24 May Sitting on Top of The World
I never thought that one day I would actually climb part of the Mont Blanc Massive. Ok, ok…I put together spectacular heli-ski trips in the European Alps in the winter, so I should be used to this right? Well actually…no! I am really good at flying over these awesome looking summits, and swishing down through the powder snow. But I never imagined that I would physically climb one of those hellish looking peaks. Believe me, it is impossible to be blasé about the mountain you are about to climb.
Firstly I consider myself a very average climber and although I am reasonably fit and spend a lot of time hiking the mountains I really didn’t think that I could accomplish a climb like this. The thought that I might actually enjoy it was certainly out of the question. However, this was work…or at least it was supposed to be. Well, I was wrong! I am still tingling with the sensation a week later.
It didn’t help that I spent the morning before in a climbing gym with my guides. We had a small delay with our helicopter flight so we decided to do a warm up climb. Watching them scale the walls like spidermen and then continue to climb across the ceiling (upside down) as if they really did have suction caps for hands and feet, I was starting to seriously wonder what I was getting myself into. I haven’t even mentioned that we were a group of seven clients, including a well known rugby player, and three guides, all men. Oh, and then there was myself, the only female as far as the eye could see.
Well the aim of the game is to access the inaccessible, or at least that is the SwisSKIsafari moto, but I was starting to question that I might be stretching things a little this time.
We started gently with a helicopter flight to check out the area that we would be exploring followed by a beautiful a walk from our extremely comfortable hotel to the mountain refugee of Monzino where we would spend two nights. There we would practice skills to handle ourselves on a glacier with crampons and learn how to descend into a crevasse, all part of the training. The refugee is perched on a mountain over looking the Val Veny in Italy, tucked neatly behind the Mont Blanc. I think the writer of the group, James summed up the spot perfectly when he said “you know something’s up when you notice that the clouds are actually below you”
Then the real work began! Our summit day started with a hike across the glacier. We were all feeling pretty good until we hit the wall. What wall you ask? There was a lot of general chatter going on until we realized as a group that we had arrived and that this wall was the beginning of the climb. Crampons off, helmets on and up we went and up and up and up. Only the birds were keeping us company, flying past at about the same altitude. I am sure the constant chirping translated too “you do realize that you don’t have wings don’t you!” However, at this stage the focus was only the climb; extreme concentration at every move, making sure that the rope was taunt between the person in front or behind you. I think I held my breath until the top, not good as breathing is highly recommended. Everything became a blur when we reached the top. It is an eerie feeling when you gaze down at the thousands of feet below you. For a moment there is a sneaky hint that magic really does exist and it seems to be all around you this high up. The views, the sense of personal accomplishment, and the majestic silence all around leaves you, quite frankly, without words.
As we made our decent, I turned to see my guides balancing nimbly on the rocks, completely comfortable in this environment. Yes, they are truly born on the mountain, probably hiking up and down from the moment they could walk. We watched as black clouds enveloped the peak that we had just climbed, always reminding us that it is the mountain that decides who goes up and who goes down. Today we were lucky! The mountain gave us a priceless gift: the closest thing to heaven on earth.