The Monty Blonky Project

Jonny Shaw has written, in his usual inimitable style, a fascinating personal account of his ascent of Mont Blanc, which took place on 6th/7th August 2004.

The Monty Blonky Booklet

The Booklet

All the proceeds from this booklet were given to a local high school to purchase ICT equipment to enhance the learning experiences of local Highland children. The very generous donations enabled the purchase in 2006 of 3 digital projectors, interactive whiteboard and several software packages.


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Fourth Time Lucky

DECISIONS

"Whether to go for the summit is all about weather.
Simple if fine, diabolical if dirty.
It's as simple as that!"

Group on Summit

Hatching the Plot

I have always enjoyed the anecdotes of my best man Lorne Williamson but thought myself adept at side stepping the occasional mocking inanity. When he suggested climbing Mt Blanc at my mature age I should have done a very quick foxtrot to the left but for some reason I failed. Perhaps it was that he threw in the information that he had already recruited one of our ushers Miles Maskell and a wedding guest Trevor Newland. I was, it seemed, just being asked to top up the team. I suppose the competitive spirit didn't want them to succeed where l had already twice failed at a significantly younger age.

Perhaps also, it was that when the invitation was made, I was influenced by the fact that my neighbour was lamenting the difficulty of obtaining ICT equipment for use in teaching mathematics to the local high school children.

Computers for all seemed beyond the public resource and anyway, had they been available, in his view, this was not the most effective way to use them. What he wanted to do was get hold of digital projectors and software to display images from one computer, controlled by the teacher, onto a whiteboard for multimedia presentations and animations, with wireless pointers to allow the children to interact individually with the software.

The idea of giving the local Highland children some incremental help appealed to me, especially as I have never been a natural with computers. It crossed my mind that if I embarked on something sufficiently stupid then maybe people would lob small contributions at me which l could pass on. Whatever the reason, in a moment of madness I logged on to the "Monty Blonky Project".

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The Mont Blanc massif

The Mont Blanc massif
view from the winter sports resort of Les Contamines-Montjoie

Mont Blanc is situated in the North West corner of the Alps. Bounded now by France, Switzerland, Italy, it used to be owned by the King of Sardinia. On the north west approach there are no sheer faces of rock or ice to cling to with all those pins, shackles and ropes.

From a distance this aspect of the mountain just looks like a large vanilla ice cream with its permanent dome of snow. Ibex, chamois, marmots and a kaleidoscope of mountain flowers including orchids, gentians, alpine germander, rock jasmine, saxifrage, globeflower and rhododendrons cover the approaches. High overhead, circle eagles and the even larger lammergeier vultures.

We chose this route but there are several reasons why, what may look a doddle through the "Binos" from the safety of the valley floor, should not be taken for granted. What had stopped me in my tracks twice in the past was weather.

Although there are Met offices in Geneva and very locally in the Chamonix valley the experts are rarely able to say how things will be on top for any great time in advance.


Putting on skins

Putting on skins

The first time l failed, a group of us arrived after a strenuous ski touring holiday to climb the mountain in winter on skis. For up-hill work one fits a furry skin to the underside of the ski. The ski can be shoved forward by the foot "with the grain" like stroking a dog and then the fur prevents it sliding back the other way. It is possible to get quite close to the summit with this technique, rope up and walk the rest and then later have an excellent ski down. But just as we were about to start, a blizzard developed and there was a complete "white out" which lasted for days. We ran out of time.

Next, I tried, in the summer. The late Fred Harper, past principal of Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore, was my guide. On Day 1 we climbed up to the Goûter hut at 3817m ( 12,600ft). Then at 3 am the following morning people in the bunkhouse began to shuffle into their gear and depart for a dawn raid on the summit. The prospect of seeing the sunrise from the top thrilled. But my guide remained fast asleep.

"Pssst" I hissed, "Fred, everyone's leaving" He rolled over and in his inimitable soft Scots voice grunted "They'll soon be bak" and nodded off again. And they were. God knows how Fred knew but several hours later all those who had tried to summit were back in the Refuge, blown off the final exposed ridge.


