The Gouter route on Mont Blanc (see FAQ Which Route Will I Be Attempting) starts at the top of the mountain railway at Nid d’Aigle at 2372m, then continues past the Tête Rousse hut (3167m) and Gouter hut (3835m) to the summit at 4810m. Our standard program allows three days for the ascent thus:
Day 1: Train (2372m) to Tête Rousse hut (3167m): 795m of ascent.
Day 2: Tête Rousse hut (3167m) to summit (4810m) and back to Tête Rousse: 1643m of ascent/descent.
Day 3: Spare day, easy descent to train: 795m of descent.
Sometimes the weather forces us to try the ascent on day 3 - this is perfectly feasible but the timescale is a bit tighter as we have to descend to the train the same day. Staying at Gouter instead of Tête Rousse offers the clear advantage of breaking up the ascent more evenly thus reducing the length of any one effort – this does make it slightly easier, but the number of people to whom this would make a difference is relatively small. It is our policy that if you are fit enough to safely climb Mont Blanc then you are fit enough to comfortably do it from the lower hut, as our groups continue to do successfully every year. As has been stated elsewhere on this site, it is not our policy to drag limit people to the summit of Mont Blanc.
There are also some major advantages to starting from Tete Rousse, as follows:
Altitude and Sleep: We have found over the years that climbers sleeping at Gouter are roughly twice as likely to develop altitude sickness during their ascent as those starting from Tête Rousse, due to the effects of sleeping at a higher altitude and becoming more hypoxic. “Climb high, sleep low” is a well-known climbers’ maxim. (It's still a small percentage though). Additionally one also sleeps much better lower down which has a big effect on how one feels the following day.
If We Book a Hut Night We Have to Use It (Even If We Pay): With the deeply flawed and widely abused internet reservation system currently in use at the Gouter hut, there is simply no way we or anyone else can guarantee to get bookings there. Hut bookings on Mont Blanc are usually made months in advance and are virtually impossible to change last minute to suit changing plans. If we want to maintain good relations with the hut guardians we must use the places we reserve and not leave them empty and thus denied to other climbers - even if we paid for the empty beds, it’s wouldn't change anything. If we booked Tête Rousse/Gouter (rather than Tête Rousse/Tête Rousse) for most of our clients this would mean having to stay the whole afternoon at the Gouter on the way down when there was plenty of time to descend further. It’s true that for a small number of people stopping at Gouter could make the difference between success and failure, but in our experience this is a very small number compared to the vast majority who can happily accomplish the climb from Tête Rousse. We design our courses around properly fit clients, and we do not want to compromise the ascent for the majority in order to accommodate a minority of people on the very limit of required fitness.
Staying Out of Sync with Other Parties: Climbing in a long stop/start line of people is to be avoided at all costs, both for aesthetic and safety reasons. Most people leave Gouter at 2am and even climbers starting from Tête Rousse mostly leave at 1am often for no better reason than because “that’s what you do”. We try to leave around 5am which puts us 180° out of sync with most other parties, crossing them on the broad easy slopes above Gouter and often having the summit to ourselves. It doesn't always work, but it's great when it does!
None of this is intended to suggest that companies basing their ascents from the Gouter hut are doing anything wrong or offering less good trips, that has always been the traditional way of doing it for many good reasons and thousands climb the mountain like that every year. it is simply a matter of emphasis and the approach we have developed over the years to climbing Mont Blanc - none of this is black and white.