I first met John Ellison at the Chamonix Mountain Festival as both of us were giving a helping hand to the brands setting up their (somewhat complex) stands. We chatted away in the morning sun with me being none-the-wiser to who this happy go lucky and friendly man was. As we carried on chatting over a coffee he mentioned Climbers Agains Cancer and it all suddenly fell into place. Hints at his history, experiences, and, more recently, amazing stories all clicked and I realised who I had been chatting with for the last half hour.
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.
I’m standing at a belay looking up at the clear blue skies as Pat and Graeme sort out the gear for the next section of the climb we are on. 7 months ago I didn’t know either of these guys but I’ve been working hard at making friends and, already, we have confidence in each other, a relaxed atmosphere, and enjoyable banter – key ingredients for an amazing day out.
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.
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.
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.
As of June, Sophie and I will be in Chamonix. In part, as preparation for the Alpine Coast to Coast but, also, to realise a dream I’ve held for the last few years:
My Alpine Apprenticeship
Since finally getting off my backside, out of the pub and tying on a pair of running shoes several years ago, I have changed. A lot. From not being able to run a few miles to running marathons. From never having tied onto a climbing rope to leading steep ice climbs at high altitude. And from working for the man to starting two new businesses and venturing out into the incredible world of technology and startups.
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.
Many of you people may know, last year was rather full on. I had invested everything in my second business, Goals for Giving, and it hadn’t worked out, you can read more about that here. A month after closing my business, I married an amazing and understanding woman, Sophie Radcliffe. I was completely burnt out leading up to the wedding and Sophie and I decided that we needed to have a proper break and focus on our future.
One of the key steps to my recovery was an inspiring and, dare I say it, life changing climb I completed that pushed both my physical and mental boundaries leaving me exhausted but liberated.
If this sounds a bit over the top then please let me try and explain.