After spending several days acclimatizing on smaller climbs up high in Chamonix, France, we went for the summit of Mt. Blanc. Because the tram to Nid Aigle was stopped by rockfall, my climbing partners, Don, Mimi, and I had to hoof it an extra 2.5 steep, steep hours with full packs to the beginning of the route up Mont Blanc. That 2.5 hours really messed us up. We got to the biggest objective danger on the route, where the trail runs below near constant rockfall in an area known as the "Bowling Alley" (a steep couloir - think the steep curving wall inside of a soup bowl - known in France as the Rue Du Mort - street of death) at about 4:30 pm - at a time when the sun had warmed the snow and ice holding the rockfall above the route in place. This of course was not good. We stood on the edge of the ledge in a protected spot watching the big and small rocks tumble down every few seconds (see photos #5 and 6 - we had a very large piece of granite speed down within about 5 feet of us on a lower portion of this section). The only option here is to literally sprint across the couloir (bowling alley) and keep your eyes peeled for falling rock and be prepared to hit the deck. The "deck" as it turns out, was not the wide dirt path I had seen in photos, but was a mushy snow ledge about 3 feet wide. One side was a 55 degree slope up with the rocks hurtling down and the other was the same slope down to a crevasse field. Get hit by a rock or lose your footing as you're trying to sprint slightly uphill with crampons and a full 35 lb pack on your back (and my 10lbs of camera gear on my front) and it's a grand tour of the Grand Couloir and a trip into the abyss of a gaping crevasse. To add to the fun, a rescue helicopter kept hovering right above the couloir, its blades stirring up the air and causing vibration that loosened even more rocks. That sort of objective danger was beyond Mimi's level of acceptability, though Don and I were planning on doing it this morning as the rocks would have frozen into place by then, thereby allowing us time to carefully cross the couloir without having to sprint.
As the last cable car back to Les Houches left at 6pm and we were about 5 hours above it (our starting point) our only option was a careful climb down and back into the other rcokfall zone down to the Tete Rousse Hut. It was full, but for about $75 each, we could have a pad and a blanket and a space on the dining room floor (and dinner and breakfast). Luckily a few people who had reservations didn't make it up, so we got a bunk bed. We were still 2.5 hours from the Gouter Hut (our original destination) and another 6 hours after that to the summit. Mimi planned on climbing back down herself as Don and I continued up the route this morning, but after the trauma of seeing the rock falling so close to us, seeing Mimi's panicked state, never having climbed alone with Don, and really just not feeling mentally "with" this mountain, I opted to keep the team together and we all came down.