In Staff Stories

Staff Stories: Matt-Ryan Takes on Mont Blanc

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Matt-Ryan from our Weston-super-Mare store has just taken on an epic challenge for charity and lived to tell the tale. Here, he tells us what he went through to conquer Mont Blanc and it’s no easy ride! Get ready to be inspired…

Mont Blanc Team

Matt-RYan and team get ready for their Mont Blanc challenge outside their favourite store!

The Idea

Working in store we get to meet many interesting people who are going on all kinds of adventures around the world. Last year Jason Smith, a local mountaineer, visited the store to buy kit for his attempt to complete the tour de Mont Blanc (a 170km trek around the Mont Blanc massif, passing through France, Italy and Switzerland).

Jason came back to tell us how he got on and how the kit performed and he couldn’t have had more praise for the kit we recommended him. Jason and his team completed the TMB very quickly and decided to make an attempt to summit Mont Blanc. Unfortunately due to severe avalanches were unable to continue their summit attempt. The avalanches claimed the lives of 9 climbers, 3 of whom were British.

It was Jason’s intention to make a second attempt a year later, on the anniversary of the avalanche, in memory of Steve Barber, Roger Payne and John Taylor, the 3 British climbers who were killed in the avalanche. Jason told me his story and invited me to the 2013 Mont Blanc challenge, an offer which I couldn’t refuse.

Training Hard

We began training immediately, regularly running, rowing, cycling and walking, setting ourselves small challenges every few months to test our fitness levels. We completed the three peaks; Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Mount Snowdon and our local 31 mile Mendip Challenge in 8 hours. We all met up regularly to discuss logistics, timings and to go over safety procedures to best prepare ourselves.

We each reached out to our contacts in businesses to ask for help and support towards our challenge. We were overwhelmed with how generous they were, including Mountain Warehouse for the kit donated to the team.

The Challenge

After 9 months of planning and preparation; July soon came around and our challenge was about to begin.

Weather conditions leading up to the summit day were not good. As we ascended Mont Blanc via the Gouter route we met many climbers who had turned back due to the poor weather. Our first days climb was wet and cloudy, and the team were happy to take refuge at the Tete Rouse hut at 3167m.

That night no one was able to sleep due to the high altitude, we simply rested our eyes and muscles. Early the next day we set off to make the ascent to the refuge de Gouter, another alpine hut only 1000m higher. We made our way across the Grand Colouir, a very steep and avalanche prone section of the mountain, then onto a 4 hour rock scramble up to the 3817m Gouter.

We arrived early afternoon at the Gouter hut and decided to wait until 1am to leave for the final summit, resting where possible and eating as much as we could. At 1am we were the first team to leave, and we broke trail the whole way, making our ascent that much harder.

At this high altitude every movement requires more effort and it becomes difficult to think properly, to the point where even sipping water becomes hard to remember. We slowly ascended, having to stop every few meters. We thought back to our sleepless night in the Tete and the long day at the Gouter and realised we hadn’t slept in 2 days. Our bodies were exhausted.

Mont Blanc Sunset

We made the push to the Dome de Gouter at 4304m to take refuge and recover for a short while. The altitude had hit everyone badly, and some team members were facing the decision to turn back. With only 500m to the final summit the team were spurred on by the charity flag we had promised to take to the summit.

The Summit

The team continued on up to the summit, taking a few steps at a time and stopping about every 10-15m. The push to the summit took 3 hours from the refuge de Gouter and the rewards were spectacular views across France, Italy and Switzerland.   With extremely cold weather conditions the team didn’t want to wait too long at the summit. We quickly made our descent back to the Gouter hut for a much deserved hot cup of tea and a bowl of pasta.

We recovered at the Gouter hut for a few hours before continuing our descent down to Tete rouse. We arrived back at Bellevue 2600m at 12am Tuesday and slept the night in our tents. Needless to say we slept the whole night and woke up nearly in the afternoon. We then continued our final descent to Les Houches, where our journey finished.

For our challenge we had perfect weather conditions. We were able to begin summiting on Saturday morning and completed our decent at 12am Tuesday.

Climbing Mont Blanc is a massive life achievement for the whole team, and we hope to return next year with a larger team.

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