It’s easy to be drawn into the epic allure of it all. The regal monarch of the Alps, its stately presence stretching more than 50 kilometres, stands tall in a robe of clouds and an everlasting decadent cover of ice and snow.
As you mull the idea of a 4,810-metre (15,782 feet) quest to the top, consider whether your trip, your stay, your life in France will be complete without surmounting Mont Blanc.
If you’re not convinced that scaling the heights is your manifest destiny, a duty to yourself that you will look back on with pride and wonderment, then here are ten fine reasons to think again:
10. To start with, you can choose to train for three months, or two, or one, or none based upon how much you want to suffer on your way up. But they say the best training is going to a pub, downing five beers and talking about climbing, which brings us unsteadily to…
9. There’s nothing quite like a 12-hour day spent walking slowly and not feeling well. High altitude does strange things to the body. Not only might your head spin and your heart race, but the effects manifest themselves in ways only mass amounts of toilet paper can address.
8. Mountain hut accommodation. Fifteen un-showered people sharing the same tight sleeping quarters. The room is as wide as your wingspan, if you’re lucky. Your night slumber is guaranteed an accompanying symphony from the orchestra of natural human cadence.
7. First hand encounter with an Ibex, a nimble mountain goat found in the Alps between 2,700 and 3,300 metres. These beasts of the rocks can measure in at one metre tall, 120 kilograms, and reportedly quench their thirst from freshly expired human urine. Warning: consider all angles before dropping drawers while on the trail up as males come equipped with horns.
6. It’s one of the only sports where you are encouraged to eat as many Snicker bars and the like while in action. Seriously, you cannot overindulge on candy bars, soda and other high-sugar snacks while in pursuit of the summit. It’s encouraged, almost mandated.
5. You get free licence to say things that sound dirty but really aren’t when attempting to scale the cliff face to the Goûter Hut like: “Go ahead and tie in while I get my protection out,” or “Better take a good selection of nuts,” and “Wow! Look at that crack!” to name a few. Word of advice– don’t use the terms ‘granny knot’ and ‘bomber’ in the same sentence.
4. Mountain. Hut. Food. Need I say more?
3. A must for anyone who loves to wear sandals. The oozing, triple-layer blisters earned while grinding your way up and down the massif will ensure the inability of donning real shoes for at least three months while the burning welts air themselves into healing. This may boost your hot-factor as visible proof of your overall rugged toughness.
2. Bragging rights after using Europe’s highest port-a-potty located just below the summit ridge at 14,000 feet (4,260 meters). Two helicopters airlifted these two portable toilets in 2007 but there is no report on their upkeep.
1. Standing at the summit and having your mind blow from your accomplishment. The stunning, sweeping vistas still evident on our suffocating planet promise to overwhelm. (Naturally you need a perfect, bluebird day to fully experience the latter, which is a gamble.) After eight hours slogging up Mont Blanc, you will likely spend no more than 15 minutes celebrating at the top. Some choose to strip down into a speedo to bump up the thrill quota of their photographs while others have carried, in bits and pieces, a hot tub for a wet and wild party at the top. Just remember, however you choose to celebrate, you still have to get back down. Leaving no trace behind. And it’s a long way.
As with most off-the-charts adventures, it is highly recommended you challenge the peak with a licensed mountain guide, and luckily Chamonix is bursting with real, rugged mountain-men options. But if you choose to forego an experienced escort, at least bring a partner. Two things that will tip you off that you’ve chosen the wrong climbing partner: if he or she thinks a ‘carabiner’ is someone who lives in Jamaica, and when asked to bring rappelling gear said partner shows up with 25 cans of OFF bug spray.
So, if you plan to join the ranks of the 20,000 other climbers who will stand at the top of Mont Blanc in any given year, just know that the first step in your ascent will be the easiest – it will only get steeper, colder, harder to breathe and more strenuous as you go. And the downhill isn’t much prettier.
Or you can join the 80,000 other people who will talk about climbing in the pub. The next round is on me.