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Planning the Plot

Mt Blanc is a long slog and you have to carry quite a bit of kit, used at different stages of the climb. There are metal teeth called crampons to fit to the base of stout rigid soled climbing boots. They make you waddle a bit like a duck to avoid catching your trousers in the teeth. You need gaiters to keep the snow out of the boots and several layers of clothing to cope with conditions which vary with sweating in the sun to wind and air chilling.

Sweating means that you need to carry plenty of water and imbibe frequently. Water is remarkably heavy. For the climb to the Goûter hut we needed, in addition to sun and woolly hats, a hard hat for the crossing of the Grand Couloir, where rocks frequently dislodge from the crumbling mountain above and come bounding down like cannonballs.


Mont Blanc, brand new Goûter Hut
(in my day made of wood)

Coronium, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For the top section on Day 2, which we intended to start well before dawn, we needed to carry overtrousers, wind jackets and ski mitts to cope with the cold, plus head torches to help find the route.

Prolonged effort over many hours makes the carrying of some quick energy food very desirable.

All the gear when not in use goes into a backpack and the old shoulders know all about it. A weight that feels reasonable at sea level feels dreadful near the top of Mt Blanc so careful weight planning is essential.

During the final weight reduction exercise down in the valley, I abandoned with regret my camera, washbag and various “spares” - glasses, gloves, suncream, hat, knickers and socks. There is no running water to wash in at the Goûter anyway, so it was decided to be “stinky pooh” for two days. But, Lorne kept faith with a toothpick.

Another consideration is altitude sickness. One can leave sea level at Ft William and stroll up Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, 1343m (4,432ft) on a Sunday afternoon, no problem. But few stroll up Mt Blanc without preparing the body in advance. For, at 4810m (15,873ft) the top of Mt Blanc is 3½ times further up in the sky and the majority of us are likely to get altitude sickness - and altitude sickness should not be messed with; it can kill.

Proper preparation requires one to adapt the body's physiology to the reduction in oxygen levels and in my case, from previous experience, I knew this would take 5 or 6 days. Preparation against altitude sickness has nothing to do with fitness and is best achieved by climbing a little higher each day, hanging around up there for a time and than descending to sleep at a lower level.


Jonny Shaw and Fred Harper

Jonny Shaw and Fred Harper on first failed attempt
to climb Mont Blanc in 1994

A final consideration of importance is knowledge. The average punter like me doesn't go wandering around "The Blonc", as Fred called it, without a guide. If, for example, new or wind driven snow has obliterated the track it needs a trained eye to ensure one is walking on snow directly above rock and not above fresh air on an overhanging cornice, of which there can be many after a storm.

Last year, I was told the authorities had closed the mountain at this time due to excessively hot weather causing instability on the glaciers. Despite warning signs and extra police patrols, several people, including Brits, disobeyed the decision, slipped past the watchers and died on the mountain. How about “MONT BLANC SHUT” on one of those huge signs near Inverness on the A9 to save disappointment? I was on tenterhooks that our whole operation was going to end in farce.

To climb Mt Blanc with a guide, it is necessary to wear a harness like a tree surgeon with big front buckle (Carabiner) to which the Guide's rope is attached. Throughout the climb one must concentrate on the movement of the man in front and have thought for anyone behind. If you jerk the rope when either is in mid-stride they could lose balance, particularly if tired. If you do that when you are on a knife edge with an abyss on either side you have to respond extremely quickly. For such an emergency you carry an ice axe. The modern curved head ice axe, I read in my book, was developed in Scotland. It can be jammed into the ground like a tent peg to hold on to and at other times can be used to hack steps up any particularly slippery or encrusted surface.

Fitness of course is very important and I needed to get fitter and lose weight. I have never been able to sit on a fixed bicycle or jog for hours. My solution was to walk the dog up the hill situated 5 minutes away from the house. Every day in July, I walked my dog up this hill. It is an 800 foot climb which 10 years ago I could manage in 27 minutes. Now in my 67th year anything under half an hour would be good. I wore an excess of clothing to generate a sweat and concentrated on getting down quickly too, in order to strengthen up the wonky old knees.

