A Summer in the Life of a Mountain Guide

Heading for big alpine peaks.

The summer alpine mountaineering season sees the arrival of new clients and the return of long-standing ones: Keswick’s Peter Little and I have been mountaineering together for ten years. In this time we have climbed most of the Alps big alpine peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. In recent years we have switched our attention to some of the lesser-known, quieter peaks that have allowed us to hone our mountaineering skills without having to fight with the hoards.

With this in mind the objective we had set our selves was the ascent of Mont Viso. It is a huge volcanic plug, which stands alone rising out of the Italian plain about 80 miles south west of Turin. What makes Mt Viso significant is that it can be seen from the summit of every 4000-meter peak in the Alps. This phenomena was the inspiration for the title of Will Mclewin’s book “In Monte Viso’s Horizon”, where he describes the ascent of all the Alps’ great 4000 metre peaks.

It followed that if we were lucky enough to climb the mountain and have good weather then the view of the Alps should be spectacular. On our arrival at the summit we were not disappointed. Mont Blanc was as clear as a bell some 150 miles north. Turning to the south we could see the Mediterranean.

I have stood on the top of many mountains but the “wow” factor was up there with the best vistas.

July is normally the time that I get down to the nitty-gritty of climbing Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest and most popular mountain. After making over 50 ascents I have stopped counting. What still makes it interesting for me is some of the new clients I meet. None more so than Mike MacNammara who is an American working out of Switzerland. Mike works for a company that converts Jumbo Jets for private customers (Arab kings). Mike had some great stories such as fitting a turntable so that the owner could lay his prayer mat on it. The turntable was linked to the plane’s GPS and was rigged so that the prayer mat always faced towards Mecca.

July was not without its challenges. It was the coldest July since 1937. We endured snow down to the village with hardly a settled day through out the month. For the first year in ten years I did not reach the summit of Mont Blanc. The difficult part of being a Mountain Guide is coping with other people’s (my clients) disappointment.

Thankfully August was good.

But all the fresh snow devastated the plans I had made with Sean and Rob to climb the Eiger. Instead we were able to climb the Monch and the famous Jungfrau before moving to the Furka pass to finish with some outstanding mountain rock ridges, where again we saw no one.

Charles arrived for the second time this year. His focus was on big alpine rock climbs. We started with the very intimidating and difficult Petit Clocher du Portalet. Without doubt one of the most spectacular monoliths in the Alps. A relative short 12 hour day (by Charles’ standards) warmed us up nicely for the Traverse of the Ecandies. We rounded our week off with the classic Rebuffat Route on the south face of the Aiguille du Midi. A week’s alpine rock climbing does not come better than that.

September saw the classic “Indian summer”: beautiful crystal clear weather day after day.

Gerard is one of my clients who both ski and climb. He returned to capitalise on this fantastic spell of weather. We climbed a mixture of big alpine peaks such as the Moine high above the Mer de Glace in Chamonix, as well as pacing ourselves with some less demanding but equally spectacular local rock climbing such as the famous L’Index.

My climbing season finished on the 13th September. On the 14th my wife Jane gave birth to our second daughter Florence. Then the work really started.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *