Matt Tredway: Climbing Mont Blanc, Chamonix
Miles from Steamboat: 5,670
Dates: Oct. 6-27
Fun fact: The birthplace of mountaineering, Chamonix, site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, is also known as the death sports capital of the world, with more than 100 people killed on the Mont Blanc massif each year. Bonus factoid: Its elevation gain of 12,500 feet from town is greater than going from basecamp to the summit of Mt. Everest.
Sketchy conditions — and dead bodies getting carried off your target mountain — can melt a mountaineer’s morale like the polar icecap.
That’s why Steamboat Springs climber Matt Tredway, who headed to Switzerland’s Bernese Alps in November to scale the Eiger, had no qualms about changing plans at the mountain’s base and heading for the greener climbing pastures of Chamonix.
“We went there with the intention of climbing the Eiger but got spooked,” Tredway says of he and partner Chris Krupthupt’s attempt to summit the iconic peak. “The conditions were too unsafe, which was reinforced by the bodies of two German climbers getting carried off the face from rockfall.”
So he called an old climbing buddy, who he met while climbing Tibet’s Cho Oyo and now lives in Chamonix, and did the old summit switcheroo. Next target: 15,781-foot Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe and the Alps. “We wanted to knock off some of the classic routes on it,” says Tredway, who’s made four climbing trips to the Himalayas.
That they did, first climbing a variation of the classic mixed snow/ice Cosmique Arete route in the Mont Blanc massif, whose crux he describes as being “as wide as a loaf of bread, with a 5,000-foot drop off each side.”
Next, they knocked off the classic Goulotte Chere, whose steep snow approach led to a final crux of vertical blue ice high off the valley floor.
“This was a classic, multiple-pitch climb that featured a snow couloir giving way to steep blue ice to the summit,” Tredway says.
The climbers also completed a big rock route on the Aiguille Du Midi — “A group of Korean tourists watched us most of the day, and applauded when we finally made the top,” Tredway says— as well as “other smaller climbs, by Chamonix standards,” before setting their sights on Mont Blanc.
Ignoring the fact that two other climbers died on Mont Blanc while they were there, they started out at 3,000 feet, and in two days, climbed 22,000 vertical feet up and down the peak, including the final snow and ice summit crux.
“It was definitely a lot of vertical in two days,” he says. “But we had great conditions with bluebird skies, cold temperatures and good stability. While there were a lot of stronger and bolder climbers there, this was a pretty big couple of days for us. It was awesome mountaineering and we had the perfect day.”
Above all, Tredway says, the best part was simply being in the alpine climbing world’s epicenter. “We felt like we were in the birthplace of mountaineering,” Tredway says of the region’s climbing heritage.
“Each climb we did was very committing and high quality. It’s an amazing place because you can be in short sleeves in a coffee shop in Chamonix and then on the summit of Mont Blanc two days later.”
Closer to home
As well as his Alps foray, Tredway also tackled a few projects closer to home last year. A highlight was last summer’s climb of the notorious Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain near Gunnison. “We had heard that the cool spring had preserved its ice,” he says. “When we arrived we were excited to find ice that was capable of taking screws. That’s not often the case there. It’s a classic. It was cool to hike through green meadows with flowers and then end up on a wintery climb that summits a peak.”
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