A brief study in evolution. Or, How we found ourselves atop Mt Blanc.

I cannot remember when we got the idea to climb Mt Blanc. It seemed more like a natural evolution. We started off by climbing trees. These two big stoic bastards in Freds yard. They were Copper Beeches and for that first summer they were our playground.

We figured out that we could only get so high on the gear we owned, so we began to manufacture slings out of baling twine. Looking back at it, I do not think they would have held up had we fallen. Maybe, deep down, in some long forgotten survival instinct, we knew that at the time too. Knew what the stakes were. We didn’t fall. We couldn’t fall. When we finally splashed out on proper climbing slings we would rig them and just practice falling. That split second of floating free fall, before body slamming into the tree.

In those early days we were fearless.

We moved from the trees to the steep, limestone cliffs of Portland. Sharp, painful climbing that cut, beat and bruised us. This was ourHoly Land. And our hymns were vicious punk songs. Screamed at us through the tinny speakers of Freds Peugeot.

Getting my groove on in Portlands boulder field

Our guidebook for Portland began to fill up. We needed something more. Something bigger. And then, suddenly, we found ourselves in the Arrivals hall of Geneva airport waiting for a ride to take us to Chamonix.

This is what happens when you don’t unpack properly.

Chamonix is the heart of the French Alps. It pumps a diasporatic blood of mountaineers, skiers, rock rats and partiers.  All converging on this town for the sole purpose of getting high. This heart is flanked by jagged ribs of mountains, cutting into the sky. Some nights, if you are still enough, quiet enough, you can almost feel the earth breathing as the wind gently flows down the mountains.

We spent two weeks learning; ice climbing courses (of which Fred seemed to take to far better then I), advanced ropework, glacier walking, first aid, mountain rescue and others.

My summit photos need work, see how my hands are holding something? That’s a Mars bar

The first mountain we climbed was the Petit Aiguille Verte. Then there was a mountain inItalywith a serene statue of the Virgin at the summit. Each mountain drew us closer. We were junkies. Just looking for our next fix.

See how I am digging through my bag? Looking for a Mars Bar

Its like “Come on James!” your on the summit of a mountain can you please stop with the Mars Bars?

And then it was time. The first day was spent hiking to the Tete Rousse Hut about 3167m up. We spent the night there eating indiscriminate “grey” meat and Milka Chocolate. I don’t think anyone slept that night. The dorm had this silence about it, a nervous energy and then it was time to go. I am not sure of the exact time but at a guess I would say three. We walked in the inky darkness. Our headlamps didn’t show to far ahead . The mountain, in those early hours was this dreamlike place illuminated by soft pools of light thrown out from our headlamps. We were floating up this mountain.

Dawn broke and we came to a gully known as “The Bowling Alley” notorious for its loose rocks. That would occasionally tear themselves free from the embrace of the mountain and hurtle down into the valley. I did not like this place. The ground felt unstable, like it could collapse at any moment. We moved fast.  Hitting the snowline we roped up. Tying ourselves together. We were bound in this together, literally.

The time began to warp as we pressed on. I do not know how long we walked before we got to the Gouter hut. Our final rest stop before the summit. We paused briefly, ate some trail mix, drank some water and shared words of encouragement.

The way to climb a mountain. The Alpine way. Is you can go as slow as you like but you do not stop (at least not for very long) you keep moving keep pushing. With this in mind we stepped back outside the hut and continued up

We found ourselves walking along an exposed ridgeline. The winds gentle breath had become a battle cry screaming at us “You do not belong here!” The cold hit me like a bitchslap from God. My body convulses and my mouth fills with the acidic taste of puke and I begin to suffer. The wind is right. I do not belong here. My head begins to spin. My breath comes in fits and spurts.  Ahead of me I see Fred, I try to call out but there is no chance of being heard. The wind continues to buffer us, frosting our sides. I feel like puking, my body is heaving and I again taste it. I swallow it back chasing it with a mouthful of water.

This mountain has me on size, strength, experience and aggression. But I am tenacious. I will not stop. I violently stuff a handful of candies into my mouth drink some more water and feel painfully alive.

At the summit we did not say much. There was not much to say. We took a few photos and then turned around and began the long descent.

The summit of Mont Blanc … 4,808 metres.
Date and Time: Friday 5th August 2005, 7:23am
Wind Speed: 60kmh
Temperature: -30 degrees C, before windchill.
And not a Mars Bar in sight!

When I was seventeen I was addicted to climbing. Now as I prepare to climb Mt Elbrus in July I feel that addiction creeping through me. It has lay dormant for years but it is back.

I, am back


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4 Responses to A brief study in evolution. Or, How we found ourselves atop Mt Blanc.

  1. claribel12012 says:

    Brave and charming~

  2. Suzy says:

    Wow! What a climb! I especially love that last photo. It’s funny how long it takes to climb mountains and once we get to the top, we are barely there before we head back down.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks Suzy, it was such a good trip. but such a long time ago now. it is strange the amount of effort that we put into getting p there only to come back down.

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