Climbing Gran Paradiso and Mont-Blanc

Climbing Mont-Blanc (4810m) was something close to my heart since I did Tour du Mont-Blanc last summer. It is something that must be planned ahead as you must find a guide (highly recommended) and book refuges (highly demanded). Our guide was suggesting several summits for acclimatation but we picked Gran Paradiso (4061m) in Italy which look vertiginous with an airy ridge at the summit!

With a good preparation, you will put all the chances on your side to make this dream come true. This preparation first starts at home throughout the year to maintain your physical form (running, cycling, hiking, skiing…). Both summits need specific equipment and knowledge of alpinism, don’t underestimate them. Prior to doing this experience I’ve heard and read so many different things online, I can tell you that both summit are not easy. You never climb the same mountain twice, the weather can change everything and altitude affects everyone differently.

Day 1 – Hike Lac Blanc, Argentière – 4 hours hike

We started the adventure with a hike to Lac Blanc, possibly Chamonix’s most famous walk. A perfect start to test some of our new equipment and warm-up for the intense week to come! After taking Flégère cable car, in about one hour we arrived at the lake. After couple photos in front of the frozen lake we took the direction to Argentière to slowly go down and enjoy this section of the TMB (Tour du Mont Blanc). Then, we took a train to get back to Chamonix from Argentière train station.

Day 2 – Hike Grand Balcon Nord, Grotte de Glace – 5 hours hike

Our original plan was to climb Mont Buet (3096m) but current conditions were preventing us from getting to the top so we changed our plan! A great alternative that we found was to hike Grand Balcon Nord and then explore an ice cave (Grotte de Glace). The hike starts at the famous cable car “Aiguille du Midi” but instead of going to the top, you will stop at “Plan de l’Aiguille” (2,207 m) and begin the hike along Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers via the Signal de Forbes and its extraordinary panorama. From there you should have a splendid view on the Mer de Glace, the Drus and the Grandes Jorasses. A few more steps down and you will be able to get to the famous Grotte de Glace. The ice grotto is cut into a living glacier. The grotto has to be dug out every summer since the glacier moves about 70m every year. It was fantastic to get inside with the hot weather.

Day 3 – Rest, enjoy Chamonix and get the rented gear

It was great to have a day to relax and buy missing items. We rented crampons and alpine boots at Sanglard and they did a great job at giving us tips on how to set everything up. Finally, Climbing World cup was also right in front of our hotel so we had no excuse to not go!

Day 4 – Mountaineering training – Aiguille verte – All day

We were very excited to finally begin the adventure with the guide! He brought us ice axes, helmets and climbing harnesses. Getting all that equipment on you will make you feel like a real alpinist. However only when we started to climb a very steep hill in the snow with the heavy boots and crampons we realized in what we were getting into. Objective of this training day was to give us an introduction to cramponing, progression in rope and elementary knots. After seeing another group climbing an ice wall we asked our guide to give it a try! It seems we did very well for a first time climbing an ice wall, first with 2 ice axes, then just one!

Day 5 – Drive to Gran Paradiso in Italy through Tunnel of Mont Blanc and climb to first refuge – 2 hours drive + 2,5 hours ascent

We started the day by a short drive from Chamonix to Gran Paradiso starting point: a parking surrounded by beautiful mountains. After about 2,5 hours of ascent we arrived at Refuge Federico Chabod (2750m). We spent the evening waiting for results of the world cup as France was playing against Belgium that night! Without any cellular network, everyone was riveted to the only radio available in the refuge.

Day 6 – Gran Paradiso summit day – 7 hours ascent/descent + 2 hours drive

This days was the occasion to complete our alpine training, develop our mountaineering, glacier travel and rope work skills! We started around 4:30am, right after breakfast and a short night of sleep. The route was easy at the beginning, but after about one hour it was time to put on the crampons, set the ropes between us and be very careful to avoid deep crevasses. It was cold but the scenery was amazing, we were very excited to make it to our first 4000+ summit! The final ridge finally appeared and only a few people were thinking about launching themselves into the last few meters. This part is usually overcrowded, because it’s where a Madonna statue is standing. Without hesitating our guide brought us to the statue, passing everyone one by one we managed to get the statue just for us! 4061m! Our descent was easy if we don’t mention my friend’s sunscreen which made us half blind for couple hours! We used a different path to get to the parking and stopped at Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.

