Oliver Chater Ltd

Oliver Chater Ltd

Chamonix '23

A quick outline of my mountaineering trip to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (12-16th June 2023).

Having booked through a UK Guiding company, I was paired with a number of IFMGA Mountain Guides throughout my week in Chamonix. There was a second group of three and ultimately due to weather windows forcing everyone to follow the same routes and schedule, we all stuck together. This proved hugely enjoyable as it meant there were people to talk to when we had the energy to do so!

The first mountain I attempted was Gran Paradiso (4061m) over the border in North Italy. Split over two days to allow for extra time at altitude, I hiked up to "Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II" (2735m) on the Monday. It was a gentle first day as I was below the snowline for the majority, this meant I could move swiftly and arrive at the refuge in time for a late lunch. It was a very comfortable refuge - 6 people to a room across two triple bunk beds, running water, and good food! I spent the afternoon practicing some safety drills like ice-axe arrests and crevasse rescues with my guide Cyril (French). We then rested whilst waiting for a second guide, Paulo (Italian), to arrive.

It was due to rain all night and most of Tuesday so I went to bed early as it was going to be a very broken night - getting up hourly from 4pm to check if there was a gap in the weather.

It wasn't until 8am Tuesday that I was able to head for the summit paired with Paulo. Due to warm weather the snow was in very bad condition - wet sludge meant crampons were not as effective as I'd have liked. There were about four false peaks on the route we took which added a lot of mental strain. We moved at a good pace, overtaking most other groups on the ascent. The summit involved a sketchy traverse along an exposed ridgeline, but Paulo and I were tied to each other with a short rope for safety ("short-roping").

The descent proved more challenging than I thought it would. Slushy snow proved slippery underfoot and clouds moved in to put us in near whiteout conditions. The rains came early and we were soaked by the time we got back to the refuge for lunch. However, we were fortunate as the storm passed quickly allowing us to descend in the dry back to the valley floor.

It was an intense start to the week, but very necessary as it allowed me to acclimatise as much as possible whilst getting my legs in gear!

I was originally planning on attempting Mont Blanc on the Thursday and Friday, staying at the Refuge du Goûter (3815m), and using Wednesday to visit Aiguille du Midi (3842m) so that I would have another day to acclimatise to the altitude whilst giving my legs a rest day. However, due to the early afternoon storms that are common in this early time of the season, I had to change plans and instead spread my attempt over three days, staying at the lower Refuge de Tête Rousse (3167m).

Cyril wasn't able to stay with us for the whole duration, so Alex (Spanish) joined Paulo as our guiding pair.

Due to my attempt taking place in the early season, the cog railway "Tramway du Mont Blanc" (TMB) was still closed. This meant, after arriving at Bellevue (1,794m) you have to walk along the railway tracks all the way to "the Eagles Nest" Nid d'Aigle (2380m). It's a surprisingly arduous start over the loose stone ballast, but fortunately I was able to wear my approach hiking shoes, and stash them out of sight once we'd reached Nid d'Aigle. Now in my firm "B3" alpine boots, we hiked up to the Tête Rousse refuge.

Over dinner we studied the weather to plan Thursday's summit attempt. Afternoon storms were moving in earlier than usual and our plan was to come back down to Tête Rousse after summiting, rather than staying at Goûter on Thursday night. This meant an early night in the restless dormitory as we were due to set off around 1am.

We were able to have a quick slice of toast before donning our head torches and fixing our crampons. The benefit of setting off this early, is that the cold night had set the snow - perfect conditions for cramponing, and lots of ice holding fast the normally loose boulders on "The Grand Couloir". A technical scramble up the arête lead to the Goûter refuge for a final loo stop, chance to refill water bottles, and leave behind excess gear (helmets) now we've passed the rockfall risk.

Sunrise was stunning. As we climbed the shoulder "Dôme du Goûter" (4,304 m) everything was basked in pink hues reflecting off the snow.

We stoped in "Refuge Vallot" (4362m), the last emergency shelter before the summit, and layered up knowing the exposure of the summit would significantly drop the temperature. Ditching our walking poles and switching to the ice axes, we set off to tackle the "Bosses Ridge" and the final summit approach. This relentless switchback filled with endless false peaks was were the altitude started to take it's toll - and left me walking as if inebriated. It had just gone 9am; fulled only by toast and a few cereal bars, exhausted, we finally reached the -20°C summit (4810m). It was beautiful, clear blue skies and bright sun beaming down.

We only spent 10mins on top as we had to make the long descent, but it was long enough to appreciate the feeling of standing on Europe's highest mountain. Looking down on everything in all directions, knowing that you'd have to travel all the way to the Caucasus Mountains to find the closest peak that trumps Mont Blanc.

As we descended, legs starting to burn with fatigue, a feeling of sobriety slowly settled as we reduced our altitude. Collecting our scattered gear on route, we stopped at the Goûter Refuge for a cookie and coke-cola - a much needed carb and sugar refuel!

The descent from Goûter to Tête Rousse was a fun technical challenge - climbing down is always harder than climbing up, however we made it back just in time to be clear from the afternoon storms. Dinner in the hut was an interesting mix of groups celebrating their ascents, and numerous others quietly reflecting on unsuccessful attempts (due mainly to the extra physical difficulty of narrower than normal weather windows on top of a lack of sleep!).

Friday was a lovely descent across the "Glacier de Bionnassay" into a beautiful valley via "Nid d'Aigle" to collect our approach shoes. The sound of cowbells from grazing cattle bellow guided us all the way back to Bellevue.

3D Visualisation:


© 2022 Oliver Chater LTD

© 2022 Oliver Chater LTD

© 2022 Oliver Chater LTD