Each day I sweated and grumbled up my hill, dreaming of being in a deep warm bath soaping off the lard and seeing a smaller tally on the scales. The house became full of very nasty clothes drying on the AGA.

Climbing in the Alps - Dent Blanche

Climbing in the Alps - Dent Blanche

Photo by: Terry White

Then on Friday July 30th my long suffering wife, Sara, delivered me to Inverness Dalcross at 6am to catch the early BA service to Gatwick. There I met Lorne and that evening we supped in the two star hotel, Le Dahu, in Argentiere near Chamonix where Miles and Trevor soon joined us.

Miles's approach to any escapade of this kind is unique. He simply walks round to Harrods, outlines the requirement to the Commissionaire on the door and asks to be sorted out with everything needed. Once when we tried to walk up a mountain in Chile he sat down cursing, dragged off his pristine Harrods boots, which were excruciatingly painful and stuck his feet into a convenient stream to recover.

"They were perfectly OK in the shop" he fumed "the bloody idiots must have put the wrong ones in my hamper"

After a couple of minutes of complete indecision by the whole expedition who were miles from civilisation, Miles waved a boot around in frustration and then discovered a thoughtfully provided spare pair of laces inside. There was another spare pair in the other boot; he'd been walking on them for hours.

Preparation

We knew that Henry and Sue Todd from Kingussie were on holiday in nearby Mt Roc/Le Planet. Henry takes parties to Everest every season and in May of this year Sue had the marvellous experience of reaching the top. They were happy to help us acclimatise and high level talks and walks began immediately.

Trevor, Miles, Guy (our Guide) and Lorne

Trevor, Miles, Guy (our Guide) and Lorne

We walked round the top of the skiing bowl of Le Tour. We climbed up and visited the Albert Premier hut and then on Sunday evening our Chamonix guide Guy Pellerin arrived for a beer at Le Dahu to outline his arrangements. Monday and Tuesday were to be spent walking about with him on a glacier getting used to ropes and crampons. Then on Wednesday we would start on Mt Blanc by climbing to the Goûter hut. After over-nighting at the Goûter we would make the final ascent early on the Thursday morning.

He confirmed what we already knew that each guide took a maximum of two customers on their ropes and that guides were in great demand; this being the height of the season. Nevertheless, he was hopeful of finding a second man for the "B" team.

Guy spoke excellent English, appeared to have a good sense of humour (a very necessary requisite with us lot I thought) and seemed first rate. We were confident that he would find another guide and privately wondered who should be roped to who for the excitement to come.

From Saturday to the following Tuesday the weather was just fine. I enjoyed the two days with Guy and Tuesday afternoon saw us high up the Argentiere glacier close to the Argentiere hut that Lorne and I had last visited in 1975 at the start of the Haute Route on skis and skins to Zermatt.

The Plan in Tatters

Tuesday evening the guide came for a beer at our hotel and broke the news. The weather was about to break too, with summer thunderstorms expected. We would not be able to tackle the mountain. Worse the Met office did not think things would improve until the weekend. Nor were they sure about the improvement. At the weekend, the Goûter hut was booked out as were all the local French guides. We were in our cups, all that preparation for nothing and me foiled for the third time by the weather.

Miles and Trevor had commitments in Blighty and decided to cut and run. I just thought I'm never going to come here again for this purpose, it's this visit or never. Lorne and I decided to hang about and determined to keep training and see if we could find a guide, perhaps one of the Brits who spend the season guiding round the Mt Blanc massif which embraces many 4000m peaks.

I’ve always been a train buff. When I was very small, my brother and I used to put halfpennies on the line then trade them as pennies when the heavy steam engine had obligingly squashed them for us. Now in need of a buzz to lift my spirits on Wednesday morning, I defied the authorities and tried out my headtorch by walking through the railway tunnel at Montroc. A train came rumbling through and blew out my little grey cells with his whistle in that confined space.

