Friday, 17 August 2012

I didn't finish off my little adventure did I? Well from the summit, I knew I had a long day ahead. The first 6 hours of the day hadn't dragged as much as I'd anticipated, although my crampons dragged in the snow as my jellified legs grew weaker. We had just ascended over 1700m in 6 hours, 2 of which on really gnarly terrain, but now we had over 2800m of downhill to look forward to. I.e. walking down Ben Nevis twice. But in this terrain, familiarise it to walking down Ben Nevis on a unicycle. Not that it mattered. We passed Roger and Greg, who were well behind the group but were still going, and that's the main thing. It was great to see a determined smile on Roger's face. We didn't have time for a cup of tea though. I barely had chance to look around at the panorama, I was being marched down the slope by Phil at a brisk pace. Alpine guides know the effects of altitude well. The slower you go, the more you get altitude sickness, which makes you even slower. So getting us back to a lower altitude before the symptoms can grasp us is an understandable priority. 

Not a great deal happened for the next couple of hours as we headed down the peak. The rhythmic plodding of crampons on ice got a little tedious. It didn't take long at all for the sun to arrive and smother the valley with sunlight, the ice glistening, pure blue skies and such little wind you could hear a whisper. The ground levelled off after we'd tackled the now not-so-steep Grand Bosses and eased onto a col where we stopped outside the Vallee refuge for a drink and some sun cream. We couldn't have had better weather. I can't completely remember but from now it was a long descent to the Gouter hut. The terrain was soft but rutted with such large numbers of traffic, and the glaring sun hadn't quite softened them in the chilly air. It must have been about 7.30am. We stopped for some photo's by some impressive seracs (ice cliffs) and it was the continuous plod once again. What a fine morning. 

I felt lethargic and I was looking forward to getting back. Sadly that seemed very far away. Despite this, I had a huge smile on my face for the whole walk down. Occasionally I felt tears of joy on my cheeks, nevertheless I was beaming and so chuffed to have made the summit. I'd achieved my goal, got the Orangutan photo and nothing less. It had been a tough few months. Obviously I'd had the wonderful honour of carrying the Olympic flame but that was one of the many things which had me rushed off my feet at times, mad busy with deadlines to meet and a fair bit of stress too. I had many times doubted myself. People around me had too, indirectly, asking whether I would be fit enough. That was my main self doubt. Having lost most of my fitness due to my cursed legs, would I cope with the pressures of altitude? I'd done nothing like this before. With research and opinions I soon put my mind at ease, but it did niggle my mind a little. My main worry, though, was the weather- the only thing I had no control over. For months I had worried that I would arrive in Chamonix after months of anticipation and thousands of pounds from my own pocket, to be told that the weather would not be good enough for us to attempt Mt Blanc and we'd have to go elsewhere. There are no refunds. But looking around me, I could see how lucky I had been and how I'd worried about nothing. Looking behind me, my fitness worries had also been irrational. Although, with my old fitness the climb would have been far easier. I would be interested to climb it again when back in action and compare the difficulty. It proves the power of the mind. You have to tell yourself that pain is temporary, quitting is forever. You can turn round, and feel crap later, or feel crap now and feel amazing later. But the smile on my face showed the last busy months had been absolutely worth it. 

The Gouter hut came into view but it still seemed a lifetime away. Not much longer, I convinced myself. Phil was telling me to walk faster but I couldn't, I was just shattered. Soon enough we had the little specks of the tents above the Gouter hut appearing on the horizon. I looked behind for a moment at the vast drops to my right but more so at the towering and massive ridge I'd just tackled. It was breathtaking. It was daunting. I tried to work out which bits were which, the sections of terrain that I remembered. Wasn't sure if the altitude had killed some brain cells but i couldn't recall much of our ascent in the pitch black. It looked magnificent. Had I seen the sheer expanse of the peak before, it would have intimidated me. Instead I headed into the unknown, unable to see what lay ahead in the form of sometimes 40 degree slopes. It looked massive now. It wasn't too long till I'd staggered down into the Gouter hut. This time it didn't resemble a cattle market quite so much. We were ahead of everyone and there was barely anyone else in. I had another energy gel sachet to discover I had put the other empty sachet in and and my duvet jacket pockets were now filled with a lovely and sticky gel residue, along with my phone. Lovely. It was a quick drink but once again we were summoned to continue. I called Dad and shouted 'Summit!!!' down the phone and he was made up, as was I. 

It was now a case of negotiating the sheer paths down to the Tete Rousse. Thankfully this time I didn't care too much, I was on a high. About 1.5 hours later I'd neared the bottom with a sigh of relief. Me and Phil arrived back at camp about 11am. It was great to sit down for a moment. We packed up camp and it was now that I broke the news to the world that I'd summited. That was a very proud moment. I'd looked forward to it for a long time. I knew I had such amazing support behind me so I knew people would be anxiously awaiting an update. It felt great. But now, there was no time for waiting around. Our backs were loaded once again with gear then we limped off down the mountain. It was a glorious day once again, and my altitude sickness had eased now I'd descended about 1800m. I'd hoped for lunch at the Tete Rousse but that wish was shortlived. We waited for Harry and Gavin to catch up but the rest of the group was very far behind. Three enduring hours later or so, the Chamonix mountain railway came into view like an oasis. The repetitive pounding on the legs got tedious so it came as some relief when shortly after, we zigzagged down the valley paths until I staggered onto the scorched grass outside the railway station and fell on to all 4's. Thank god for that! Much to mine and Phil's disgust, the cafe didn't sell ice creams. 

