The Summit! And a race to the bathroom?

From the top of Mont Maudit, we could see Mont Blanc in all its glory.  Unfortunately, its close appearance was very deceiving.  While coming down the back of the second mountain, we stopped for a couple minutes…

Oh, and  should probably take this opportunity to point out that a lack of oxygen tends to make people a little wacky…




Just to put this in perspective for you, I asked my good buddy Google to tell us a little about how much oxygen your body receives at 15,000 feet…





Mont Blanc itself is a very long, relatively uneventful mountain.  The ascent was full of steep switchbacks and lasted for hours and hours.  Every crest we eclipsed unveiled another climb towards the top that subjected us to a little more wind and colder and colder weather.  Finally, with very cold toes and fingers, we reached the summit!


As Carl mentioned, the challenge at this point was that the ascent took us 9.5 hours – and if we missed the cable car down at 5:30pm we would have no place to sleep as The Cosmique Hut already let us know that they did not have space.  That leaves us one option if we miss the last lift… the outhouse-like bathroom at L’Aguille du Midi…

Unlike the next mountain we’ll be tackling which is an entirely vertical climb and then decent, The Three Mont Route has nearly a vertical mile of climbing (5529 ft UP), but has 4359 feet of decent mixed in between each mountain.  Climbing back over both Mont Maudit AND Mont Blanc Tacul was going to take some time.

With the help of a little caffeinated Hammer Gel, Carl and I kicked it into gear and made it back to the Pass of Mont Maudit in about 2 hours – which put us in a good position to make the last tram.  Unfortunately, as we reached the top of the pass, we found 3 guides and roughly 12 climbers waiting to descend the front of the Mont Maudit pass.

I can tell you from experience; climbing DOWN a vertical ice/snow wall is much more meticulous and intense than climbing up one.  When you throw in another handful of climbers that are trying to use the same pass at different speeds, it amplifies the effects.  Ideally we would have had about 60 meters of rope to make the safest decent – unfortunately we only brought 30 meters… Carl deserves a LOT of credit for some very creative rope work.  With a little creativity, we managed to stay relatively safe and get down the Pass.  Unfortunately we spent about 90 minutes doing so.

When we realized that there was no possible way to catch the last tram, our pace slowed… neither of us was excited to sleep in the bathroom – which is essentially an outhouse.  None the less, we pushed on.  I was NOT interested in getting caught on the mountain after dark.

After another hour of hiking, a few large crevasses and an all too familiar ice bridge, we found ourselves at the top of Mont Blanc Tacul – and we could now see the Cosmique Hut.  Unfortunately it was now 6pm.

While we knew the hut was booked, we had met SEVERAL people on the mountain who seemed to be in our predicament – they were returning too late for the last cable car down, but still needed a place to sleep.  We weren’t sure how everything would pan out, but we knew that IF there was any “extra” space at the hut, it would be first come first serve.  Time to hustle…

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain, Carl and I disconnected the rope between us.  At this point, my endurance would have a chance to serve us well.  Carl continued to the hut at his own pace while I trekked forward with as much speed as possible – doing what I could to reach the hut before the other mountaineers who were without a room.  There was no evidence to suggest that we would have a place to stay – but I knew we’d still have the best chance if I got to the hut before the other climbers.

From the bottom of Mont Blanc Tucal the trek to the Cosmique Hut appears very short… but a 3 mile hike can look that way on when you’re in the mountains.  To say it was a draining experience to make it to the hut would be a horribly inaccurate understatement  – but all I could keep thinking was how much I did NOT want to hike an extra hour up the knife ridge just to sleep in the L’Aguille du Midi bathroom.  I was also dying for food – and I’m fairly sure the “food” in L’Auille du Midi at that point was not something we’d want to eat.

As I stumbled into the hut I began thinking about the motivating factors behind this climb; fundraising, experience, bonding, physical challenge, personal growth and a variety of others.  As I approached the counter of the Cosmique Hut, I felt a landslide of emotion coming on.  I knew the person working the desk from the night before – and while she was a nice, she was a less than accommodating hostess (which is to be expected at a 12k foot refuge).  After 17 hours of climbing and hiking, I’m sure I looked like a complete mess.

For what seemed like a half hour, I let my heart out to this woman.  I explained our mission, the challenges we had faced with the  route, then the weather and most recently the congestion at the Mont Maudit Pass.  I spoke from the heart and explained just how grateful we were for what the hut had been able to offer us the night before the climb.  I did everything I could to paint the “Climbing For Charity” picture.

