Mont Blanc

At the age of 12 I had set myself three goals in life in order to help overcome my fear of heights.

The first was to climb Ben Nevis before the age of 16.

The second was to climb Mont Blanc before the age of 30.

The third was to climb Everest before the age of 50.

Mont Blanc is the highest point in Western Europe. Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe for those interested in the Seven Summits.

I had been focussing my efforts on working towards my big third life goal and then in 2007 I hit the age of 29 and I hadn’t yet been out to France to attempt to climb Mont Blanc. I had been higher than Mont Blanc with my ascents of Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Elbrus so the altitude did not worry me – I just had to physically get over to France, hope for a weather window and get myself up there – simple!

To give a suitable weather window, myself and John Cuthbert (whom had summited Elbrus with me), nipped over to Chamonix for a 10-day trip at the start of July 2007 which had been organised by Adventure Peaks. This should have given loads of time for acclimatisation and hopefully present a suitable weather window for ascending Mont Blanc.

The acclimatisation treks through Alpine glaciated terrain went to schedule and took us into some nice scenery. We were then going to take the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi towards the Col du Midi and spend the night in the Cosmiques cabin before attempting Mont Blanc via the ascent route via Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit.

Based on the weather conditions and likely snow loadings on the intended route, our guide said that the route was not safe and as the weather and the forecast was bad we headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel to emerge in glorious sunshine in Italy.

I subsequently ascended Gran Paradiso on the 6th July 2007 instead. I was disappointed to return to the UK without the goal being achieved however I know that the guide (Dave Kenyon) made the right call.

The Mont Blanc Massif averages nearly 100 fatalities a year with published estimates of 6000-8000 alpinist fatalities in total. I was glad not to join that number. Some Polish climbers were killed in an avalanche on the route that we were meant to have taken up Mont Blanc on the day that we would have been pushing for the summit so I am grateful to Dave for making the right decision 🙂

So having returned to the UK in early July 2007 without Mont Blanc being achieved this meant that I only had 7 months left to achieve the second of my three life goals. A winter ascent of Mont Blanc would be a whole different undertaking, so I spoke with Dave Kenyon and organised with him for me to nip back out to the Alps later in the season and attempt it again.

The problem that I had was that I was a bit short of annual leave from all of the other adventures that I had been having so I couldn’t take a lot of time off. It was decided that I would nip over to Mont Blanc for a weekend and just hope that a weather window coincided with that weekend.

Before this weekend trip to Mont Blanc, I had said to Dave to keep an eye on me as I had never before shot up to this altitude from sea level without acclimatisation and the risk of developing altitude sickness, high altitude cerebal oedema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) were very real. He had been working at altitude all summer so I knew that he would be well enough to be able to keep a watchful eye on my physical well being.

At 8am on the morning of Saturday 8th September 2007 my Easyjet flight to Geneva left the tarmac at Edinburgh airport. Upon arrival in Geneva, Switzerland, I had organised a private transfer over to Chamonix and I met Dave Kenyon there for lunch.

We then proceeded up to the Refuge de Tête Rousse where we had dinner, rested and got a few hours of sleep. At 2am we departed the hut and continued up the Goûter route. This route is considered dangerous because of frequent rock-falls in certain parts, however it is generally fairly stable at night. By 4am we had reached the Goûter hut, had a quick snack inside the warmth of the hut, then followed on behind the numerous alpinists leaving for the summit from the hut.

We made very steady progress and by 8am French time (7am UK time) on Sunday 9th September 2007 I was standing on top of Mont Blanc. I had been very lucky on this second attempt to scale the 4910m high Mont Blanc as I had got a suitable weather window.

I couldn’t believe that 23 hours after leaving the runway at Edinburgh airport I was on top of the highest point in Western Europe. It felt amazing to have achieved the second of my three life objectives. A huge thanks to Dave for getting me up there 🙂

The mountain is not over until you are back down in safety so Dave and I quickly descended. It was nice to get Mont Blanc done in a weekend 🙂

If you put your mind to something then anything is achievable.

I am pleased to say that I have now achieved two of my three life goals and planning/preparation is underway to head out to hopefully achieve the third goal.

Online coverage

Ascent photos – Facebook

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Kerr says:

    Great story Robert, has a lovely spirit of adventure to it. I suspect that you downplay the difficulty of it in this post though. What height did you start at, how many hours were you on the mountain for / walking for?

  2. Anne Brown says:

    Very impressive Robert. Good luck with the training for your next goal. It’s almost in the bag………..all this from a fear of heights, incredible.

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