Tag Archives: climbs

Scaling snowy Mont Blanc

Well at last I’m back on level ground after a remarkable journey skywards to the summit of Mont Blanc – the tallest mountain in western Europe 4810m. What an adventure!

A rare moment where the sun aligned perfectly
Battling upwards

I am writing this post from the perspective of a prospective climber who is trying to find out what’s involved in a Mont Blanc summit. Hopefully I can shed some light on this…

First up I know some people will be put off by Mont Blanc’s infamous record of consistently 20-30 deaths each year. Why is this number so high though?

The reason is Mt Blanc is just so accessible and cheap! That brings potential high altitude dangers such as rapidly changing weather, glacier travel and altitude sickness in direct contact with inexperienced and unassuming climbers.

If you go with one of many reputable guiding companies then you should be fine and have a blast. The people in the most danger are the ones who underestimate the difficulty of the mountain and stroll up in jeans and sneakers. No joke!

I spent a good deal of time researching companies and in the end decided on a company which in hindsight I’d definitely recommend, Mt Blanc Guides. They’ve been guiding on this mountain for 25 years.

A big part of making the summit was acclimatising to prepare our bodies for the 11.4% oxygen levels ahead (at sea level air is 20.9% oxygen) so that’s what we did. We drove a couple of hours into Italy to get a feel for things on Gran Paradiso, a reasonably challenging 4060m peak. Well past my previous highest of 2300m I’d climbed in Canada.

As well as providing good acclimatisation, starting here also gave our guides a chance to test our fitness and to give us a chance to see what we were getting ourselves into. A fair few clients bale out of Mt Blanc after they see just how hard this one is…regardless they still have a blast going on other mountaineering adventures around Chamonix.

The first day was an easy few hours climbing from 1800m to the “hut” at 2750m. I say “hut” because it was more like a hotel than what you envision a mountain hut as. This one had a restaurant, bar and slept more than 50 climbers. Alcohol is the enemy if you are trying to acclimatise so I stayed off it.

It was quite funny that first day though as all eight of us were making sure we didn’t lose a step in order to “pass” the silent fitness test. With a couple of hundred metres to the hut the guides stepped on it and it really felt like a definite test of fitness.

Keeping the pace
Keeping the pace
The hut and Gran Paradiso in the background
The hut on the right and Gran Paradiso in the background

That night was almost sleepless for me as I felt my body working hard to adjust to the lack of oxygen. My breathing was heavy and my heart was racing at 92 bpm. I was also a bit anxious about how I would cope with the altitude.

Summit day was a tough 9 hours but satisfyingly all of us made it and the guides cleared us all to give Mont Blanc a crack. We learned how to use crampons, scramble down rock faces, travel roped together across a glacier and how our bodies coped with altitude.

Making our way down above the clouds
Making our way down above the clouds was remarkable

Thankfully I fared pretty well, I felt a slight headache at 4000m but nothing worse. Still enough to keep me slightly concerned about how I will be 800m higher. Unfortunately there is no way to tell beforehand how your body will cope however the head guide said that only 10-15% of people don’t summit Mont Blanc due to altitude sickness.

After spending a second night at 2750m we descended and spent a night in Chamonix (1000m) before we embarked on the monstrous Mont Blanc the next day.

Chamonix sits on the valley floor and the mountains loom all around. I pointed to the mountain peaks from town and found my arm at a 45 degree angle!

The first day on Mont Blanc was similar to the first one on Gran Paradiso except this time we caught a train from a nearby town up to 2400m, then hiked up to our sleeping quarters at the Tete-Rousse hut at 3200m. It seemed like cheating a bit catching the train but with still 2400m to go I was happy to take the metres.

The Le Nid D'aigle train station was the last stop
The Le Nid D’aigle train station was the last stop
Hiking up from the train
Hiking up from the train. Here we are about 3000m (2000 above the town down there!)

From the hut the route to the summit can be spilt into three distinct sections. First up is the 45 degree rock scramble from Tete-Rousse hut at 3200m to the Gouter hut at 3800m (2-2.5 hrs), next the “Gran Paridiso” like glacier travel up to the Dome du Gouter at 4300m (2 hrs), and finally the scary looking path along Bosses ridge, which is a series of narrow steep ridges, up to the summit 4810m (2 hrs).

Looking head on at the rock scramble is a bit daunting and two out of the eight of us pulled out that night. But how bad was it?

This is a side on picture I took from the Gouter hut on the way back down. You can see the Tete-Rousse hut bottom left and the old Gouter hut top right.
This is a side on picture I took from the Gouter hut on the way back down. You can see the Tete-Rousse hut bottom left and the old Gouter hut top right. 600m vertical difference.