Tunnel at Montroc

Railway Tunnel at Montroc

Poudou99, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I met Lorne, Henry and Sue at Le Buet and we had a splendid walk up to Loriaz and down to Vallorcine. We were home before the first rains came and had dinner with Henry and Sue at the Rusticana restaurant in the main street of Argentiere. Lorne and I both chose the fish and later that evening we both began to feel ill.

For me things started with diarrhoea but then I began to be sick as well. I spent a very unhappy night sitting on the loo and retching into the bath. Retching long after there was nothing further in my stomach I thought this must be the nadir, nothing could be worse.

Lorne thought maybe not the fish but gastric flu and in the morning the chemist confirmed that there was an outbreak in the village. We embarked on a course of different coloured pills but kept on walking and, as a very wan Shaw swigged down water on the top of Flegere at lunchtime on Thursday, Henry Todd made a momentous suggestion.

Plan B

Henry asked:

Had we been through 'Yellow Pages' ?

YES

Visited Guide Offices ?

YES

Asked in the bars ?

YES

Found zero guides ?

YES.

"OK", said Henry, "if not pissing down on the morrow, how about all four of us making the first half of the climb to the Goûter hut. Just maybe others will have to cry off with the bug in which case we could grab their beds and pre-booked dinners. Then, if the predicted better weather had in fact arrived at the summit on Saturday, maybe we could all have a go for the top."

I thought "Heh Ho GREAT", that bloody bug might just be a saver; so that's what was decided.

Henry and Sue came for us around 8 am. The weather was alright and we set off down the valley to the village below Chamonix called Les Houches. There we took the cable car to the top of the local ski slopes for a rendezvous with the Train de Mt Blanc. This mountain cog railway was built by a crazy Frenchman in Edwardian times. It runs from St Gervais until the frenchman ran out of money in the middle of nowhere and construction ceased. But ever since then, the railway has delivered walkers and climbers to that nowhere called "Le nid Aigle" at 2178m ( 7187ft) throughout the summer months.

TMB - Tramway du Mont-Blanc

TMB - Tramway du Mont-Blanc

Alain GAVILLET from Chêne-Bougeries, Suisse, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We stepped out of the TMB fully loaded at 11am and began to climb. six and a half hours later, me completely exhausted, we arrived at the Goûter. At one point Sue had been reduced to tears and none of us fancied having to re-cross the cause of her anguish, the Grand Couloir, on the way down.

We had approached the dreaded couloir to be greeted with shouts of "Pierres" from higher up the mountain. We crouched down behind a rock buttress and witnessed projectiles going past at high speed. The French don't seem to mind that the odd man is killed now and again and clearly think the couloir acts as an effective filter to prevent the Goûter hut getting over crowded. When the shouts died away, and nothing rattling our way, like that train in the tunnel, could be heard, we made a dash for it. At one point with heart pounding l was having difficulty surmounting a ledge. Henry's huge hand arrived on my bum and I shot up to the next level. We collapsed to recover our breath and our nerves on the far side.

Le Grande Couloir

Le Grande Couloir

Abjad, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The guardian of the Goûter hut, Olivier, had no welcome for us. He would sell us bottled water and chocolate but no meal. We squashed miserably into a corner watching everyone else tucking in.

Henry spotted two other Scots guides, Sandy Allen from Kingussie and Nick Parks who both put in a good word for us with the tactiturn Olivier. The upshot was, that after the second sitting of dinner had finished, he finally sold us a bowl of soup and some cheese.

Unfortunately, one or two latecomers turned up and all the pre booked beds were filled. It seemed the bug had buggered off. It was now too late to descend so we lay down on the floor under the dining tables. Somebody said "I don't think Miles would go for this", and we tittered and tried to cat nap.

