Blog article
See all stories »

Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Inspiration…

The title of Sir Ranulph Fienes’ Autobiography (also a reference to Lord Byron for the literary amongst you). Sir Ranulf has long been a particular hero of mine. I remember following his famous Transglobe expedition which circumnavigated the globe via both poles. His amazing ability to maintain the stiff upper ‘English’ lip even when losing toes and fingers through frostbite during his ‘manhaul’ across the Antarctic in 1993. His 7 marathons in 7 days only 3 months after open heart surgery. His recent sadly unsuccessful attempt on Everest at the grand age of 65.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Challenge… 

Well all this recent publicity has got me and a small group of shall we say ‘far from intrepid’ explorers thinking about attempting ‘for us’ a similarly ambitious venture. So Joanna, Paul, Tabby and I will be setting off to climb Monte Rosa. Switzerland’s highest peak towering some 600 feet over the Matterhorn on 31st August. The climb will take anything from 3 days to a week depending on conditions and will include the use of Ice Picks, Crampons Ropes and all that jazz

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Blog…

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - The climb - 01-02 September 2008 (PW)

Monday

Woke early to sound of gushing mountain river outside hotel…as apposed to my daughters wanting breakfast…breakfasted with team…clear apprehension from Tabby and I…less so David and Joanna…what did they know that we didn’t???... having packed and repacked made our way to meet guides…an interesting mix of Italian mountain folk one speaking near perfect English the other…not…should be interesting when communication required though assume “help me” is pretty universal…started climb rather gently but soon ascending to scrambling over boulders ever increasing in size and steepness… wildlife was sparse but included frogs and mountain goats…after several hours of climbing rain set in  making already difficult terrain very slippery…absolute care required on every step…seemingly endless climb eventually plateaued at ridges with quite literally bottomless drops…some rope assistance over particularly treacherous areas…best advice received: don’t look down…eventually reached hut at 3000m+ just below snow/ice line…never has a wooden hut been more appealing…welcome to mountain life…pasta…never has pasta tasted so good!...slowly the team relaxed soon giving way to tiredness…but bed did not bring sleep…

Tuesday

Woken early this time by our guides alarm and general movement in the hut after a poor nights sleep at altitude…preparations for the day were well underway by 0500…departed before sun rise under clear skies…crampons and ice picks at the ready…roped together we set off snaking our way up the mountain…slow progress made across endless snow/ice fields…over glaciers…began to climb with our first peak in sight…overheard guides refer to us as “intermediates” as they discussed route to top…after a brief (very brief) introduction to how to use an ice pick we again set off…as the mountain began to steepen we all dug in…as the mountain turned into a near vertical wall of ice we were all tested to the limit…one wrong step now and it was a long way down…I for one did not want to put to the test our guides ability to hold us if we did fall…sheer grit and determination got us through an incredibly steep section…we soldiered onto the peak where sheer elation took over…after much back lapping and picture taking we then made our decisions on our decent with the weather forecast to close in on Wednesday…David and Joanna incredibly headed for another peak while Tabby and I decided to begin our decent…after a short (too short) break we began to climb down the mountain heading for a lift station several hours away to take us back to base camp…to make matters worse we were under time pressure to reach the station…after what was without doubt the most physically demanding thing I had ever done we now needed to descend across ice, crevice fields, rock, melting glaciers, mountain ridges, more rock rapidly...i am still not sure how we made it but we did…we made the station with literally minutes to spare…met by an elated David who had taken the “quick route” down…there followed much reflection…mixed emotions…relief…exhaustation…but a real sense of achievement…

Many thanks to David for organizing what was a truly amazing trip and to our sponsors…PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - The climb - 01-02 September 2008 (DP)

‘That was trippy’

In the words of Jodi in Pulp Fiction ‘that was f&%% trippy’ both figuratively and literally. I will never forget the moment Joanna my dearest friend slipped on mud and all but went over the edge of a 400 meter ridge on our decent from Pyramide Vincent on Monte Rosa. Apparently all I could muster was a chirpy English ‘you alright darling’

Sunday

Joanna and I picked up Paul and Tabby from Milan, Malpensa on Sunday afternoon in the knowledge that storm warnings had already shortened our climbing time from four days to two. Reports of deaths on Monte Rosa in a recent storm re-enforced our decision to try and get up and down the mountain as fast as possible.

