Reaching Heaven in the Swiss Alps
A glittering dome high above in the deep blue sky, Mont Blanc is the monarch, the highest mountain in the Alps (4807m), in a word the summit in this part of the world. A symbol of scale and height, and a "shy romanticism hiding behind flippant maxims." Just over 200 years ago, alpinism was founded with the first ascent of this peak. The reward of 20 gold thalers offered by the Geneva scientist Horace Benedict De Saussure motivated crystal hunter Jacques Balmat and doctor Michel-Gabriel Paccard, who made the historical ascent on August 8, 1786. They took a route up the Rochers Rouges and the northeast slope. A year later De Saussure himself could enthuse on the summit over the sky's depth of blue and his own quicksilver barometer, lugged up by a porter, which sank so "magnificently low."
The superlatives are certainly justified, especially since the mountain offers an abundance of fantastic, bewitchingly beautiful climbs of all grades of difficulty. People from all over the world attempt the ascent. When le grand beau temps breaks out hundreds are under way to that snow top adorned by innumerable crampon holes and yellow patches under the crisscross of the jet trails in the sky above. But not all who start out so enthusiastically come away unharmed. These blameless pale slopes have seen innumerable dramas. Time and again sudden storms bring tragedy the unaccustomed height and cold lead to exhaustion, which leads to scatterbrained acts. People die of hypothermia, loss of direction in mist and driving snow, delirium, frostbite, crevasse falls, and who knows what else the annual death toll comes to almost three figures. Today the rescue helicopters of the Gendarmerie des Hautes Montagnes, weather permitting, dexterously and routinely collect up the accident victims and thus many survive who earlier would have died of exposure.
The customary ordinary route is that over the Aiguille du Gouter. Only a few climbers ascend from the far lower Grands Mulets Hut. The same is true of the route from the Italian side. From the Col du Dome onward, all three routes finish up the Bosses Ridge to the highest point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication