Off the Beaten Track: Climbing Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc rises 4,808m (15,777ft) and is second highest on the European continent after Mount Elbrus in Russia.  Its lofty height is an enticing gesticulation to climb its glaciated flanks while it casts an impressive shadow over the culinary institutions of Chamonix deep in the Haute-Savoie Valley of France.

Any disinclination to climb the mountain from a base of well-founded nativity was dismissed by the enigmatic Marco Siffredi who ran the camp ground and became a confidant to all matters of mountaineering (Marco and I ended up crossing paths again 3 years later in the High Himalaya on sister expeditions.  His attempt to snow board down Everest was the last time anyone saw of him.  That is another story for another time).

With peaks named Aiguille du Midi, Pointe Helbronner and Le Brevent, the smell of fresh baked baguettes and clatter of climbing carabiners, it is impossible not to get swept up in the moment.  High in a mountain hut and pushing off into an alpine storm at midnight can create a sense of dislocation from reality.  It takes one big push, through glaciated terrain and avalanche prone slopes.

But seeing the sun push through the clouded and rocky Tournette with the spine of the French Alps spilling below is a sight and experience that cannot be forgotten. If you are in France and with a healthy ration of foolish abandon, take a moment to consider climbing Western Europe’s highest mountain.

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