People often ask what it is about climbing and mountaineering that I enjoy. What is it that motivates me? What is it that makes me spend the majority of my holidays tied to vertical walls, wading through snow, or shivering at a belay?
Sometimes it is the of impact being in these environments can have on me as a person, sometimes it is the sense of achievement of climbing something I didn’t think I could.
At the end of the day, though, it boils down to the simple joy of sharing new experiences.
With both new and old friends, filling my lungs with fresh air and just feeling like a kid again, playing in the great outdoors.
This weekend was very much a ‘new’ friends weekend. I came out to stay with Gabriel Mazur, a trainee mountain guide, elite climbing instructor, and meditation guru. We met in Chamonix over Christmas and got on like a house on fire. Although his abilities far outstripped my experience, we discovered we had very similar motivations and were driven by the same things. After some emails back and forth, I booked flights and, the next thing I know, I’m flying out to Chamonix to spend 5 days climbing with Gabriel. I was nervously apprehensive though, Gabriel is a very experienced and talented climber, how was I going to perform against his skills? I didn’t want to let myself or him down.
On our first day climbing together we had the idea of climbing up on the Argentiere ice falls but the 4 hour queue for the lift was more than we were willing to endure. Plan B – check out a low level and easier ice area called La Crèmerie.
The weather was stunning; clear blue skies and surprisingly mild. This coupled with the large amount of snow, though, made for hard work on the approach but it felt great to get a sweat on and get to know Gabriel better. We chatted about everything and anything; climbing history, dreams and aspirations; personal experiences, relationships, and history; and much more.
Nothing beats taking deep breaths in clear crisp air, your heart rate elevated, and someone great to chat to. Arriving at the ice falls, we realized this was not the best plan. The ice isn’t very steep meaning it was buried under fresh snow making good ice pick placements challenging. I could tell that Gabriel wasn’t really feeling this and, honestly, neither was I.
Don’t force a round peg in a square hole
So, I readily suggested we head down the valley so I could try my hand at dry tooling, the art of climbing overhanging rock with ice axes and crampons. Gabriel’s face lit up and I could tell he was much more excited by this possibility.
The beauty of being in the outdoors and what motivates nearly everyone I have met is not the one, fixed objective of that day but the overall experience of being out in the hills: the company, the scenery, the physical exertion. Living in London, I was just happy to not be on the underground for an hour, packed in like a sardine.
Gabriel is a very easy person to get on with and we had been chatting non-stop since I arrived, I was happy just hanging out and getting to know him better.
Once we had changed our gear we headed out for our second attempt at the day where I learned steep dry tooling is a lot harder than it looks. The grace and ease that Gabriel moved up the overhanging roof belied the strength, skill and drive needed to get up these routes. Needless to say, I had a rude awakening to this new sport though now I’m massively driven to keep working on it and get better!
We might not have made it out onto the ice I had been hoping for but we had an even better afternoon, trying something new, getting to know each other, and getting a proper sweat on. This is what is what the mountains offer;
the simple pleasures enjoyed while out playing like a kid in a giant adventure park.
Gabriel was busy the next day so I was looking for a climbing partner. My wife has recently joined EpicTV and with the HQ being in Chamonix, she put the word out to her colleagues that I was looking to get out. I was surprised to get a reply from Charlie Boscoe, presenter of EpicTV Climbing Daily and a writer for UKC. Another very experienced climber for me to try and keep up with!
We met at 8am and headed up to try and find some ice up at Col du Montets. Much like the day before, it was all buried and looked totally uninspiring. Thankfully, Charlie made the amazing suggestion that we should head over to Cogne, Italy, an ice climbing Mecca. I have been there a few times before and was super-psyched to head back. How amazing is this? At the spur of a moment, we decide to drive over to another country to check out if it was any better there?
Although Charlie and I have followed very different paths in life, we didn’t find it difficult finding things to talk about and before we knew it, we were pulling up to the car park in Lillaz, Cogne. It was a little bit late so we opted for the local classic, Cascade de Lillaz, a route both of us had climbed before but the 10 minute approach and consistent quality was irresistible.
On the walk in, I stopped to take it all in: here I was hanging out with a really cool guy I didn’t know two hours before, walking in with clear blue skies over head, about to climb beautiful ice.
Does life get much better than this?
As we set off up the first pitch it must have been clear I was loving it as I heard Charlie laughing at the belay, “You’re climbing with a massive grin on your face, that is what all of this is about!”
We quickly made our way up the route, opting to solo the last slab pitch so that we could chat away as we climbed. Coming off the top we found a perfect stop for lunch to sit back and appreciate everything.
Charlie had injured his shoulder before Christmas and so hadn’t been out much on ice this season. His face said it all though, he was so excited to be back. After lunch we headed back down to the bottom of the route and played around on some short, steep sections of other routes.
Tired and well satisfied with the day, we jumped in the car and headed back to Chamonix. Arriving back at Gabriel’s, I dropped down on the sofa and thought about the last few days.
I am a late-comer to the climbing world. Not having grown up rock climbing and walking in the hills, it is only the last 4 years that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this vibrant, passionate, and welcoming climbing community. I really love it. Meeting new people, getting to know existing friends in different ways, sharing beautiful surroundings, all while getting your heart rate up on mental and physical adventures.
I feel so lucky that I am able to come out here, hang out with these people and experience what I do out in the hills but it most certainly isn’t just about the big trips. I’ve had the same sense of satisfaction from afternoons at small crags with a small group of people in the Peak District, or walking with Sophie in North Wales, or even sharing war stories with fellow climbers in the pub after a long day.
I am truly thankful to have found this amazing and inspiring community and can’t wait to see what happens next.