Al and I met up at Waterloo around 16:00 and were delivered
to Paris Gare du Nord by 21:00, courtesy of the Eurostar.
Unfortunately the ticket machines for the Metro proved a
little too complicated for us, and the friendly chap who offered to help managed
to con us out of €30 before we’d worked out that we’d just spent £20 on a trip
On arrival at Gare d’Austerlitz we discovered that the train
we were booked on (to Bourg St Maurice) was actually half of a train leaving
Paris, the other half of which went to St Gervais Le Fayet (where we actually
wanted to end up). Our attempts at
changing destination failed, so we found our reserved couchette, and decided to
try and wake up at 04:00, when we thought the train was going to split. Within about 30 minutes, however, we changed
our mind, decided to stay on the train to Bourg and settled down to a decent
We woke up in Bourg St Maurice at about 08:00, having both
slept reasonably well. We caught the
first train to Chambery at about 08:20, then on to Aix Les Bains and St Gervais
Le Fayet. We finally arrived in
Chamonix by bus in the middle of the afternoon and soon found our hostel, La
Bagna, in Les Praz, about 5 minutes’ drive up the valley from Chamonix.
The hostel was closed until 16:30, so Al sat and guarded the
kit while I caught the bus into the main town to find hire-shops, cash machines
and the Association Internationale des Guides de Mont Blanc (AIGMB), which we had
used to organise our guide. Having
discovered what I needed to, I returned to the hostel and we moved into our
room, then headed back into town to meet our guide, Lisa, at the AIGMB.
Lisa turned out to be an Australian, guiding her seventh
season in Chamonix. She guides
off-piste skiers for the second half of the ski-season in Chamonix then stays
on for the first half of the climbing season, before switching to New Zealand
to work the second half of their ski-season and the first half of their
climbing season. Not a bad life!
We had a few beers with Lisa as she told us what we’d be
doing during the week. She explained
that reaching the summit of Mont Blanc would depend on our acclimatisation to
altitude, our general fitness and the weather.
She also described the choice of routes.
There are two main routes up Mont Blanc, defined by the
refuge used the night before the climb.
The Refuge de l’Aiguille du Goûter (3817m) lies north-west of Mont
Blanc, down the Goûter ridge. It is
reached by a train from St Gervais Le Fayet to Nid d'Aigle (2372m), followed
by a seven hour climb via the Refuge de
Tête Rousse. The main ascent from the
Goûter hut is a long, dull slog up the knife-edge ridge, over the Dôme du
Goûter to the Refuge-Bivouac Vallot (4362m) then on over Les Bosses to the summit. The route is not technically challenging,
and by all accounts the hut is not very pleasant.
Lisa’s preferred alternative was to use the Refuge des
Cosmiques (3613m). This modern refuge
is on the side of the Aiguille du Midi, and is reached by a quick descent from
the top of the télépherique (3777m).
The hut has very good facilities and excellent food, and the climb from
the refuge is considerably more interesting than that from the Goûter hut. Some guides describe this as the hard-core
There is a third route which starts from the Refuge des
Grands Mulets (3051m), climbing up to Refuge-Bivouac Vallot from the north then
following the same route over Les Bosses as the Goûter climb. Although this can be found described in
various places, none of the guides we spoke to in Chamonix mentioned using it.
Sitting in the bar we weren’t sure which route we’d end up
taking, but secretly Al and I both liked the sound of the more challenging
Following our discussions with Lisa, Al and I went for a
pizza at a restaurant she recommended, then made the slightly foolhardy
decision to walk back to the hostel.