Friday, September 21, 2018

Lead Like a Guide

Chris Maxwell is a Senior Fellow who works at the Wharton Business school. It is one of the most renowned business schools in the world. It is within the University of Pennsylvania. Chris recently wrote a book entitled "Lead Like a Guide." The basic premise is that the best Guides demonstrate all the skills that are the skills needed to lead effectively in business . After interviewing an array of Guides from all over the world Chris distilled six key skills which the best Guides possess. These are , he argues the same six skills that business leaders should develop.
The Wharton Business school went on to develop an outdoor program for its MBA students. Unlike a lot of Outdoor Management based courses they were able to show transferable results from the out doors to the business environment. Chris was a Key Note speaker at the recent "Summit of Minds " conference held in Chamonix. It is an international meeting with 250 participants from 5 continents organised by Thierry Malleret, director of the Monthly Barometer and Blaise Agresti, Mountain Guide and director of Mountain-Path. - Sort of mini version of the World Economic Forum held in Davos. It was prior to the summit Chris Maxwell gave a short presentation to a small invited group of local Mountain Guides. The presentation was based on his book "Lead Like a Guide How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to be better leaders." It was empowering and fascinating stuff, not least because it shows that people are appreciating our skills as Guides out side of the mountains, as well as what it means to be a Guide in the modern constantly changing world.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Climbing Mont Blanc; A different Strategy?