Sleeping under the dining tables

Sleeping under the dining tables

Talking to the other guides, Henry had gathered the general view that an ascent to the summit would be possible in the morning. If we had a go at it, he wanted to do it early. That way, when we got back to the Grand Couloir the sun would not have melted the permafrost and the likelihood of boulders cascading down would be minimised.

We all agreed readily to that idea. But Henry had never been up Mt Blanc and so he wanted to follow another guided team at a discreet distance. “We must be ready”, he said, “to leave really quickly when movement detected a suitable departure to follow”.

This worried me for I am notoriously slow getting into the harness and putting on crampons. I had got some sleeping pills from my doctor to aid sleep at such altitude but I didn't dare take them. In the night it got very cold which drove me to put on my extra clothes. I solved my slow dressing worry by putting on the harness too. I lay on the floor very uncomfortable trying to think of something nice like the garden at Amat and hoping the immodium pills had my still squeaky tummy under control.

Start of Day Two

I was still awake when Henry sprang up at 5 minutes to one o'clock and hissed "lets do it". All I had to do was to prise myself off the floor go outside and stick on the crampons with the aid of my head torch. It was pitch dark, cold and snowing.

We set off at 1.05am and Lorne's crampon came off after two steps. I thought mine bound to do the same but mercifully they stuck to me. The snow was light however and disappeared in the first half hour. This allowed us to see the glimmer of lights far below and the twinkle of head torches ahead.

Setting out between midnight and 1 am

Setting out between midnight and 1 am

It's a masochistic business grinding along, faced with 9 or 10 hours of unremitting slog on an empty stomach. My technique is to avoid any further glance at my watch until I feel that at least an hour, preferably two, are safely in the bag. But things did not go smoothly. The usual short stops for recovery and a sip of water came more and more often.

First, Henry's torch failed and had to be repaired and then something in his back, an old injury, flared up. Forward progress got slower and slower and during the frequent stops my extremities, especially my fingers, began to get very cold.

We knocked off our first 4000m peak the Dome de Goûter (4304m 14,203ft) and finally arrived in the vicinity of the emergency bivouac hut called the Vallot at 4362m after four and a half hours. The wind had got up and Henry decided we should take shelter.

Vallot Hut, Mont Blanc massif, France

Vallot Hut, Mont Blanc massif, France

Francofranco56, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The entry to the Vallot is a short climb up a metal ladder through a hole in the hut floor. Faster groups had been passing us and inside we found quite a bunch of people huddled together in the torch riven darkness.

More Tatters

Henry gave us the news. He could not go on; the obvious thing was to go back after a suitable rest. But he suggested to Sue that, as she had been up the mountain in the past with Fred, she consider taking us the rest of the way while he rested. Sue said she was cold, (and later she told me that she was worried about being tied to us two on a narrow ridge knowing we could trip over our crampons at any moment) Lorne said something, I cannot remember what, and my mind was a blank.

Plan C

We stood about disconsolate for maybe quarter of an hour and then began to detect that dawn was approaching. I forced myself to think. Others were going up, there was no cloud, the track was going to be visible. Why not go on until either Sue had not warmed up or felt uncertain and then come back. It was agreed and now, three empty tummies, set off again at 6am well behind “schedule”.

Initially I led, carrying Henry's heavy pack. It was heavy because the only rope he had was his long "Everest rope" which meant that the bulk was curled up in the top of the rucksack with just a bin-end snaking out to tie us together. The way was flat for a bit then steeply up hill but the track was obvious and torches no longer needed. I suppose I kept going for 20 minutes or so and then had had quite enough of that pack.

We swapped packs and Lorne took a turn and then Sue, herself, carried the darn thing. She was now leading and continued to do so as we were now on the ridge. Then at one breather halt Lorne had an idea.

Ridge above the Vallot

Climbers on the ridge (Arréte) above the Vallot

It was obvious that the weather was set fine for a time so we abandoned his pack in the snow saving only the water bottle. One person could now get some relief between stops. I felt desperately tired, I think we all did but Sue was warm and confident now with the beautiful mountain bathed in sun.