At 2:30am the next morning it was time to roll up the sleeves and get into it. A good 12 hours of effort ahead. The remaining six of us, along with four guides headed into the blackness and what looked like a vertical wall with dozens of head torches shining way way up high.

I thought it was quite fun climbing in the dark and really quite safe too even though it was steeper than I had anticipated. Two of us were roped up to a guide who would catch us if we fell and there were steel cables to grab onto for the worse parts. The last half hour the legs started to burn but that’s expected – 600m vertical is a long way.

A half  hour break in the warmth of the Gouter hut and we hit the trail again. It was sunrise and a magical moment of the day where the snow and the clouds turned a brilliant pink. Everything felt so calm and at peace.

Magical moment
Magical moment

Section two of the climb was just a matter of grinding out slow and steady footsteps for two hours.

The grind up the glacier to the Dome
The grind up the glacier to the Dome du Gouter. See the tiny looking people…

From here standing on the Dome du Gouter we could see the summit for the first time. That was encouraging! I had a slight headache here too.

First sight of the summit
First sight of the summit from the Dome du Gouter. Again if you look hard you can see people…

Funnily enough there is a small descent here before we were greeted by Bosses ridge and a rush of lactic acid to our depleting legs.

There is no doubt that the last hour to the summit was the hardest of the whole climb. I never doubted I would make it but it was a physical challenge for sure.

The final push for the top
The final push for the top. Steeeep!

It was fantastic to come up that final slope and be congratulated with magnificent views and handshakes all round. Eve, Sam and I summitted at 9:15am Thursday 11 July 2013.

On top of Europe!
On top of Europe!
Sam and I
Sam and I

It was cold up there, about -10 to -15 degrees so after some well earned pictures and time to soak up the moment we turned back.

Descending felt so easy in comparison, but you have to keep your head in the game because a fall on the descent is more dangerous.

Sam descends Bosses ridge only metres below the summit
Sam descends Bosses ridge only metres below the summit

1 hour 45 minutes later the three of us were refueling back in the Gouter hut waiting for the rest of our party. Out of the six of us who attempted the climb five made the top. Neil made it to within 150m and had a great story how he was on his hands and knees crawling up! His legs just said “enough” but his mind was not giving in.

The most dangerous part of the whole climb was to come – crossing the Grand Couler just before the Tete-Rousse hut. Rocks become dislodged 600m above and come tumbling down the slope at ferocious speeds.

Neil crosses the Grand Couler. A rock tumbling in front of him :/
Neil crosses the Grand Couler. A rock tumbling in front of him :/ Was it his unlucky day?

We did this section in the dark on the way up so we didn’t appreciate it’s full danger until seeing it in the daylight. The risk is best managed by crossing it at the time when least rocks are falling – at the beginning of summer and in the morning when they are more frozen. Besides that we had spotters watching for rocks. If you are caught in the middle at least you have plenty of time to see it and avoid it.

All in all the week of climbing Mont Blanc was a fantastic experience. Highly recommended by me and one to be remembered for a long time. Now get out there and do it for yourself!

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USA roadtrip – Yosemite

Yosemite National Park in California (pronounced Yos-sem-it-tee). Boy oh boy. The closest thing to paradise I’ve seen and the highlight to date of my USA roadtrip.

Waterfalls galore, tremendous glacier carved granite cliff faces, greenery abounds and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range that’s only visible from the highest peaks.

At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak  El Capitan
At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak El Capitan with the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background

There’s one problem though – everyone knows it!

And isn’t that the problem with so many “must see” places? By the time they reach that “must see” status that once secluded paradise has turned into Highway 101.

Now that’s not to say Yosemite was over crowded  or even remotely unpleasant when I was there. Not at all. I hiked for five hours straight and only saw five people.

What I gathered from others was right now is one of the best times of year to visit too. The waterfalls are approaching their peak, the crowds are quite alright, and the weather is just about perfect. The summer crowds of July and August are apparently wild.

But even so the evidence is still there. Trails that are a four hour tough slog away from the nearest car are well and truly beaten in and over a metre wide. And this is at the start of the hiking season too, albeit after the snowmelt. What will the trails look like in four months time?

This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak
This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak, four hours from the trail head

But regardless of this I had a really really damn awesome and satisfying time. Just mind blowing surroundings.

Yosemite was the place I was most looking forward to visiting on this roadtrip and it didn’t disappoint.

The valley itself is really impressive. 1 mile wide, 7 miles long and surrounded by sheer walls of granite that loom 1000m above in all directions.

I knew I only had two days to make my Yosemite experience one to remember so it was go go go.

Day 1 I did a 9km return hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. The mist at the base of Vernal falls was so intense that a rainbow was visible.

Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
The rainbow from Vernal Falls.
The rainbow from Vernal Falls mist
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls

Then I caught the free shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world. 739 metres top to bottom over two waterfalls – Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.

