Alone on Mont Blanc

Will arriving at the summit of mont BlancAlone on Mont Blanc

An account of an Alpine training course and ascent of Mont Blanc with Wilderplaces.

Believe it or not but we had the summit of Mont Blanc to ourselves.

The secret to having one of the busiest Mountain routes in Europe to ourselves was to be out of sync with the crowds.
There were a few factors involved in this process.

  • A good acclimatisation plan
  • A fit and prepared group
  • Good weather
  • Overbooked huts ( see notes)

The team were from Dublin. Adam Niall and Will. They had all previously done mountain skills training with Bren Whelan of This gave them a good level of knowledge on the equipment and fitness for mountaineering. Our aim was acclimatise and learn the alpine skills necessary for climbing Mont blanc and other alpine peaks.

Will Niall Jimy and Adam at the Tete Rousse

To cut a long story short we spent 2 nights in huts at around the 3000m level and climbed a couple of peaks of rock snow and ice at about 3500m. The scary highlight of these trips was the (normally quite tame) very exposed climb up the snow arete to the aiguille de midi. A communal sigh of relief was heard from the group the guide and various onlookers as we arrived on flat safe man made terrain.

An exposed descent of the Midi arete

During the preparation days we covered techniques for rock climbing, belaying, use of climbing ropes, glacier travel ,use of ice axe and crampons and moving together over mixed ground. Due to their prior experience with Bren and some natural talent the lads picked up these skills fairly easily.

As we descended in The cable car from the Midi, Claire called from the office to say that despite continuous attempts to book the huts since late April she had been unable to get the places we required. Under normal circumstances with an average group of climbers this might have meant cancelling the attempt.

Not for us though. One big factor in our favour was that we within a few days of the summer solstice. This gave us plenty of daylight.

Armed with this knowledge we caught the first train to the Nid D aigle. We disembarked at 9 am and started to head for the Summit. Our plan was to take it slow and steady with plenty of stops for water and food.
First stop was the tete Rousse around 11.30am then a second stop at the Gouter around 2.30pm.

The gouter was already full of people waiting to go to the summit that night. A desolate place at the best of times it is made even less enticing when it is packed solid with people. It was with great pleasure that we left the hut and headed for the open and quiet mountain at 3 pm.The Gouter Hut at dusk

Apart from a few tents on the ridge behind the hut there was no one to be seen. Unfortunately at about 4000 metres Adam felt the effects of altitude and with Swedish mountain guide Jimmy Halvardson he decided to turn back.

Niall Will and I pushed on the next landmark, the Vallot hut at 4400metres. The early evening light shone down on a sea of clouds over chamonix on our left and italy and the gran Paradiso on our right. A strong wind was blowing and a small cloud covered the summit of Mont Blanc.Robbie And Will on The Dome du Gouter
We rattled and banged our way up the ladder into the Vallot. It was empty except for a bundle of cloth in the far left corner.
Sheltered from the wind we took the opportunity to have a snack and a drink. Anticipating a cold wind we added an extra layer of clothing. Now Niall hearing the wind howling outside and considering the long walk back to the Valley decided against continuing to the summit.

Then the heap of clothing in the corner came to life to reveal a Russian couple, one of whom was suffering from altitude sickness.Suffering from Altitude in the Vallot hutThey told us they had come over from Cosmiques hut. Their equipment looked like it had been bought in the sports department of Dunnes stores some time in the 1980s. They seemed tired, worn out but capable of descending the next day. They were in for an uncomfortable night.

Will And I headed for the summit. I don’t think this part of the ascent ever feels easy as it passes from 4400metres to 4800metres.

Quite often the final ridge is gruelling and bordering on misery. Frequently it is crowded and a precarious ( dangerous) maneuver is required as ascending and descending parties meet.
Climbing it at 7 pm on a Tuesday evening was a totally different experience. We went at our own pace and stopped to look at the view as we pleased. There was no one else on the mountain, the track in the snow was in very good condition. It was an experience bordering on pleasant.

