Swiss & French Alps, Europe

My 4 Trips to the Alps in 3 Years - 1999-2001

In the summer of 1999, after my brother Mike’s graduation from business school, my family took a celebratory trip to France. Having not been to Europe since my climbing life had begun, my priority was to head to Chamonix, where the peaks soar 13,000’ above the town to a height of 15,771’, to climb on the Mont Blanc Massif. So, as my gift to my brother for his great accomplishment, I arranged for us to climb a sub-peak on the Mont Blanc Massif named Mont Blanc du Tacul (13,937’). We only had 2-days set-aside for climbing so Mont Blanc du Tacul was as high as we could safely climb without acclimatizing further.

Mont Blanc du Tacul is both heavily glaciated and crevassed and at nearly 14,000’ is a formidable challenge. We passed directly under 1,000-ton seracs balanced precariously above us while trying to avoid stepping on our tongues as we gasped for breath in the ever-thinning air.

Ascending from town and summiting the peak in a single, one-day push was an exhausting yet rewarding experience. This was Mike’s first time climbing a glaciated peak as well as using an ice ax, crampons, and the rest.

He did great and even tried to minimize the excruciating headache we both earned from the exertion and altitude by day’s end. Fortunately, a few beers and dame blanches (ice cream Sundays) later, I think all was right with the world again. And, he doesn’t seem to hold it against me, as we still manage to sneak in climbing adventures here and there to this day, including Wilson Peak (14,017’) and Palmyra Peak near Telluride, CO, as well as Champion Peak near Aspen, CO.

In 2000, after having spent a memorable Y2K New Years skiing and paragliding in Grindelwald, Switzerland, with close friends, Joe Suttle and Doug Jacobson, I returned that summer to climb some of the giants of the Swiss Alps.

I successfully summited Monch (13,448’) straight from the Jungfraujoch train station (at left) as well as Trugberg Peak (12,730’), while having to abandon attempts of the Jungfrau and Eiger due to poor climbing conditions — all the more reason to return to this beautiful place at some point.

I returned to Chamonix, France, over Labor Day weekend of 2011 with my climbing partners, Jay and Luis, whom I had met the year before on Aconcagua in Argentina. We did a lot of different forms of climbing, including a rather unique experience where we rappelled down into a cave in the middle of the French countryside and spent the day ice climbing the vertical, frozen walls of the cave. It was my first time climbing vertical ice with two tools and I cannot think of a more memorable way to experience it for the first time — climbing 100 feet below the earth’s surface, enveloped by darkness, in a cold, damp, French cave.

We also did some multi-pitch rock climbing in the sunny, lower valleys on days when the weather was less than ideal in the high peaks. When the weather cooperated, we did more mountaineering and mixed climbing while acclimatizing and awaiting a good weather window to climb Mont Blanc (15,771’).

Finally, on September 11th, the weather looked promising, so we departed town early and took the train and tram as far as they would take us. From there (~8,000’ in elevation), we climbed all sorts of mixed terrain and made good time. However, this was a bold climb to attempt from town in one day, as we started at 8,000’ from the tram station and the summit is 15,771’. Therefore, this was going to be a day of climbing nearly 8,000 vertical feet before it was all said and done.

We started the upper portion of the climb at 2pm and made progress as the wind continued to build. We pressed onward and fought the wind (70+ mph gusts), the cold (exacerbated greatly by the wind), and the altitude (which only got higher with each step). Fifty vertical feet shy of the summit on the narrow summit ridge, we made the decision to turn back for the safety of the hut, where we would sleep that night, as the winds were steadily increasing and it was too risky to traverse the knife-edged ridge in those conditions. It was a tough call, but ultimately the right one.

Upon reaching the hut, we received devastating news from back home of airplanes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The early reports at the hut were confused and lacking details, but it was clear that our country had been attacked by terrorists.

It was strange and disconcerting to be out of the country and away from family and friends during such a tragic and trying time. In fact, it took me nearly two days to connect with my family to simply let them know that I was fine and to make sure that they were as well. However, it was also really interesting to be out of the country during such an event and witness from a very unique perspective the way the world rallied around us at that time. And, I must say that it was the first, and perhaps only, time that French people actually went out of their way to be gracious and kind to me. It was a pleasant and humbling surprise.