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.
In June 2015 I officially launched The Mountain Foundry, my new business that is working with everyday athletes to elites by training them in strength and conditioning for the mountains. Training both face-to-face in Chamonix and remotely via the magic of the internet, my goal is to make people stronger, more confident, and safer in the mountains by providing their bodies with a suit of armour.
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.
Recently my blogging buddy and running inspiration, Runner Beans, wrote a great piece about her Top 5 Running Moments – she is a prolific marathon runner and her list included the London Marathon twice, Berlin Marathon, New York Marathon, and a beautiful sounding Valentine’s day run with her other half. Inspired by this, Stuart Storr wrote his list, he has been running a little while now and was at the very first London Marathon in 1981!
Now I reckon it’s my turn. What are yours?
It is not news that I have made massive changes in my life to pursue more adventures. These have been challenging, fun, exciting, scary, and more. I have pushed myself to my limits and set out into the unknown, savouring every moment of it. These have all been amazing adventures for me, new steps into my unknown. However, they have not necessarily all been into the unknown.
I have experienced a lot of change over the last 12 months. In fact, looking back on where I was last March to today, it is hard to recognise the life I had as my own. For all the change I have embraced, it has not got any easier nor any less scary.
I have taken to quietly asking myself a short question when I find myself at a crossroads where change is inevitable; ‘Do I want to change today?’
I’ve been home nearly a week now but Annapurna, and Nepal, feels like a lifetime ago. Was it really just two weeks ago that I realised the weather gods were conspiring against me and the opportunity to run the circuit would need to be put on hold for now? Making the decision to not carry on was easy, it was obvious, the hard part is coming to terms with what that decision leaves.
I’m lying on a bed in a hotel in Pokhara, sniffling with a cold. Not exactly how I thought day 7 of my Run Annapurna adventure would be. There has been non-stop snow for over a week up high which has completely blocked the Thorong La pass putting any attempt at even walking the Annapurna Circuit, let alone running it, out of the question.
Time for plan B.
Two days to go until I get on a plane and fly to Nepal for my biggest adventure yet, running the Annapurna Circuit, a 220km trek in the Nepalese Himalayas. The kit I take on this is going to be crucial to the success of the run; too heavy and I will be slowed down, too light and I risk the dangers of exposure at high altitude. I am proud to share that I am teaming up with Haglofs for clothing, Powertraveller for solar power, and LED Lenser for lighting on this adventure.
On the 2nd March, I am going to be heading to Nepal to take on what will be my biggest challenge yet – a solo, self-supported run of the Annapurna Circuit. At 200km, with 10,000m of ascent, and with a high point of 5,416m, I am in for a whole world of firsts. My first time to Nepal, my first time to over 5,000m, my first time running that distance, and, my first big adventure without Sophie. Yikes!
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.