I can still remember the first time I laid eyes on Mont Blanc. It was my birthday, October 2005. Whilst on holiday in Geneva we had decided to take the slightly complicated train route to Chamonix and up the Aiguille du Midi cable car to 3842m. This view point and restaurant shown below, high on the side of Mont Blanc, is a very popular tourist attraction.
Even then, before my mountain addiction had really manifested itself, the joy of being in the company of great rising peaks would bring a smile to my face. I remember watching a man in mountaineering kit slumped on a seat trying to catch his breath. I looked at his alien, technical equipment and wondered what he was feeling. It may seem strange that seeing someone struggling would be in some way inspiring, but I suppose I have always recognised that the greater the struggle, the greater the reward.
On that day in 2005 the seed of an idea was planted, although back then I knew nothing about mountaineering and didn’t really consider that one day I could stand on Mont Blanc’s domed summit. It was a few years later in 2009 that I joined a hill walking club for the first time. I started to enjoy the Scottish hills with the club and new friends before eventually, due to offshore shifts, going solo. I learned to navigate and keep myself safe and soon found that being alone in the hills was just as enjoyable as sharing the journey with others.
In 2012 I experienced high altitude for the first time when I summited Kilimanjaro, 5895m. Although I have walked above 4000m several times since, the African summit is still the highest I have ever been. I took up rock climbing, did some Scottish winter walking and slowly the dream to climb to the top of Europe developed. I even looked into going it alone but I was faced with two options. Either the expense of one to one guiding, or pairing up with a stranger. Although great friendships can be made in the mountains I had no interest in investing in months of training to put my faith in a stranger doing the same. Mont Blanc requires commitment, either you both make it to the summit or you both turn back, as is the nature of roped guiding. Then a few years ago along came Tara, initially just a climbing partner and now one of my best friends. We have been through a lot together and it’s hard to believe I’ve only known her a few short years. Tara is incredibly strong and, luckily for me, she shared my Mont Blanc dream. A plan was developed, organisation started and skills and equipment tested in the Sierra Nevada in January.
Despite having been higher before, Mont Blanc made me nervous. It felt in my mind like a long term, elusive dream with so many elements of uncertainty. It was really my first technical, high altitude peak, the others had been purely walking. Commitment is required to walk on a rope, the decision to turn back would be not just affect me, but also Tara. I really didn’t want to let her, or myself down. Physical strength is necessary but mental awareness and concentration is also key, a roped party should move together, slow and steady. The itinerary laid out by Mountain Tracks was excellent. The aim was to use the first three days to train and acclimatise by summiting Grand Paridiso in Italy. We would then return to the valley for a night to refresh before the three days allocated to attempt Mont Blanc. Those six days in the mountains were truly unforgettable, with a few lows and many highs along the way. That journey deserves its own post, so stay tuned!