Niall and Will on the descentAs we approached the summit Will took the lead. Summiting felt new and exhilarating. The best part of the day was cramponing down the ridge toward home as the sun began to set over Geneva.

It is was not an easy way to do Mont Blanc but certainly it was one of my most satisfying ascents

Looking down at the Aiguille du Midi


(This was part planning and part expediency. Although we had been trying to book the Gouter and Tete rousse huts since they opened reservations in April we did not succed in getting a place in the hut. We therefore went from the first train and returned to the Nid d aigle hut in the same day)

Will and Niall on the descent


Cosmique’s Arete

Robbie spend 5 thouroughly enjoyable days climbing with Pat Wigglesworth last week.  With 1 weeks climbing in Ireland with Bren Whelan ( under his belt Pat came to Chamonix to learn more.

They started off with some multipitch climbing in Vallorcine, then headed up high to experience some snow, and altitude with an ascent of from the Torino Refuge of a very enjoyable little peak called the Aiguille du Toule 3534m. Day 3 saw rain here in Chamonix so through the Mt Blanc tunnel they went to the sunny Italian side.  Here Pat did his first lead climbs on some lovely bolted granite. The highlight to the week was to be an ascent of the classic Cosmiques Arete. The mountain was clagged in with cloud but the climbing conditions were great.

Altogether a very enjoyable trip and we look forward to more climbing with Pat in the not too distant future!

Thanks Pat!

Pat lead climbing in Italy

Pat on the viewing platform of the Aiguille du Midi at the end of the climb

Robbies Account
This 5 day trip was a very interesting way to open the Summer season of 2009. Pat the builder from Dublin was an excellent companion and full of great stories of building jobs during the now defunct celtic tiger era.
It was fascinating to hear descriptions of what it was actually like to get swept up in the building boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. Tales of hard work and long hours and also lucky breaks. But also of tribunals, greed and bad planning. The cast of characters included corrupt council officials, overworked city planners, and certain well known politicians. It seems that the rumours of that we read in the newspapers were actual real life occourances.
On our first days climbing Pat described a formative mountaineering trip that he had with an instructor from Tiglin Adventure Centre ( now deceased – the centre not the instructor).
As a teenage venture scout he and some of his friends spent several days in the Wicklow mountains climbing and camping. One of his most vivid memories of this trip was been woken early one morning as the bunk bed was being turned over by the aformentioned instructor ( who later apologised for this rude awakening).
Despite the initial rough treatment they had an amazing trip including an ascent of Lugnaquilla which had made such a big impression on Pat that over 30 years later he wanted to make a return to the mountains. As I sat there at the bottom of the cliff listening, I had already guessed the name of the mountaineering instructor that had made such a big impression on the young Pat Wigglesworth. It was none other than my Uncle ( and in many ways my childhood hero) Paddy O Leary.
Now 35 years later here was Pat again with the Nephew, the same age as his uncle had been on Pats previous Mountain adventure. Who Says Kharma doesnt exist!

Spring Newsletter!

Its Mid May in the Chamonix Valley. Most people have put their skis away and are getting out to do some rock climbing on warm dry rock. Apart from the some hard core Swedes who find the late spring snow conditions ideal for skiing very steep north faces and couloirs.
This winter was remarkable in terms of the amount of snow that fell and the stable weather conditions that followed. Many ski descents in Chamonix, Courmayeur and further afield were in the better condition than they have been in for years.
Summer in the Alps should see good conditions in the mountains due to the abundant snow cover this winter.
Although we read reports everyday of the economic downturn, the numbers of visitors and inquiries about trips this winter was unaffected. Possibly people are finding that they have more free time for mountain based activities now that business is less hectic.
The spring newsletter is a round up of some of the winters stories. We hope it inspires you for next winter and gives you some ideas for the summer.

Spring Newsletter

Adam Kelly’s Account of his Mont Blanc Adventure

Yesterday Robbie and I went and had coffee with Adam to hear all the details of his Adventure with Farmer last week. He has some great photos, brilliant video footage and hilarious stories.

