We’re 103km into the enormous 119km of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Mike Foote crosses the brow of a hill with Rory Bosio and they jog their way into the last aid station. They both smile. It is clear they are still suffering but somehow they are both still smiling, both still cracking jokes, and both still positive. Mike and Rory are champion ultra runners, tipped to win this incredible race but food poisoning has knocked racing on the head, now they are just fighting to finish at all.
Ski touring in Chamonix is mandatory and not having a touring set up limits not just where you can go but who wants to ski with you. It might sound strange but I now fully appreciate where this comes from. The phrase ski touring was completely unknown to me just a few years ago. I remember watching from ski lifts, people slogging their way up mountains, completely unable to grasp why they wouldn’t just get on the lift and save themselves some trouble. Now, however, I am a total convert, with my eyes opened to not just the health benefits but the scope that getting yourself up a mountain provides.
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.
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.
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.
“You know, I’ve not brought a beginner class over here before”. Mike, our instructor, smiles, shrugs his shoulders, and is suddenly off down a red run. 3 days into me learning to ski in Chamonix and things have suddenly got a little steeper.
Sophie and I give each other a knowing look after dinner, saying ‘do we have any chocolate?’. I get up and find some stashed away for emergencies and we both smile guiltily. It’s well into 2015 and we are both trying to undo the inevitable Christmas indulgences but it is so easy to break when you’ve got a partner in crime.
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.
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.
I have sometimes found myself stuck with an opinion that I don’t fully believe any more. A position I’ve taken that I no longer agree with, or wanting to try something that I previously swore I’d never do. I want to change my mind but I’m scared: scared to tell people, scared to embarrass myself, and scared to be wrong.
Recently, I came across a blog article by Derek Sivers in which he talks about how he now loves things he previously hated, he now will only say ‘I hate that today‘ knowing that he might change his mind in the future. I can completely sympathise and I’ve come to the conclusion:
It’s ok, don’t be afraid to change your mind
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.