Monday

Daybreak on Monday saw a little cloud but nothing too bad. We met our guides Nicola and Oswaldo. Oswaldo turned out to be something of a local mountaineering legend having opened up several new routes up the mountain. Our selected route up Monte Rosa took us up the west side from Gressoney with plans to stay at Quintino Sella on night one. I think Tabby and Paul were lulled into a false sense of security in the first hours by an easy track with few boulders.

However this matured into full scale bouldering with 45degree slopes all well roped by pretty hairy for beginners particularly when hailstones started to pelt us in the early afternoon. According to Nicola we were always half an hour from easier slopes.

Tabby and Paul coped admirably particularly given Tabby’s outrageously bad blister. The terrain was suitably inhospitable

The Quintino Sella is a family run operation with absolutely charming staff and excellent food. Nicola and Joanna introduced us to Scorpa a very Italian game of cards played in teams of two and requiring the sort of cunning strategies adopted by Monty and Rommel.. Now Scorpa it turns out is a great gauge of character. And yes this is one very competitive group. Needless to say Nicoila and I trounced Joanna and Paul whilst Tabby tried to avoid throwing up from altitude sickness. Well at least fear and feeling as sick as a parrot cured her dread of sharing a room with strangers and no showers. I suspect that girl will take much from our little adventure!

Scorpa was followed by Italian Monopoly somehow trading the via Roma for the Strand seemed hardly fair but good fun was had by all although Joanna did denounce the game as a capitalism gone mad.

And then to bed

I had pre-warned Tabby and Paul not to expect much sleep and boy was I right . The combination of altitude and a 4;30 am breakfast really is not conducive to sleep. The night was punctuated by over hydrated climbers braving the trip to outside loos. Now given it is minus 12 outside you would think they might put at least a walkway to the toilets. But no you have to pick your way through a scree/boulder field. Paul apparently very nearly ended his climbing career prematurely on his second visit. I entertained Joanna with Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’ for an hour or so as neither of us is used to a 9:00pm bedtime. For those of you who have not read it he gives some excellent tips on avoiding drugs, alcohol and sexual addiction.

Tuesday 5:00am

Despite Nicola’s 4;30am alarm we managed to avoid getting out of our dorm number 9 until 5:00am. With three layers of bunk beds getting in and out of bed requires the skills of Chris Bonnington even before the day begins.

Morning ablutions are not a pleasure in the dark outdoor wash rooms And it was very cold. Despite promising myself that I would do my own harness and crampons I still had to stand like a school kid while Nicola buckled me all up. Today was a day of being roped up the glaciers have moved significantly since my training run and there are so many visible crevasses that it all seemed a bit more scary. I was lashed to Tabby which although not an unpleasant experience was a little worrying as she had admitted to bouts of fainting. Believe me  when you have a set of razor sharp crampons 10 feet above you on an ice wall the thought of her passing out and spearing your skull is not a pleasant one.

A beautiful day

As forecast Tuesday turned out to be a classic day on top of the world. We set out at 6:30 into a winter wonderland. This is truly an amazing mountain with the most undisturbed white slopes I have ever seen. Monte Rosa is not only high it’s BIG boasting some seven 4,000 meter plus peaks. Our goal according to Nicola was the Liskam Nose which he claimed involved only one difficult ascent. Well that was an understatement the conditions were treacherous on a 200 meter high ice wall which at one point was at least 70 degrees and unrelenting hard ice that Tabby could not penetrate with her axe. I was ok until even the guides started some serious discussion with each other as to whether this was wise or not with such novices. I don’t speak much Italian but in any language you can tell when people are worried. We battled away on that slope for what seemed like an eternity but my God the reward was spectacular.

A perfect day we celebrated Paul and Tabby’s first 4,000 meter peak the Lyskam Nose with a small flask.

Our second reward for our efforts was more rocks. Nicola judged the icy decent on the other side of Lyskam’s nose as just too hard for us. Instead he went for what turned out to be uncharted territory that the guides admitted had changed out of all recognition since their last trip. A sort of semi vertical boulder and scree field which terminated in an icy slope that  Tabby just could not stand up on.

The Bad decision

At this point elated by the first peak Joanna and I took the bizarre decision to do another one. Paul and Tabby exhausted by Lyskam’s Nose decided to head to the Gnefetti Hut for a rest and then a rendezvous at 2,000 meters for the lift to the sanctuary of Sami and her beautiful little Nordend Hotel. Our chosen peak Pyramide Vincent was nowhere near as hard as the Ice Wall of Lyskam’s Nose but it was another two hours climbing which in retrospect was a mistake that nearly led to Joanna slipping over that ledge after 10 hours of non stop climbing and no food. This said the views were spectacular and we were blissfully unaware of the crevasse field that lay ahead on our decent.

