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.
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.
The little fingers on both my hands had gone numb an hour ago, I tried to warm them up as we came over the final section of the summit ridge but it was too cold. As we stepped onto the summit of the Dufourspitze, the highest mountain in Switzerland at 4638m, I saw Sophie was shaking. We needed to get down fast.
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.
We’re back in Kals am Grossglockner after what can only be described as one of the best alpine climbs I’ve been on, climbing the Stüdlgrat on the Grossgockner. 4 hours of stunning alpine rock climbing takes you up to the 3798m summit of the highest point in Austria, the second peak in Challenge Sophie and my Alpine Coast to Coast.
Here is a video of our climb:
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
You’ve worked hard for months leading up to that moment and it was everything you thought it would be; the triumph, the enjoyment, the excitement, and even the fear. But, as quickly as they came together they are gone again. A massive void opens up and you feel unsettled, alone, and lost. Welcome to the comedown after a big climb.
The blues after a achieving something at your limit and unwinding after events is difficult and something that I have struggled with on a number of occasions. Even when I know it is going to happen, I can’t avoid that crash and feeling of being adrift.
Something has been niggling away at me recently. I keep reading everywhere that we all must Chase your dreams and Don’t give up, you’ll get there, along with other similar clichés, and I don’t think this is right. I feel that treating your aims and aspirations as something you have to ‘chase’ or so hard to achieve you will got through hell together is just plain wrong.
I consider myself very lucky right now. I am living what most people would say is the dream – I recently packed up living and working in London and moved to Chamonix to pursue a more positive work-life balance with my wife. I’m happy. Really happy, but the day we arrived was not day 1 of living the dream, that started long before we even decided to finally move here.
With a feeling of pride, I told whoever was listening ‘Well, there is so much variety to climb in Chamonix, my aim is not to climb the same route twice’. Prior to getting into Chamonix, people mostly reacted in the same way: ‘Oh, yes, well that makes sense’. When I said this to someone here, I got a very different reaction: ‘Oh, really? Why would you limit yourself like that?’.
I was a little taken aback. Maybe I had more to learn about alpine climbing than I thought. It reminded me of wanting to always do new things with my career and an older, more experienced entrepreneur smiling and advising me to not rush on too quickly.
Standing at the belay, I see ice coming down from the party above. Sophie finishes tying into the belay and looks at me. She can see what is going on behind my eyes.
I’m psyching myself out. We know it but what do I do?
“You can do this”, Sophie says, “just remember, take it one step at a time”. I nod in consent, take a deep breath and step out onto the 85 degree ice of the crux pitch on the Chèré Couloir, a classic alpine ice climb just under Mont Blanc.
I nervously turned to Sophie, my finger hovering over the mouse button, ‘Am I doing this?’. The look in her eye and smile on her face confirms this is the right decision. I click the ‘Confirm’ button and I’m done. I’m on my way to becoming a StrongFirst kettlebell instructor. The first step has been taken, here is step two – telling you all and committing to trying my hardest, training hard, and loving every minute of it.