I managed to squeeze in a drive up to Glacier Point stopping at the awesome and very popular Tunnel View lookout.

The weather turned wild that afternoon. Rain, fog, clouds, and even some hail.

The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel lookout
The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel View lookout
That's Yosemite Falls way down there looking from Glacier Point
That’s Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls way down there from the Glacier Point lookout

So so happy the weather played nice for Day 2. Thank-you weather gods. I did the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day. 31km over 10 hours and climbed about 1500m up and down. It was pretty tough but awesome to have accomplished. Eagle Peak was the highlight (and coincidentally the highest point) of the day.

Someday I’ll have to get back here to do the mother of all day hikes – Half Dome (the one in the picture below). Easy right? Only 26km.

Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.
Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of the majestic Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.

Signal Mountain summit stories

Just a cruisy six hour return hike we thought. Ouch, how that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Take a look at the mountain. Looks kinda small right? Like a big hill, no real “mountain”.

But as we found out looks can be deceiving! The trail was covered in snow so with every step we sunk and slipped backwards ever so slightly. Over a few hours and with the steepness rising we felt the mountain trying to repel us backwards.

Signal Mountain - the target for the day
Signal Mountain – the target for the day
The going was tough through the snow
The going was tough through the snow

As we climbed through the tree lined trail I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to have such brilliant sunny weather. Yesterday the prediction was overcast and a high of 3. Just our lucky day I guess.

The views in every direction are so worth the effort
The views in every direction are so worth the effort. Just a little further Gedas!

Once we finally got above the treeline we could see the summit for the first time. Life was good and we were within reach but we also glimpsed the challenging slopes that loomed in the distance. “We’re another hour away” was Gedas’ accurate guess.

At one stage it got steep enough that I and my Lithuanian climbing buddy had to monkey it up on all four hands and feet. The going was very slow and steady all the way to the top.

Gedas and I at the summit!
Gedas and I at the summit!

Now we well and truly realised that this “big hill” was definitely a real mountain. 2300m above sea level and views in every direction. What a fabulous feeling standing a top the snowy dome. For interests sake Pyramid Mountain (the tallest one on the right) is 2750m.

After three and a half hours up and just an hour and fifty back down we both settled for a soothing hot tub and a good feed. Awesome day!

“Keel Train”ing and Mt Tibrogargan

Sliding, surfing, slipping,

Twisting, turning, tipping,

Diving, dodging, ducking,

Mixing, marching, mucking,

Lunging, laughing, learning

Bending, bobbing, burning.

Woah! Try getting that one out in one go! What an action packed couple of days! Had a blast sailing on “Keel Train” in the Saint Helena Cup on Saturday and on Sunday climbing up a picturesque Mount Tibrogargan in the Glass House Mountains.

Scottie hooked me up with a ride on “Keel Train”, a fast Farr 40 racing yacht for the annual St Helena Cup in Moreton Bay.

20/10/12 – Keel Train

After finding the boat through the maze that is Manly marina Liz my cousin randomly turned up for a sail. Small world sometimes.

With all ten on board we quickly donned our “XL” crew shirts and headed out to face the fresh 20 knot northerly.

The start of a sailing race is chaos. Full stop. There are boats coming at you left, right and centre so it was a good thing our knowledgeable (me not included) and youthful crew was on their ‘A’ game… or so it seemed…

Unfortunately we were a bit too eager to tear the race apart and ended up over the line at the gun, but with a quick spin around Torpy had us back with the leaders in next to no time… ‘A’ game recovered.

We absolutely hooted along with the kite up and finished the day in fourth I believe. A solid effort!

20/10/12 – On board action (Credit to Ryan’s GoPro footage)

Sunday was rock climbing day up Mt Tibrogargan – Wooo! And there were ten of us brave enough to take on the challenge – regardless of death stories or the 25 helicopter rescues a year Mum warned us about.

21/10/12 – Mt Tibrogargan from the highway. We climbed up the other side (Nice photo Avin)

The trail started off as a gentle uphill stroll but in the blink of an eye we were scaling up a near vertical rock chute!

Funnily enough it was at this moment that we heard a rescue helicopter hovering above like a bee in search of nectar. It sensed Kelly was on the mountain…

From there the grade eased up a fraction but only once we got to the top could we truly take a breather and soak up the stunning landscape now 364m below.

Short, sharp, steep – and stunning – is an apt description.

Standing on the edge of a sheer cliff top, Cherry pulled some daredevil poses for the camera, assuring all of us she was “both mentally and physically stable”. Whatever you say Cherry… whatever you say.

Anyway thankfully we all made it down intact – albeit minus the hole Kelly tore in her pants. Sorry had to be said.

