Last week we were amazed by the feat of building a Jacuzzi on top of Mont Blanc at 15,711 feet against wind, sub-zero temperatures and lack of oxygen. I interviewed Thierry Bieler, one of the masterminds behind the project, to see exactly how they did it and learn more about their other stunts, like the Jacuzzi for 60 people built on a frozen lake.
Jesus Diaz: I saw your Jacuzzi on top of Mont Blanc and I'm amazed by the feat. To get there and build that massive thing and get it to work...
Thierry Bieler: Thanks, it is a pleasure for us to be in an interview.
JD: How many people actually carried the equipment and how many pounds was it all?
TB: We were 19 people carrying all the materials starting at 10:00 p.m. the day before, climbing through the three-mounts path. Then another three people without any load joined us through the normal path to reach the summit. In total, we had around 440 pounds to carry for the Jacuzzi plus our personal equipment ... in average, I would say 44 pounds per person, but some had much more.
JD: How did you start doing this?
TB: It all started during Christmas holidays 2000. While waiting for some snow for skiing, we started to build the first "transportable" Jacuzzi with a friend after a joke about it. This one used the water pump of a wash machine and a simple wood fire in a barrel with some copper tubes over it. The size was OK for four persons.
Then every year, we improved it, increasing the efficiency of the system and increasing its power. After many years and around 50 Jacuzzis, we developed a system based on a wood fire, capable of delivering aound 110kW of heat. We organized big Jacuzzis for up to 80 persons together in the water and we built one twice on an frozen lake, with up to 60 persons. For that one we had to carry around 2,200 pounds of material and wood over a 1,300-feet slope.
JD: And how did you come to the Mont Blanc idea?
TB: A year ago one of us jokingly said "Why don't we build one on the top of Mont Blanc." We linked that "bet" to a challenge: four of us would go by bike from our home to Chamonix, climb Mont Blanc and return back home in 24 hours. We did it.
JD: I guess carrying 2,200 pounds up Mont Blanc was out of the question...
TB: Yes, we started thinking of solutions in order to reduce the weight of the system, testing solutions using ethanol instead of wood, and after many tests we developed a solution using propane gas and car radiators to heat the water.
JD: How did you compensate for the lack of oxygen?
TB: For the people to carry the material or for the heating system?
JD: For the heating system.
TB: This was a worry. We were afraid to lose power. We really need a lot of power to transform snow into water. And we need the system to be very efficient, so we started tests at home, then we moved to the Allalinhorn, which is a 13,123-foot mountain with only a 1,640-foot slope, much easier than Mont Blanc. We had good results, so we decided to do it on top of Mont Blanc.
JD: How often do you do this? Are you planning another one?
TD: This was the 63th jacuzzi in six years, so it makes an average of around 10
per year. And of course we will keep on going, making Jacuzzis for parties. We are still working to reduce the weight of the system in order to be able to make some in winter, to take a warm bath after a ski tour for example.
JD: Sounds good to me. Keep having fun. Thanks Thierry!
TD: Thank you!