Climbing Mont Blanc - Summit 6 of Alpine Coast to Coast
It's 2:30am and I'm lying on the floor of the men's toilets in the Tete Rousse hut at 3176 metres, writhing around with pain.
Day 21 of the Alpine Coast to Coast and we were in Chamonix to climb Mont Blanc. Charley and I had been joined by our friends Gabbo, Tim, Tom and Nick. Amazing to be joined by friends for this climb. We left our house in Les Houches at 8:30pm and started the long climb up to the summit of Mont Blanc. We figured we may be there by around 6am, for dawn. A long night was ahead.
No spring in my step
I didn't feel right from the moment we set off. I was tired and had barely two minutes to focus on the climb ahead, in between wrapping up the film shoot with Adidas and packing to head up the mountain. As we started climbing we chatted away and caught up with our friends, sharing stories from our summer adventures.
Looking back now, it did seem like a slightly wildly ambitious plan. Leave at 8pm and climb through the night to the summit of Mont Blanc at 4810m. Hmmm. The mountain has it's way of telling you "not today", the important element is in whether you listen or not. Charley and I had climbed Mont Blanc via a more technical route - The Cosmiques - 4 years ago. This time we were headed up the Gouter route.
Although our group maintained a steady pace up the mountain, it felt like I had to constantly push to stay with them. I knew I wasn't 100% but I never expected to be after the physical and mental efforts of the last few weeks. I hoped I had what it would take to get through. We walked in the darkness through clouds as we gained in height. 2hrs later we had climbed 1000m from the valley bottom, I could see the outlines of the dark mountains against the clear sky. The stars looked so close and so bright I felt like I could touch them. Chamonix looked incredible, stretched out in the valley below, with the lights on and a slight buzz from the noise of cars.
It was adventurous, challenging and beautiful.
Around midnight the tiredness hit me. The only way to describe it is that I felt like I should be in bed! I stopped for some food and water, it didn't work. Half an hour later, Tom gave me a gel, boom, that worked! By this point it was approaching 2am and we could see the lights of the Tete Rousse hut up above us on the edge of the glacier. The fresh snow fall meant we had to take extra care with our footing on the ridge.
As we approached the hut we could see climbers leaving, it was gone 2am and they were starting up to the summit of Mont Blanc. I looked at them and wished I felt the enthusiasm I usually feel at an alpine start; rested, well fed and excited for the day ahead.
Loo with a view
I saw a sign for the loo and went to pee. As I stepped out of the loo I saw Charley and Gabbo inside the door and headed towards them asking if we could refill on water. Bang. I slipped and fell on the metal step and slammed my thigh into it.
Not the finest moment of my life.
I knew instantly that it was no more than a bruise but I felt a heavy pain throughout my leg. I looked up to see the men's urinals and my friends peering down at me and thought "this isn't good". Once I could stand we went upstairs to the gear room and everyone started getting ready to continue our climb. I could barely lift my leg enough to put my crampons on and step into my harness. I knew this was bad, but I still wasn't ready to admit defeat.
Listening to the mountain
Charley and I discussed the situation in hushed voices in the coner of the dark gear room. He was ready to back me up no matter what decision I made. Every time I stepped on my leg it made me feel shaky and light headed. I knew it was time to call it a day. The moment I said to Charley that I didn't think I could continue the climb, came a huge flood of relief.
I lay on the bench, tears rolling down my face, my leg throbbing in pain.
I felt crushed, weak and I worried it was all over.
After everything I'd been through, I didn't want it to end on the floor of the men's loo half way up Mont Blanc!
It's hard to be rational when you're tired and it's the middle of the night. As soon as the daylight crept over the mountain, I felt more positive about it all and knew we'd have another shot another day.
Without Charley it would have been so much worse. When we're in the mountains together, we deal with things together and this makes us able to take on more. When Gabbo and Tim headed up for a summit attempt a few hours later and I asked if he wanted to go with them, he said "we're a team, I'm staying with you." Having his support, and being able to rely on and draw from his strength when I'm feeling less than myself, is without a doubt the crux of this expedition. He is stronger than me in the mountains and he inspires me to become stronger. I know it takes time, it takes hours in the hills to build confidence and skill. All the guys we climbed with on this night are strong in the mountains. They are Royal Marines, fine alpinists and mountain guides. They all inspire me to become stronger.
After a few hours lying on benches in the hut, we left around 6:30am and headed back down the valley and home.
At 5:30pm, we met up with Gabbo and Tim who had successfully made the summit of Mont Blanc and returned safely, a 17 hour climb for them and 31 hours of being awake.
One day I'll be able to do that, but after the last few weeks perhaps that was a little unrealistic. Charley and I have no regrets in going for that plan. This is what adventure is all about - challenging your limits, going for it and also listening, learning and making sure you make the right decisions to stay safe.
It turns out that toilet step was one step too far for me, but we head back up the mountain tomorrow with renewed strength, an adventure we can learn from and, as the Marines say, a good bit of phys in the bag :)