Now crevasses are interesting things in that most of the time you are not aware that you are crossing them. Nicola tells me that on a ‘first run down on skis’ last season he and another guide fell into five. These things are incredibly beautiful but also very, very deep and for some reason it seemed that recent warm weather on the lower glacier slopes had caused them to become very visible requiring us to pick our way through several kilometers of cracks many of which required a reasonably athletic jump on some very tired legs. I think it’s the first time I ever heard Joanna swear when she jumped and looked into a particularly deep crack. Apparently all this crevasse hoping had clearly taken it’s toll on Tabby and Paul. We discovered by radio they had fallen half an hour behind us and were nicely on schedule to miss the last lift down, get stuck in the oncoming storm requiring a climb back up to a refuge and a possible 3 days stuck in a hut. It was around this time that I began to seriously question my leadership skills.

The Final descent

I am told that most mountaineering accidents happen on the way down when tired legs and minds start to kick in. It is hard to describe the 100% concentration required on both ice and rocks. It is literally imperative to concentrate on every step. This I think is the very essence of mountaineering there is no space in your head to worry about anything except the next step. Well Joanna and I decided  to have a small row over something that really is not important now. Within minutes of that diversion she slipped and fell on a seriously treacherous ridge. I am not sure whether it was tiredness or the distraction of our row but certainly had she gone over it would have been a source of perpetual guilt. All I can say is thank God for that rope she managed to grab at the very last moment and the appearance of Oswaldo, Tabby and Paul 5 minutes before the last lift down.

A big thank you to our sponsors

DP

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - The climb - 01-02 September 2008 (TLA)

There is no way I was ready for this!

After weeks of planning and nurturing the idea of climbing Monte Rosa for a good cause seemed like a fun and exciting experience. Somehow in my shallow mind my deepest worries were about no toilets, no showers, no hot water, possible no vegetarian meals and having to share a room with a number of people I have never met. For some reason my brain did not acknowledge the preparation (because going to the gym 4 times a week just is not enough!) and the risks involved.

Every time friends and family tried to talk me out of it I was somehow too cocky to listen to anyone’s pledge.  Obviously every time I heard of how hard it was and how prepared I had to be I looked at David only to hear a confident and comforting “you will be fine!” Not even a week before we head out to the mountain the sad news that 2 experienced hikers had died in a storm in Monte Rosa made me quit the idea.

The trip started on a raining Sunday morning when Paul came to pick me up on his way to the airport. If we were at all superstitious we wouldn’t have made the trip to Gatwick as just before leaving the building he managed to get a flat tire. I guess we could have read that as a sign.

We flew to Milan (shame! Never been there and no time for shopping!) where we met David and joyful  Joana for the first time. We enthusiastically questioned her about her previous experience in Monte Rosa on our way to Gressonet.

After checking and double checking we all had the complete kit and backpacks were ready, we had a nice “last meal” and an early night to be ready for tomorrow.

Monday morning comes and it’s now the time to start our adventure; I was beyond excitement on our way to meet the guides. We took the chair lift until I don’t know how many meters and started the climb.

I also sadly ignored the best possible advice of “Break the boots!”  and after only one hour of climbing I started to feel the rubbing just above my left heel, it did not matter how much anti friction cream I rubbed on I was starting to feel the blisters. We had to stop so I could put a gel plaster and add a silk sock.

From day one you have to keep a high level of concentration, always thinking of your next step, when you start looking around seeing how far you have already come and how much still to go you start to feel the tiredness.  The rain started to drop and it soon became little pieces of ice, and now you have to focus even harder as the stones get slippery, somehow it just doesn’t seem to end! I was tighten on a rope to my guide towards to the top as we were going to pass through some risky bits. Seriously, I don’t even know how to describe it!

I can’t say I got used to the altitude. After arriving in the hut I really couldn’t eat, taking painkillers for headache and breathing hard. It was almost dinner time when I finally managed to get back to my normal self and enjoy a game of monopoly.  When people tell you that no one sleeps on huts, it is true. I don’t know if it’s the excitement for the next day or the luck ones who manage to fall in a deep sleep and snore or most likely the constant trips to the toilet after so much drinking (water)

Next day, out of the hut, you look down and beyond and all you can see are the clouds below you.  We put the crampons on, get divided in 2 groups as its every 2 for a guide and get attached by the rope. There we go again, walking in the endless white, up and down, kind of like a penguin so you don’t crush the crampons on each other.  This is definitely a nice day, we knew we had  a long day ahead if we wanted to make the most of it, a storm was on its way and we wanted to reach the top when the sun was shining. Looking at the pictures now it just doesn’t make justice, you have to be up there to understand how amazing it is.

