they say you need to be fit... they really do mean it!"
- a cautionary tail
awful lot of money, a huge amount of time invested in training,
and the overwhelming excitement of climbing Western Europe's
highest mountain has all ended in awful, huge and overwhelming
have dreamed of climbing a mountain for years and years so
I was over the moon when an old mate of mine, B, and I booked
onto the Mont Blanc intermediate course months ago. As a long
distance triathlete I knew that I would be fit for the trip,
and with a lot of hillwalking and climbing experience I also
figured that I'd at least have some relevant skills. B, my
climbing partner and general all-round good egg, had the time
to boost his own fitness levels, so I thought we were away!
it with Icicle was fab the first day on ice practicing
tricky crampon moves and rescuing each other from glaciers
bonded the group whilst teaching us some valuable skills.
The predicted weather wasn't great so we'd been warned that
we would be having a crack at the Mont Blanc summit somewhat
earlier in the week than planned. This was great news as far
as I was concerned I couldn't wait.
it turned out, the only way this would be possible was to
do one day on the Cosmique Arete to acclimatise, and then
do the trip to Mont Blanc in one day, returning to the Gouter
Hut in the evening. This is quite a big ask it's a
4-hour scramble to the Hut, followed by a 4-hour trudge uphill
through the snow to the summit
and then of course the
descent time back to the Hut. Four of us were going, with
2 excellent guides, and given the weather conditions, we were
really chuffed to be going at all.
first leg to the Hut went well the weather seemed perfect,
the scenery was spectacular and the company was excellent.
When we got to the Hut we had a quick break for a cup of tea
and to top up water. Pascal (guide) left with Lennox and John
about half an hour ahead of Jacques (other guide) with me
and B. Before our little group left I said to B that once
we all left we would be committed, that giving up was not
an option. He agreed
It was clear from the first 10
steps from the Hut that this was not going to be easy
the first thing to negotiate is a seemingly vertical snow
wall which really gets the blood flowing!
first landmark is the Dome de Gouter an enormous mound
of snow that doesn't seem to get any nearer or smaller despite
how many steps you climb up it. It's exhausting and potentially
demoralising, as when you get to the top of it, you're still
less than halfway there. It's a slow trudge which I got through
by singing (in my head!) my way through Linkin Park's 'Meteora'
album. B was doing OK, though a little slow, but Jacques seemed
next bit is great mostly flat, downhill in places,
though there is that gloomy realisation that having climbed
up so far you're now losing height. Having said that, the
sight of Mont Blanc rising up in front of you is fantastic,
a real incentive to keep going. As we started ascending up
towards the disused Vallot refuge, B started slowing down
hugely. Jacques was out in front and we were all roped together,
and at times I would feel B pulling me backwards. It was exhausting
so I'd give him a yank which he wasn't too pleased with. By
the time we reached the refuge he stated that he didn't know
how much more of this he could cope with. I was raging inside
the weather was starting to turn, and if we were to
have any chance of making it, we had to keep up the pace.
I could see Pascal, Lennox and John ahead of us and was desperate
to get there too. B caught his breath and we headed on up
to Petite Bosse. The pace was painfully slow. When we reached
the Bosse, the summit seemed close enough to touch. Pascal
et al were about halfway up and showed no signs of turning
back. I was tired, for sure, but feeling good and determined
to get to the top. So when I heard phrases such as 'we don't
have enough time because the pace is too slow', 'I passed
my pain threshold half an hour ago', 'we cannot go on
B is too tired', 'we must turn around', etc etc, it felt like
the world was ending. Earlier in the week I'd said to B that
I wouldn't be too disappointed if we didn't summit, but I
had meant due to weather, one of us breaking an ankle, the
guide falling into a crevasse, etc. In a million years I never
expected that (selfishly) I would not make it to the top due
to lack of fitness, or determination, or both, from my climbing
partner. And to hear 'there's always next year', 'the mountain
is not going anywhere' and 'c'est la vie' did nothing to dam
the almost tangible anger / disappointment / sadness that
I thought was going to choke me. I remember shouting 'they're
up there and we're down here and that's why I'm so
angry', but other than that, the descent was a blur. I didn't
care about the sunset, the view, our shadows circled by rainbows
on the cloud below. I felt let down by B I'd spent
two months wages and hours every week training for this and
he clearly hadn't been as serious about it
he could wing it.
we got back to the Gouter Hut, I couldn't be near anyone,
which is pretty hard in a place that busy. So I crawled under
my blanket and tried not to think about anything. I nearly
succeeded until I heard Pascal, Lennox and John come back.
They'd made it to the top and back safely. I wanted to congratulate
but sadly I couldn't find it in me. I was gutted.
I should have been up there with them.
and I have thankfully known each other long enough that my
disappointment in him, and his probable alarm at me currently
ignoring him will evaporate soon, but my regret and frustration
at not summiting when all factors were in favour will linger
an awful lot longer.
just assume that because you've given it all 100% that others
Blanc is a BIG MOUNTAIN. A guide cannot drag you up it
it takes phenomenal fitness AND determination (and appropriate
weather, of course!) to get to the top. This should not be
underestimated. Remember, it's not just YOU you may letting
down if you can't make it consider the other person
climbing with you.
a long, cold, leg-burning, lung-bursting, head-spinning slog.
I hope that next time I can make it to the top to experience
the exhilaration that makes you feel that it's all been worth