21/10/12 – The top of Tibro! From left: Peter, Avin, Mike, Cherry, Kelly, Matt, me and Ash
21/10/12 – A seat with a view
21/10/12 – It’s certainly no bushwalk
21/10/12 – Ash, Kate, Zoe and me halfway up
21/10/12 – “The Conquerors” Kelly, Ash and Cherry with Mt Beerwah and Mt Coonowrin in the distance

Mount Warning sunrise climb

Mount Warning had been on my list of things to do for a while and I was looking for someone as keen as me to climb it. Unbeknownst to me I found out I had known that person for a while – Kelly, aka the Mt Warning mountaineering expert after climbing it countless times already.

We quickly made big, bold, brash plans to conquer the mountain in a month’s time in the darkness – yep be on the top at sunrise. Very exciting!

Soon we had seven of us braving the cold and predicted rain, Kelly, Jay (not the one from Mt Barney), Josh (the one from Mt Barney), Avin, Sarah, my brother Matt and me.

Although it must be said just how close we were to losing Avin, “It’s gonna be terrible weather, we won’t see anything once we are at the top”. But in typical adventurous trips spirit he went for the exciting option. Good stuff.

A great trip really is about the journey not the destination.

I quickly figured it was going to be a sleepless night for all of us.

29/9/2012 – The crew. From left: Josh, Avin, Me, Kelly, Sarah, Jay and Matt.

So the day of much anticipation finally arrived. All excited like little kids allowed to stay up late, we prepared ourselves.

We left Brisbane at midnight on Friday night and had plans to catch up with Josh and Jay an hour down the motorway. As it turned out I had a navigational nightmare the whole way down to Mt Warning and we ended up taking the most twisty, dark and isolated roads one could imagine.

“Hey Dan, are we going the right way?” and “Where are we?” were common phrases.

At long last we got to the base of the hike at 2:40am – quite surprised there were at least 10 cars there already!

Jay, quite the photographer was not going to miss the sunrise so we quickly made headway.

Up and up, heart rate went faster and faster, body got hotter and hotter, and clothes disappeared more and more. Put your shirt back on Jay!

As you can imagine it’s a completely different ball game climbing at night. Kind of like mountain biking at night which is awesome too. It makes the climb seem shorter because you can only see your next step – you have to live in the moment, one step at a time.

29/9/2012 – Mt Warning, NSW
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com

We made fast progress, passing a couple of groups along the way and soon found ourselves at the last 100 metre chain rope section. I had envisioned this section quite different to reality; it was a winding steep path up rock ledges through bush. More than achievable for most.

We made it up at 4:30am or so, a good half hour before first light and joined a dozen fellow climbers. It got chilly fast and like survivors on a raft we huddled together to keep warm…no, make that less cold. Thinking he wouldn’t need a jumper, Jay left his jumper in the car – what a mistake that proved to be! Brrrrrrrr

The clouds on the horizon cleared just in time to see the sun raise its head, it all happened so fast and a few minutes later we were the first in Australia to see the Saturday sunrise.

29/9/12 – First rays of sunlight on Australia. Mt Warning, NSW.

Bobbing along to the tunes of Kelly’s backpack, and thinking “I don’t remember this track or these stairs?” we scaled our way back down, stopping by to take in the views and listening to nature.

A very memorable experience – would be great for a first climb at 4 hours return.

I felt underwhelmed though after seeing the light at Mt Barney. It was too touristy for me with the deck built at the summit and the occasional handrails throughout, and the degree of difficulty was quite low.

All in all though I loved getting out on our adventure and I had so much fun hanging out with mates. Thanks all.

29/9/2012 – Kelly on her home turf. Mt Warning, NSW.
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com
29/9/2012 – Taking in the scenery. Mt Warning, NSW.
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com
29/9/2012 – Mt Warning, NSW.
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com
29/9/2012 – Summit views. Mt Warning, NSW.
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com
29/9/2012 – Josh descending in style.
Photo by Jay Ferguson. Website: jnfimagery.com

Mount Mee – arrr the country air

I love getting out of the hustle and bustle of city life, especially on my bike. There’s something about the wind in your face, the endless rolling hills, distant blue mountains, and ummm the ever increasing aching in your legs. So invigorating!

I rode (cycled) from Samford through Dayboro and up to the small township of Mount Mee today. 96km return with a solid 7km climb at 5%. I know, a car would have made that climb a whole lot easier but I love the challenge of getting to the top and pushing my body!

I must admit I was a bit intimidated by the length of the climb but it turned out to be easier than expected – 5% was flat enough to settle into a good rythym.

All in all it was a good adventurous day! Even got caught in a storm for the last 10km and managed to puncture only 5km from my car.

If you haven’t been to Mt Mee I would definitely recommend it as a great day trip. Pack a picnic lunch and make friends with the cows – or if you’re slightly mad like me try riding up it.

To see my absolute two favourite pics of the day click here – Only the best photos.