If you have ever wondered how it feels like to be on the highest peak of the Alps a little bit before sunrise, then let me tell you you’ll have two things constantly and repetitively crossing your mind whilst enjoying this most wonderful view and waiting for the very first sunrays in all of central Europe to hit your face: beer, and sauna.
Try if if you don’t believe me. The summit of Mont Blanc, 4810m above sea level, is by its nature quite exposed to the elements as it towers high above all surrounding materiality. This means quite some wind, and the minutes before sunrise are traditionally the coldest minutes of the day (or night). Well, those two factors in combination with the above mentioned altitude make your brain inevitably repeat: beer and sauna, beer and sauna, beer … for this is the state of luxurious comfort that you left behind, way down in the Chamonix valley.
Of course, mountaineering is not about comfort. There has to be another reason to answer the question of why on earth we left beer and sauna behind to adventure up the Alp’s highest peak during complete darkness just to see the sunrise from up there, exposing ourselves to serious danger, exhaustion, cold, and the lack of beer. The answer is this:
To put pixels into words: Why not. And yes, there was a strange feeling of success when, finally, you, gasping for air, kick the crampon into the hard snow one last time, gaining a view unparalleled: the view down on everything. Being on the very top of it all. Yes, one does feel superior for a second or two. And no, there isn’t an après ski bar up there, selling beer. Yet.
Sebastiaan and me left our cosy bivouac at Col Maudit (4000m) a bit after midnight, wrapping out of our sleeping bags after a few minutes of napping to enter a perfectly still night. I’ve never seen as many stars anywhere in Europe as that night, and the full-moon was constantly looming above the summit, kind of guiding our way, luring us to get closer, as close as possible in this part of the world, allowing us to walk without headlamps when there was no obvious crevasse danger. Yes, after two weeks of waiting and uncertain weather, we were rewarded with the perfect conditions, at last. We, quite exhausted and breathing hard, reached 4810m at 5:13 a.m., and what followed were minutes of bitter cold; we wished for sauna and beer more than ever. But all we got was this magnificent sunrise. Good enough, we said, and departed for a long, long, long walk down into the valley. Beer and sauna we got, at last. Prost & Santé.