Click on the link below to read Adam’s account of his trip to the top of Mt. Blanc:

Adam Kelly’s Mont Blanc Adventure

Adam Kelly Snowboards Off Mt. Blanc

Yesterday morning Adam Kelly Tri-athlete and director of Zest Fitness Studio in Bray Co. Wicklow, snowboarded from the Summit of Mt. Blanc with UIAGM Guide Matt Farmer(Farmer).

After 3 days acclimatisation and training in the Chamonix valley Adam and Farmer made their way to the Grand Mulet refuge where they spent Saturday night. On Sunday after 9 hrs of climbing they arrived at the summit of Mt.Blanc.  They descended via the North Face – it took 45mins to get to the bottom! The conditions were great.


See his video on youtube –

Well done Adam and Farmer!

Chamonix Steep Ski Week

Robbie and Liam had a some fantastic skiing last week. Here is an outline of what they got up to and some photos.

Saturday – Le Tour – Arollette couloirs both left and right. Aiguille de Posettes all the way to Vallorcine then ended the day with the couloir to the right on Pointe de Vanne to Trient and the bus back.

Sunday – Skied the back side bowls of le Tour. Did a short crevasse rescue session building a ski belay off a wind lip. Skied powder to the lake through the forest stopping to do some navigation exercises with GPS and map. One powder run from Tete de Balme to the back chair then had 3 chair runs in powder off the posettes drag lift, finished off by one run from the summit of the posettes to the car park at the bottom.

Monday – Skied a lovely couloir in the Vormain bowl at le Tour. Then headed to Grand Montets, for some fast piste runs before a great run under the gasex cannon to the bottom of the Lavanche bowl. We then skied a Pas de Chevres from the top station to the Argenteire Glacier.

Tuesday – Heli Ski Switzerland. Pick up from Orsiese and drop off on the Trient Plateau. Skinned up to the col and skiied the Glacier de Grand down to Trient perfect conditions with fresh tracks all the way.

Wednesday – Lavancher bowl to start, then skied the Chapeau couloir down to Lavancher. Next stop the Aiguille du Midi to ski the col du Plan. More great snow and hardly anyone else up there.

Thursday – Through the tunnel to Italy and skinned up to the Benvelo Hut from Notre Dames de Rhemes in Italy

Friday Skied out and drove over to Switzerland to tour in Overnnaz. Here we skied powder, spring snow, crust, crud, piste and bumps. Then got free cake and a refreshing ice cold coke!

Not a bad week! Roll on next year!

Petit Envers

This week we had another big snowfall on Tuesday. Wednesday’s cloudy morning gave way to a fantastic blue ski day and powdery descent of Le Petit Envers by our group on the Introduction to Ski Touring Course.  A great way to finish the week which Linus Kulstad was delivering for Wilderplaces. 

The sun is still out now and things are warming up after an extended cold period here. Claire at the office is actually suffering from Frost Bite believe it or not from skiing in minus 20 degree temperatures last Friday! Who would have thought you could get Frost Bite after a days skiing in the Chamonix valley.  She has now had heaters installed in her ski boots to avoid further damaging her poor toes!

Brand new courses

The 2009 ski season brings 3 brand new and exciting Wilderplaces courses to you.

The Advanced Backcountry Week
This course has been put together in response to client requests. Run by world class ski instructor Derek Tate and Mountain guide Robbie Fenlon, this week will take your off-piste skiing and touring skills up to the next level.

Introduction to Ski Touring Weekend
This 3 day course is designed for established skiers who want to try ski touring. It is ideal for those of you thinking of attempting the Haute Route later in the season or next year.

Tromsø Ski Week, Norway
We have developed this superb new trip under the guidance of local guide Jimmy Halvardsson. Based on the island city of Tromsø and the nearby Lyngen Alps this 7 day trip will take your breath away. Endless pristine peaks, faces and gullies looking down on deep fjords.

Snow, snow and more snow!

It just keeps on snowing.. and snowing..
The valley is looking absolutely beautiful, a winter wonderland, and up top the rocks are covered and the crevasses are filling in…. time to get the ski kit sorted!