23 September 2007

Down from the Mountaintop

Apologies to my readers for leaving them hanging after my last entry. I was indeed successful in reaching the summit of Mt. Blanc at 10:10 the morning after my previous entry. All the training and preparation really paid off -- I got my pack reduced to a minimum, I was fuelled up, hydrated and mentally prepared when my alarm went off at 1:00 the next morning. I dressed and pulled on my boots by the light of my head-torch, joined my guide Jean-Pierre for a quick breakfast, and headed out the door of the refuge just before 2:00. The next three hours were an arduous 500 meter ascent to the Goûter refuge, on a route that was near vertical in many places. We were so fortunate with the weather -- it was clear, cold and still, and as we climbed we could see the lights of civilisation far below, even as far as Genéve in the distance.

From Goûter, the route switched to snow and we put on our crampons to climb the remaining 1100 meters to the summit. Dawn broke as we reached the Goûter Dome, and finally before us we could see the summit, which appeared quite manageable until you realised the tiny black specks that dotted its white surface were other climbers far above. But still at that point I felt 100% confident of success for the first time -- I had the time, I had the energy, and conditions were near perfect. All I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other for five more hours and then sure enough we were standing there on the highest point in the Alps.

My one regret is that my phone battery died part way up so I was unable to get an appropriately victorious summit photo. No doubt this was due in part to the fact that I used my phone to tap out my previous blog entry. However, thanks to one of my climbing companions from the Swiss part of the course, I do have this really macho looking shot of me belaying down one of the mountains we climbed during the preparatory course.

Returning to Tête Rousse took another six hours, and I was exhausted by the time we arrived. However, I did manage to find enough energy and enough battery power in my mobile to snap one more picture, this one of a sign posted in the refuge's lavatory:

I actually have no idea what this sign means, but I am hoping our friendly language police over at Grouperism can help sort this out, or at least suggest some appropriate punctuation.

23 September 2007

09 September 2007

High hopes

It's been a dull and uneventful summer spent working away for my client in Doha. The weeks passed in blur of routine activity - Sunday through Thursday in the office, Sunday evening Mass at Qatar's first and only Catholic church, a (censored) movie at the local mall on Friday, and lounging around the pool at the Four Seasons on Saturday. The only that kept things from getting too monotonous was the Four Season's luxurious fitness centre, where I spent hours every day preparing myself for the effort I will attempt tomorrow - an ascent to the summit of Mt. Blanc at 4810 meters.

Currently, I am at the Tête Rousse hut at 3167 meters, which I have reached after spending the past week in and around Arolla, in Switzerland on an Alpine skills course run by Jagged Globe. So after six months of physical conditioning, maintaining the discipline of my training regime in fitness centres in Sweden, Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Dubai and Qatar, undergoing a week of skills training, altitude acclimatisation and practice climbing on Swiss peaks, and having spent what seems like a small mountain of cash on shiny new kit, success or failure has now been reduced to the performance of myself and the mountain over the next 24 hours. If I can continue to ignore the blisters, the sunburn, the soreness and the stiffness, overcome my reluctance to trust a four centimer ledge of rock to support my foot over a 300 meter precipice, and above all, manage to keep putting one foot in front of another for 12+ hours; AND of course the mountain does its part by letting the absolutely flawless conditions we have been enjoying to continue for another day or two, then it will be hard not to succeed. I cannot see how my chances could be any better - my mind and body are prepared, I've got the right gear, a guide I feel comfortable with, and a good weather forecast. If all goes as I hope and believe, then my next post - inshallah - will be made from the summit. It's now about 20:30 and I'm about to turn in. At 1:30 tomorrow morning I'll drag myself back out of bed, put on a headlamp, crampons, climbing harness and all the clothing I've brought with me, and begin my trudge up the glacier.

As one of my many efforts to ensure success was to reduce the weight I am carrying to the minimum possible, I have reduced my usual complement of electronics (laptop, PDA and two mobiles) to a single small mobile, which means I have been forced to tap out this entry on a standard 12 key keypad. I am discovering it is an excellent way to incentivise linguistic brevity - if only lawmakers could be compelled to draft legislation; and lawyers their legal briefs - using such technology, we would all undoubtedly benefit.

Tête Rousse
9 September 2007