I have never been strong on my left hand (actually I have never been physically strong full stop!)but we reached a part where we needed to use the ice picks as a support on our left side, until today my arm is still numb. I am a complete beginner so it’s hard to describe how steep it was! We were practically laying on the ice, pushing with the crampon and trying to stay attached by knocking the ice picks on it. Turned out it wasn’t easy to break the ice! It just didn’t go in as I have seen on movies or imagined, you keep knocking the ice pick and nothing happens. I struggled more than I would like to admit, I was gasping for air and had to stop every now and again to regain some energy and breathe. I can’t say how long it took us to reach the top but I still have the feeling of “I have made it!” We were just above 4000m, in where they call the Nose. We stop to rest, take pictures, celebrate, I was surprised and somehow glad when David handed me a flask of rum and some crazy juice. I was happy to have reached the top but still dreading the way back down. My body was in pain, I had cramps, dead arm and my muscles were tight.

The descending (not sure if I can call that as it still had a lot of climbing to do!) was just as hard. We took a “new” way as I would find out much later that was a mountain of loose stones. At this point I was actually scared, not only of hurting myself but any wrong step stones would fall toward somebody else, or even holding for support in the wrong place means the block would fall on me. I wished I could have sat down and slide downhill but it wouldn’t have helped either. So as the whole experience, was little by little, always thinking and concentrating on the next step, testing for loose stones so you won’t put your weight on them, trying to get 3 point of contact (I remember that from some crazy lesson on the climbing wall at the gym!) Trying as hard as I possibly could to keep focus and not wonder off to what the hell I was doing here? Do this people now this is my first time ever??? Almost at the bottom I missed a spot with my crampons as they just wouldn’t  fix on the ice and slide  down, I managed to stick my ice pick and was hanging by it, listening to the guide Nicolas behind me scream to stand up otherwise I would drag him and David down the mountain with me. Not that I wasn’t trying! It looks pathetic now playing it in my head as my feet would just slide down and not go in the ice, I couldn’t get any grip on it. I managed to slide down a bit further until a soft spot with snow to put my feet in and get up. Sorry guys.

After another 5 minutes stop for air and hot tea, David and Joana decided to go a different way whereas Paul and I were keen in making our way to the hut for a well deserved rest. However to get to the nearest hut, or down the mountain even, we would have to cross the glaciers. It was now foggy and extremely hot, the idea on being on pure ice when I was melting myself was far from comforting.  You look inside the cracks and its light blue with no real end to it, not that I could see anyway.  I think this was one of my favorite parts, it is amazingly beautiful but you just don’t want to stop there, I deeply regret not taking pictures of it.

Finally a little more slippery stones to climb and we reach the hut. I take my shoes of to see the state of my feet, and go join Paul to start planning on what to eat and wait for the rest of our crazy team. We ask our guide trough a mix of French and Italian if he wants something only to hear that we have 10 min there to start going down again. I do remember being 2:30pm and he saying that the lifts close at 5pm and it would take us approximately 2 hours and a half to get there. Me and Paul look at each other a little confused and try to say that we were exhausted, cant we sleep in the hut? Go down tomorrow? Apparently the weather would go really bad the next day and it was likely we would either be stuck there or go down in a bad weather. We quickly drank our tea and put the boots back on and from what I can say started rushing down a mountain. I don’t remember how many times I slipped, hurt my knee, lost sight of my guide as he was trying to encourage us not to stop; I remember thinking that I would be lucky to get out of there with just a broken leg. We passed again glaciers, loose stones, had to grab hold of the rope and stay close to the mountain as just on my right side, a wrong step would take me to my last fall. There were parts where there were no rope to help, it was just a tight strip of rocks, I looked back at Paul in disbelief, speechless but I guess the look in our face said it all. We went up and down, it seemed endless. We finally reached the ski lift 5 minutes before it closed. A cheerful David was waiting for us, apparently our guide had “radio” them saying we wouldn’t make it in time. We rushed our good bye to our wonderful and on my mind definitely crazy guides!

I don’t think any of us could stop talking about the whole experience. It is definitely a sense of achievement, by far the most physical challenge of my life. It’s a feeling of survival and instincts; it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I know I struggled, and did not make it in style! But I have made it, I have climbed my mountain.