Day 7 – Chamonix to Tête Rousse Refuge – 1 hour transport + 2,5 hours ascent

No time to rest, already time to continue the adventure on the popular Gouter Hut route! We took the Bellevue cable car (with couple hours waiting due to a power outage) from Les Houches and then took the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle (2,372m). Only 2,5 hours to get to the famous Tête Rousse Refuge. This is where we slept. We would enjoy our successful booking of both Tête Rousse and Refuge du Goûter to make the ascent in 3 days.

Day 8 – Mont blanc Summit day – 10 hours ascent/descent

4am! I woke up without any difficulty: after months of training, the day to climb Mont-Blanc was finally here! I remember checking the weather outside quickly
before getting breakfast and see the exceptional conditions. We had absolutely won the lottery for our 9 days in the French and Italian Alps. Of course the route is popular as I mentioned before, but it is also infamous for the Gouter couloir also known as “death couloir”. The key is to cross this section early in the morning. Hours which are the most critical are between 11am and 1.30 pm when stone falls occur. When I looked at the path to the Refuge du Goûter, I really thought it was a wall to climb because it was a strong 600m steep, close to vertical, section of rock. The truth is that it went very well and we climbed it in about 2 hours. We did a one hour break at Refuge du Goûter and dropped some of the gear that we didn’t use on the final ascent (helmet, extra clothes, etc). We actually dropped hiking poles and other items along the way to finish with an almost empty backpack at the summit. What I will remember from this day is the physical and mental challenge that represents the latest 800m, it felt endless and even when I thought we were at the end of the mountain, there was another! But the best view comes after the hardest climb. Being on top of Europe is a unique moment, a lifetime experience.

Day 9 – Refuge du Goûter to Chamonix – 3,5 hours descent + 1 hour transport

With the smiles on our faces and the motivation to get back in the valley, the descent went fast, extremely fast! We actually ran while laughing to get on time to catch the train at Nid d’aigle. Probably too much energy left, the long training before Mont-Blanc paid off after all.

Solo-hiking Tour du Mont Blanc

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc was a great adventure! Not only for the beautiful alpine views but for the great people I met along the way. With a total of 170 km and about 10 kilometres of ascent/descent, it is better to be correctly prepared and equipped. This tour is usually done in 8 to 12 days between June and September.

Preparation & equipment

  • Buy a guide with the minimum info to understand the tour and its signage. Most people on the tour had this one for French speakers: TopoGuides – Tour du Mont Blanc – FFRandonnée and this one for English speakers Tour of mont Blanc – Kev Reynolds
  • Buy a map, IGN maps are not needed if you have a guide and a GPS you can trust in term of accuracy in the mountains and battery
  • Make a list of the required gear and pack your bag with the minimum. Remember that you will have water and food in addition. This list was the best I found.
  • Prepare and decide your route in advance, make sure you have the alternative routes available if you decide to take any variant from the official TMB trail or if the weather doesn’t allow you to take the variant for example.
  • I traced my route on View Ranger using the web version, exported it in gpx file and imported it into Gaia GPS which has one of the clearest design on mobile and was very easy to follow in the fog! All my gpx files are available here: [Download GPX TMB routes]
  • Forget about weather apps on your phone, only this website is used by locals and proved to have accurate weather reports: http://chamonix-meteo.com/

