It’s been great to enjoy the streets of Chamonix after 8 days of mental and physical rigour that pushed me to my limits. It hasn’t taken too much to recover physically- my legs not particularly fatigued. Having lost 9lbs in weight though- it seemed the next challenge of EPIC7 could be choosing which flavours of ice cream to have out of almost 30 choices! With Chamonix being so extortionately-priced I haven’t had much more than nuts and the stash of MyProtein bars I had sent out here…
A couple of days rest was eagerly anticipated until on the day (2am) of arrival I was woken up about 8am by outside traffic, having 4 hours sleep and feeling as miserable as a bus driver.
But damn did it feel epic to be here- not by petrol, jet fuel or train tracks but by two wheels, muscle tissue, body fat, glycogen, water, and a considerable slab of determination to triumph through adversity yet again.
So with 3 EPIC7 challenges completed successfully I was on a roll and feeling empowered by the power of challenge, inspiration and opportunities. It still hasn’t quite sunk in. Bringing me onto number 4. Whilst I waited for forecasts and plans to be confirmed, I had the great company of my friend Paul as we went off for some acclimatisation to the Aiguille du Midi, setting up camp on the glacier below at about 3,600m altitude.
Over the next 3 days we climbed 3 classic Alpine routes- all graded harder than I’ve previously climbed. It was great not only to be seeing such huge progress in my climbing just two years after last being here for Mont Blanc, but to be climbing in this style with a friend felt so much more rewarding with a greater sense of freedom, ownership, independence and responsibility. First of all was the Pointe Lachenal, a shorter route graded AD. Then retreated to our tent in heavy snow- fresh pasta was a relief! Thanks to Summit Clothing for the brand new sleeping bag delivered express which was definitely a creature comfort.
The next morning we climbed the classic Cosmiques Arete, AD+, super busy and more technically difficult with some abseils that had me very thankful for the prussic loop slowing my exposed plunge down a chimney of rock and ice. In doing so, we saw some BASE jumpers leaping off the edge of the Aig du Midi into thousands of feet of sheer expanse. There’s a line when it comes to adventure- and that definitely crosses it!
Finished in style with Crepes a la Nutella and coffee in the Aig du Midi café. The true Alpinists amongst us will be sneering right now! Another retreat to the tent and after some Germans pinched our platform, a new one was to be dug.
We began to look at options for the next day- as conditions were objectively safe, Mont Blanc du Tacul became the plan. At 4248m high it was a big step up and higher than I’d been for a while but I was confident. Setting off at 4am into the star-littered darkness is often the crux but the Alpine sunrises, when you take a moment to stop and look, always induce a smile. There were some seriously steep sections near the top, intimidating seracs and multiple crevasses had most other climbers turning around. I was pleased to have Paul, far more experienced than myself, leading the way. A slicing brutal wind hit us near the summit but I loved the remote feel and harshness of a high summit without a guide- a totally new experience for me.
We retreated to the warmth of the glacier below in good time, spending the afternoon sleepily in the Cosmiques Hut with bowl-sized cups of coffee, admiring the precipice of the North flank we’d just shot up and down intact. It was an early night after dinner cooked on the little Primus stove. A cracking but challenging day, yet still feeling very strong.
Today we had the Midi-Plan traverse in our sights but an awkward twist coming down Mont Blanc du Tacul had left me with a worsening groin muscle strain and anxious about what lay ahead, wincing with every step in badly-fitted boots. Tired but satisfied, we packed up and set off slowly up the arête back to the Aig du Midi instead, avoiding careless climbers traipsing down the knife-edge snow ridge at speed with a thousand-metre drop to Chamonix on one side. Then being greeted by the Japanese tourist paparazzi flashing away with their cameras at this foul-smelling teenager crawling up the arête, obviously an unusual creature to these people…
12 days on the go it seemed my body really was demanding a pay-rise. I just needed it to hang in there for 3 more days before a planned week break from training.
After meeting with my guide James Thacker this evening, the forecast is looking promising and I’m well-acclimatised. So the next challenge- number 4- of EPIC7 remains as planned. Just when most people would expect me to jump on the next flight home- my limits are to be pushed even further as I attempt to climb the Dom, 4545m via the Festigrat. Dom is the highest peak entirely in Switzerland, the 4th highest peak in the Alps and the greatest vertical ascent in the Alps. Just in case a stroll on my bike wasn’t enough.
So it’s an earlyish start tomorrow to drive to Randa in Switzerland before a leisurely 4-5 hour hike to the Domhutte, at about 2900m altitude. I’m just hoping my groin strain holds out- on Saturday the TLC can begin! After a big meal and an early night, we’ll aim to get an early breakfast and set off about 3-4am on Wednesday morning for a long day to summit the Dom, with mixed rock, ice and glaciated terrain graded to about PD. Then we’ll be heading down to the hut, in about a 10 hour day, and back to Chamonix the following day. At 4545m I’m comfortable with the altitude and this should round off the trip perfectly. I’m feeling confident providing my luck continues and the weather holds out. There’s still some grit inside me somewhere to push myself when the going gets tough- each challenge stretches my threshold even further. Regardless, it provides excellent training for Everest next Spring without the huge costs of another Himalayan peak this Autumn that I cannot materialise, so nothing is lost, but only gained.
Whilst in the solace of altitude I remembered that when I arrived in Chamonix, tiredness and confusion had made me forget something very important to me- it was the very same date I was trying to reflect on the bike ride success, that also marked one year since I lost my dog Hooch. My dogs’ have always been a huge part of my life and my closest companions throughout my journey this far. I had been too distracted to remember him, which made me feel awful, although I had thought of home and my gratitude for those around me constantly throughout the 10-15 hours I spent cycling during Chester2Chamonix each day. All I can do, is dedicate this climb to him.
Can I get 4 challenges completed in a row? I can do my best- and that alone is far better than dreaming when opportunities to succeed are being thrown at us in every obstacle.
But to be honest, I’m looking forward to Saturday, to get home, put my flat cap on, a cup of tea in hand, a slice of Parkin and an episode of Dickinson’s Real Deal in front of the fire….
Just kidding. Planning EPIC7 number 5 and looking for a partner if anyone can cycle 150 miles for 3 days in a row. That’s if I can get out of the cage my poor mum puts me in first, though.