Die-hard peak bagger and Exodus sales expert, Alistair Grice takes on Mont Blanc to the put the Exodus curse to rest once and for all… They said it could never be done. Well at least not by one of the Exodus crew; not one successful summit attempt in 10 years was a shameful record I intended to tarnish. However, one cannot be flippant about this gruelling ascent; at 4,810m Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe, and formerly one of the seven summits before being usurped by that young pretender in the east, Mount Elbrus.
This high altitude trek is no promenade dans le parc my friends, but that said, if you are in good health, fit and strong, and if the Alpine weather gods are on your side (it was them who thwarted every previous Exodus summit attempt), this is a challenge well within the compass of any determined trekker. After three days of acclimatisation up to 3,500m, the day of reckoning was upon us. As I stepped out into the night, the theme tune from ‘Where Eagles Dare’ was my soundtrack; where’s old Clint when you need him? Up the Eiger Sanction most likely!
Nine of us hardy souls, led by Bernard and our two other fearless guides, harnessed, roped and secured in threes, commenced our ascent at 2am from Tete Rousse Hut at 3,210m. A slow steady climb with headlamps glowing brightly, we came to an abrupt stop as we faced the notorious Grand Couloir traverse. During the heart-pounding scramble, it dawned that this really is not a climb for the faint-hearted. This mountain is perpetually moving, as the audible groans of the glacier above us testify. Crampons off, it was time to head up the Tete Rousse Wall in search of the Gouter Hut. Under the cloak of darkness, this two hour climb is tough by any standards but at the same time perversely enjoyable and hugely satisfying once completed.
The outline of the brand spanking new Gouter Hut (3,810m), a strange space age monstrosity (not unlike a Bond Villain’s lair) came in to view but there was no stopping us at that point. The darkest hour is just before dawn; with crampons back on, we climbed steadily towards the final goal 1,000m above. Gradually the horizon brightened as the new day dawned but a fearsome wind howled around us, a constant reminder of Mother Nature’s brute force and our precarious location. This was tough, make no mistake.
We paused frequently to refuel, rehydrate and admire the view unfolding before us as we approach the final ridge. We passed a few climbers making their way back down. It was so close. Fuelled by relentless determination, we picked the pace up. And then suddenly, there she was – the pristine, sun-dappled summit of Mont Blanc. Standing proud at 4,810m, I rotated 360 degrees and the vista revealed the Matterhorn to the south and the picturesque Chamonix Valley to the north.
It was not long before the adrenaline-powered exhilaration melted into exhaustion as it dawned on me: the job was only half done. With an Exodus flag finally staked into the summit, obligatory pictures taken, and a 360 degree video shot… it was time to head back down. Before carefully negotiating the tricky descent to Gouter Hut, I afforded myself a brief moment to think about the large Cognac and comfy armchair I planned to enjoy later that day in celebration. And with a wry smile, I thought to myself: I’ve done it! I have stood where no other Exodus team member has stood before – on the summit of Mont Blanc. Bon chance!