The majority of people who have little mountaineering experience who dream of climbing Mt Blanc hire Mountain Guides. Although there are some slight variations most of these groups follow roughly the same template. Namely a three day two nights in mountain huts glacier expedition. The main goal is to acclimatise . This is mission critical. The perceived view is that once you have the acclimatisation it is important not to lose it by spending no more than a night in the valley before heading off to one of the Mt Blanc mountain huts , either the Tete Rousse, the Gouter or the Cosmiques hut depending on where you can get a reservation. This has been the standard practice for at least a generation and it still works well for most people. Yet certain mountaineers have begun to question if there is not another way. This premise starts with the view that rest and a good nights sleep is as important as acclimatisation when the "Big Picture" view is taken. For example someone new to mountaineering who has just "endured" two nights in mountain huts with poor sleep and big physical days needs a proper rest before going onto a challenge which more often than not is the most physically demanding thing they have ever done in their lives. Put simply the view that once you have acclimatised you need to stay high in order not to loose the acclimatisation is no longer sacrosanct. For example as Steve House the accomplished mountaineer and Guide notes in his book "Training for the Modern Alpinism" The super-rich Everest Oneabees are acclimatising on Everest and then chartering Helicopters back down to Katamandu for some R&R before flying back to Everest for the summit attempt. They are generally in a better shape than the people who stay at base camp. While this type of narcissistic "mountaineering" can be debated, the point is that quality rest at low altitude can be more beneficial that suffering at higher altitudes. [Of course there will always be people who can not acclimatise no matter what protocol they follow.] While it may be impractical for people with limited holiday time who are on a climbing course to adopt such a strategy, it is an interesting option for people who live and work [say around Geneva]. They can go on a three day climbing and acclimatisation trip , then go home, sleep in their own bed , rest , get on with their normal lives and then return the next week for the summit attempt. This is precisely what Catherine Lewis and I did and it worked like a dream:
For the first part of our trip we met at the road head at the end of the Lac de Moiry. Catherine brought her husband Richard along. This was their first climbing trip together [ever] and one of the very few times they had been away with out their children for a very long time. We packed up and headed up to the glacier for some ice axe and crampon revision work. We then continued up to the Cabane de Moiry. This is an ideally positioned hut because it is high at around 2800 meters [consequently perfect for acclimatisation] and it has a selection of peaks which are ideal for training, they are not too bigger days , so you don't end up exhausted and demoralised
AND the views of the surrounding peaks are as good as anywhere in the world. After our first night [where we had showers albeit cold showers] we headed out and climbed the Pointes de Mourti 3564m. It was absolutely perfect because it has some simple scrambling near the summit which is excellent practice for the climb up to the Gouter Hut on Mt Blanc.
We also had impressive glacier scenery to pass through.
We arrived back at the Hut for beers on the terrace. The Hut guardian had decided to round off the season by showing a series of esoteric mountain based films . After dinner we were treated to one about the great Walter Bonatti. On our third day together we climbed the north ridge of the Pigne de la Lé 3396m. A rocky scramble which took about two hours. From the summit we descended the glacier on the south side, made our way back to the Hut , collected the extra stuff we had left and descended to the car park. Thereby completing a wonderful three day trip . Catherine was adamant that this was a wonderful expedition in its own right. All was left was what is becoming a bit of a tradition: a swim in the Lake. Which by the way was all part of the Master Plan...
PART TWO. A key piece of this strategy is flexibility. Flexibility is the name of the game. It is a mind set. Without it, you might as well find yourself another pass time. You need flexibility so that you can have the optimum weather and conditions but equally so you can get a booking in the key Mt Blanc Huts. For example, instead of phoning the hut and asking for a specific night. The strategy was to ask "Have you any nights free in the next week?" This clearly took the guardian by surprise because instead of saying "No we are full" he said he would check and call me back! Which he did offering us the two beds we needed. It also goes with out saying that a team of two: 1 Guide - 1 client increases the flexibility [ not to mention safety ] of the whole project. Further more I got us a reservation in the Tete Rousse which meant we could spread the ascent over three days and dramatically reduce the effort needed the first day. Catherine drove up from just outside Geneva where she lives and we met at Bellvue cable car in Les Houches. We met at 10.00hrs. Because it was mid September it was quiet. It also made a difference that the Nid Aigle train had shut the previous day. We set off walking to the Tete Rousse Hut on a beautiful autumn day. Three hours later we were settled into our first beer.[Or I did]. I have spent more nights in the Tete Rousse than I care to remember , yet there was something different about this night. It was late in the season it was cold and clear therefore conditions were perfect. Perhaps because of this there was a relaxed atmosphere. More over there were a unique set of Guides in the hut that night. Stuart McAleese was just down from climbing Mt Blanc for the umpteen time this season - who gave us key information - it had been very cold. Next there was Blaise Agresti. The charismatic ex head of the PGHM Mountain Rescue, not just for Chamonix , but the whole of France. In my line of work a very important person. His client was a journalist for La Monde who was writing an article about Mt Blanc - although I never got to understand if he was there to say climbing Mt Blanc was a good or a bad thing. Next there was Thierry Renalt. Indisputably one of the best climbers France has ever produced. He has always been a brilliant Guide and once again he was here demonstrating just how good he is by having the patience of a saint to help an old guy reach the summit of Mt Blanc. Finally there was Sandy Allen. A mountaineering icon and fellow British Guide who was awarded the Piolet d'Or for his audacious ascent of Nanga Parbat. The plan was to leave the Tete-Rousse hut and climb the 1700 vertical meters to the summit of Mt Blanc the next day. The dilemma was whether to have the breakfast offered at 3.30hrs or 5.00hrs. The issue was that there was a spot of indifferent weather forecast for the middle of the day. An early start would potentially avoid this . The flip side was starting too early could mean that at its best we would summit in the dark OR it was just too cold to summit. The information from fellow Guides [Stuart] descending back to the hut was it was very cold. I choose the later breakfast. We left the Tete Rousse at 5.45 hrs. We climbed in parallel with Blaise and his journalist client. The journalist took photos of Catherine and I . We are now immortalised somewhere in the French media. Less than an hour and half we arrived at the old Gouter Hut. We stopped to strap on crampons over trousers and thicker gloves.
Next it was a plod up to the Dome de Gouter. There was a very good track and because of our later start we could see where we were going and enjoy the experience. We were motoring. We stopped at the summit of the Dome de Gouter to drink down some tea and munch on some snacks. Our next stop was at the Vallot Hut . 4300m. We put on our anoraks because the wind was building. We continued on.The whole nature of the climb changes here . We joined a narrow steep ridge, the famous Bosses Ridge ,which was buffeted by the wind . After all it is Europe's highest ridge. Catherine started to have her first doubts. I gave my standard MR Motivator response. "I have never failed above the Vallot Hut and I'm not going to fail now." The next time Catherine looked anxious we stopped to employ the secret "Wim Hof" breathing technique [ something that is set to potentially be a game changer in high altitude climbing] Then finally when people are running on empty and the summit is within touch , something that never fails: A hand full of force fed Gummy Bears. Miracle "food."
A few more steps and the summit was exclusively ours . It was 11.45am. A very respectable and impressive six hours for the ascent. An emotional hug , the summit to ourselves a few photos then an easy couple of hours back to the Gouter Hut and several celebratory beers .