TLA

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - The night before - 31st August 2008

Having flown into glorious sunshine and 26 degrees at Milan we soon ascended (David, not Joanna, was driving) to "base camp" where the temperature was considerably cooler. Following a kit check and "team meeting" in the (extremely hot) sauna we took our "last supper" in the earily deserted hotel sampling some of the local dishes (and wine, for medicinal purposes only) before heading to bed for an early night ahead of our big day tomorrow. PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - More tragic news (this time from Mont Blanc) 24th August 2008

More tragic news this time from Mont Blanc (http://news.bbc.co.uk/mobile/bbc_news/top_stories/757/75797/story7579702.shtml).  We have decided to hold on our flight booking for a couple of days until we can get sight of a weather forecast.  We clearly need to take into account the recent weather conditions. We will not set off with any bad weather threatening.  PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa - Tragic news (causing us concern) 19th August 2008

Tragic news from Monte Rosa is causing us concern (http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/3605186.Climber_freezes_to_death_in_Alps/).  The death of an experienced climber in extreme weather conditions has prompted much soul searching amongst our group.  That said we have confidence in our guides and plan to push ahead until told otherwise. PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa – The Preparation (physical conditioning review) 10th August 2008

A brief review of my "physical conditioning" regime (more football, more cricket in extreme "summer" weather, more gym work, more swimming etc) presumably reveals, to the experienced climbers amongst our ever expanding readership, no real relevant activities for Monte Rosa (hiking with heavy pack, mountain climbing, ice climbing or the like), all of which I am afraid are particularly difficult to come by in rural Hertfordshire!.  But in the immortal words of someone ,the show must go on.  Back to the treadmill for me.  PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa – The Preparation (Snow & Rock) 7th August 2008.

This, our second (in some cases, third) visit to S&R, was a far more productive visit, as we acquired all the principal equipment for our climb, ably assisted by Zenn the man from Oz with a clear passion for the mountains.  Next up a session dubbed "you show me yours and I will show you mine" clearly referring to a kit check!  PW

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Rosa – The Preparation (Monte Rosa) 13th July 2008.

Well having convinced Paul and Tabby to throw themselves into an alpine excursion thought I had better go and check out the task ahead and get some training in. So mountain gear in hand I set off ( Most of it borrowed from Chris Mike a dear old friend who won a race to the North Pole last year and pointed me to an old blog of his last trip up Monte Rosa ’, which proved to be far from comforting, especially the bit a about having to virtually crawl on hands and knees along the Dufourspitze in appalling June weather ). In any event determined to give it a go set off on Sunday 13th July for the dreaded Easyjet to Milan to meet Joanna Schoenenberger otherwise known as ‘Joanna Jones’ for her exploits as a pilot, Alaskan park ranger and large carnivore expert for the World Wildlife Fund, where she can be found re-introducing Bears and Wolves to the Swiss countryside.  Joanna I think it is fair to say is totally responsible for the selection of Monte Rosa for this trip. She described Monte Rosa as a simple hike with the odd boulder to scramble over. ( Strictly speaking Joanna that was a bit of an understatement).

Joanna had organised Nicola our guide. Whose father it turned out was a bit of a local hero. As a mountain guide his father was caught in an avalanche and managed to free himself. But having lost his gloves was forced to dig out 5 other survivors bare handed causing the loss of several fingers. Either Nicola did not understand or did not appreciate my joke about his fathers Piano recitals having suffered.

Nicola’s approach to the pre trip briefing was exactly that ‘Brief’. Actually he just handed out harnesses and Ice Picks and said follow me. I don’t know, call me old fashioned but I expected a few words about safety being paramount etc but no we simply set off into what looked like the worlds biggest rock farm.

The technique for climbing rocks seems to involve very intense concentration on where to put the next foot down. In fact so intense was my concentration on copying Nicola’s every step that I can honestly say I saw nothing but feet for several hours. In fact when we returned by the same route several days later I had no recollection of the route at all.

After about an hour of this grueling exercise it became increasingly obvious that my pre trip training routine at the Corney and Barrow in Broadgate was simply not working. (Mental note must try harder in September and maybe switch to a less potent whisky).

As for scrambling over a few rocks it seemed to me that the place was almost vertical and I seemed to be suffering much more than Nicola and Joanna.

