You are going to have more failures than you are successes

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Climbing is like life in many ways. You are going to have more failures than you are successes, but if you learn from the failures they are just steps towards your success. You set the goal, you plan the process, and you work the plan.

Having failed on my first attempt at Mont Blanc due to very poor travel and acclimatisation planning on my part, I did at least come away with some useful learnings:

Mont Blanc is very steep in places. You need to be in good cardiovascular shape and ready to suffer.

The French style of alpine climbing is different from the higher altitude style we used for our other expeditions on higher mountains. The French go fast and light with long summit days, lots of altitude gain in one day.

There is a significant element of rock climbing as well as snow and glacier travel on Mont Blanc.

So, in planning a second attempt, it is easy to fix the travel problems but I needed to build in a lot of conditioning work and get up to speed with climbing again.

The conditioning work is what takes the most time and while it can never be described as easy, it was simple for me because I have Hillside to help me. All I had to do was ask for the help.

I apologise if any of you have been using Brad’s weight vest because I sweated in that thing for months, thank you Brad, I’ll wash it whenever you need me to.

Every week I needed to be doing at least one long hill walk with weight, or doing a distance run. We achieved this by walking to Mason and Bird from Darlington on many Sundays with a loaded pack, get the work done and get my favourite shredded Chicken Salad as well. I think Jax was sick of the sight of us.

I was also able to work in the HBF Run for a Reason 12K to give me something to aim for with the running. I hijacked Jo and Wendy’s training and plans for the HBF run. Thank you, this is called getting by with help from your friends.

The long walk then needed to be complemented by as many other walks as possible, so I started taking the weight vest with me on our daily walks with Sandy, Linda and Sue after each Crossfit session.

Crossfit itself makes a world of difference when climbing. I was so much more agile because I have strength through my entire range of movement on top of fitness. It just gives a whole new lease of life to an old dog like me.

Having said that, it was an up and down journey with Crossfit over these recent months because of the overall workload. I was also being careful with my diet as I had allowed some extra weight to creep up on me and wanted to shift it. So the combination of the increase in work and low carbs in the early weeks often left me short of energy for Crossfit, which could be demoralising, but as always I was encouraged through it by Ang, Brad and Simon.

Now as you may know I’ve had surgery on both shoulders for different reasons, and you can’t climb with weak shoulders. So again some of you may know I do twice weekly personal sessions with Simon to rehabilitate and strengthen my shoulders. We’ve progressed all the way to Bar Muscle Ups, and I am this close to Ring Muscle Ups (this year for sure). We are even working on hand stand push ups, so you can safely say Simon has worked wonders. Thank you mate.

Having put many weeks and months of effort into conditioning that just left the climbing practice which we built into the travel and acclimatisation plans, and that all went well. We did three peaks in Italy before climbing Mont Blanc from Chamonix on the French side.

Mont Blanc itself was a three day programme. One day to get in position for a summit attempt. The summit day itself, 1600m of ascent above 3000m, to reach the summit at 4810m, followed by the descent back to the hut at 3200m, needing 14hours in all that day. Beer, food and sleep at the hut, and descend on Day Three to champagne with my beautiful Lesley and our guide Sev at the hotel in Chamonix.

Lesley didn’t climb Mont Balance unfortunately, she did two of the Italian peaks, but then got a call to say her Mum had a heart attack. She insisted I kept climbing, for which I’m very grateful, and the good news is her Mum is recovering well. Lesley will be back from the UK this weekend.

Many thanks to everyone at Hillside, staff and members, that helped and encouraged me. The side benefit of getting in shape is that I also managed to squeeze in my own private Masters League Invitational Day and qualify for the Masters Games in Melbourne the day before I left for Europe. Thanks again to Brad and Simon.

Howard Thomas

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