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Mellow Mountaineering

Di, Martin and Clive joined me for four days. Di and Martin had visited Chamonix many many times for skiing , but not much in the summer. It was Clives first time . The remit was to go to some interesting areas and learn as much as possible On our first day we climbed the South Ridge of Les Glieres. It is hard to find a climb in the Chamonix valley with a better back drop.
The next day we headed up the Grands Montets and after having a comprehensive re-cap on all things ices-axes and crampons we put the skills to work by climbing the East Ridge of Les Grands Montets.
The forecast for the next day was for torrential rain. I decided that the best thing to do was to go for a long walk. I choose to drive around to the Emosson Dam and climb the peak Bel Oiseau. Yet it did not rain one drop and we enjoyed fantastic views and even finished up with a swim in the Lake.
Our final day was to be a good way to finish: We drove through the Mt Blanc Tunnel and rode the Skyway lift to the Helbronner summit. We then headed across the glacier to climb the impressive summit of the Aiguille du Marbree.
It was not until we were back at the bottom and congratulating ourselves on a great four days that we had the biggest scare of the week. As we got up from the table and swung our rucksacks onto our backs, Clive let out a bunch of expletives : Unbeknown to him a snake had crawled into his rucksack and as he walked off it crawled out of his pack and attempted to crawl onto his back. Some bezerk like movements threw the snake off and off it slunked.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Its called the "Weisshorn" for a Reason

Our goal for the end of our week together was to be the East Ridge of the Weisshorn. This was to be David Brooksbank's third attempt on the mountain with me. The previous two never even got anywhere near it. In fact last year we headed to the Dolomites due to bad weather. This year was to be different we had a good forecast, and the main pressure was securing a booking in the Weisshorn Hut. With the booking made , we started our climbing and acclimatization by heading around to the Moiry Hut. This is as near a perfect place to both acclimatize and climb some straight forward peaks with out becoming exhausted. We climbed the Pigne de Lé.3396m. David then "agreed " to join me for a swim in the beautiful Moiry Lake and he didn't even complain about having to share it with a few ice bergs.
We then headed back to Chamonix where it rained . Yet we still went rock climb high above Le Brevent and climbed [or swam up] the aptly named Mickey Mouse.
It was then off to the Weisshorn Hut.
The guide book describes the hut walk as "hideous." While it is long and steep [about 4 hours] it is anything but hideous. In fact it climbs up through a beautiful larch forest on a very well built path. What was hideous was that it started to rain , then the higher we ascended it started to snow, yet our optimism was not dented too much because the forecast for the next day was still good. The problem was that it just continued to snow harder and harder. We arrived at the wonderful Weisshorn Hut to be greeted by the Guardian with a warm Grog and to discover we were the only guests... The alarm went off at 3.00am. The sky was clear . The Guardian thought it was worth having an attempt, the bottom line would be to know how much snow had fallen on the rocks on the ridge. so working on the principle "you don't know until you try" We set off to try. We tried for about two and a half hours and then admitted defeat. There was just too much fresh snow.
It was a good job we stopped where we did because retreat proved to be far from simple. The Weisshorn was now very "weiss". The day was now beautiful
We retraced our steps and after stopping for a chat with the Guardian and his wife we headed off back down the path to Randa only stopping to cool the feet off in a welcome trough.
Back in Chamonix and for our final day together we headed up La Flegere and climbed the brilliant Point Gaspard
I think this is one of the best climbs in the Aiguille Rouge giving sustained wonderful climbing and it finishes on a good summit
I was quite tired afterwards. David apparently not so . He took himself off to play 18 holes of Golf.