience and I am really looking forward to it. I will of course do a post on how I got on after the trip. I hope the weather is kind to us when we get there!
Have you hiked and climbed Mont Blanc? Any tips or suggestions on the best way to do it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!