Archive for July, 2011

In reflection

neil On July - 31 - 2011Comments Off

Now that it has sunk in, wow! what an achievement, to reach the summit of Mont Blanc! Two guys that have really very little mountaineering experience, to get up there unguided as well, I don’t think even yesterday I could believe what we had done, I sat there this morning looking at Mont Blanc from the window of the breakfast room, thinking about the people that at that moment would be slowly making there way to the summit, they would probably be in the same zombified state that I was in, not really comprehending what they had achieved yet and knowing fully that they were only actually half way through there quest, as they still had the journey back down the mountain to make. We were going to go back up this morning, but the bus to take us to the airport was booked, so we didn’t bother! I just ate my croissant and slurped my tea.

So for us the next challenge lies ahead, Aconcagua! It sits at nearly 7000 mtrs up, that’s an additional 2200 altitude mtrs, so back to the training then, I think I might need to step it up a little!

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One for Darcey

neil On July - 30 - 20111 COMMENT

At 6.50am I looked out the window from the hotel Richemond onto a very wet Chamonix, we made our way to the breakfast room and ate as much as we could, knowing that our day would be long and hard, at this point neither of us could have anticipated that it would be almost 36 hours before we were back at the hotel depleted of energy and deprived of any sleep, We left the hotel at about 7.30 in the morning and caught the bus for the cable car, this would take us up to the mountain train which would in turn take us up to 2372 mtrs, we then started the long trek up the mountain path which would eventually take us up to the Tete Rousse at 3167 mtrs, it was a long trek climbing all the way, each step had to be anticipated over the stubborn rocks and falling slag, we hit the snow level at approx 2800 mtrs.

Dressing for this type of climb is always difficult, as the temp wasn’t cold, only wet, and the climbing generates heat, so you don’t really want your Gore-Tex clothes on, but you also don’t want to get wet as we had no idea of what we were heading onto. We arrived at the Tete Rousse at approx 2.00 pm, our intention was to have a rest and some soup before heading up the most technical part of the whole summit climb to the Gouter hut, so we had our soup (23 Euros) and geared up for the next part of the climb, harness, crampons, ice axe and short roped for safety the first part was a basic accent of a very steep snow covered slope, then we had to cross the famous “Le Grand Couloir”, the advice that you give you is that if you listen and hear nothing, then you have to run as fast as you can across the face, as the avalanches come down all the time.

Yeah, run in your crampons like that’s going to happen! Anyway we made it across and then started the technical part, it wasn’t too bad, just a walk in the park compared to the type of thing that we are doing in the Cairngorms, the only problem seemed to be the altitude, I seemed to be struggling more than I expected to be, I thought that we had done our altitude training as we were supposed to. When we left the Tete Rousse we had bumped into Veit, he had come up on the Wednesday and spent the night at the Tete Rousse with his two Dutch clients, when we met them they were descending from the Gouter hut, they had been right up to 4100 mtrs for their altitude training, it crossed my mind briefly that they didn’t seem to have had much time off the mountain, only one night.

I mentioned this to Radek and he explained to me that there intention was to try and summit tonight like us, now this was the point that I realised that I had done my sums wrong, when we had spoke of Friday, I had always thought that we were going Friday night not Thursday night/ Friday morning, from then on I never really got my head around it, for the last year we had been planning this trip down to the finest detail, and we had spoke of Friday as the big push for the summit, I suppose I was a little in shock, I thought to myself “shit” we should have been up here a day ago.

All along poor Radek must have been thinking to himself “this guy is nuts, to want to climb this in one day” but Radek being Radek said “ok let’s do it”. When we got to the Gouter hut my opinion changed completely though, just walking into the place made the Albert Premier look like the Ritz, it’s normal practice in the huts to take your boots off an find a pair of free issue crocs that you keep for your stay, not in the Gouter people were wandering around fully kitted up, and it was jam packed, full of the real hard core climbers, in the Albert Premier there were many trekkers who probably wanted to be classed as climbers, not here though, to get to the Gouter hut you had to be a certain type of climber, and to stay the night you have to be f#####g nuts, when we arrived Radek tried to check in for us, the lady that owned the Richemond had kindly booked us in to the Gouter hut two days before, but we were soon to be educated in the way of the mountains.

