they say you need to be fit... they really do mean it!"
- a cautionary tail
by Ali Hunt, 2006.
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 disappointment
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
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
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
or thought 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 them
but sadly I couldn't
find it in me. I was gutted. I should have been up there
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
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 it.