Ascent of Aiguille du Gouter on 2019-07-26

Climber: Craig Burkhart

Date:Friday, July 26, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Train
Peak:Aiguille du Gouter
    Elevation:12674 ft / 3863 m

Ascent Trip Report

Used a guide service to climb Mont Blanc along with a friend.

Two days before had a practice day where we took the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi and hiked to Lachenal. This helped with acclimatization and was a mini refresher for all the winter skills needed.

The day before took the bus to Les Houches, the cable car to Bellevue, the train to Le Nid d'Aigle and the walked for two hours on standard hiking trails to get to Refuge Tête Rousse where we stayed the night. Had the dinner served there and went right to bed.

Woke up not long after midnight for a desired start time around 1 AM. This is a bit earlier than normal so we had to sort breakfast ourselves, but it was a good decision to provide extra time as we expected to be a bit slower.

The first two hours were a scramble up to the old Refuge du Goûter (we didn't go by the new one either direction). Even in the dark it was a very simple scramble and I almost never used the fixed metal wires. Even though it was the middle of the night it wasn't too cold, and a base layer plus fleece sufficed.

Literally as soon as you reach the buildings it's time to get the crampons out and the snow walk begins. The next two hours were spent getting to Refuge Vallot. This section had some gradual climbs and some flat sections but wasn't too difficult. The wind picked up here and I had to add a wind layer. The refuge had the worst toilet I've ever seen in my life.

Left some extra equipment behind at the Refuge for the final push to the summit. This was were the difficult climbing really started. Steeper and at ever higher altitudes so of course physical difficult. But also technically difficult. It really wasn't extremely technical truth be told, but there were sections that were quite scary. The ridge was no joke, but we got through everything without incident.

Summit was much larger and flatter than I would have imagined. Hung around for maybe 10 minutes taking pictures and enjoying the view. To this point the weather had been amazing and there was an unobstructed view.

I was unprepared for the very quick pace that was needed on the descent to make the last train of the day from Le Nid d'Aigle. I had felt confident all day climbing up with the crampons where each step was taken carefully, but this was not the case going down. The sun had really started to warm everything up, and removing all but the base layer when we gathered our stuff from the refuge really helped. The other effect of the warm weather was that the snow closer to Refuge du Goûter looked to be in very bad shape.

Found it much harder to descend the scramble and was exhausted at this point. Did end up using the fixed wires pretty much all the way down. Had to just bear down and make the quick cross of the Grand Couloir because of how warm it had become. There definitely were at least small rocks coming down immediately after we had passed. Fortunately was able to have a breather at the refuge, and remove all the layers from the legs, before beginning the hike back to the train.

The weather had been absolutely perfect all day, but it wasn't to be for this last little section. As soon as we left the refuge it started raining and eventually started raining hard with lightning in the distance. For the first time I experienced the hairs on my arms standing up from the static in the air and to be honest it was the most worried I had been the entire climb. That with the wet slippery rocks and exhaustion made it a very tense climb after what was supposed to be all the hard stuff in the past. Made it to the train station in plenty of time to catch the train!

Once we made it to the cable car station however we learned that it had been shut down due to lightning with no estimate on when they would start running again. After about 20 minutes of waiting they took up out to a bunch of trucks to drive us down the mountain. The packs got thrown in the back and unfortunately even though the rain covers were on the bags, they ended up rain cover down back up in the back of the truck and were completely soaked by the time we got down. It was a long drive drive down some crazy roads. I was not happy waiting for the bus back to Chamonix in the pouring rain and by this point was quite ready to be finished with the long day!

Overall I was very happy to make it to the summit. The highest I had been before this was 13,800 feet where the altitude had made me really sick. On this trip I had no problems to the summit and felt great there. I think this is at least in part due to the guides having a good understanding of what pace to climb at. However, I was destroyed by the descent. I was worried beforehand that I didn't have enough winter skills, but it was far less technically challenging than I was expecting. If I were to do it again, especially if it wasn't with a guide, I'd spend the Refuge Tête Rousse like we did, but spend the night after summiting at Refuge du Goûter instead of going all the way back to the train. This would remove the time pressure from the descent, letting it be taken in a more careful manner, and lets the dangerous rock fall be passed in the night both times instead of once during the day.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Headlamp, Ski Poles, Guide, Hut Camp
Ascent Part of Trip: Mont Blanc (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Le Nid d'Aigle2019-07-25 
2Aiguille du Gouter2019-07-26 a 
3Mont Blanc2019-07-26 b 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Craig Burkhart
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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