In this example we climb Mt Blanc via the Goûter Ridge.
This is very much a sample program as several different acclimatisation peaks and climbs are possible. We will adapt the program to make use of the best weather for our ascent of Mt Blanc.
After breakfast at 9am you'll meet your ISM Guide, have a course briefing and then an equipment check before heading off into Italy. We travel through the Mt Blanc tunnel into Italy, then up to the more remote Val Savarenche, our starting point for the ascent of the Gran Paradiso. We generally have a picnic lunch at some point while walking up the steep well-made walking track to the comfortable and very friendly Chabod hut, set beneath the spectacular north face of the Gran Paradiso. The ascent to the hut takes around 3 hours and involves a height gain of about 1000m. Once we are settled in we will have a training session on the use of the technical climbing equipment (crampons, harness, etc) and look at basic climbing knots and rope work. The Refugio Chabod is very well regarded by the guides, and Tatiana, the hut guardian, invariably prepares a hearty Italian meal of minestrone, pasta, meat and veg – just what is needed for the day ahead!
We leave the hut before dawn to start our ascent of Gran Paradiso. The route starts as a good track, which quickly becomes less distinct as we cross the moraine slopes onto the glacier. It will be light by the time we reach the glacier, and we stop here for a brief training session with crampons and ice axe before roping up to continue our climb. The ice slopes on this ascent are not unduly steep, but are quite continuous. We do take regular rest stops as we go! There is also a crevassed section as we get higher and your guide will be paying particular attention here to ensure that the whole team is using the proper technique with the rope. Finally, we cross the bergschrund to climb a short steeper slope onto the summit ridge. The ridge is quite short and is an easy scramble over rocks, but is exposed! In no time, we reach the Madonna on the summit and can take in the fantastic panorama of mountains all around us – not least an excellent view of Mt Blanc to our north. We descend via either the same route and return to the warm welcome and hearty cooking of the Refugio Chabod or drop down to the Refugio Vittorio Emanuele and stay the night there.
After breakfast at 7am we walk back down to the Valsavarenche, a very pleasant time to be walking down. It is cool in the morning and this is the time when we are likely to see some of the fauna the Paradiso range is famous for, especially chamois and ibex. We drive along the Val d'Aosta to the Mont Blanc Tunnel and cross back through into France, arriving in Chamonix by early afternoon. Now we can relax and have a look around Chamonix, in order to be well rested for the demanding days to come. Chamonix has the best concentration of mountaineering equipment shops in the world and this is an opportunity for the guides to help you with any final equipment needs. We spend the night at either the comfortable Hotel Vert which is ideally situated close to the centre of Chamonix or up at the refuge du Nid D'Aigle at 2482m which will help continue the acclimatisation of the group and also gives the team an earlier start the following day, as we head up to the Gouter Hut.
Early in the morning, we leave the refuge du Nid d'Aigle and head up the walking trail towards the Tete Rousse hut, which is quieter and safer as we then cross the Grand Couloir devoid of people, as others wait for the lift and train to open further down in Les Houches. We then follow steeper terrain up ther Gouter ridge, which is a scramble up rocks that leads to the top of the Glacier du Taconnez and the site of the old Gouter hut. After reaching the site of the old Gouter hut, it's just a short walk on snow to the new refuge de Gouter (3835m) where we arrive early in the day, giving everyone plenty of time to rest and acclimatise before the penultimate day to the summit.
The Gouter hut is very busy and your guide will make sure that everyone is properly prepared to make a prompt get away in the morning. The wake up call is normally at 2.00am, and after a quick breakfast we rope up and start out from the hut. The entire ascent is now on snow and ice and you will be wearing crampons the whole way. A short horizontal ridge takes us on to the broad and easy slopes of the Dôme de Goûter (4304m). From the top of the Dôme we descend slightly and then quickly reach the emergency shelter of the Vallot hut at 4362m. Above this it is almost always very cold and you will often need all the extra warm clothing your guide will have persuaded you to bring! From here, a steeper ascent takes us us to the icy domes of Les Bosses at 4547m and then to the gradually narrowing summit ridge. Normally we reach the summit soon after daybreak and of course there is time for the obligatory photographs and celebration! Generally it is too cold to want too stay long, so we soon start our descent back to the Gouter hut. After a break here, we carry on down the rocks and back across the Grand Couloir to the Tête Rousse hut. If time and energy permit, we may continue down to the valley, but we often plan to stay at the Tete Rousse to give a more relaxed descent.
We have the Friday as a contingency day in case of poor weather earlier in the week or in case we are still getting down from the Tête Rousse or Goûter huts! However if we have made it down to Chamonix the previous evening we organise a rock climbing session at one of the local crags, normally the friendly and popular Les Gaillands.