Falling off the wagon

It has been quite an eventful few months; Sophie and I completed the Alpine Coast to Coast, I managed to get out for some of my own climbing, and we have been back in the UK meeting friends and family, even giving a few talks. And falling off the wagon. Hard. It has been amazing but I have made compromises en route that have led me to where I am today – pretty disappointed and feeling a little too sorry for myself.

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It is not uncommon following a big adventure or challenge to crash and to experience the post adventure blues. Focusing on one objective for so long and the void completing it leaves can be hard to fill. Add to that the physical and emotional hangover, and your body’s fight to get back to normality and it’s safe to say that it is a real rollercoaster.

In the final days of the Alpine Coast to Coast, Sophie felt confident that, with so much lined up after the adventure, this might be the time when she sneakily sidesteps the blues and doesn’t have that massive crash. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t happen and Sophie had a very tough week following our arrival in Monaco. We both knew exactly what was happening and did our best to ride the waves of emotion, physical exhaustion, and fears of what next.

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Sophie is on the final stretch of an adventure we started 31 days ago, the Alpine Coast to Coast, an epic journey from the eastern end of the Alps to Monaco via the summits of the highest mountains in each of the 8 Alpine states. Sophie has cycled nearly every mile alone, in rain, wind, cloud, and sometimes even sun. Upon reaching the feet of the mountains, we have then teamed up and tackled 7 major climbs in what has been the worst weather the Alps has seen in decades.

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At 8.50am on 25th August we stood at 4810m, the summit of Western Europe and leg 6 – to climb Mont Blanc – of the Alpine Coast to Coast complete. After our unsuccessful attempt to a few days ago, we headed back up to give it a second attempt. This time we we’re really ready; the right gear, mentally set, and physically prepared – though Sophie had the beginnings of a cold kicking in. We got it right this time.

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This morning, at 2.30am, Sophie slipped in the toilets of the Tete Rousse hut and badly knocked her thigh. The shock and pain forced us to rethink our Mont Blanc summit attempt. A worry at the back of both our minds was ‘what would everyone say?’. Thank you for being so understanding and supportive.

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It’s raining. More than it’s rained thus far but also, most importantly and worryingly, we are at the foot of the second biggest mountain of our trip – the Dufourspitze. At 4,634m, our next objective is the second highest peak in the Alps and a serious undertaking.

But anyway, what about the last 6 days, hey? I am being rather honest here, it has been tough. Sophie and I have had some ups and downs but it really feels like we’re making progress.

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Driving away from Sophie from the foot of Triglav onto the next mountain, Grossglockner, it’s hard to fully appreciate that we are finally doing this. We are finally on our biggest adventure yet, the Alpine Coast to Coast, an idea we came up with together for Sophie to step up her Challenge Sophie accomplishments and a once in a lifetime adventure for us to enjoy together.

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At 11pm Sophie turns to me and, with a look that is hard to say no to, says ‘Can we get up for sunrise and go swim in Lake Passy?’. I pause for a second too long and so she presses on, ‘We can take the kettlebells and have a proper training session down there…?’. It’s hard to say no to Sophie at the best of times but a 5am wake up call for a cold swim should be easy to refuse. As she topped up my glass of whiskey, my judgement got the better of me and I agreed to this very Sophie idea.

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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.

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Why do we fall?

‘Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up’. Batman Begins

As you may have read, a few weeks ago I had a pretty bad day out climbing. No accidents but I came away very disappointed with myself. I find writing about these experiences very cathartic and I hoped that sharing the experience would help me move on. I wasn’t ready though.

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Hanging from a piece of gear, in full view of every alpinist on the Col du Midi, I gave up. I swallowed my pride, accepted my ego took a bruising, and I shouted down to Mark that I’d had enough and he can have a try. I felt completely shattered physically, and felt a complete failure mentally. This was supposed to be well within my climbing grade but I had had enough.

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