Mountaineering Around Mont Blanc
A weekend expedition to bag one of Europe's highest peaks, captured on 35mm film
It was early August when my buddy Jan, who got me into mountaineering and climbing in the first place, pitched the idea of a Switzerland mountaineering trip. The plan was to summit Schreckhorn. He explained it would involve glacier camping and wonderful exposed ridge traverses. Obviously, it was a no brainer.
Jan, myself, and another pal packed our gear and started the six hour drive from Slovenia to the Italian-French border. As usual, Venice and Milan were just afterthoughts when we passed them on the arrow-straight autostrada. It was getting dark when the flat of the Padan Plain gave way to the hills and mountains that surround the bilingual Aosta Valley—a gateway to some spectacular snow-capped peaks between Italy and France. We drove the length of the valley and almost literally bumped into the 4,808-meter Mont Blanc massif. Our campsite for the night was a deserted parking lot just outside Courmayeur, a wonderful little town. Two of us slept in the back of our Renault station wagon and the third member of our party slept outside. No one seemed to mind.
We got up early the next day, gorged on some orange juice, crackers, and peanut butter, and headed towards the bottom station of the cable car that shuttles passengers up to Punta Helbronner at 3462 meters above sea level. I would usually prefer hiking—and saving the 40 euro for a good meal—but our packs were really heavy, since the plan was to spend a couple of nights in tents on the glacier. When we got to the top, we roped up, put on our winter gear and after a little walk found a nice little nook on the glacier that was shielded from the wind. There we set up camp, and then started hiking again.
The goal for the day was to traverse the ridge of Aiguille d'Entreves, a wonderful granite spire with stunning views of the Mont Blanc itself. The approach on the glacier took about two hours, and the actual climb lasted roughly the same. The climbing was wonderful: quite exposed, but very well secured and not too difficult. A couple of parts did get the adrenaline flowing though, so I will definitely remember that day for a long, long time. As for the other two guys: the traverse was just an acclimatization climb for them. Their real plan was to traverse Les Grandes Jorasses in the next couple of days.
With this in mind we headed back to camp quite early. We cooked a meal of instant noodles, which tasted absolutely great after the strenuous day, and went to sleep as the sun set behind the rolling clouds that gradually engulfed our tent. Jan and his friend got up at 4 a.m. to start their two day adventure while I stayed in place for a couple more hours, having not slept well due to a lousy sleeping bag. In the morning light I slowly packed up the tent and headed for Rifugio Torino, a mountain hut half an hour’s walk away.
The other two had taken only bivouac essentials with them, leaving me to carry all the leftover equipment. As such, my backpack had become even heavier. I stumbled into the rifugio and ordered some tea and apple cake. Italian mountain huts really are the best—Italian food tastes just as good at high altitude!
The real project was to get back down to the valley with the enormous backpack, since the loads of weekend sightseers coming up the mountain weren't very keen on moving out of the way. And then the final shock—it was peak summer by the time I reached the bottom cable car station, and I was still in my winter clothes. I practically ripped them off, threw them into the trunk and headed towards the town to explore.
The next couple were spent camping in Val Veny, hiking the valleys that surround Courmayeur and the Mont Blanc massif, eating the filling Aostan food (a wonderful fusion of French and Italian cuisines) and waiting for my friends to finish their difficult traverse. I picked the two up a couple of days later–they were completely exhausted, but very happy with their great achievement. After stopping at a gas station to gorge on rest stop sandwiches we drove home through the night, fueled by Martha's new record and memories of the recent adventures.
see more beautiful film photography from Jaka here