by Buster J.
For their third trip together, the participants and mentors of the Alpine Mentors Program headed to the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif to explore one of the most significant areas in the history of alpine climbing. The climbers enjoyed good weather and conditions upon arrival before the weather turned halfway through the trip. Heavy snowfall and cold temps had an effect on the planning, but not before everyone got some great climbs in.
On October 1st, the first day out, German climbers David Göttler and Ines Papert joined Steve House and the participants for a tour of the glacier near Point Helbronner and some practice with crevasse rescue. The next day Steven, Colin, Ines, Steve H., and Buster climbed the North Face of Tour Ronde as a warm up, while David and Marianne climbed a difficult 5.11 crack on the Dent du Geant. Confidence was up, so everyone turned in early and made plans for a big day.
October 3rd - Steven and Ines made an exciting ascent of the super-classic Super Couloir in lean conditions. David, Colin, and Buster climbed the Kuffner (aka Frontier) Ridge to the summit or Mt Maudit. Adjacent to the Kuffner, Marianne and Steve H. made an attempt of the Cretier route, backing off after some route finding difficulties. The next day was spent resting in Courmayeur, with a navigation lesson from David. As David is the head-Mentor for the German Alpine Club’s Alpine Mentors program (more here: http://www.alpenverein.de/Bergsport/Expeditionen/Expeditions-Kader-Teams/)
October 6th - Ines and David departed Italy, while Steve and the four participants set out on what would be an eventful attempt of the Rochefort ridge traverse to the Grand Jorasses. The plan was to reach a bivouac hut the first night, but deteriorating weather, route finding errors, and moving too slow found the team searching for the hut in the dark, before realizing that they were still over half a kilometer away. Turning around, the 5 climbers settled in for a rather cold and wet night in a crevasse before returning to Point Helbronner the next morning.
October 8th – After sleeping in the participants were treated to a tour of the Grivel factory located in the Aosta Valley. Besides seeing lots of shiny new gear, the team got to check out the solar panels that completely power the building, watch carabiners being tested, and meet the family that owns and operates Grivel. http://www.grivel.com/company/solar_energy
October 9th – Rejuvinated by improving weather and a rest day got the crew psyched to head for Mt Blanc du Tacul, approaching from the French side. Jon Bracey, a British mountain guide living in Chamonix, joined Colin and Marianne for an ascent of the Chere Couloir, while Steve, Buster, and Steven climbed the Contamine-Mazeaud. All climbers summited Mt Blanc du Tacul and returned to Chamonix the same day.
October 11th - After a snowy rest day the climbers decided to attempt the Cosmic Arete of Aiguille du Midi as an exercise in climbing through bad conditions. The team succeeded with the traverse, and expanded their thresholds for tunneling and groveling on an extremely windy day through nearly a meter of fresh snow.
October 12th - Despite consecutive days of heavy snow, everyone wanted to get in one more day before before parting ways. Colin, Steve, and Buster set out to traverse the Aiguille du Entreves via the standard route, while Jon, Steven, and Marianne attempted a more direct line to the same objective. Once again, the day became a lesson in post-holing, climbing with googles on, and navigating in a whiteout. Things became more real then anticipated for Steve, Colin, and Buster when they found themselves unsure of where they were on an exposed ridge in a whiteout with potential avalanche and crevasse hazards on all sides. Fortunately everyone returned safely to the hut that night, before returning to Courmayeur the next morning.
October 13th - The trip ended with a day of debriefs, reflection, and looking ahead to future outings. Overall the voyage to Mont Blanc was productive, the participants learned a lot about the hardships and survival skills demanded by serious mountains.
The next expedition will be a trip to the Alaska Range in June of 2014...