I’m exhausted; but I guess that was the point. A long term goal of mine ticked and just before I leave for Pakistan. Sometimes things just fall in to place perfectly in life, and this week has been just that.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley
After shooting on the Eiger North face for a few days and getting a pitiful amount of sleep I found myself driving back to Chamonix, eye lids closing at the wheel, knowing that an hour after getting home I would be hiking into the Peuterey Integral to try it in a single push. I was dying to somehow get a nap in before leaving- desperately working out that if I drove that little bit faster it might allow me for a 20 mins nap. Trying to beat SatNav on the ETA is a pretty lame game, but totting up the hours of sleep i’d had over the last three nights and adding the small amount I would get at the hut that night did not fill me with confidence for hammering out my longest climbing day so far. I had been training all summer for this climb and I had felt so ready for it, but at that point in time I was searching for a way out, a 24 hour delay..anything at all.
The walk in to the Borelli woke me up a bit. By the time we got there I was psyched for the following day, that was until I discovered that in my exhausted state i’d forgotten to pack my camera. For those who have climbed with me you’ll know that my camera is about as important to me as my harness so forgetting the thing was a bit of a shock- what an idiot.
I go to bed too tired to worry about the next day, but a few hours sleep later and I wake up and in dawns on me. There’s nothing hugely serious about the Integral, but it’s just a massive climb with no escape options. Covering some 4500m of ascent with plenty of technical climbing and finishing up on Mont Blanc itself it’s quite the adventure. The mind was aching for a 12 hour sleep but instead I was about to see two sunrises in one day.
Myself at sunrise on the lower reaches of the noire S ridge, © Jeff Mercier
Jeff heading up the S ridge
Heading up the Noire and it was the traditional Mercier-Griffith weather. Cloudy and moody. We didnt understand. The weather man had said it was great weather…much like every other time we had headed out. Part way up I swapped into my rock shoes and we simul climbed up the ridge, Jeff taking the lead and taking us to the summit of the Noire where I would take my block lead. We arrived some time after mid day and after a quick meteo check we descended down the raps of the Noire.
Pretty cool looking Gendarmes on this ridge
Jeff just before the cruxes
Getting a weather update just beneath the summit
Nice to see the Noire summit Virgin again…
Starting the raps
Notorious for their scary and exposed abseil stances we made good time only getting the rope stuck once. The bottom landed us in a snow gully which was great as we’d not drank anything for a while. Its hard to express that feeling of drinking a litre of cold clear mountain water when you’re under a beating sun and your mouth is dry as a bone- its quite the sensation. Fully refreshed 5 minutes later we fired on up endless loose rubble and rock, taking incredible care not to knock anything off on each other, to the Craveri hut. I had figured out a short cut from the Pointe Isolee but another rope stuck and a terrifying climb back up to retrieve it cost us in the time department. All the meanwhile the rolling of thunder and black clouds looming over head wasnt inspiring alot of confidence. Getting caught in a storm on the Integral with no shelter wasn’t really and option- light and fast has its downsides sometimes.
Hmm…water water water, © Jeff Mercier
Checking out my shortcut, © Jeff Mercier
Endless loose rubble to the hut, © Jeff Mercier
By 7 we had arrived at the Craveri. Happy to have all the technical climbing behind us we settled in for a couple of hours to rehydrate and eat something before heading back in to the night. It felt nice in the hut and it was sorely tempting to have a nap even if it was for just 20 minutes! But alot of tea and some freeze dried meals saw us getting ready again for the outside world. The sun had set and there was a half moon rising. The Blanche lay directly above our heads and above that lay the end, Mont Blanc itself; still so far away it wasnt worth thinking about.
The Craveri Hut, © Jeff Mercier
Having a ‘Vertical Limit’ moment, © Jeff Mercier
Naturally we got lost on the first pitch of the Blanche, it had after all being going pretty well so far so it was only normal that we had some mishaps by now. A steep chimney took Jeff up onto a ledge covered in loose rock and he unwittingly sent one down on me crashing onto my helmet- I saw stars and felt a bit knocked out. The helmet inside had completely cracked away; better the helmet than the head. But it sent me into a concussed state (I think!). I spent the next two hours very confused (which same may say is normal for me) convinced that Jeff was a visiting American climber and not sure what mountain I was climbing on, my speech was garbled and I couldnt seem to get a sentence out right- I was aware that I was feeling like this though so just gave up thinking and told myself to focus 100% on the climbing ahead of me. It was a very odd night, I was definitely struggling. By the time we got to the top of the Blanche it was my time to take over the lead. I was thinking clearer now but I still had a massive headache and felt like throwing up every 10 minutes. There was a battle going on in my head- I really wanted to do this climb, more than almost anything else I’ve done in the last few years. I’d trained so much for it, and I knew I wouldnt come back to do it in a day. But on the other hand I was speaking English to a guy I knew hardly spoke a word of it, and I was fighting back the urge to vomit, lie down, and shut my brain down for an hour. I couldnt see how my head would hold it together til the end of the climb but I convinced myself to just try another step of the climb every time…see how far I could get. I knew that if I did vomit then that would be it, Jeff would be on the phone to the PGHM straight away and that would be the end of it.
Top of the Blanche!, © Jeff Mercier
There should be a knife edge arete here somewhere….© Jeff Mercier
We traverse the Blanche and started the raps back down the the Peuterey Col. 900m of climbing lay ahead of us to the top. I told Jeff I had to stop for 10 mins and sort my head out. It was decision time. Dawn was approaching and I had to decide on getting a heli out and leaving Jeff to solo the rest or somehow get my head in gear and finish the climb off. A hot brew saved me at this point. The battle still raging in my head I made the decision and turned round to Jeff and said “we’re going to Mont Blanc”.
Getting a life saving brew in at dawn on the Col de Peuterey
We headed up the Grand Pilier D’Angle as the sun was rising. It was an awesome morning. We were going strong finally, I’d made my decision and I knew that I couldnt be roped up to anyone better right now. I’ve climbed quite a bit with Jeff now and being an incredibly accomplished climber, part of the Chamonix rescue team, and sharing the same ridiculous sense of humour as me I knew that I was in good hands. I was constantly aware that he was monitoring me and it was a great help to know that. He didnt say anything but I was aware that he was having to work twice as hard behind me trying to not only get himself up the route but also make sure I didnt pass out and take us both down the mountain. You cant beat a good mountain partnership sometimes.
Heading up to the top at sunrise (Freney Pillar in the background), © Jeff Mercier
Feeling as fresh as a recently trodden on daisy….© Jeff Mercier
Jeff at sunrise with the Blanche in the background
Jeff on the Petuerey Arete, the horizon might be indicative of my mental state by then!
The last few hundred meters up the arete was pure hell. I cant remember the last time I felt so dangerously out of it in my mind. I found myself having to crawl up on all fours as standing up would send the headache and nausea sky rocketing and make me lose balance. Its funny how just a simple thing as a rock hitting your helmet can suddenly make the possible feel beyond impossible. The last effort to the top was heinous but crawling out onto the top was amazing. Looking back down at Jeff climbing up the last few meters and the whole Peuetery Integral dropping away at his feet was mind blowing. It had been a real epic in every sense of the word for me. It felt a bigger victory for me that I’d forced myself to carry on than actually doing the route in one push. It wasnt a record breaking climb by any accounts but 29 hours and 30 minutes later and we were smiling side by side, finally off the route and happy to have started and finished together.
The final few steps! © Jeff Mercier
Jeff about to top out
Myself and Jeff, psyched and tired at the top!