A few years ago, I reached the summit of Western Europe with one of my best mates. We self-guided, we were inexperienced, we were naïve, and we wanted an adventure.
On that trip I made a mistake that could have cost both of us our lives. It was a little stumble that has been the greatest lesson of my Mountaineering life.
This weekend, seven years later, I returned. I was asked by my great friend Edward Taylor if I fancied helping him climb Mont Blanc in his 30th year and I jumped at this opportunity. Not only to head out on another expedition with a friend, but also to get that mistake monkey off my back. The bloody monkey that has been there for seven long years; I was going to walk the same route as previously, past “that drop” over the edge, how would I react when we arrived at the spot?
The weather forecast brought the realisation that our acclimatisation and summit plans were scuppered. We were going to have to abort and head to a different playground in Switzerland instead. But then ... a weather window appeared ... we could still do it! It would be tough, but it was on!
Day 1: depart the road head at Les Houches and ascend 2,000m with full expedition packs over the 10 miles to Tête Rousse Refuge at 3,200m. Then, with no room at the inn, camp outside.
Day 2: amble across the Grand Couloir and scramble 500m to the Goûter Refuge at 3,800m and stay there ready for summit day. But, ‘advanced booking is compulsory’ – yeah, OK ...
Day 3: wake up at 1am, depart at 2am, reach summit at 6am, simples! All went well. I hiked past “the spot”. I acknowledged “the event”. No fear. No emotion. Just hiked. Phew! Onwards to the summit. And what a beautiful day it was!
Having risen, of course, we then had to descend, and it was on the descent when the 'event' happened previously. However; this time around, I was safeguarding two people – we had allowed someone else onto our rope when his mate bailed – and I had to be diligent. I knew the risks having nearly been one of those statistics.
For once, I was autocratic; “this is how you walk”, “this is what you do here”, “this is what happens when X/Y/Z”, all the time thinking that I will not let monkey time happen again. All went smoothly. All was great. Even if the 3,800m descent straight back to the car at Les Houches did hurt a bit.
The most noteworthy things for me? How I felt and how I looked.
Seven years ago, I just wanted to get off that hill. I was cold, I was anxious, my head was fuzzy, I was at my limit and I looked a mess, as you can probably tell from this photo taken at the time.
This time around I was well organised, my head was clear, I was relaxed, and well inside my comfort zone. I wanted to spend the rest of the day on that summit. I loved it.
Hey Monkey. You may now return to your tree :)