Basically if you’re not a guide or with a guide then your booking will be give to a guide, so we had to pay in full for our evening meal, bed and breakfast, with the privilege of sleeping on the floor or the tables, we weren’t alone though, there were about 50 people that night that had no bed and had to pay full price. We and our meal and by 10.00 pm the people who had beds had gone, then it was a case of find a space and don’t leave it, if you needed the loo then you needed to get someone to keep your space, thankfully we had sat with 4 Spanish lads for our meal and the others at the table had beds, so between the six of us we fought off anyone who tried to move in on our space, and we worked out a system for going to the loo, I never slept at all, nor did Radek, the lights were switched on at 1.00 am for breakfast and we got ready, even at breakfast we had hassle, they had taken down Radeks name wrong, and I spent about 30mins trying to get our tray that we eventually found out was under the name of Darek.

We geared up and had left the hut at 2.30am, we followed the lights in the darkness, it was amazing, they were strung up the first face like Christmas lights, disappearing into the darkness, we were quite late on getting on the mountain, there must have been about 60 -70 people in front of us, so we trekked on into the night, Mont Blanc likes to play tricks on it’s summiteers, you climb up the steepest of faces only to be confronted by another, it was noticeable on the way down so many people had discarded there packs to climb what they thought was the summit only to be confronted by another peak. We made it to the Bivouac Vallot just before sunrise, we stayed there for about half an hour, at this point I hadn’t said to Radek that I was suffering badly from frozen fingers and toes, this is something that I would never have problems with and I thought that if we stayed in the Bivouac I would warm up , I stuck on my Gore-Tex jacket, and thought about my trousers, I stupidly didn’t put them on which I did regret later on, all I had on my legs were a pair of climbing trousers no long johns, up to now I had no problem with the cold in the mountains, we moved on slowly making our way up the mountain.

There were so many people on the track, we had to follow the trail slowly upward, about 200 altitude mtrs from the summit Radek asked me if I wanted to go back down, he said “we still have 200 mtrs to go and we have to get all the way back down, are you ok” I said that I wasn’t turning back and that I would be ok, I knew that I was struggling and he could see it in my movement and my reaction, I’d stopped talking and rested whenever I could, at one point when he was filming me I never lifted my head, but at 7.45 on Friday the 29th of July we summited, Radek had went ahead to film me coming onto the summit, I was stuck in the middle of a group of unknown people who were there for their own reasons, two years ago I sat with Linzie and made the decision to climb 3 mountains for raising awareness and money for a charity that is very close to our hearts, and here I was achieving the first of the three, I stepped to the side so that Radek could catch a better shot of me summiting, I must say, I don’t know if it was the cold, no sleep or the fatigue, or maybe all of them, I had to fight the emotion, when I reached the top Radek asked me if I had anything to say, but I couldn’t say anything.

I was just glad to be there and to have done it with him. I took my gloves off and called Linzie and said “we are on the summit” the reception was poor and it cut off, she sent a text to which I replied, I then took a couple of photos with my phone, but my hands were frozen and I could hardly use them. On the summit I couldn’t speak, I hadn’t drank much fluids nor had I eaten anything, to be honest I think that I wasn’t acclimatised at all, I think that this all so contributed to the fact that my fingers and toes were frozen, they say that the biggest risk in high altitude climbing is the way that the body reacts to the lack of oxygen, getting colder quicker is one of the many problems that you may encounter. Radek who hasn’t suffered any type of altitude sickness confessed when we were down that he also was suffering and put it down to the lack of acclimatisation. We didn’t stay on the summit very long maybe five min, as we were both aware of the known mountaineering rule that the summit is only half way, we still had to get back down! We started our decent, I had always prepared myself for decent, I had made the rule in my head like when I trained in the gym, one more rep means one more increase in the direction that you want to go in, so here one more step means closer to down and every step brings thicker air.