We didn’t spend the night on the floor of the latrine that night.  In fact, we didn’t even need to skip another meal.  As Carl reached the hut at 7:30PM  – more than 17 hours after our departure that morning – we found ourselves with a warm meal, great company and two beds to sleep in.  It’s amazing how grateful I felt for a thin mattress in a group bunk bed with a dirty blanket.







As I fell asleep that night, I remembered once again just how important the Angel Wings foundation is.  Carl and I were exhausted from nearly a full day of exercise – but there are thousands of people who have serious medical conditions and don’t receive even close to the same accommodations while being treated.  I went to sleep feeling fortunate to have the opportunity, time and energy to raise money and awareness to change that.

Thanks for following the journey and helping us with the cause…

And thanks to Mont Blanc and Chamonix for the lessons they’ve taught us.

On to The Matterhorn!!

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One Hump Down, Two to go…

As we journeyed down the back side of the first of The Three Monts, it started to get a little lighter outside… the sun was going to rise soon and we could start to see the features on the mountain ahead of us.  Far off in the distance, we saw the crux (most difficult part) of the Three Mont Route – The Pass of Mont Maudit.

 We could see an increasing clump of lights from the climbers at the Pass… A strong indicator that the Pass was difficult.  It was taking each climbing team a long time to move through this part of the route.  We couldn’t tell exactly how many people were waiting on the edge of Mont Maudit to move through the pass, but the number seemed to be increasing.

Mont Maudit was by far the steepest ascent of the journey.  We moved back and forth across the face of Mont Maudit on very narrow traverses that were comprised of single foot or toe holds and mandated the use of an ice axe to move upward.  It was during the second mountain that both of our weaknesses were becoming clear.

Carl and I both have strengths and weaknesses – unfortunately they are not particularly complimentary as far as climbing is concerned.  While Carl is a very strong climber and very technically skilled (and I am a very novice, green mountaineer), he has not trained in quite some time and his physical stamina is low (this is an area where I am at an advantage).  Without proper physical training, your body slows down a great deal after 4-5 hours of constant physical activity.

Our pace moving up Mont Maudit slowed dramatically.  Carl pushed forward with vigor but it became increasingly difficult to get in a rhythm.  Having this sort of staccato approach to ascension takes a toll on your body and spirit.  Not only was the extended amount of exercise starting to have an impact, the altitude was starting to become a factor.  We were now over 14,000 feet and it was becoming more difficult to keep from getting winded.

As we moved horizontally across a very narrow, single boot foot path on the side of Mont Maudit, we saw the last group of people in front of us heading through the Pass of Mont Maudit.  The Pass itself started with a huge crevasse that had an strange ice bridge across it that took for form of 3 or 4 very steep stairs.  What was unique about this crevasse was that immediately after it there was no place to stand.  The other side of the crevasse was a near vertical climb that relied on using and axe and kicking your crampons in to the snow and ice.  A slip here could mean falling into the crevasse – and there was very little protection your climbing partner can offer in this situation.

Carl’s expertise is what got us through the Pass.  Without it, I personally would have been in much greater danger and had to take unnecessary risks.  With a rope between us, Carl began to climb quickly up and over the large crevasse and began methodically climbing up the steep Pass – one crampon kick and axe swing at a time.  When our thirty meter rope was stretched fully between us, I began the climb.

Both of us climbing at the same time is referred to as a “Simul-climb”.  Without being anchored to any point on the mountain, this pass posed a larger risk than any other part of the journey.  Roughly 50 meters up the Pass Carl was able to anchor in to a rock and belay me up to the anchor.  From there, we tackled the second 50 meters in the same fashion until we reached the top of the Pass, which had a quick but now completely vertical climb.

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Have you ever slept with a garden hose in your mouth?

Have you ever slept with a garden hose in your mouth?
Me either – but sleeping at 12,000 ft is sort of similar.  At 12,000 feet you are breathing roughly 64% of the oxygen that you would normally breath at sea level.  Our bodies are conditioned to breath at a certain rate while we sleep to keep us alive.  That rate will not keep us alive when there is 36% less oxygen in the air.  The result: every 15 minutes or so your body gasps a little for air – which makes it very difficult to sleep.

After laying in bed for about 4 hours Carl nudged me and said that it was 1:30AM and nobody had been in to wake people up.  We both quickly threw on some clothes and ran down the steps to scarf down some breakfast.  We were met with an unhappy cook who told us breakfast was over.
*I’m not too proud to beg for food*
The idea of climbing all day on an empty stomach did NOT sound great.  With a little pleading, we got a few slices of bread, some Nutella, cornflakes and a bowl of coffee.  Four minutes of downing food didn’t make me feel Great… but it was better than not eating.