We could not see the top, this route is convex in contour and seems to go on and on and on. It is however punctuated by discernible ledges at intervals. I was not at all sure we would make the summit, for we had being going so long without food or sleep. So, at each stop we picked a target for the next one and I consoled myself with the knowledge that we were damned lucky to have got this far.

I felt Fred would have thought it no disgrace to back off. The attitude of Baron de Coubertin "the important thing is not winning but taking part" prevailed.

After about one and a half hours of increasingly 'puffy' work, I suggested to Sue that if we could make it to the next chosen stopping ledge we surely couldn't be that far from the summit. She said it would be literally minutes from there.

The incremental approach, with the likelihood of turning back at each stop, immediately changed to a feeling that if we "knocked off" this next pitch we could hack it. In reality, there turned out to be more like 20 minutes to go, and I suspect Sue deliberately said what she did to give us a boost. When we came to embark on this last big push, these twenty odd minutes seemed endless. But now there was an air of inevitability about it all. Abandoning ship was no longer an option. To hell with the Baron, bring in Henry Sanders whose view apparently was "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing".

False dawn followed false dawn and for some reason, perhaps a legacy of the flu, both Lorne and I had very sore throats. I tried not to look up too often for, if one does that, nothing seems to ever come closer. I spoke to my boots. "If he goes forward then you will go forward. He won't wimp out if you don't".

I tried thinking of other things; Tommy Cooper had said something about mountains. "So I said to the stewardess, I said; what sort of plane is this? She said a Jumbo. I said; I suppose the pilot's name is Hippo. Add my weight and I thought I'd soon be getting a large laundry bill for plopping into the Slough sewage works, just like that. So I said to this stewardess I said, put me in a seat near the tail. I said I feel safer there; I mean you never hear of a plane backing into a mountain do you?"

We ground our teeth and then "mirabile dictu" (staggering to relate), the ridge flattened out.

14 climbing hours, after yesterday's train, there was no more bloody UP. A few minutes later we fell over on the semi flat top, an exhausted umbilical stick of three.

The group on the Summit

At the Summit

It had been two and a half hours since bidding au revoir to Henry, 0830 on Lorne's birthday August 7th 2004, the very same day as the first ascent began 218 years ago by crystal hunter, Jacques Balmat and Dr. Michel-Gabriel Packard. They were responding to notices placed by a wealthy man in Chamonix, offering a reward to anyone who could reach the highest point in Europe. They suffered snow blindness and frostbite in the process.

Per lots of Ardua on Shank’s pony ad Astra at some 15,873 feet, we drank in the fantastic view, staying about 15 minutes.

Sue pointed out the Matterhorn on the Swiss Italian border where it had been second time lucky for me some considerable time before.

Mont Blanc Summit

Mont Blanc Summit

User: Bbb at wikivoyage shared, CC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the other direction, we could see right back to our hotel in Argentiere some 10 Kms away and the mountains well beyond. Our only disappointment was that Trevor and Miles were not there to shake hands with and enjoy the champagne moment. They had been great companions.

Up here, another crazy frenchman, Joules-César Janssen built an observatory in 1894 but the building was engulfed in ice by 1909. They say the height of Mt Blanc varies slightly year on year. Perhaps global warming will cause J.C.’s lookout to reappear one day.

Getting down

Being now Saturday, we knew the Goûter would be stuffed this evening. We couldn't imagine another foodless night on the floor. We were going to try and get to Le Dahu in a "Oner" so the job was nowhere near over.

As the holder of a Parapente flier's licence, the fairy tale for me would have been to take off and glide down to my first beer in 30 mins. As it was, this was going to be the time when the old wonky knees were going to really feel the strain. I knew Lorne's knees were none too hot either and indeed, when we started off down, still roped together of course, he soon caught a crampon spike and toppled. He was immediately admonished by Sue for dangerous driving.

Having got us up there, she naturally didn't relish the prospect of being pulled off the ridge on the descent. Lorne lost it again shortly after recovering his rucksack and was punished when his Australian hat (God knows what that was doing on his pack) broke away and sailed off on the wind, disappearing far down on the seracs in the general direction of the Grand Mulet hut.