When everyone else had staggered off the mountain, I got a brilliant photo of the group... after 14 hours of almost non-stop action...

We limped onto the Chamonix Mountain Railway again and this time I found myself struggling to stand, dipping my head repeatedly. Absolutely shattered. Next thing I knew, we were waiting in the Les Houches ski-lift. The heat was a bit unbearable and we all felt crap. But the ice-cold nectar of the Gods, in the form of a can of Coke, from the cafe at the bottom, was amazing. The hot shower back at Adventure Base was equally as refreshing to say the very least. Surprisingly, I didn't feel too bad. My 3 Peaks Challenge one year earlier had made me feel far worse, I'd slept in till 1pm for three days after. I couldn't be bothered unpacking, we dumped the stuff and went out in Chamonix to celebrate. 

The next day we were up early once again. Thankfully it wasn't quite the usual 5am start. It was an absolutely scorching day. Me, Phil, Rich and Graham went off down the Valley, through Les Bossons, for about 30 mins or so, to the Via Ferrata Curalla in Passy. A steep walk through the hillside and we were at the base of the huge cliff. The via ferrata was rated AD+, so technically easy, yet a bit exposed. Not for the faint hearted. The rest of the group weren't so keen and relaxed back at the lodge. Having a spare day with Phil, I decided not to let my money go to waste. I wasn't sure how my aching quads would manage. Regardless, we embarked upwards and across the traverse, up the ladders and along the cables. It's my first via ferrata so it was new to me. Really enjoyed it though. The scenery behind across the valley and the water was superb. The rock was hot to touch but being suspended 200ft above the ground was pretty cool. We grew more exposed pretty quickly, stopping for lunch whilst propped up precariously above a sheer drop into a forest. Some good Olympics-themed banter, tackling 'monkey bridges' and wobbly planks, and 2 hours later we found ourselves climbing the final handles to the top of the cliff. A good 200ft or so of ascent in what felt like a short time. A good afternoon out. 

That night was supposed to be a celebration meal out. Sadly I lost touch with everyone and ended up unable to find them. So I spent my last night watching the Opening Ceremony alone. But I'll come on to that in a bit. 

For now, my Mont Blanc era was coming to an end. The challenge I had set myself almost immediately after running through the gates at the bottom of Snowdon after completing the 3 Peaks, had been accomplished. I'd done it. Nothing less, but many things more than I'd expected. We'd been blessed. The worries I'd had, the doubts I'd possessed, had proved to be nothing. Mont Blanc was yet another success story of mine, and I came home with my head held high. This was now my biggest achievement to date. And the scenery and emotion that rushed over me when I took the final steps to the summit completely justified what I'd put myself through for months in the build-up. I'd delivered. Not only by smashing my fundraising target by £900, but by doing it in style, and I'd also managed to get the Orangutan costume photo. The pressure had been high and had I failed to summit, I would be feeling very low right now. But I couldn't feel happier. I would have done nothing differently. I wish I had my old fitness back but despite this I'd forced myself to the summit, deep down I knew I always would. Weather-wise, we'd beaten the odds and got the most incredibly perfect weather I've ever seen. What more can I say? I'd been very very lucky.

I need to thank Dream Guides and Adventure Base for a brilliant trip. I was in brilliant hands and although it was my first Alpine trip, I felt that they did their best to make it as good as possible. And it really was. I'd spent countless hours at work, in a stressful messy kitchen, whilst trying to juggle school, training and fundraising, to fund it, but came away thinking it had been well spent for memories of a lifetime. I was sad to be home after a quality week which flew by. Tiredness had grasped me as the adrenalin which rushed over me on the summit and descent really had worn off, but never to be forgotten. What a chuffing great experience. Seeing mum in the airport and pumping my fist into the air to celebrate my victory was amazing, a proud moment, and a hugely relieved mother to say the least. So with the long-anticipated build-up, life would now ease back to normal as I dealt with the aftermath of my climb, distributing Oranguman's adventures to the mountaineering world. I've managed to combine my adventures as a torchbearer with the upcoming climb and therefore maximised the publicity for both. What a year. 

I also need to thank my sponsors the Mountain Boot Company and Powertraveller, my mum and stepdad for their financial support with my fundraising, REACT for their continued support and encouragement, the publications and radio channels who have featured me throughout, Tim Emmett and Squash Falconer for helping me with sponsorship, Chris Pownell for setting up my website and all of the people who have helped me with my fundraising via events or donations, there are far too many people to list but they know who they are. Special thanks to Diane Mitchell and Harry Gilberton, Barbara Wilkie, Annie Downing, Chris Spray and Rob Tudor. Sorry if I forget anyone. You've all helped this to happen, my dream, ticked off the list. So there's not much more for me to say. I lived the dream and I'm chuffed to have made it when the odds were against me. So for now I need to get myself uninjured and relaxed a little, then it's onto the next one. This time I'm not so sure on what's next. Mera Peak or Aconcagua. Something bigger. And I'm looking forward to spreading the word of REACT too. Either way I'll be pushing the limits, raising more for charity and living the dream. There's a world out there. If I can inspire more people to take up the outdoors and more people to overcome adversity, then even better. The way I see it, the more effort you put in, the greater the rewards. Ultimately I'm on a long journey to Everest, so this is just the end of one awesome chapter and the start of a new one. I'll get there.

Thanks for following and supporting me. That's all for now, folks. Live the dream...

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