One week to Mont Blanc! Training and Preparations for the Summit
Today marks 1 week until my mother and I will hopefully attempt to summit Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in the Alps at 4,810m!
Almost 4 months ago, I wrote a blog post explaining why I want to follow in the footsteps of my great-great-grandfather and climb Mont Blanc. We fly out to Chamonix this Saturday and will spent the first 3 days learning the ropes (literally) and testing out our crampons, gear and stamina on the Gran Paradiso mountain first, to make sure we’re ready. After that we’ll attempt the real deal: Mont Blanc, with a summit planned for Thursday 17th June. There are plenty of things that could change in the meantime: weather might push our summit day to Friday, or cancel it altogether (fingers firmly crossed that that doesn’t happen!), we might get altitude sickness or our fitness might turn out to be insufficient. We have an experienced guide who’ll take those kind of decisions for us. On that note, I thought it would be interesting to note down the various prep we’ve gone through to get to this stage, in case anyone else has their eye on the summit!
I’m assured that Mont Blanc is not a technically difficult mountain to climb, nothing like K2 or any of those terrifying mountain films where people fall down crevasses or freeze to death. I’ve actually only used crampons once, when walking on a glacier in Iceland, so I’m very inexperienced in that sense, but we’ll learn all of that from our guide during our first ascent on Gran Paradiso. There are no sheer rock faces to scale either – its more of a hike than a climb, and it’s suppposed to be relatively accessible to non-climbers too. But one thing we’ve been told is essential, and cannot be taught in 3 days, is fitness.
Before booking the trip, we looked hard into the fitness required. The rough gauge is apparently being able to run a half-marathon in under 2 hours. In 2015 I trained for and ran the Athens Marathon, so I felt pretty confident that I could once again train myself up. My mother is also really fit and usually does more sport than me anyway, so I managed to convince her to join me, but we were also concerned about whether her age (over 60, although she doesn’t look it!) might make it tougher for her. We found a very handy questionnaire to help determine our chances of making it, based on questions such as age, weight, speed while running 10km, hours per week of endurance sport, uphill walking stamina, etc. We played around with it to work out what level we needed to aim for, and it really helped with creating a training plan. Interestingly, the largest single predictor of a successful summit is weight (again thankfully not a problem in our case, as my mother is stick thin and when I train lots, I can slim down too).
We worked out that we’d need to get our hearts pumping and boost our aerobic fitness through running, cycling and swimming. My training plan saw me do about 3 hours of cardio (which I’m not convinced is enough) and a 3-hour-long hike per week. I obviously didn’t always manage this (the 3-hour hike being tricky to fit into a schedule when you live in a city) but at least it kept me active 4-5 days a week.
My mother on the other hand has done far better than me with relevant fitness, as she managed a week’s ski touring in the Italian and Swiss Alps, a hiking weekend in the Lake District and even a climbing wall course! My budget didn’t quite stretch to all that excitement, although I did manage two hikes in the Norwegian fjords a month ago: an incredible 8-hour, 23km, 800m elevation gain trek through snow to the famous Trolltunga; and a shorter, easier 3-hour hike to Preikestolen, also known as Pulpit Rock.
There’s a full list of the equipment required on this website. Most of the clothing needs to be bought, but the really technical equipment like harness, helmet, crampons, boots and ice axe can be hired in Chamonix (although rental is not cheap at €145 per week for all five). I have to confess that my mother has done the lion’s share of finding the kit and equipment for us both, what a saint! We’ll be staying in mountain huts for one night either side of the summit, so we also need to carry overnight things in a decent 40-litre rucksack.
After asking around for recommendations, we decided to go with Mont Blanc Guides. They’re a British company that take several groups up at once, but with maximum two people per guide, so my mother and I will have our own guide and we can go at our own pace, which is good news! This company also organised all the accommodation and food in Chamonix and the mountain huts, as well as managing all the logistics, which makes our lives easier, although they are fairly pricey!
The company we’ve chosen costs €2,095 per person for a 6-day trip, which includes all guiding, accommodation and (most) food, but excludes flights and transfers. We also have to buy or hire the equipment (hiring everything costs €145 for the week) as well as buying the various different types of clothing and rucksacks we require. On top of this you need to get specific insurance (mine cost £84 through the British Mountaineering Council) and the cost of your training. If you already have a gym membership then that will help with cardio exercise, but you really should be doing some uphill hiking to exercise the exact right muscles, and that also has a cost (transport to mountainous places, accommodation there, etc). As you can tell, it’s something of an investment and not something I can easily afford to try at again and again if we don’t succeed the first time!
There’s bound to be more that I haven’t considered yet or that we’ll learn during the week. For now, my mother and I are busy packing and finalising the last pieces of kit, I’m desperately trying to tackle a sore throat that has attacked me at exactly the wrong time, but overall I’m looking forward to it all! I’ve decided that the week in Chamonix shall be my 1-week digital detox that I promised myself back in my New Year’s Resolutions, so once that plane takes off from London Gatwick on Saturday I’ll be disconnecting from the internet for a whole week until I land again the following Saturday! So there’ll be no photos, videos nor updates at all from me while we’re out there – a true escape into the mountains.