Cartoon - Lorne's Hat blows off

Despite these moments the descent proceeded swiftly. What had taken two an a half hours from the Vallot to mount was summarily dismounted in one hour flat. There was Henry waving to us from outside the hut feeling much better and keen to keep the momentum going. Off we went again desperate for food and finding what water we had left neither comforted the body nor gave relief to the sore throat.

At one pit stop Lorne lost his grasp on his water bottle. It whizzed off down the slope but, unlike the hat, stayed sufficiently on the approved track for recovery to be effected. At another stop, I discovered in my pack a tube of high energy jelly Miles had donated on his departure. Labelled “Orange” it tasted absolutely disgusting, “Tripe in vasoline” might have been a better description. But we badly needed something new to winge about and it did seem to give us a bit of a boost.

We arrived at the Goûter around 12.30pm, me now with an aggravated blister from the action of the slope and my weight pushing my foot forward in the hired boots. We then had a large stroke of good fortune. Olivier, with one lot gone and the next night's contingent not yet arrived, was better disposed toward us. I oozed up to him and, at an exorbitant price, he made us omelettes. They did a lot for morale and at 1.25 pm we roped up and started the great descent.

If anything is technical on this Mt Blanc route this is it. It was so easy to either snag the rope on the loose rocks or pull the man behind down whilst making a larger than normal step or maybe feeling for an unseen foothold below. Constant vigilance was needed, but we helped each other and after over 2 hours arrived back at the dreaded Grand Couloir.

I thought "l can't kop it here after all we've achieved" and voted to come off the rope. Tightening my hard hat, recovered at the hut, I dashed for the other side. It was slightly downhill this time and we all got across quickly without hearing warning shouts and rumbling danger.

We crossed the last patch of snow close to the Tete Rousse hut and embarked on the final hours down to the head of the TMB cog railway.

TMB Cog Railway - Nid d'Aigle Station

TMB Cog Railway - Nid d'Aigle Station

Christophe Jacquet (ChrisJ), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My blister was really talking to me now but we had to keep going to catch that last train of the day at 1840.

It was drizzling and the whole place looked like an unending, uninviting rocky wilderness, rather slippery under foot. The only moment of interest was the sighting of a herd of chamois. We got to the line end with just a few minutes to spare and the driver already blowing his whistle.

Then we caught the last lift down to Les Houches. We had our first Panache (Shandy) 18 hours after setting off from the Goûter Hut toward the summit. At something like 9.45pm we tucked into Steak Morilles with clean bodies and sharp teeth. "Monty Blonky" in the bag, the food tasted wonderful.


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Reflections

That night it rained hard with thunder and lightning. I felt for the next lot, maybe denied their chance of the summit. When one thinks of it all in hindsight, we were very lucky and have much to thank Henry and Sue for.

Sue Harper-Todd

Sue Harper-Todd

Later, I asked Sue about her thoughts as the climb proceeded and this is what she said:-

About the Grand Couloir "I have just become one of the few women to stand on the top of Everest and Mont Blanc is not worth dying for - especially as l've climbed it before".

In the dark of the Vallot Hut "I am very cold, don't want to be doing this sort of thing anymore, have had enough of climbing mountains, and I'm hungry".

About carrying that heavy rucksack "I've had enough of carrying heavy rucksacks. I don't think I'm going to climb mountains any more".

In giving me these reflections she then added:

"It was all worth it to be on top with you two and to see such a wonderful view. I thought you were both marvellous and you can quote me"

Wow; I'll hang up my crampons and glow on that. Trevor has signalled “What’s the next project?”. I know Lorne is daily awaiting an invitation from Everest, but I think I’ll concentrate on trying to improve my Second Prize for marmalade at Bonar Bridge.

SHenry Todd

Henry Todd, our mentor and Himalayan Sirdar
without whose inspiration we'd never have got started.


Jonny Shaw, Amat, August 2004




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