“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
-Sir Edmund Hillary-
I am the last of four to reach the opening of cave. We just ascended with an easy cable car ride. In barely 15 minutes it took us from the Chamonix village to the top of Aiguille du Midi at 3,842 meters. Where the tourists and sight-seers go right, we go left. It’s time to put on my crampons. As I take my first steps onto the ice floor, the fresh breeze draws my attention to the opening of the cave. The excitement and anxiety of stepping into the unknown is perfectly illustrated by my cautious walking, getting a good footing on my crampons. I reach the end of the cave, giving me a clear view of the white mountain ridge. This is my first ever alpine experience and I am looking down a ridge of 40 centimeters wide, with very long and steep slopes running down on both sides. I have no time to appreciate the beauty. For now let’s get down this ridge…
Ever since I started working at an outdoor store during my studies, I thought about climbing a mountain. Adventure was already a main topic, but climbing mountains, in snow, at high altitude, was still far away. Talking about it with my colleagues and made it into a real thing. In the back of my mind I made a commitment that one day I would venture for a climbing experience.
With colleagues we joked about the idea, but with one colleague and friend I knew it was more than just an idea. Only when we talked later after we both had left the old job some time, it came to a real promise. And when I make a promise, I go all out to make it. We would set out to the Mont Blanc in France.
Although my preparation wasn’t the best, I was confident that I could handle it. But the first day I learned this was something else altogether. The guides had tested us on the first day, and were honest in two observations. First, the weather for our trip was not optimal. Bad weather meant clouds, bad visibility, and hard winds. This meant that even when it was safe enough, speed was the most important aspect to make the longer route to the Mont Blanc, via the Traverse route, into a success. Second, I wasn’t fast enough. I managed so far and took pride in my accomplishments, but according to the guides it wasn’t enough.
“It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks.”
-the three rules of mountaineering-
We decided to split up. Each heading out with one guide. My friend went for the long route to Mont Blanc, and I went to climb to Mont Blanc du Tacul. A technical and satisfying climb to a rocky summit at 4248 meters. In this article I want to address the things that went through my mind, when I rhythmically stomped my way up a mountain. One of the most adventurous, daring, and beautiful experiences of my life.
- A mountain doesn’t care about you, what you say, or how you feel
When you step onto the mountain, it doesn’t care what your level is. It doesn’t make it easier if you are a beginner. It is just big rock, with snow and ice. The weather can be unforgiving as well. You battle yourself and you battle nature. Nature doesn’t lose, and you can’t win.
- It is unforgiving
If you take a wrong step and fall into a crevasse you could be finished. If you just happen to walk under a serac and it crumbles, you are finished. If you fall of the wrong side of a rocky mountain, you could be finished. You don’t conquer a mountain, it lets you.
“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.”
- You can never plan or calculate everything
You set out on a voyage and there will definitively be things you didn’t count on. The weather, losing or breaking your gear, a delay that shakes up your schedule, or something even worse. Anyway you will have to get to the summit and get safely down again. There is simply no option for quitting.
- You set a goal without the guarantee you will make it
The randomness and chance factor can upset your plan completely. No matter how fixed your goal is, the power of the mountain can force you to change it. Determination and will are really important, but fighting nature is a battle you cannot win.
- One step at a time, is the only way to reach the summit
When I left in the middle of the night, I knew I had a long journey ahead. Eventually it would take 7 hours to reach the top and go back down. And then I had to go down to the valley. Although I had no idea on the mountain how long it would take, there is one thing that helped. Think only about the next step. And then the next one, and the next one. There is a trance like state in which you just think about the next step, a flow. It is the only way to reach the top, no skipping or cheating, you have to take every step.
- If you can climb a mountain, anything is possible
I understand why people have been attracted to climb mountains, and explore mountain regions. It is unbounded. If you climb a mountain, anything is possible. You have conquered your own mind. If you can climb a mountain, you can take on any journey. All it takes is one step at a time.
In many ways climbing a mountain is a metaphor for life. We all climb some sort of mountain. And the lessons learned at high altitude, made me think about the stuff at home or work in a different way. Whatever you take out of adventure or challenge is trivial. The most important thing is to put yourself in that position.
“The mountains, the forest, and the sea, render men savage; they develop the fierce, but yet do not destroy the human.”
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