It did feel like forever to get down, I had forced myself to eat a snickers bar between the summit and the Gouter hut, because my legs were starting to shake with the lack of sugar and with the challenge that they had taken on, even though We felt fatigued we both mad the decision to bypass the Gouter and rest at the Tete R hut and get something to eat there, we were both aware of how weak we were and made the decision to not rope up down the technical face from the Gouter but to clip on to the safety wires individually, if we were short roped and one of us slipped then there’s a fair chance that we would have both been pulled off. So we made it to the Tete R hut de’geared had something to eat and then headed back to Chamonix.
Job done!!!!!! Neil

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Mont Blanc

neil On July - 28 - 2011Comments Off

We started off with an not so early start on Sunday, we got to the cable car at approx 10.30am, we hopped off the top and started the long walk to the Albert Premier Hut. It’s a two and a bit hour slog to the hut, walking at an easy pace, we blasted up there in just over one and a half hours. This season the snow was as far down as the cable car, it had been bad weather up until we arrived with large snow coverings up in the mountains. The Albert Premier hasn’t changed a bit; they treat you so bad, and then charge you to stay there.

I had prepared myself this year though, by the time that we reached the hut, I had consumed more than 4 litres of water, this is to combat altitude sickness, and you’re also supposed to climb 500 mtrs above where you intend to sleep, as they say climb high sleep low. So this was my intention, we ate our dinner at 6.30pm and after we were finished I said to Radek “I’m going to climb the ridge behind the hut” it was a great night, the sky was clear and there was no wind, so I headed up a reasonable scramble, I knew that I that the ridge wasn’t 500 mtrs, and I topped out at 250 or so mtrs, the clouds then came in less than a min, and I thought it was best to head back.

It was a mixed climb, the face was covered in snow with rocks jutting out of the snow, to be honest it was more technical than I had predicted, and if I had read it better before setting off I would have put on my crampons. About half way down, I started my way down a large sloped face, which was half covered in snow, as I placed my first foot onto the snow I slipped and slid down the face and off the end, in the panic I instinctively put my hands down, but as I slipped off the end into what I expected to be hard snow, my left hand went straight through, but as it did my thumb took the weight of my descending body on what must have been a rock below the Snow, bending it back until it gave way, letting the full weight of my body land on my elbow, onto what I presume was a sharp rock. I knew instantly that I had hurt my hand pretty badly, I lay in the snow for a min of so, the feeling of nausea hit me and I sat up, I watched my hand swell up like a balloon and felt the burning sensation in my Elbow grow, I sat there for a min thinking you idiot! I got up and as I did my phone rang, it was Radek, I had been gone now for over an hour and the visibility was poor, I answered it and said “I’m good” but the reception was poor and I couldn’t hear him.

As I made my way down, I run through the ideas of whether or not to mention it to Radek, I was assessing my hand all the way down, convincing myself that it would be fine and that it would sort itself in a day or two, I kept saying ” as long as it’s good for Mont Blanc at the end of the week” my elbow didn’t matter, but you need two hands to climb, I suppose that I was a little embarrassed to tell him, after all we had just arrived and I possibly had put our expedition at risk of not going any further.

However I did tell him all be it in a matter of fact kind of way, I played it down, but the truth is I couldn’t move my thumb very much, and I defiantly couldn’t use it for even the basic of tasks that I would need to perform over the next few days. My altitude sickness wasn’t too bad that night, the thing with the Albert Premier is that there are so many people crammed into the rooms that it gets really hot, so if you feel a little off it seems to be multiplied by tenfold. Anyway I made it through the night and we headed off at about 7 am, this in mountain time is late, the first to rise do so at 4am and head out as quickly as possible, so we we’re some of the last to leave the hut, when we arrived the night before we had bumped into Veit, he was leading a team of 5 clients, Veit is the German guide that we used last year, I have kept in touch with him, so it was good to see him again.

He was first to leave that morning, and had to break trail, no easy feat to do with new clients. We had planed our route before we even came to Chamonix, but after talking to Veit we decided to change our coarse and head straight for a 3520 mtr peak, our route for the day would take us some 8 miles, with an altitude gain of about 810 mtrs, all round a pretty tough day. By the time that we got to the base of the peak we could see that the summit was quite crowded, so after accessing the surrounding area we made the decision to ascend a peak off to the right, as no one was on it, it also had a ridge that followed over to the peak that everyone else was on, so we figured that we would climb the ridge and bag both summits before heading to the Trient Hut.

