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Rockfall on Mont Blanc

February 25, 2016

I’d been home for a couple months after Aconcagua, and already I was getting ready to head back to the high mountains. Long term memory loss, or an overload of type two fun I guess. I heard that Tony and our team had summited, and I knew that he would be keen to bag the remaining six. By September 2014 we had worked out a tentative plan to climb Elbrus in August 2015.

It’s a cheap time to travel to Russia with the sanctions cutting the weeklong trip cost in half to about $750. Elbrus has all of the issues going on in Russia, the problem of militarization on the nearby Ukranian border, and the ongoing regional struggle with separatist organizations that bombed the cable car on the mountain in 2011 and had just pledged allegiance to ISIS. With a few reservations, we wired a 5,000 ruble deposit per person to a Latvian bank. I got back from Romania in June and we ordered the letters of invitation. After a month, many pages of paperwork, and $350 we received our visas. We checked the news, saw that nothing unusual was happening in Russia, and wired the remaining money.

In July I left the US for Europe and managed to climb the highpoints of Liechtenstein (Grauspitz), Macedonia and Albania (Golem Korab), Bulgaria (Musala), Kosovo (Đeravica) and Germany (Zugspitze). But those are for a different post. This post begins at Platform 2 of the Bellegarde train station outside of Geneva, where I met Tony to get ready for Elbrus.

We planned to complete the Goûter route on Mont Blanc to acclimatize for Elbrus, and bag another country highpoint. We’d heard the Goûter had been closed in the second half of July because of rockfall in the Grand Couloir, so we were not sure whether the ascent would be possible. With our places at the Goûter hut booked and non-refundable, we decided to have a go anyway.

We arrived at St Gervais des Bains at 7 am to be ahead of the crowd on the first departure of the Tramway du Mont Blanc. At the station we learned that due to line maintenance the train would only run to Mont Lachat and we would have to hike to Nid d’Aigle. Also, on the way up a young ranger told us all that climbing Mont Blanc was not a good idea.

Another hour of sunlight on the Grand Couloir and another hour for the rockfall to get worse. I hadn’t done much time in mountain huts in Western Europe and Tony had not been to Europe much at all, so we ended up with heavier packs than we would have liked, and were dragging ass. It didn’t end up mattering much because suddenly we started hearing multiple helicopters overhead. “Looks like somebody’s having a bad day…” and the reply “Yeah, right, ya know…”. A half hour later a ton of climbers were descending the mountain past us.

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