Planning

  • Planning should be done carefully based on the physical challenge you want to experience:
    • Less than 10 days will be a though challenge, but you can take the bus or use chair lifts to shorten the trek, it can be a good option if you are limited on time
    • 10 days should be good and let time for variants as I did
    • More than 10 days will be comfortable and let time to do extra trails
Day Itinerary Night/Refuge Route
Departure Home ➤ Les Houches Chalet Les Méandres (ex Tupilak)
Day 1 Les Houches ➤ Les Contamines (Variant Tricot) Gîte le Pontet  VR
Day 2 Les Contamines ➤ Refuge Croix du Bonhomme Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme  VR
Day 3 Refuge Croix du Bonhomme ➤ Rifugio Elisabetta (Variant Col des Fours) Rifugio Elisabetta  VR
Day 4 Rifugio Elisabetta ➤ Rifugio Bertone Rifugio Bertone  VR
Day 5 Rifugio Bertone ➤ Rifugio Elena (Variant Bernada) Rifugio Elena  VR
Day 6 Rifugio Elena ➤ La Fouly Maya Joie  VR
Day 7 La Fouly ➤ Champex Auberge Gîte Bon Abri  VR
Day 8 Champex ➤ Trient (Variant Arpette) Auberge Mont blanc  VR
Day 9 Trient ➤ Tre le Champ Gite le moulin  VR
Day 10 Tre le Champ ➤ Chamonix (Variant Lac Blanc) Hotel  VR
Return Chamonix ➤ Les Houches  ➤ Home All GPX files

Booking if sleeping in refuges

  • Booking can be easy if you go through an agency, many people get the best rooms in refuges by using an agency
  • Booking can be done on http://www.montourdumontblanc.com/
  • Booking can also be done by phone, make sure you confirm a second time the reservation a week before with the refuge
Hiking the canyons!

The US national parks have many canyons that offer spectacular views and amazing hikes. They offer a wide range of ways to experience them. During 4-5 days we decided to explore some of the most famous canyons: The Grand Canyon (Arizona), Angels landing (Zion, Utah), Narrows (Zion, Utah) and Bryce Canyon (Utah).

Angels Landing, Zion, Utah

Itinerary:

Day 1:

  • 6am SFO-LAS, pick up rental car
  • 8:30am Drive to Zion (3 hours)
  • Pick up Narrows Permit from Visitor Center
  • Day hike (Angel’s Landing)
  • 4:30-7:30:  Pick up rental gear at Zion Adventure Co (36 Lion Blvd, Springdale UT)

Day 2:

  • Drive to Zion Adventure Co by 6:20
  • 6:30 shuttle departure
  • Hike the Narrows
Narrows, Zion, Utah

 

 

 

Day 3:

  • Check Sunrise time at Zion
  • Drive to Bryce Canyon (1.5 hours)
  • Day Hike and sunset at Bryce (Peekaboo or Fairyland loop)
  • Overnight at Bryce.

Day 4:

  • Check Sunrise time in Bryce Canyon
  • 11am drive towards North Rim (3 hours)
  • 5:40pm: Sunset at Cape Royal
  • 6pm: drive back
  • 11:30pm: back to LAS, return car
  • Overnight at LAS

Day 5:

  • Return to SFO!

 

Bryce Canyon, Utah

 

Recommended gear list:

  • Zion Park Newspaper
  • Zion Narrows Map
  • Dry pants packages reserved from Zion Adventure Co:
    • Neoprene Socks
    • Water boots/shoes
    • Walking stick
    • Dry pants
  • Headlamp / Flashlight
  • Clothing for for 0-5c weather (hat, gloves, etc)
  • Clothing for 10-15c weather (not cotton)
  • Swim suit
  • Food: trail mix, water bottle, bars, etc
Day hike Half Dome, Yosemite

Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. It is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 ft (1,444 m) above the valley floor.

My friend Milton and I, decided to hike to the top and come back down in one day. It is pretty easy to plan your hiking trip, except that you will need a permit to access the final section of cables that leads to the top.

Approximately 50 permits are available each day by lottery during the hiking season. The daily lotteries have an application period two days prior to the hiking date with a notification late that night. So, to hike on Saturday, you would apply on Thursday and receive in theory an email notification of results late on Thursday night, but it was actually on Friday for us.

Many lodging options are available to spend the night before the long day hike (10 to 12 hours). You might want to start hiking early, so prefer a place inside the park or outside close to the park. Make sure you have the permit before booking anything! We crossed paths with many people who started hiking early in the night to enjoy the sunrise and avoid noonday heat and traffic at the cables (often crowded in the summer). Check the weather forecast before your hike up Half Dome: if there is any predicted chance of rain or thunderstorms, or if storm clouds are observed in the vicinity of Half Dome or the nearby peaks of the Sierra Crest, the safest course of action is to not proceed past the permit checkpoint, at the base of Sub Dome.

Wear the proper ankle high boots, have fun, be safe, and carry plenty of water!