To Thine Own Self Be True

It seems so much has happened in the short span of a 2 days and well, that’s true. When I last signed off, I was headed for a relaxing evening before Day 2 of training for our Mont Blanc ascent.

I woke up Monday morning with sore and tired legs – particularly my quads – but I was excited to see what would happen next. We arrived just at the edge of Le Tour to hop on a two-stage cable car/chair lift up to trek to our hut. The chair lift left us at 2100m with the task of hiking the 8.5km moraine trail uphill followed by a fairly steep rock scramble to Albert Premier Refuge for a total gain of 600m.

The moraine is scenic and the collective sound of bells from the grazing dairy cows below allowed me drift into my own meditation. That didn’t last long as you have to be very sure of your footing on this perimeter route. It is narrow, littered with rocks and requiring traverses over small glacial water falls.

After a short break at the Hut, we scrambled roughly 50m of rock down to Glacier du Tour to practice some more technical skills.  It was here that I came face-to-face (thankfully, not literally) with crevasses wide enough to swallow me whole. I began to feel unwell and we all called it a day.

Day 3 of training was the big one. We took off at 5am to make our first attempt at one of the mountains on the Mont Blanc massif – Aiguille de Tour at 3540m or 11,615ft. (Those little ants in the photo are climbers ahead of us following the path of hard snow switch-backing across the slopes.)

A map of Glacier du Tour, Aiguille de Tour and surrounding peaks can be found here. To offer some perspective, the CN Tower in Toronto is roughly 500m tall. Now imagine 7 CN Towers stacked one on top of the other. Then imagine being on the observation deck of the 7th tower. That is Aiguille de Tour.

We climbed straight up a steep slope on the opposite side of the mountain and then it hit me. I would have to rock climb to get to the top. For those who know me, rock climbing is not my idea of a good time. I have no interest in technical climbing or hanging off of cliffs. Denali and Everest are not on my list of mountains to conquer. It is just not my thing. But I made my way up – clinging tightly to the rocks and very aware of the giant crevasse about 40m below me. There was no victory photo only a strong desire to get down. I felt like everyone was trying to talk me out of going down but I knew I had to get down – impossible as it was going to be to climb my way down face forward clinging to rock.

Once I got down to the base of the rock, I let go. I let go of the experience going up and I let go of the possibility of an ascent on Mont Blanc.  You see, throughout the days of training, I felt that our guide was moving too quickly and taking too many risks that I was uncomfortable with. He is very experienced and has survived 3 avalanches along with numerous other climbs around the world. His threshold for risk is much higher than mine and I didn’t think we were on the same page.  I didn’t trust anyone but myself and on Aiguille de Tour, I reached my limit.

I felt so much better on the trek back to the hut after Aiguille de Tour. I was happy and buoyant. I am no expert in climbing or mountains but I take pride in knowing who I am and what I am willing to risk. Heading back to the hut was one of the calmest and most enjoyable periods of this entire trip.

Although there is no rock climbing involved in Mont Blanc, the 3 Monts route which had been assigned to us by our guide is highly technical and quite grueling. Mike chose to attempt it on his own and was one of few climbers who did so. The weather conditions were highly questionable and many experienced climbers (i.e. Everest conquerors) were not willing to chance it. Mike survived Aiguille du Midi (which he later learned is known as the “walk of dead”)  and summited Mont Tacul (the first of the 3 summits). He rightly turned back once the danger became  too severe.

*For those who are considering this climb, I would highly recommend taking control of your own ascent itinerary and if you are inexperienced, choose the Gouter Route versus the 3 Monts Route. We were not given a choice but I can say I have now been told that the Gouter Route is safer and much less technical.

All in all I believe the outcome of our trek was best possible one. We are both physically in tact and slightly more experienced then we were before. We enjoyed the charming town of Chamonix and faced the physically demanding and psychologically challenging events of trekking the Mont Blanc massif.

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