Saturday, 10 August 2013

Mont Blanc & Gran Paradiso - Kit and other issues

We put a lot of effort into getting our kit right and gaining knowledge of what lay before us in attempting to acclimatise on Gran Paradiso 4061m and Becca di Monciair 3544m and then undertake a three day assault of Mont Blanc at 4810m.  We read various articles and books on the Alps to make us best prepared for the massive challenge that lay ahead.

Having got to the top with guidance from our ace guide -Tim Blakemore - we can reflect and realise why many fail in their attempts:
  • The ever changing weather
  • The difficulties of the climbs which ever route to the top
  • Very icy and narrow ridges
  • Not adequate acclimatisation.

 The weather is a major factor as we found out and we had to change our routes due to prevailing weather conditions.  Mont Blanc can be blanketed by cloud know as “the donkey” (l’ane).  Thus extreme winter conditions may be raging around the summit with violent winds, when below this the sun could be shinning.  Even on a sunny day a strong northerly wind can bar excess to these high and steep narrow summit ridges.

Key to success is having an experienced guide with an intimate knowledge of the mountain.

A listing is attached.  This took into account that we might encounter bad weather and just because it was the month of July this did not mean we were guaranteed sunshine.

Coming all the way from the north of England it was important that we got our kit right.  We did this by splitting our kit into three parts:
  • A kit bag
  • Rucksack for our mountain gear
  • Separate bag for casual clothes/toilet bag.

It is essential that you keep your rucksack as light as possible for the ascent day.  While on Mont Blanc we were returning to the same mountain refuge so we were able to leave items we did not need on the day behind in a plastic box and collect this on our decent.  Kit is very personal and what is right for one may differ for another.

  • Before the climb
Absorb as much carbohydrate (pasta, rice, etc) as you can the evening before the climb.  The storage of glycogen is more efficient in the recovery phase after exercise.  Eat lightly before the strenuous effort of the climb itself.
  • During the climb
Top up your energy levels at every opportunity.  We had one litre of water, SIS energy gels, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, sweets (jelly babies) and sandwiches.  Wear the right clothes and move at the right speed to limit water loss due to sweating.
  • After the climb
Eat a lot of carbohydrates during the evening meal.  Drink a lot.
  • Snack Foods (for the climbs and huts)
Take snack foods you like eating.  When the effects of altitude are combined with tiredness, it is much easier and comforting to eat something you like.
Refuge Huts
We stayed in four of these huts which provide mattresses, blankets and pillows.  They also provide meals, drinks, crockery and cutlery.  We found the food good although breakfasts are very basic.  On arriving you take of your boots and use a pair of slippers provided.  Take your ice axe, walking poles and helmet and place these in a box in the locker room.  Some leave their rucksacks here as well but we took ours to be beside our bunks.  The two refuge huts we stayed in Italy did have showers.

What are the risks?
  • Lack of stamina – you need to work hard to gain mountain fitness before the challenge.
  • Insufficient acclimatisation – we climbed two mountains before Mont Blanc.
  • Cold.  When the wind is strong especially on the summit ridges, cases of frostbite to the face are quite common.  Thus every bit of skin must be covered.  Neck buff and balaclava.  Appropriate gloves and boots are needed.  Superficial frostbite to the cornea, which is caused by strong side winds and leads to blurred vision, will be prevented by wearing ski goggles.
  • Sunburn.   It is essential to wear category IV sunglasses with side pieces.  The skin and lips must be protected with high protection factor sun cream (at least SPF 30) applied say every two hours.
  • Eyes.  If wearing lenses make sure these are the best possible for oxygen flow and apply suitable eye lotion to keep them moist.

Insurance Cover
Make sure you have adequate insurance cover in place encase something goes wrong and you need to be rescued

Kit Listing

Waterproof Jacket with hood
Soft Shell Jacket
700 fill packable down jacket
Summer Fleece
1 Merino Base Layer L/Sleeve
Merino Base Layer S/Sleeve
Waterproof over-trousers
2 x Trekking Trousers
1 x Shorts
1 x Warm Longjohns
3 x Underpants/Compression Pants
2 Pairs Thick Walking Socks
2 Pairs Liner Socks
1 Pair Mid Thickness Socks (for Plastic Boots)
Buff & balaclava
Inner Gloves
Outer Gloves
Black Diamond Double Mitts
Plastic Climbing Boots/La Sportiva/Scarpas
or mountaineering boots - warm and suitable for crampons
Trail Shoes
Mountaineering Equipment

Ice Axe

Crampons with anti-balling


Walking Poles with Snow Feet


2 X Screw Gate Caribiners


Guide will have the rope etc. to

ensure you are safe

Sleeping Kit

Silk Liner

Head Torch & Spare batteries

Kit Bags & Contents

40/50/60L Ruck Sack

Kit Bag

Hand Luggage



Assortment of Dry Bags



First Aid Kit

Spare Laces

Hand & Feet Warmers

2 x I Litre Water Bottles

Multi tool knife or pen knife

Camera, Batteries & Charger

Mobile Phone, Batteries & Charger

Plastic Rubbish Bags


Waterproof Note Pad & Pencil

Hygiene & Medicinal

Sun Cream- at least SPF30

Lip Salve

Compeed Plasters


Cleansing Gel

Toiletery Bag etc.

Toilet Roll/Paper

Wet Wipes

Diamox Tablets


Imodium or similar

Spare eye lenses

Eye lotion

Hand Mirror

Optional Items



31st July 2013

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