Preparing for a Mother-Daughter Attempt to Climb Mont Blanc!
4 months today, on the 15th June 2017, my mother and I will hopefully be following in the footsteps of my great-great-grandfather, in attempting to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc!
I’ve actually been planning this trip since last spring in Nepal, when one of my fellow volunteers, Mark, first mentioned it to me half-way up an exhausting 7-hour hike of Chatra Lekh mountain with a 1,200m elevation gain. (Once my muscles had recovered) the idea of climbing Mont Blanc really appealed, as back when I was 18 I spent 4 months living and working in the ski resort of Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mont Blanc (called Monte Bianco by the Italians), and looking up at Mont Blanc every single day. I’ve also been dreaming of climbing a mountain of some description since I first wrote my pre-30 travel wishlist in 2014 on my 25th birthday, and once Mark started talking about it, Mont Blanc seemed like the perfect mountain. My friend Pierre had also been in training to climb it in 2015, and he managed it in 2016, showing me that it was indeed feasible.
In the autumn I got my mother on board, to make a kick-ass mother-daughter dream team! My mother has always been a super hard-working, determined person and she is incredibly fit for her 60-something age. She’s an amazing role model for my sister and I, so I knew she’d be keen to take on a challenge and attempt Mont Blanc with me! So as autumn drew in we started making more concrete plans and discussing dates, asking friends for recommendations and contacts and getting everything in place for a summit attempt next summer. It was all coming together.
So it was with sheer amazement that I returned home at Christmas to find my father poring over slightly faded, handwritten letters that looked unopened and unread for decades. By some incredible coincidence, my aunt had been going through a box of papers inherited from my dear grandmother, which she herself must have inherited from my grandfather’s ancestors but never really looked through either. Because lo and behold, among these faded letters, was a letter written in August 1879 from my great-great-grandfather Sir Frederick Taylor to his mother Maria (my great-great-great-grandmother) from Chamonix. 138 years ago, aged 32,he was writing to his mother to tell the story of how he had reached the summit of Mont Blanc.
At this point, my entire family are asking ourselves why we’d never heard of this before! It’s considered hard enough to make it to the top of Mont Blanc nowadays, in an age of technology, mobile phones, GPS, navigation systems, safety gear, rescue teams and professional guides, let alone 138 years ago! To put that into context, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, that very same year. There were no light bulbs around at the time my great-great-grandfather managed to climb Mont Blanc…
Mind blown is an understatement, and it makes me all the more determined to follow in his footsteps and (try to) make it to the top of Mont Blanc. We’re bemused by the fact my grandmother had never mentioned it before, and we think it must have been one of those anecdotes that failed to make it down the generations, or that perhaps Frederick was too modest to tell his son or grandson about his achievements. Aside from summiting Mont Blanc, Frederick was a pretty high-achiever in other aspects of his life, so it’s not implausible. The paternal side of my family were doctors for several generations and in 1890 Frederick wrote a 1,000-page medical book called ‘A Manuel of the Practice of Medicine‘, which ran to 11 editions and surprisingly enough was still in use when my mother was studying medicine in the 1970s, as she had to study the book, long before she ever met and married my father (Frederick’s great-grandson). Frederick was also apparently the author of a whole 166 scientific papers published in medical journals throughout his life. He rose to become President of the Royal College of Physicians, for which he was created a baronet by King George V, allowing the hereditary baronet’s title of Sir to pass down the male line in my family.
All of which makes me feel a little ashamed that the medical genius on both sides of my family gene pool didn’t quite make it down to me! But you know, maybe it’ll skip a generation and perhaps there’s still hope for my future children…
So, with those big shoes to fill in the back of my mind, back to the topic of Mont Blanc. My brave mother and I will be heading out to Chamonix in mid-June for a 6-day trip. First of all our guide will take us on 3 days of training on the nearby Gran Paradiso mountain (4,061m high) to help us acclimatise to the altitude, before we attempt to summit Mont Blanc (4,808m) on Thursday 15th or Friday 16th June. There are plenty of reasons why it’s not guaranteed: bad weather, altitude sickness and our own fitness levels are among them. While there’s not much we can do about the first two (apart from perhaps some pagan rituals to the weather gods?!), we’re in full-on training mode to get our fitness up as high as possible. Our training regimes resemble the sort of training I did for my marathon, although with more variety and ideally plenty of hills or mountains on which to practice hiking with full rucksacks.
Since New Year’s Day, my mother has already done a climbing wall course, a mountaineering weekend in the Lake District and she has an upcoming week of ski-touring to get her into shape. I on the other hand am somewhat limited by my student budget to making the most of the resources within my reach – which extends to a lot of running around Uppsala, time on the university’s climbing wall, a hell of a lot of gym cardio and hopefully some decent hikes in Sweden! Aside from the nearby 400km Uppland Trail, I’m hoping to hike some of the rest of Sweden in preparation too. So if anyone knows of hiking clubs or groups in Sweden, or any keen Swedish mountaineers, then please let me know! (It’s a long shot, I know, but I am constantly surprised by how small a world it is!) I am also thinking that now and here in Sweden would be the perfect time and place to try out cross-country (langlauf) skiing which is supposedly a pretty intense workout!
So today marks the 4-month countdown to our attempt to climb Mont Blanc, and we’ve both a huge amount of fitness and training ahead of us in the coming months… Fingers crossed!
I’m in awe of what your great-great-grandfather achieved – mountaineering must have been so much more dangerous all those years ago, making his feat all the more incredible. Trail to Peak is a good blog for mountaineering/ hiking – though a lot of Drew’s hikes are stateside, he has done the Tour du Mont Blanc (a seven to ten day hike which circles Mont Blanc) and a few other European hikes, so perhaps you’ll find it useful. I’ve not climbed anything as high as Mont Blanc, though I love hiking across the UK (and the adverse weather conditions could well be considered useful preparation!) and have been on a few day hikes in France (my highest is still a mere 1501m, a couple of thousand shorter than Mont Blanc!) In terms of tips, I’d make sure your boots are well worn in (to save uncomfortable blisters), that you wear plenty of layers (since the temperatures will drop significantly) and that you take plenty of water, for both the ascent and descent. I’m not sure if there’s still snow in June on the peak (possibly), but if there is you might want to consider a pair of crampons.
Thanks for the great tip about Trail to Peak! And about the boots, there is lots of snow on the peak so they have to be specific boots designed for crampons. So I can’t wear my normal well-worn-in walking boots… Fingers crossed that the boots we hire in Chamonix fit well! Great tips though and good for you hiking around the UK. I’m really keen to hike around Norway this spring too – do let me know if you find any good blogs on hiking in Norway or if you’ve been there yourself!
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I’m sure they’ll have been worn in (to some extent) by others, even if they’re not your own well worn-in boots! I have family in Norway (on my mother’s side), but haven’t been out there since my second cousin’s wedding over a decade ago. The best I can offer you on that front is Nerd Nomads, who publish some hiking-related posts typically on hikes in northern Norway; if I come across any other blogs, I’ll drop you a line.