Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Day 4: Nervous apprehension... this is it!

Day 4: Nervous apprehension and excitement is in the air...in less than 12 hours I'll be setting off tired into the cold Alpine darkness. It's going to be phenomenal, and an adrenalin-filled experience. After another brilliant breakfast, we set off from Adventure Base and were driven to Les Houches.
Ready to go...

From here we got a steep uplift and heaving my overloaded rucksack around, we got onto the Chamonix mountain railway, which was pretty crammed full. It saved plenty of walking for sure, and my legs have recovered nicely from yesterday which is promising. We set off walking along the valley and then I realised that my back probably wasn't too prepared to heave this up the mountain, but onwards and upwards. It was yet another beautiful walk up a rocky hillside looking over Chamonix and following the railway tracks. The railway would have saved us an extra 1000ft of ascent but there's an underground lake inside the glacier which could burst and send millions of litres of water crashing down the mountain apparantely and the railway is understandably partially closed for safety reasons. The walk was steep to say the least, and there were even ladders at one point, as well as lots of metal steps and railings to hold on to. It was helmet territory too as there's lots of loose rock, not the most pleasant part of the trip to say the least. The sun was roaring and I felt weak and dehydrated, I was having more than 2 litres a day yet it didn't seem to be sufficient.
Greg, Fabio, Mark, Phil & Mika
Phil had come round the previous night whilst we were relaxing at the lodge to discuss some concerns. Roger and Henrietta were a bit slower than the rest of the team, and although technically able and fit enough, he was concerned about them being slower on the descent. He didn't want the group to be split up too much, but didn't want them both roped up to one guide, as with just 4 guides it would mean that I would be on the same rope with one of them. He said that I was 'young and fit' and just 'got on with it', so wanted me roped up alone. The options were Roger and Henrietta climbing a smaller peak like Mont Blanc du Tacul, or paying for an extra guide- fairly enough Roger said this would be his last chance to summit, so he hired an extra guide. The whole team would be going for the summit, which was great! And if you're wondering what I mean by being 'roped up', when travelling on glaciers, there are crevasses everywhere, and the most dangerous ones are the crevasses you can't see- where there is a weakness in the ice and you can fall through, perhaps a metre- or over 100ft into a pretty bleak situation. The ropes prevent the group falling into these, as fresh snowfall can hide them and leave hidden dangers lurking. Due to the extra guide, Mark, there wasn't space at the Gouter hut for Phil and he didn't fancy camping out on his own, plus we'd already paid for the Gouter hut so couldn't stay in the Tete Rousse, so he volunteered us! Of course it was a choice for us, but both me and Harry were keen on it, a real adventure, the best campsite I've ever been for sure! Turns out the other guide who'd joined us, Mark, has a brother who's in the Metropolitan Police Torch Relay security team! He didn't run with me though, but that would have been cool. It's a small world.
I was looking forward to getting to the Tete Rousse for a drink though. It levelled off all of a sudden and we were met by some Ibex, particularly well-camouflaged deer-like creatures running around. Phil pointed out the hut, which was still about an hour away. Jolly good. It was a quick break and some mint cake before we continued over the ever-rocky terrain. We passed some sort of memorial to a guide who'd died there years ago- a harrowing reminder of the environment we were treading into.
We neared a rather mushy snow patch, full of ice holes and running water, with wires, buoys and colourful equipment everywhere to measure this 'hidden' lake below, well we definitely felt like we were walking on it! My Scarpa Omega boots are lovely and waterproof, you could almost swim in them! The whole group were kept together except Roger who went at his own pace slightly behind us, the guides are great at knowing everyone's paces so nobody feels rushed or pushed beyond their limits.
One by one we arrived at the Tete Rousse hut, 3167m, knackered but relieved. This one was great. Absolutely fantastic, of course there's no bubbling hot tubs and saunas with waiters and canapes, but I liked it. We had lunch in the hut and I decided to top up with some tart again (for $5 you can't beat it!). The view was great, but I was tired, and not particularly confident about what we'd be doing in just 9 hours. As always, my phone let me down, and the battery was low, and for some reason I decided not to bring a phone charger, hence why this blog is online 8 days after it should have been. The rest of the group left the hut, got geared up and set off on the scramble up to the Gouter hut where they were staying the night. I wasn't envious of them to be honest, I was tired enough. The change in plans meant that we were now going to be camping at the Tete Rousse, setting off at midnight, then meeting the group at 2am at the Gouter hut.

From our camp, we saw our warm-up walk which would be negotiating at the start of our climb in the morning...
The oasis of the Gouter hut
So we stayed behind, enjoyed an omelette and some chocolate brownies with creme anglaise (not bad for a hut), whilst enjoying the view out across the glacier and seracs. The hut looked pretty modern, smothered in solar panels, almost like a 21st century London apartment. Inside was of course less glamorous, but wasn't busy like the Albert or Trient, although it was a week day. Cosy and well-trodden. It was quite a boring few hours and I probably unintentionally annoyed Phil with my talking again, poor bloke! But it soon hit 4pm, we left for 'camp'. There was quite a few tents in the area already set up. 'Where's the two man tent?' I asked. 'There', Phil said, pointing at tent I was looking at. I didn't hesitate, we got our bags sorted, Phil removed about half a tonne of crap from my bag that I didn't need, then me and Harry literally squeezed into the tent, still in warm gear, like sardines in a yellow nylon tin. It wasn't most comfortable, it got really hot and humid, plus we still had broad daylight outside. A surreal atmosphere. I peeked outside for a minute, to see ex-Royal Marine and RGM-holder Phil lying in his sleeping bag on the rocks, reading a book. The great outdoors! I realised how lucky I was to be in a tent! I couldn't sleep, yet Harry could, so it was a rough few hours. The rain came down and rockfall echoed round the valley, in 6 hours I would be awake and departing for the summit. It was going to be ultimately the hardest day of my life so far... no backing out now...

1 comment:

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