Being able to rescue your team members from a crevasse is an essential skill that the team hope never to use in anger in the Antarctic. However, in the pursuit of learning such an important concept, the team ventured to the French Alps in July 2013 for two weeks of fresh alpine air. Not only was this the first taste of European Glaciers for many of the team, an attempt on the summit of Mont Blanc (4810m/15,780feet) was also expected, representing, for those not well versed in Himalayan trekking like Joe and Ollie, the tallest mountain they had ever attempted.
The team left the New Forest early on the morning of July 2nd,in order to catch a ferry across the channel and drive 800 miles to the picturesque town of Chamonix; the gateway to the Mont Blanc massif which contains over 100 mountains over 3000 metres. It is also home to some of Europe’s biggest glaciers including the Mer de Glace and the Bosson’s Glacier, which formed the central location for the team to practise their rescues skills. Crevasses are formed as a result of the movement and stress generated by the glacier as it winds its way down the valley. Ranging in any size, some are gaps less than a metre, easily navigable by foot, whilst others can be many metres metres wide and stretch the length of a football field.
The danger with crevasses comes when they have been covered over by snow left from the winter, becoming impossible to see to the untrained eye. Knowing how to get out is one thing, but avoiding them is arguably more skilful and so the team hired the expertise of a French Mountain Guide to give some instruction. He showed the team how to walk “roped together” on glaciated terrain to provide safety when in a group and gave us a useful rope setup we could use for hoisting someone out of crevasses using karabiners, ice screws and Tiblocs.
Once all the necessary skills were practised, the next objective was the summit of Mont Blanc. The team chose this to give them a physical challenge that would put teamwork to the test, plus the gratification that comes with saying you have summited the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe! Although Mt Blanc is not extremely high, it was important for the team to acclimatize properly, as the risk of developing Acute Mountain sickness (AMS) is extremely high if not adapted to the altitude (symptoms range from dehydration, dizziness, headaches, and nausea). Slowly gaining altitude, whilst walking high during the day and sleeping lower at night allowed the team to acclimatise in the best way possible in a fairly short amount of time.
Setting up camp in the Vallée Blanche, both a mixture of nerves and excitement were felt by everyone. The team slept until 12am and after some food was eaten and harnesses and ropes were clumsily donned in the dark, lights far off in the distance showing the other climbers that were beginning the same task, the team set off on a slow plod up the snow slope of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Progress was slow, often walking 30 paces and stopping for a moment to catch breath back; it was going to be a long night.
On the slopes of Mont Maudit (the team were on the three monts route having to ascend the slopes of Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit and finally Mont Blanc) a 50-metre, 80o technical snow climb required the team’s full attention in the dark; a slip here would have caused a 400-metre fall to the gullies below. The team made quick work of the climb and were soon left with the final 300-metre slog up to the summit dome. This seemed to take forever and was filled with false summits to make it even more mentally challenging for the team; a suspected side effect of the altitude and the desire to be on the summit. At 8:32am the team had summited Mt Blanc. Overwhelming joy, happiness and exhaustion lead to man hugs, selfies and watering eyes (the cold!?) at the top of Europe’s highest mountain. The team had done it.
Have you been to the Alps?
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