In the middle of the mountain people of Saint-Gervais (Haute-Savoie), a joke has been around for years. To customers who came to “climb” the roof of Europe, a guide said, jokingly: “You are Mont Blanc, you… Mont-Saint-Michel! Pointing at each other according to their ability to climb to the top. We think back to this sentence hoping to be part of the first category. Apart from Yann, our experienced photographer, Stephan, Sébastien, Julien and I are a group of neophytes and we just took our first steps this morning towards the refuge of Tête Rousse.
Three hours to spit out our lungs. To be extracted at each step from a layer of 50 cm of fresh snow fallen in compact mass. As if we were in the heart of winter when we are in the middle of summer. Exhausted, Julien and I collapse on the terrace, convinced that we cannot go any further. The sentence quickly fell. And as in Koh-Lanta, it is irrevocable. The guides tell us that we will not go higher. Too much snow, too much risk of avalanches, too dangerous. Perhaps they also feel that we are not ready for this physical challenge. Only Yann, accustomed to mountain racing and sharpened like a professional, is authorized to continue the adventure.
Alone with a guide, Yann tells the story…
When we had just regained our strength by swallowing a dish of spaghetti bolognese, this decision annihilates us. But we are not alone in having to repackage our hopes for the summit. Baptiste, a 32-year-old engineer from Le Havre, must also give up. “I’m a little crazy, but with a one year old boy at home, the notion of risk takes over and we think twice. “Earlier, I had a foot in the air and I almost fell, adds his uncle Stéphane, who dreamed of celebrating his 50th birthday on the roof of Europe. The goal is to come home with beautiful memories, not in a wooden box. “
Like us, the two men did not measure the intensity of the efforts to be made to climb so far. “We heard everyone tell us oh, Mont-Blanc is easy, but in fact it’s tough,” blames Baptiste, who nevertheless prepared himself by chaining the jogging shoes. His uncle has accumulated kilometers of mountain biking and running sessions to be on top. “It’s the drop that kills, sighs the fifties. But hey, we surpassed ourselves … and we have images in our heads. “
VIDEO. The unconfined Mont Blanc
Julien, our guide, has seen the summit candidates change their profile over the years. “Fifty years ago, Mont Blanc was the consecration of a career. Today, for many mountaineering enthusiasts, it is the beginning, and for some just an adventure to tick on its checklist. But today, the weather conditions are so difficult that you have to be a little above average. “
It is not our case on the contrary of Yann, the photographer, who stamps to climb. It is 3 pm and our teammate leaves alone with one of the guides. The rest, he tells us. Progressing in thick fog, our advance is punctuated by a few dull thumps, signaling the triggering of avalanches. We see nothing around us, immersed in a milky white, but hear the slopes purge. Sébastien, the guide, accelerates the pace, because we arrive at the famous snack hall. It is not dry like in summer, but loaded with snow.
We are “flanked” by the cable stretched across the death row which we cross quickly. The guide warned me: “It is already late in the day, the conditions are bad, you shouldn’t hang around here”. Normally, in June, this part is done only in shoes, on the rocks. But the snow forces us to keep the crampons. The fixed cables installed to help us get on are sometimes buried under the powder. The last very steep meters mark the end of this first part of the ascent. I finally see the roof of the Goûter refuge shining. Like a spaceship placed in the middle of a brilliant white, it emerges in a blue gap that the sky finally grants us. A vision worthy of a scene from “Star Wars”!
The roof of Europe, Yann will have just touched it
In the refuge, there are only a few guides and their clients. In high season, it is a small hive where a hundred mountaineers meet. Through the hatches of the refuge, I plunge my gaze into the steep slopes from which flow the avalanches that we heard on the climb. We are on the clouds. I feel like I’m on a plane. Barely a few hours of sleep and it is in the light of the headlamp that we begin the final climb on Tuesday at 2 am. I have a headache. In the eye of my lens, I capture an almost lunar landscape. Mont Blanc is there, at your fingertips.
But you have to make your mark again in deep, immaculate snow. Each step revives aches. Each meter gained is a small victory. After a few hours and a few hundred meters from the goal, the guide sounds the cessation of hostilities. “Above the snack refuge, it was already abo (Editor’s note: abominable) and we only made the easiest first half, explains Sébastien. But after the bump ridge, it stings even harder. “
The decision is made: go back down. The roof of Europe, Yann will have touched it, without putting his boots on it. Once back on the cows’ floor and after regaining our strength, we all find ourselves. The five together again, we observe the giant of the Alps who did not want us. And we are launching this challenge: see you next year.