Climbing Mont Blanc: Setting Sights on the Ceiling of Western Europe
It’s that time of year—the eve of summer, when the earth starts to awaken from her long slumber and I get itchy for adventure. After all, it’s what feeds me. Sure, my weekends are packed with fun outdoor forays all year long. But nothing compares to setting your sights on a somewhat scary goal and charging toward it. Like climbing Mont Blanc, for example.
With all my musings in this blog about why we need adventure, how great it is to recharge in the wild, why we should strive to get out of our comfort zone and pursue the life of our dreams, I’ve decided it’s time to push myself a little. So I’ve signed up for a six-day mountaineering course in Chamonix, France, culminating in an attempt to climb Mont Blanc, which—at 15,781 feet—is the highest peak in Western Europe. The summit is an imposing dome of snow and ice that tantalizes climbers and doesn’t give up without a fight.
This might not sound like much to you, but it’s a bit of a stretch for me. It isn’t super technical, but it poses real dangers and requires a level of mountaineering I’ve never tried. Let’s put it this way: I’ve worn crampons only once, exploring a glacier in New Zealand. I don’t believe I’ve ever touched an ice axe, except perhaps the one that adorns a friend’s fence. I’m not sure what mountaineering boots entail. And I’ve never roped up to cross a snowfield. Good thing my course includes three days of solid skill-building and acclimatization before we ever get near the summit. Plus I plan on taking a class here in Colorado before I depart.
I have spent a fair bit of time traipsing around in the mountains. I’ve summited my share of Colorado fourteeners. I’ve hiked to 15,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. I’ve explored the wilds of New Zealand. I’ve trekked to 18,192 feet atop Kala Patar in Nepal, overlooking Everest Base Camp. (Funny though, this peak is so completely dwarfed by towering mountains, you wonder why they even bothered naming it.)
But I’m pretty sure Mont Blanc will humble me. I’m going to have to dig deep and push myself. So what am I thinking? Well, I’m up for an adventure. And I’m hungry for a challenge. I think I can handle the physical demands pretty well. After all, I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic who loves an excuse to get outside and hike, bike, run, ski, or whatever. Having Mont Blanc as a goal will be the perfect kick in the pants to get myself in summer shape faster than usual.
The thing that gets me worked up is the exposure. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel scrambling along a spiny ridge, or traversing a steep snow slope where a fall could have very serious consequences. Will I suffer paralyzing fear? Or will I soldier through and be empowered by the experience? I’m willing the put money on the latter, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking this is going to be a cake walk. It sounds like the perfect combination of a physical and mental test, coupled with a healthy dose of thrill.
What spurred me to tackle this? For one, my backcountry skiing experience in Jackson Hole put a serious bee in my bonnet. When I was out there hiking and skiing, surrounded by stunning peaks and glistening white snow, I felt an urge to know more about mountains. Add the fact that every day, I am barraged with amazing images of the outdoors—people on mountaintops, skiing, hiking, climbing, challenging the depths of their souls—and it seems inevitable that I would eventually get such an urge. In this line of work, you can’t help but get a little aspirational about things.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
I don’t even care if I make it to the top. I just look forward to tapping my inner strength, facing my fears, pushing myself, and learning some mountaineering skills. And let’s not forget the breathtaking views!
So despite the fact that I am in my 40s and fairly set in my ways, I’m going to follow my own advice and try something new. How about you? Is there something you’ve never tried because it seemed too hard or scary or tough to find the time? Give it a shot! I’ll report back on how this goes for me. But in the meantime, you try something, too! And share with me in the comments section down below.
Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.