It’s no secret that the winter of 2011 in the Alps was a dry one. Perhaps the worst in decades – if you’re a skier. Bare ice, marginal snow conditions and horrifically long spells of cold, dry weather. It’s also no secret that historically, dry winters are followed by wet summers.

This July, I’ve had many guests arrive in Chamonix eager to attempt to climb Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain, only to have their plan morph into more specialized custom experiences. For most, this “opportunity” has transformed how they look at mountaineering “success”.

Climbers who have undergone a long apprenticeship courting the high peaks, know all too well that failure (or at least lack of summit) is a huge part of becoming a climber. Success in the mountains needs to be a relative term. Each climber must define what he or she views as a mountain success. For me, it’s always been a blend of learning, challenge and adventure. More of a process than a product.

Beautiful morning light from Switzerland’s Weissmies (a 4000m summit)

Alternatives to climbing Mont Blanc run the gamut from “attempting and hoping the weather is wrong” (not recommended) to venturing to nearby 4000 meter peaks such as the Gran Paradiso or a myriad of objectives over in Switzerland’s Valais.

Grand Jorasses from the Couvercle view of the Grand Jorasses from the Couvercle hut in the heart of the Mont Blanc Range
Weissmies South RidgeClimbing the South Ridge of the Weissmies
climbing the JagihornClimbing the Jagihorn and loving it.

Guides often discuss how a huge part of our job is to manage expectations. Managing expectations when the weather is marginal or conditions are unsafe becomes that much more challenging. Rest assured that a rewarding mountain experience is always available, it’s just a matter of adopting an appropriate perspective.

“Why did you decided to learn to climb mountains in the first place? and Why did the Mont Blanc make it’s way to the top of your list?”

I’m happy to report that many guests have concluded that a lack of Mont Blanc Summit has forced them to engage these questions, and explore the various facets of mountaineering on a different level. Most have concluded that these programs were hugely successful, despite the lack of summit.

I’m elated that I’ve had the opportunity to help people return to their everyday lives as climbers more than Mont Blanc Summiteers. In the end, the mountain will be there for the climbing, and they will be ready to engage the challenges that it presents.