The first day saw my only real hint of any danger when rounding a particularly wet tricky bend I decided to rely on a rock just above my head that promptly came off in my hand. Apparently Nicola thought I was a goner and was already calculating the cost of losing a customer when luck stepped in and I managed to grab hold of a solid piece of wood. So far from Peter ‘The Rock’ representing all those good solid characteristics that Jesus so adored it seems to me rocks are treacherous slippery things that will let you down at the drop of a hat. Next time I am going to revert to childhood and climb trees.

After about 3 hours of relentless climbing our first destination came into sight. Now it seems that the owners of refuge huts take great pleasure in placing them in the most unapproachable positions. Our first destination the Neferti Hut is at 3,600 meters and is reached through a series of ropes, rocks and metal ladders which would be fine if you were not already knackered.

The accommodation is basic but comfortable. Nicola predicted that we would not get any sleep anyway. Apparently he never sleeps well in the mountains, bummer of a choice of occupation.. Something to do with the thin air. Now then this is something it is impossible to prepare for. It seems that there are several very unhealthy effects of this thin air. Starting with increased fluid on the lungs, progressing to Pulmanory Oedema and onto the brain, cerebral Oedema, which makes you go barking mad. The symptoms are not hard to spot one poor old chap in the hut simply passed out in his dinner. After treatment he was adamant there was nothing wrong with him. But his team leader administered Diamox which helps the body absorb more oxygen. Now here’s another interesting thing I tried to buy Diamox before leaving England to no avail, Apparently it is only available on prescription and to get an appointment at my local doctors you have to be sick. I pointed out to my chemist that this was something of a Catch 22 and she kindly offered to fill the prescription if I could get my doctor to Fax a prescription when and if I got Oedema. Seems to me there is an obvious flaw in this process. Joanna suffered a bit of nausea and I simply could not breath and apparently suffered from Cheyne-Stokes Respirations when asleep. Cheyne-Stokes is a breathing pattern which begins with a few shallow breaths and increases to deep sighing respirations then falls off rapidly even ceasing entirely for a few seconds and then the shallow breaths begin again. Yes really pleasant for your fellow cabin mates who probably just think you are playing pocket billiards.

We shared with a charming couple of Irish boys. Well actually shall we say Good Old Boys who were well into their 60s and appeared to be totally unaffected by the physical effort of it all. Now I come to think of it there were many climbers much older than me and apparently far fitter. Mental note must train harder. Indeed two old French boys were seen to polish off 3 bottles of Red with no apparent effects. Now there’s another strange thing I had absolutely no desire to drink even with the evening meal. (Tabby it was Tomato pasta so fine for vegetarians). I am glad to report this was a pure sign of altitude and now I am back at sea level all has returned to normal. Another thing I noticed virtually all mountaineers are the same build regardless of age, which is to say about 4 stone less than me as skinny as a rake.

So could I fall asleep? Well yes but I was so conscious of not getting dehydrated to avoid Oedema that I think I overdid it somewhat resulting in frequent trips to the loo in the pitch dark. Having woken everybody with my first trip when climbing down the ladder from the top bunk I decided on a far quieter maneuver on the second trip. The plan was to reach across to Joanna’s bunk across the corridor and lower myself carefully with my amazing climber’s upper body strength. The plan would have worked except Joanna’s duvet had created something of an overhang and I simply pushed on thin air and crashed 6 foot to the ground. As it turned out this was the closest I came to a serious accident, that is if you exclude Joanna’s driving which has to be said for an airline pilot is simply unacceptable. ( Sorry Joanna).

Another strange thing about cabin life is that it seems the day starts at 3:00am a time which I am far more used to seeing from the other end of the day. So on my fourth of fifth trip to the loo, which it has to be said has one of the best views in the world, I noticed a trail of climbers heading uphill just before daybreak.

Their cunning plan it appears is to get to the top before 9:00 am to avoid the perils of melting ice and falling rock and presumably the 5:00 pm rush hour in Milan on their way home. However we were not to be fooled by this and had a leisurely breakfast setting off at 7:00 am for the famous Margarita hut which sits at 4,500 meters and was inaugurated by Queen Margarita who apparently was carried up the mountain.

Arriving at the Margarita hut was a truly exhilarating experience for me. At 4,500 meters it is the highest in Europe and offers the choice of several easy to extremely difficult peaks within a days climb.

So despite the extreme effort and lack of comfort, am I looking forward to the main climb in September? The answer is an un-resounding yes. So Tabby and Paul keep those running shoes on and get ready for an adventure.  If you are in any doubt why people get hooked on this just look at the smiles on our faces and check out some of landscapes.

DP

2553

Comments: (0)