After acclimatizing on the Mer de Glace in France and in the Aosta Valley on the other side of the big white mountain massif including the partly ascend of the Gran Paradiso, it was time to head for the Mont Blanc. After being used to the new glacier walking techniques and climbing instruments, and a well-deserved rest day in Chamonix, we parked our cars in Les Houches a bit west of Chamonix and took a gondola lift and a train to reach the starting point: Nid d’Aigle at 2482m. After all the work-outs, it was a pretty easy walk to the Refuge de Tête Rousse at 3167m. It’s a hut just down of the infamous and possibly incredibly dangerous crossing of the Grand Couloir. The views from the refuge were extraordinary. We rested most of what was left of the day in bed to prepare our minds and bodies for the Big Day! When traversing the Grand Couloir the next day, we received real evidence of falling rock and ice. It either passed us by inches or hit some of us. Don’t think about it too much! After surviving the most threatening part, we climbed to the Refuge du Goûter at 3835m. The climbing was done with all four limbs, we wished we had more and longer ones. I was so dead when reaching this place! I wished I could recover for hours with whatever drugs would be available up there. But no, a short break was all we got. Completely exhausted at a time normally suitable for breakfast, I still had to go up another kilometer straight to heaven! For most of us, from that point or a bit later, it all came down to just our mental capabilities. It was not about training anymore, or gaining muscles, or fancy diets, or whatever you’d have done back home. It was mostly the mind which was in charge the rest of the ascend. Our guides told us to enjoy and to look around whilst working our ass off, but enjoying yourself at that moment is so difficult. You don’t believe anymore you will come across the summit this day, or ever in your entire life… But, you go on! Honestly, I cannot tell you why. Actually, it’s pretty dum. A work-out of more than eleven hours during free time, just to reach the top of a stupid hill. At one point, I was getting so close, I even started to be aware I was going to make it. I saw the summit (at least this time the real one…). I felt the energy flowing back into my system. And most importantly, I was enjoying myself. I made it. We all did it. Standing there and seeing all these big rocks around you from the top was so amazing. Unimaginable!
We took the same way back and slept another night at the Refuge de Tête Rousse. The next day early in the morning, we came back to our basecamp in Chamonix. Finally a shower (with running water) and clean clothes. We had dinner altogether and started celebrating our experiences with great stories, of which some of them will be memories for life! In the end, we could not answer the question why we actually did it. Some of us detested the day of the enrollment for this trip, as it was so heavy. Anyhow, we all made personal history. We also drunk beer and wine in decent healthy amounts. And then we discussed ‘What’s next?’, even with the unanswered question of why we signed up for this one, still in our heads. Someone suggested to run a marathon rather untrained and as a reward if finishing the first one, we do another one but trained… Some of us have already subscribed to the coming marathon of Amsterdam. Please, where’s the wake-up call!?!?
I left my hometown three weeks ago. I had this unfulfilled dream to get Ultimate High by cycling to a mountain and ascend it. It’s done now. I added big memories to my brainy collection. Great stories to tell! Hundreds of funny and fabulous pics of climbing comrades and unbelievable landscapes! But it all started with me reading about this Swedish adventurer, Göran Kropp, who climbed dozens of mountains around the world and cycled to Mount Everest, just to climb that one too. Crazy guy with a great zest for life!
After all the cycling just by myself to Chamonix (I almost started to feel like a poor lonesome cycling cowboy…), I joined the now famous club-of-seven-wannabe-mountain goats led by two guides, Didier Dumont and Guy Mevellec of Mountain Network. After our breakfast on the first day of August, we tried to lift our backpacks fully loaded with food and the climbing gear we were getting familiar with for one day. As it was only the previous day that we played with all our ‘new’ equipment on the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. Very impressive for people who never walked on such a body of crushed snow and ice. It’s to a high degree monumental on any human level. And graceful within all the natural beauties I’ve ever met. Just ‘WOW’ cannot even comprehend it! Anyway, backpacks fully stuffed, we headed for Italy.
Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele has nothing to do with the epic movie you probably think of, it’s a refuge in the Parco Nationale Gran Paradiso. This was our ‘basecamp’ for the ascend of the highest Italian mountain planned the next day. The sweaty walk up the shelter was through pine forest and alpine rocky meadows. A nice warming-up climb with great views of the national park. But it all started the next day. Putting the alarm at 3.00 am during holidays sounds ridiculous. I totally agree! Nevertheless, you just do it. You get up, eat breakfast, pick up your backpack with most if not all your outdoor clothes and climbing gear, and feel like a heavily loaded donkey! In the dark, all with headlights as a dancing Christmas light strain, we ascended the massive mountain ‘the Gran Paradiso’. Whilst ascending the first part, you still think it’s fun to be out there. You get up with a goal you thought of long before. After some time (nobody could really recall when exactly), we touched the first snow. We took a short break during which crampons, gaiters, and poles were detached from our packs. It was kind of exciting, fighting with the laces which came with the gaiters and the crampons (which is which in the light of dawn!?), and then it started to rain… Thankfully, we were already sweating from the climbing. So we were pretty burning from the inside with this freezing rain on our face, fighting the elements of this outdoor equipment. To me, this sounded like a perfect mesmerizing holiday moment! Although we continued in acceptable weather conditions with from time to time great views, the Italian Theoi Meteoroi got up on the wrong side of his bed! The closer we got to the summit, the heavier the conditions. Rain disappeared, so we got snow back. The snow changed into a windy fog, which froze immediately to our eyebrows or expensive outdoor gear. Most of us sheltered behind a big piece of rock just meters away from the summit, while one of us was actually lying on this rock with his head because of altitude sickness. No name to mention here. In the end, we had to turn back of course. No summit for these seven mountain goats. We did make great memories and of course great stories after we dried up back at the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.
For the time being, most of us wondered why the heck did we sign up to do this in our free time. Afterwards, it was soooo cool to have tried it with the grandest intentions you can imagine! The human mind is great for forgetting the pain and exhaustion in the rear of the event.
It was unbearable hot! I left the Netherlands in a bloody hot weather. No-one dared to do their usual activities. You would either stay home and lie in your shady garden with a cooling cocktail or you would go for a swim. Wow! I have passed so many people huddling around ponds. There was hardly any room left for the ‘refreshing’ water. I’d rather not imagine what for ingredients one could find in those waters.
I covered myself from head to toe and drank whatever fluid I could find. The first three days were so warm. I had my buff under my helmet, I wore cycling gloves, long sleeve shirts, and put on leg warmers. All that doesn’t sound logic at all, but it is! I think it was the best way to endure this personal Tour-de-France. Fortunately, the weather changed. After Luxembourg, the clouds came and the people I met on the roads talked about rain. It was difficult to imagine, but some of them even took a break to dry their gear from the rain. Mine was ultimately dry or thoroughly soaked with my honest sweat!
My body problems were very limited. No really sore buttocks or painful hands. It all went fine. The only inconvenience was my highly sensitive muscles in my upper legs which kept pulling my kneecaps upwards. I put them back, stretched from time to time, and that was it. Unbelievable. Getting older and feeling fitter than ever, or is that all a wishful thought!? I found my cycling rhythm after the Ardennes. During the first days, you really have to go through the discomfort of finding out many things, rhythm and inconveniences are among them. I felt so good! Pure climbing during 14 kilometers straight in the Jura. My lungs did a good job! Beautiful scenery, and great cycling.
I had my coffees in Geneva and now I have arrived in Chamonix. A real French coffee made me sleepy. I’m going to rest a few days and talk to you all later!