Memories of Mont Blanc
It was around this time ten years ago that I was preparing (in hindsight ridiculously inadequately) to climb the insanely beautiful, and temperamental, Mont Blanc with a small group of lovely fellow alpinists. The weather on the morning of the final day and push to the summit was all glorious sunshine and scattered fluffy white clouds, almost too hot for the slog up the steep incline covered in thigh deep powder snow. But while it was slow going, spirits were high. It looked like we had caught a useful period of calm weather for the ascent.
As the hours wore on and exhaustion mandated numerous refuelling breaks, progress was slow and the temperature had markedly dropped, the wind picking up sharply. Banks of clouds were rolling in and hands and faces were becoming stiff, then raw. Soon light was getting dim and the whipped up snow had reduced visibility to just the next person along the rope. We had reached a col just below the summit, but a decision had to be made as to whether we would continue given the conditions. Luckily we had an experienced mountain guide to suggest we err on the side of caution; it's surprising how easy it is to make bad decisions when the body and mind are fatigued and you're being buffeted and stung. The right decision seems so obvious when removed, but at the time the irrational feels like the fall-back natural choice.
Unfortunately, another, smaller and quicker group, caught and passed us electing to attempt the summit anyway. Word the next evening was they had become stuck and exposed, and sadly suffered fatalities. Nowhere do beauty and danger call themselves inseparable more than in the mountains, nature does not tolerate anything less than undivided respect.
We decided to double back, but take a slight detour to the base of the rocky summit of the nearby, slightly lower peak of Mont Blanc du Tacul. It was dark when we braved the final push, the crampons at times a hindrance on the steep narrow rock. But the weather had decided to deescalate and it was a great feeling to have stood on a summit even after the initial disappointment.
As the saying goes, we were only half way to safety at this point and began the slow, at times painful, descent. Towards the end of about four hours of trekking downhill through deep snow I could feel my heart pounding in my chest so fiercely it was no less as sore a muscle than my thighs.
There were no incidents and we all made it back breath- and speechless. On the way down in the gondola our bodies were remarkably beginning to recover from catatonia and soon the enormity of the attempt sunk in. I have never been more physically and mentally exhausted, yet absolutely exhilarated. It is the single hardest and rewarding thing I've done. I learnt more about my boundaries and strengths in those few days than anytime before or since. And beauty, everywhere beauty. Thinking about it brings a smile to my face even now.