Two days after a fantastic graduation i was catching a flight back to geneva for another trip to Chamonix- this time for some crampon action- i.e. lots of trudging across glaciers!
The aim of the week was to summit Mont Blanc- though unfortunatly the mountain weather just wasn't having it, and for those of us who still attempted the peak- we were eventually weathered off at around 3000m... a tad embarrassing! No, in all seriousness- the winds were atrocious and we were being blown off our feet, it was a good experience but something i hope wont affect our upcoming manalsu expedition.
Feeling gutted myself, my team mate Kerry and our guide Olly descended in the rain back to a gloomy Chamonix- we were pretty exhausted (i speak for me and Kerry- Olly is a superhuman who never tires), but still undeterred- we decided to attempt Italy's highest peak: Gran Paradiso, the next day.
Gran paradiso national park is absolutely stunning- and the climb up the mountain itself was great. At 4065m it is Italy's highest mountain entirely within borders- as Mont Blanc is actually half in italy, so we're going on a technicality here!
After leaving the mountain hut late (4.45am), i was keen to overtake some other teams on the mountain as i'd heard from others that the summit can get crowded- especially with all the Mont Blanc aspirants like ourselves adding to the usual traffic.
We started slowly warming up stiff limbs by scurrying over a scree and boulder field in the dark, our individual head torches encasing us in our own little worlds of light. No one really spoke. I learnt that Olly is not the most responsive of people in the mornings- like my knees, he takes time to warm up!
It was a stunning sight to simply see little orbs of lights in the pitch black of night- other climbers slowly but surely making their way up to the summit of Italy.
Before i knew it, i looked up from my little beam of light (about 3ft around my feet) and saw that the sky was turning light blue, and eventually became tinged with orange- beautiful. Sunrise in the mountains- a true blessing to witness.
We made our crampon point on the edge of a glacier, roped up, had a quick sip of water and carried on trudging along in silence, breath getting more sharpened as the incline became suddenly more steep.
A 4 hour walk upwards might sound pretty boring, especially when you rarely talk to the person in front of you. Actually, time flies- Its hard- it takes concentration, you have to motivate yourself, watch your footing technique, take in the views- much like running... which do i prefer? I couldn't say- truth be told sunrise over the Alps at 4000m is as much of a sight as running towards Windsor Castle through the deer park at sunset- but maybe i'm just a bit too English!
Finally we reached the Col, we had breezed past most of the other ropes in front of us, and no rope passed us and kept a lead- i don't know why this was important to me, perhaps i felt i had to prove something after abandoning Mont Blanc, i think some of it was me trying to prove my strength to myself- i went out to the Alps to test how strong i was, it was the closest i was going to get to Manaslu as far as training was concerned. By the time we reached the col and the plodding was over, i was quietly happy with my condition- i felt alert, strong and not in the least tired.
The final scramble to the summit was ammmaaaazing. You spend most of the time looking at your feet, and we were stomping up the ridge towards the pile of rocks that made up the summit, to my left was the glacier we had just trekked over... and to my right- wow... words cannot describe- a sheer drop, and then the most amazing panorama of the Alps stretching out before us- behind them, a blazing orange sky. It struck me like lightening- i was not expecting to look up and see such an awesome sight. Awesome actually being used in context here!
The scramble is always a bit hairy- here, Olly becomes a bit more vocal and you realise why he is such a wickid guide- a fantastic team leader under pressure, he lead us over the jumble of boulders and rocks 60ft high in strong winds. We finally reached the summit after a final traverse across a tiny ledge, where you kind of hug a wall of rock and clip your rope into some bolted quick draws- the person who bolted those is a God- how on earth people shimmied across that ledge before without any protection is mind boggling- its bloody scary!
The summit was a relief- that's all i have to say! After the dissapointment of Mont Blanc i just felt immense satisfaction- we had done what we had come to do. Kerry and i hugged- she's an amazing woman and an excellent mountaineer- i felt priveledged to stand on that summit with her and made a great friend that week- love you Kerry!
I managed to rip the sign out of my sack that the Annual Fund from RHUL had given me and pose for summit pictures. I thought of everone back home at that moment and how much support everyone had given me- it was such a relief to know that their support hadn't (so far!) been in vain. Tried to call my dad- no signal- what was i expecting!!!!
On the descent i felt like a great weight had been lifted- now i just had Manaslu to focus on- i was strong up to 4000m, but only time will tell how i cope at 5000m and above, hopefully my trianing over the next three weeks will cement my strength for the expedition.
back in Chamonix i reluctantly packed up my rucksack and left early the next morning- the week had gone so fast, and just like that i was leaving the mountains again and heading home.