One of the problems with setting up a guided ascent of Mont Blanc is that hut booking restrictions mean it must mostly be decided in advance. What then is Mont Blanc Guides’ strategy?
There are two huts on our preferred route up Mont Blanc, the Tete Rousse at 3200m and the Gouter at 3800m. Our ascents are usually based around two nights at the Tete Rousse hut for reasons such as being out of sync with most other people and having less chance of altitude sickness, as explained in our FAQ Why don’t we normally use the Gouter hut?. However though the total ascent is the same, starting at Tete Rousse means that the effort is less evenly split than when using the higher hut, so why do we do this when it’s surely easier to start from Gouter?
There are lots of approaches to climbing Mont Blanc, the traditional and still very popular “one night at Gouter” approach, one night at Gouter and one at Tete Rousse, two nights at Gouter, two nights at Tete Rousse, etc., and that’s without even mentioning the other routes on the mountain. All work well, though there is one major problem in that no-one can guarantee to be able to get Gouter places for the right dates, especially since the recent introduction of their poorly thought out and deeply flawed internet booking system.
Over the last twelve years I have looked at this every which way to try to find the best approach for getting up this mountain, and have come to one inescapable conclusion: however you do it, you have to be fit. Yes it’s easier starting from Gouter than Tete Rousse as the overall effort is more evenly broken up, but either way it’s still really tough; the number of people who could make it from one hut but not the other is very small, as most people are simply either strong enough to climb Mont Blanc or they aren’t.
Sometimes people who don’t get to the top having started at Tete Rousse are convinced they would have had they started from the Gouter: well maybe, but in most cases I don’t think so. If you’re properly prepared as per our fitness guidelines you should be able to to deal with a bit of extra snow, unusually high wind or a faster ascent to take advantage of a weather window, all of which happens regularly on Mont Blanc. In these circumstances which hut you start from won’t make much difference. The point is, our courses are set up to give the most enjoyable and aesthetic ascent for properly fit people, we are not simply trying to get the maximum number of people to the top, and we are probably not the company to book with if you think you will be right on the limit. If this sounds blunt it’s nothing compared to how blunt the mountain will be with you on the day.
How you go about climbing Mont Blanc makes a huge difference to the aesthetics of the ascent, and being out of sync with other parties makes all the difference. If having looked at our fitness page you think you might not quite measure up, don’t think in terms of trying to bring the mountain down to your level with special arrangements and extra nights in huts, go out and train a bit harder and get yourself up to the level required so you can climb it from any hut and in a wide range of conditions. Give yourself as much of a margin as you can and don’t just aim at the minimum, it’s much more enjoyable and much safer that way.
As I’ve said elsewhere you don’t have to be a super fit endurance athlete to do this and you don’t need any previous mountaineering experience, but it’s probably harder than running a marathon so you do need to take it seriously. As long as you follow our fitness guidelines you should be fine, as indeed the vast majority of our clients are. Most sufficiently motivated people can achieve this level without too much trouble, but if you really can’t or are right on the limit, you will be better off choosing a less demanding mountain.
John Taylor (Head Guide)