The first summit had no technical difficulty in it at all, the ridge on the other hand was a different kettle of fish, and it wasn’t till we were across that Radek said casually that Veit had said not to cross the ridge as it was quite dangerous. By this time the second summit was quite clear as most people had started heading back to their huts, so we got to the top, took some photos and then headed for the Trient Hut, Veit had told us that there was an abseil point at the bottom of the second peak that would take us straight down into the col, avoiding the long walk around that you would normally have to take, which eventually meets up with the broken in trail.

So we stripped off our glacier travel rope, and set up the abseil, when we did so and dropped the two parts of the rope down the face, we realised that our rope was about 10 feet or so short, we both decided that it would be better to try and climb down the last of the steep face than have to walk around, so I went first, to let you understand, the point we were trying to get to wasn’t the bottom, only the end of the vertical bit, the slope went on for about another 300 feet, the trick is not to shoot off the end of the rope when you eventually reach that point, but to stop just before this and kick your front points in and make a good purchase with your ice axe, this all went ok for me, and then I down climbed the last 10 feet, before jumping about 5 feet down onto what must have been an open crevasse on the face of the slope, Radek didn’t have such a graceful landing, he rappelled down till the end of the rope, disconnected from it and feed it down to me, he then moved over the face and made his way down to the level that I was standing at, from where he was, he thought that he would avoid the 5 foot jump, this didn’t work, as the crevasse was all the way along the face, only covered in snow, so he landed on his rear in a pile, all be it at least he never tumbled the 300 feet down into the col!

We arrived at the Trient hut at about 14.40, we were about the last to get there, the weather had been great, the sky had stayed clear and the sun shone all day, the sun on the glacier is very dangerous, not only does it hit you from above, it also comes from below, this catches most first timers out, as it did for me last year, burning the underside of my chin, ears and even my nose, but even with factor 25 on everything, I still looked like a tomato when we arrived at the hut. The Trient Hut is much nicer, the people treat you like you are a guest, and make you feel very welcome, our stay there was good, and we went to bed at 20.00, as we had to get up at 4.30am, as breakfast is served at either 4.00am or 5.00am and no later, our plan for the day was to catch a 3570 peak before descending all the way back to Chamonix, it worked out at about 8.5 miles, we know these figures, as we carried a GPS tracker with us which can plot your entire trip, except when we got to the base of the peak, we decided to leave our packs at the base, with the tracker in one of them.

When we eventually got back to Chamonix it was about 15.30, we could have been back about half an hour earlier if I could have read the bus time table properly. I had a bath then headed down to pub across the road from our hotel and started writing this, about an hour later Veit arrived on his push bike and joined me, with Radek arriving two minutes later, to cut a long story short and about ten drinks later we eventually left at 1.30am, now this was fine for Radek and me, but poor Veit had 5 clients to meet at 8.00 am the next morning, he also had to take them up to the first hut at the Gouter side, that is if he made it home on his bike first! We will find out when we meet him at the Gouter hut on Thursday!!!! Neil

A Needed Break

neil On July - 4 - 2011Comments Off

Just a note to say that the McDonalds are away to Spain, we are having a break from the organising of the ball and from my intensive training, we will be back for a week and then I head off to Chamonix for 8 days high altitude training. It’s Radeks and my intention to do a couple of short expeditions before an attempt on the summit of Mont Blanc, unfortunately we have not got booked in to the Gouter hut which means that we will have to pay and sleep on the floor the night before we go for the summit, all be it we have got booked in to the Cosmic hut, but the route this season has been virtually un passable.

We don’t really want to go from the Cosmics anyway as the route is not so direct and is prone to avalanches, we also are not taking a guide with us on this trip, I have purchased a Garmin GPS unit at a reduced price, thanks to Craigdon Mountain Sports, who are kindly selling me all of out gear at cost price. Radek has done the complicated bit and plotted in all of the routes, so if we end up lost, then he is the one to blame! I’m really looking forward to this trip, I feel we are far more competent after having a full winter training session in the Scottish mountains un guided, staying in the mountains educates you a lot in mountain skills and the more trips that you have learns you to reduce your kit and only carry what you need, last time we went to Mont Blanc I think I carried half the shop up the mountain “just in case”.

This time we are kitted up for Alpine accent so we can move much quicker! Of course we are also both much fitter than the last time that we went, well I better be, I hope all the training that I have put in will pay off . I am going to be filling in my blog every day when we are up in the mountains and posting it when we have service.
Next time I we speak we will be on our way to Chamonix.