Climbing Mont Blanc With a Heart Disease and a Fear of Heights
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And so, it has been realized…
Last year I was intending on climbing Europe’s highest mountain – Mont Blanc, but due to complications, I couldn’t make it happen. This year however, there were no excuses.
There are a couple of things I want to talk about in this blog post. Yes, my fear of heights and my heart disease are among them. But first, I want to clarify something. Mont Blanc is a brutal mountain.
It is a dangerous climb, filled with sections where a single missed step, could mean the end of you. The day we reached the summit, a woman was killed when she was struck by a rock the size of a fridge.
The week after a man missed his footing and fell to his death. Every year dozens of people die trying to scale Mont Blanc.
For those reading this for research for climbing the mountain, please do not underestimate this climb.
This is no hike. This is alpinism.
Preparation is key and essential, not just to reach the top, but to come back alive. 80% of the accidents that happen on Mont Blanc are caused by people either not having the right equipment; not having done the right amount of physical training; a lack of knowledge and information about the climb; no experience in alpinism and no idea of the current weather conditions.
If you aren’t a professional alpinist GO WITH A LICENSED MOUNTAIN GUIDE.
Now, I am not doing any promotion here, but MontBlancGuides, the folks that I went with, are above and beyond incredible. The professionalism I witnessed in the 6-day program (3 days of training in alpinism, and 3 days in the attempt to climb Mont Blanc) was very impressive.
Don’t be stupid if you want to do this. Going solo, or simply with a friend, not having a clear idea what you are doing is an incredibly dumb thing to do. The chance that something bad will happen, is very, very likely.
The reason why I am starting off with this, is because even though climbing Mont Blanc is a risky thing to do, given the right equipment, information, having a real alpinist with you who knows the area and what he/she is doing, and with proper physical training (it is best to start training months in advance if you want to reduce the suffering on the climb), you take many of those risk factors away.
My Training Schedule
Before we move more into my thoughts and reasons why I did this climb, let me share my training schedule with you.
I can imagine most people reading this are looking to learn more about Mont Blanc, so let me share what I know could help you on this intensive climb which (if you go the same way we did) starts with a 3-4 hour climb to the Tête Rousse Hut, followed on day 2 with 14 hours of non-stop climbing to the top and back to the hut.
Day 3 is a 3-hour climb back down to Chamonix.
My training started 5 months in advance. The first 3 months I went running one day, bouldering the next, then running, then bouldering and so on for the rest of the week. I took the weekends off giving my body time to rest.
If you can’t do any bouldering because there isn’t a boulder gym where you live, no worries.
Maybe you are a member of a gym. If you are, just remember: don’t train like a bodybuilder.
What I mean by that, is put those heavyweights aside and do exercises with light weights, but with many repetitions. Don’t forget to throw push ups and pull ups in there as well!
The reason why you shouldn’t train like a bodybuilder, but rather as a triathlete, is because more muscles also means more weight.
Those big biceps may look good on the beach, but are completely useless in alpinism and will only slow you down. So, remember, train like a triathlete.
If you don’t have a gym membership, honestly, if you can find a tree, or something to do pull-ups on, and combine that with push-ups you will get just as good results.
The running is the most important part here. Not just for your cardio level, but also for getting your legs used to enduring pressure.
I experienced no muscle pain at all in my legs after the 14-hour nonstop climb thanks to the intensive running I did. With that, I highly recommend you track your progress using an app such as Runkeeper.
Keeping track of your progress and seeing stats of how far you’ve come helps tremendously on achieving your final goal – which should be to run 10km at a good pace without feeling that you are dying.
Starting 5 months in advance is a perfect amount of time to build your fitness up.
After those initial 3 months, I shifted my training schedule to alternating between running and swimming. Weekends again were off time for resting.
The reason why I made that change is because I wanted to reduce any risk of injuries yet still train intensively. Swimming is one of the best sports you can do to train your complete body with little risk of injury.
The last 2 weeks before the climb I changed the schedule again and I just went swimming – 5 days a week.
Again, the reason was to reduce the risk of injuries while still getting an intensive workout. And the last week, I did absolutely nothing, to let my body fully recover.
While without any doubt the climb was tough, exhausting and I had to push myself at many points, I never quite felt I was completely out of energy. Which wasn’t the case for many other people in our group.
That to me was a clear sign that I had done the right amount of training and I would recommend, for those planning on climbing Mont Blanc, the same schedule, or something very similar.
Take this training deadly seriously as well. The reason why I suffered much less than almost everyone else was simply because I had suffered twice as much before.
Don’t underestimate this or it will come back to bite you at the exact time you don’t want it to.
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Facing my Fears – Climbing Mont Blanc
So… why do this? Alright, let’s come to that question now. Why go through all this suffering and risk just to stand on top of a mountain? It’s a question many have asked me.
My answer each time: fear.
I have this strong calling to move towards the things that I fear in life, ever since I learned what is achieved when you are able to push through that fear: personal growth.
Anything that I have ever done, and anything you have ever done, where you learned and changed the most, came from doing something you feared. Mont Blanc was a scary thing for me for multiple reasons.
However, I came to know myself on a whole new level because of that. It is in the most extreme circumstances where you are forced to look that much deeper within yourself.
If you don’t freeze and drop to the ground out of fear, but stand strong and push through it all, you will discover inner levels of strength and courage that you never knew existed. You will see yourself in a whole new wonderful light.
Not only did I realize just how much more I was able to push myself mentally – giving me quite a boost in confidence in the process, but also the amount of endurance my heart can take despite the disease I was born with.
And while many doctors have told me the seriousness of my condition, I like to live my life, which may be a short one (however no one has a crystal ball), as if I have no condition.
No one tells me what I can or can’t do. What is possible or impossible. I will decide that. And to me, nothing in life is impossible.
Doing this was another way of proving that point. It isn’t the words of other people, the condition or illness you have, what you look like, where you are from or a hundred other things that sets life’s limits.
It is you who does that.
Be aware of that and change those destructive beliefs that are entrenched within you, the ones that shape what you are, what you do, and how you live your life. Never believe something that doesn’t empower you.
Finally, I also came to understand my fear of heights, and what my brain is trying to do by giving me this fear.
Because on that mountain, with parts where if you let go with your hands, or miss one single step you would tumble into oblivion, I have never in my life felt so unafraid of heights.
By observing I understand why.
That fear of heights transmitted such a focus to me, that I was so strongly drawn into the moment and what I was doing, that I forgot the fear. Every single step was a perfectly balanced one.
Every single hand placement was steady and strong. I was drawn so much into the moment, so focused, energized and alert, because of my fear of heights. It forced me into a very deep state of focus.
My brain, by giving me a fear of heights, only does so to help me double my survival rate.
I made no mistakes in those moments because I truly knew and understood the danger of the situation I was in. I came to finally understand this and appreciate that uncomfortable feeling I get when exposed to heights.
This adventure is one I will never forget. For the loving and caring people of my group that I met, the incredible guides we had, the stunning landscapes I witnessed, the thrill of adventure I experienced, the unraveling of my own fears, and the personal growth.
Thanks, Mont Blanc, for all that.