As I was cruising up yet another stunning crack splitting a 300m granite face up high off the Aiguille du Midi, I felt truly in my element. Recent life events have really knocked my mental strength and the first thing to suffer is my ability to climb, or at least feel comfortable climbing.
I’m scared to go into the mountains. There, I said it.
I’ve enjoyed some of the most incredible, inspiring, and challenging experiences in the Chamonix hills but I have recently struggled to get out and make the most of this amazing valley. My reticence has been about embarrassment and a reluctance to talk about the challenges and dangers that are out there. Talking with a friend about it recently I realised that I am in the second stage of my concept of mountain experience and judgement.
What better way to start your day than with a proper espresso and two scoops of real Italian gelato? As we fled the poor weather in Chamonix, driving through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur, it never fails to amaze me how different this side of the mountain can be.
Yep, after going on about feeling stronger and the benefits to being stronger in the mountains, I headed out and got firmly put back in my place. And it’s not a bad thing at all.
I headed up to climb a stunning but very challenging route here in Chamonix, the Supercouloir, with Graeme – mentally, physically and technically this route pushed me, harder than any other route before.
“I can’t work out if this was a good idea or a bad one..” said Matt. Tomorrow the Cabane des Dix, high in the mountains above Arolla would have a full staff, prepared food, and be a hive of activity as a key stop on the Haute Route, a classic alpine ski tour. Tonight, however, we were tucked away in the winter room, burning wood to stay warm, heating boil in the bag meals, and we are completely alone.
What are you training for right now? What is on your wish list that, maybe, you’ve not started training for yet? I’ve been ticking along recently, which has been a much needed gear to be running in but I’ve recently been feeling the need for something more. For picking an objective and committing to the work that will be required to get from where I am now, to where I need to be then.
I have dreams to climb big mountains, via big routes, over big days in the hill, and that means I need to get in shape.
Fear. The persistent feeling that I’ve not been able to shake for the last week but we’re here now and there is no way out. It’s the night before we set off to climb the Comici on Cima Grande, one of the classic Great North Face routes but it isn’t the route I’m scared of, it’s letting my partner down.
Climbing the Frendo Spur is high up on many alpinists dreams when they arrive in Chamonix. A striking line that towers over town, rising right underneath the Aiguille du Midi telepherique in full view of all the camera happy tourists. Described as a mid-grade classic, I’ve had my eye on this route for several years and finally had my chance.
The weather in Chamonix is typical early summer weather – amazing sunny mornings then, between 1pm and 2pm, the clouds come in and shortly after a storm kicks off. It is pretty much like clockwork. Jesse and I set off on a rock climb up high that would easily get us back to safety in time. Until it didn’t.
People travel from all over the world to come and climb in what is now my back yard, Chamonix – it is truly exceptional with so much variety; from sport climbing to ice, to alpine mountaineering to alpine rock climbing. It truly is a climbing Mecca.
One thing I’ve missed, however, is single pitch rock climbing in the Peak District – the sort of climbing where you can go and experience so much variety, really challenging yourself both physically and mentally. Nowhere – well, at least according to most Brits – is that more true than in the heart of England on grit.
My life in the outdoors has been pretty short, only four and half years ago did Sophie and I sign up to climb Mont Blanc and it was a little over 2 years ago that I came to the Alps for a winter trip to try out waterfall ice climbing. In that first trip, I fell in love with ice climbing and especially mixed climbing as we had one of the best days of my mountain life on a route called the Lillaz Gully. I would never have guessed that just over two years later, I would be back and climbing it, sharing the leads, with a friend.
The arrival of winter is being very stubborn, with no significant snowfall and relatively warm temperatures, it was going to be a challenge for Matthias Scherer, Tanja Schmitt and Heike Schmitt with the Cogne Ice Opening Festival.
It’s November, six months after I started my alpine apprenticeship, and we’re all still rock climbing in shorts and tshirts and, after an unseasonal summer, the Autumn has shown Chamonix’s true colours. It is beautiful here right now and, though the days are getting shorter and the mornings are certainly crisper, now seems as good a time as any to take stock of the summer.
At the end of September, Sophie and I finally made it back home to Chamonix and what a welcome home it was. After a month on the road for the Alpine Coast to Coast followed by two and a half weeks back in the UK, both of us have been craving normality, sleeping in our own bed, and not living out of a bag.
As Tim and I huffed and puffed up the final 55 degree snow slopes, the sun beating down on our backs, we crested the summit ridge and were rewarded with one of the most remarkable views I have ever seen. I had just accomplished an objective Sophie and I have had since we first came to Chamonix on our own, 4 years ago: to climb the Aiguille du Chardonnet. We were rewarded with a view across the whole Mont Blanc Massif with the north faces of the Droites, the Courtes, and the Aiguille Verte, each over 1000m, towering in front of us.