(all pictures are low res, for high res click here)
As we left Wengen and the Jungfrau we headed towards the climbing town of Chamonix, the birthplace of mountaineering. During our beautiful drive, we stopped in the upperclass ski resort town of Gstaad. . After that we made our way thru the curved roads of Aigle - a very cool wine town in southern Switzerland. . Finally, we made it to Chamonix, where they were having a guides festival . However, as you've probably already noticed in the pictures, the weather was still deteriorating. So, Lansing and I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking wine (and basically getting drunk) . The next day was raining still, so we went to a climbing gym in Les Houches...but we still had time to kill, so we decided to drive thru the tunnel at the base of Mont Blanc and go to Courmayeur, Italy. In Courmayeur, we went to the Alpine Museum where we got to see artifacts from the Duke of Abruzzi's climb up K2 and Bay of Tapliz Polar expedition. . After viewing some cool stuff at the museum, we went out to dinner, where I had my first experience with truffles. The restaurant we went to just got some truffles in and they offered us a simple dish of a truffle grated over pasta for €35. Yes, it was expensive, but it was heavenly. If you are ever given the chance to try a fresh truffle, I highly recommend it. Following dinner, we spent 90 minutes getting to Chamonix because the line to go thru the tunnel was really long.
The next day the weather still sucked, but we figured we had to give Mont Blanc a shot. It was either climb Mont Blanc or spend the rest of the trip rock climbing over by the Mediterranean Sea in southern France. We decided to head up the telepheric, to Aiguille du Midi which is very similar to the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland. Once there, we walked around the tunnels and glacier carvings, to the entrance to the glacier. We hopped onto the glacier, and headed over a very steep knife ridge in a whiteout to get to our hut (Refuge des Cosmiques)- which would be our home for a couple days. This was a newer hut built in 1987 and it included some amazing detail to decor. ... and the food prices were a little bit more reasonable. The next morning the weather was still crappy, but by noon, it had cleared enough for us to poke around the glacier a little bit. At this point, we had our first views of this beautiful massif. Here are a couple pictures of the Aiguille du Midi , and an adjacent mountain in Italy (one of my favorite pictures from the trip!) . As we crossed the glacier, we decided to hit a couple rock walls and do some ice climbing and easy rock climbing. As we go to the top, the views were spectacular (and the wind was blowing really hard!) (Lansing) (me). When we returned to the hut, we found out that the weather report for tomorrow looked good, so we quickly ate some chow and went to bed. The next morning we woke up at 1 for a 2am departure up Mont Blanc. As we headed out things looked good -- we had a Japanese team and a Swedish team breaking trail for us, so we felt strong for most of the morning. . We headed up Mont Blanc du Tacul , the first of 3 summits we had to reach. At this resting point (i.e. the 1st summit) I was really cold, so I whipped out my parka and as I pulled the parka I accidentally yanked out my climbing helmet too. The helmet hit the snow and slowly rolled into a crevasse -- boy was I bummed. Oh well, we carried on , and I was climbing, I accidentally slipped once and fell. Paul and Lansing arrested my fall. We kept at it , and then all of the sudden our guide became uncomfortable with the route (at least that is what he claims). We were 1/3 of the way up to the 2nd summit. He didn't feel we were climbing fast enough, nor did he feel comfortable going higher on the route, as we had some vertical ice climbing ahead of us. Lansing and I begged him to set up a belay station, but he didn't want to. I have no idea what was going thru our guide's mind, but I got the feeling he just didn't feel like climbing that day. The route we were supposed to climb is pretty well defined in the next picture (I highly recommend looking at the high res version), and as you can see others were climbing without issue. Our 2nd team of Vince (the non-IMG guide who is UIAGM qualified), Bill and Steve had no problems. Vince belayed Bill and Steve thru both parts without incident. (Here's my plug for Vince. If you need a good guide for the Alps, contact Vince as he is the most experienced American Alps guide I know. And he's a great guy to boot!)
Dejected, we turned around and headed back to Aiguille du Midi. And again, we had to maneuver over the knife ridge with its 5,000 ft exposure to the city of Chamonix (again, this scared the crap out of me) Even though it was a gorgeous day , I was really pissed and tired . The whole way back to Chamonix , I was upset at Paul and wondering what was our next climb in Zermatt going to be like?