A group of roughly 40 climbers had already hit the trail as we put the finishing touches on our gear.
We decided that unloading a few extra pounds from our bags would make the next several hours more pleasant.  So at the base of the hill below the Cosmique Refuge we put a stake in the snow and tied a couple bags of gear to it.   An extra pair of gloves, light weight clothing to wear in the Refuge and dirty socks could stay behind.

As we trekked across the valley in the dark, we could see the climber’s trail of tiny lights far above us.  It was impossible to tell just how far ahead they were, but it was cool to get a glimpse of where we were headed.  The excitement of seeing climbers in the distance grew daunting as the night went on.

As we pushed up the first of the three mountains (Mont Blanc Tacul), I began to feel increasingly ill.  I wasn’t sure if it was from the altitude, the lack of sleep or the sludge we ate for dinner the night before.  When you’re on the side of a steep mountain, kicking your crampons into the snow to get a foot hold and jamming the tip of your ice axe into the snow above to climb – there’s just not any time to stop and address a little feeling of sickness.  So we climbed on for the next two hours.

It was only then that we encountered the first flat area of our climb.  Next to a giant crevasse, we found ourselves on an ice bridge that was about ten feet wide and twenty feet long.  It’s important to note that as a rule, you never stop on an ice bridge or while crossing a crevasse.  As days, weeks and years pass the constant change in temperature can dramatically affect the stability of these features on the mountain and cause it weaken.

Then it hit me.  No question about it.  It was the food from the night before that was making me ill – and my body didn’t want to throw up the food… nope.  It wanted to come out another way… and fast.

The challenge with relieving your bowels on a mountain is that beyond the multiple layers of clothing you have on, you are connected to your climbing partner with a rope.  This rope is hooked in to your harness, which is tightly secured over all of those layers.  Not only is it time consuming and inconvenient to undo the harness and disrobe – it’s also incredibly dangerous.  Taking off your harness leaves you with zero security.  Without a harness, there is nothing to stop your fall if something goes wrong.  You are completely exposed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of an unforeseen incident increases when you’re hanging out on an ice bridge next to a large crevasse.  This particular bridge had a very small footpath through the center of it – with the edges untouched.  It is VERY important to stay out of fresh snow when on a bridge.  Those areas could simply be snow bridges with no footing underneath.  But I couldn’t go right on the trail… and when ya gotta go, ya gotta go!

Stepping a foot off the trail, I raced my own body as I dropped my harness and disrobed.  FORTUNATELY, Carl was smart enough to put some toilet paper in my pack the night before – lifesaver.  What I failed to remember:  When you defecate, your body tends to urinate as well.  While I got half of it right – I failed to point everything in the preferred direction.  Yes yes, I just said that.  And yes – I did that.  AND I didn’t realize it until I had a small pond in my thermal underwear.

So what do you do in this situation? Put on a  different pair?  Wring them out?  Stop at the laundry mat?  Nope.  Continue climbing… for the next 15 hours.  All you can do is HOPE they dry as you climb – otherwise they’ll keep you shivering the whole time.

Carl gets EXTRA points for packing Imodium AD (an anti-diarrhetic) our emergency kit.  It’s really amazing that a little pill like that could so dramatically alter the course of the several hours.  It’s a great reminder of just how important the Angel Wings mission to build hospitals in Haiti really is.  Because of the countries I live and travel in (and Carl’s forethought!), I had the luxury of having a a pill to make my life easier and more convenient.  There are far more critical conditions in Haiti – left with no medication, no attention and no solution.  I’m grateful that there are people like the staff and supporters of Angel Wings to help fix that.  And I’m immediately grateful for Carl – who helped stop my from running a bad course.

As we moved on from the ice bridge, we continued on a steep ascent.  We passed over the largest crevasse we had encountered so far (via a very narrow path) and moved over the top of Mont Blanc Tacul.  It was another flat spot and we took the opportunity to rest for a few minutes…

stay tuned for the next chunk of the adventure…

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Gotta get up when you’re pushed down…

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The Ongoing Journey

Welcome to the Climbing Adventure of Brad Weimert and Carl Drew.  Over the first three weeks of September, 2011 we will set out to climb Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn and The Eiger.  This will be an ongoing log of our experiences – through stories, pictures and videos.

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