Mountains: they can make you, or they can break you. They demand respect, and to those who return home to tell the tale, they have the ability to change your life.
My experience in the mountains has been no different.
My journey in this adventure world began three years ago when I climbed the tallest free-standing tallest mountain in the world, Mt Kilimanjaro, at 19 years old with no prior experience.
Returning home from the roof of Africa, I had a new found passion for adventure, and in many ways, for life.
The mountain completely changed my life.
It taught me humility, patience and confidence.
I learnt more in a week-long expedition in Africa than I had in a whole year of my schooling.
I owe a huge amount to the mountain and the people who call it home, for who I am and where I am today.
Three years on, the time had arrived for me to head back to the mountains, and this time I had chosen the infamous Mont Blanc in the Alps for this next chapter. However the journey between the two mountains hadn’t been as straightforward. As with all adventures, and journeys in life, there had been moments of doubts, negativity and adversity that had to be confronted, not feared, to be conquered.
After Kilimanjaro, my hobby for adventure and endurance sports evolved.
The passion grew, and so did the challenges. From ultra marathons to world records, I was doing everything I could to keep momentum going whilst enjoying both the small and big moments in the process.
At the end of 2021, I found myself at a crossroad: to play it safe or take a leap.
The leap would be to pursue adventure full time and chase my dreams as a professional adventurer.
In November 2021, seven months ago, I took that leap.
The challenges since have continued, growing progressively in scale, such as running 17 marathons in 17 consecutive days and rowing the busiest shipping lane in the world, the English Channel.
Truthfully, the first seven months since my decision to go full time have been full of mistakes, successes and several pinch me moments full of gratitude.
On the journey from London to Chamonix (my base for the expedition), I was full of these emotions of excitement and anticipation that had spurred me through my first adventure whilst climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, with the hope of experiencing more life changing moments as I had back in Tanzania. However, expectations are dangerous, as I was about to be reminded during my first briefing in Chamonix from Fabio, my guide for the week. He explained that he hadn’t summited yet this season, due to high winds and the crevasse situation up by the ridge of Mont Blanc.
My mindset was to focus on what I could control, and try my best to ignore other variables such as the weather which I couldn’t be responsible for.
Our week began with climbing Gran Paradiso, the tallest mountain entirely in Italy, at 4,061m.
The mountain was an opportunity for acclimatisation, as well as to practice the use of crampons, ice axes and moving connected with ropes, all of which was new to me.
On Monday, I drove over to Italy, for the start of the climb. It was a brilliant 3 hour hike through the Italian mountains up to Rifugio F. Chabod at 2,710m, a mountain hut where I would be spending the night, ahead of the summit push the following day.
With a 3:45am alarm on Tuesday, after breakfast, I set off at around 5am. Zig-zagging up the side of the mountain, donning our crampons, harness, and ropes as we reached the heavy snow.
The ascent moved at a slow and monotonous, but steady pace. After around 5 hours, I reached the rock, and to my surprise was confronted with a massive exposure on a scramble up to the summit.
This was my first alpine experience, and I was loving it. Clipping into the side of the rock as I moved around, up and over, I felt calm, yet alert. This felt like a proper adventure.
At 11:04, I took the final step up to the summit and was met with the famous statue that looks over the beautiful landscapes of Italy. After a few moments on the summit, I started the descent back down.
After moving off the rock, having dealt with 1,000m drops down the sides, I was presented with a new challenge. As a result of the sun, the snow had began to soften, meaning every other step would fall through the surface. This slowed the team down, as a few times members of the team became stuck and had to dig out their boots from the snow.
By 3pm in the afternoon, I made it back to the same mountain hut I that had stayed in the night before, and enjoyed a well deserved lunch to refuel the 5,700 calories burnt during the summit push.
The following day, after a short hike back down through the trees, I made the transfer back to Chamonix in France, with the evening to sort final kit checks.
Although I’d been successful on Gran Paradiso, the hard work was just about to start. Mont Blanc was up next, and there was no time for rest.
On Thursday, I began the journey up Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe.
Standing at 4,809m, the mountain is smaller than its counterparts in the Himalayas. However, no mountain can be overlooked, and Mont Blanc’s 100 deaths a year is a quick and strong reminder that even Europe’s mountains offer their own dangers and threats.
Many choose to take the train up for the first stage of the ascent, however with it being closed, the choice was out of my hands. I had to hike up on the side of the train track - earning it the hard way, the proper way!
Throughout the whole week, the weather remained unpromising. Again, at every negative comment about the weather I did my best to ignore. Focus on what I can control I reminded myself: hydration, food and kit.
Fortunately, the legends at Montane had looked after all my kit for the expedition. Having high quality expedition clothing that you can rely on is a game changer, and something I was very grateful for.
All I had to do was decide how many layers I would need based on the weather.
It was a four hour ascent from the start point up to the first mountain hut, Refuge de Tete Rousse. In just four hours there was rain, sunshine and then snow, a small insight into the unpredictability of the mountains.
The mountain huts are basic but practical. With bunk beds in the rooms, and a fully equipped canteen upstairs, I was pretty amazed considering I was at 3,167m of elevation.
I had dinner with the team, and Fabio lead another briefing about the updated weather conditions. We would attempt a summit push on Friday up Mont Blanc, but there remained many unanswered questions about the crevasse situation near the summit, and the forecasts for the winds continued to prove unfavourable.
From my experience with ultra running, the weather can always be worked around. During my 17 consecutive marathons earlier in the year, I ran through Storm Eunice, the country’s worst storm in over 30 years. Although at times it felt like I was running on a treadmill, I was able to push through. However, up in the mountains, the same risks can't be afforded, and ultimately the weather decision remained in my guide’s hands.
With a 4:45am alarm on Friday, I woke up feeling ready, focussed. Years since I had originally planned to climb this mountain back in 2020, I knew what I was here to do. Time to put the training to the test and deliver.
Despite the negativity around the conditions, I kept my faith. Deep down, I knew if the opportunity opened up with the weather, I would summit.
The hardest part for many on Mont Blanc is not actually the final few hours of summit day, but the first hours on summit morning.
The Grand Couloir, also named the ‘Death Gulley’, is located at 3,340m altitude. It is a well know accident hot spot, with the little to no snow creating hazardous problems with loose rocks. The section requires one to move at speed, but with control and confidence.
Following the traverse is an incredible scramble up to Goûter Hut, where one has to rely on good foot placement with the crampons, as well as strong hand holds to move up the rock safely.
The Goûter hut can only be described as a spaceship which appears to have crashed into the side of a mountainous landscape. I arrived just after 8:30am. Fabio, my guide, called a meeting with the others on the mountain, again to discuss the weather and conditions higher up..
The plan was set: we would make the summit attempt today. The time was now. One of our team decided to stop at the Goûter hut due to fatigue. This opened up the opportunity for me to make the summit push 1:1 with Fabio, with the hope that we could push the pace and move with strong momentum to the summit.
At 10am, it was time to push for the summit.
The hours that followed I would define as the most technical challenge I have ever embarked on.
Compared to the simplicity of running, this was a completely different world. I was out of my comfort zone, but felt like I was truly living. I had visualised this moment, during training and preparation, and was completely focused.
Roped together with Fabio, we successfully crossed a section of live ice. This was an intense moment, demanding full focus, ensuring each crampon was secured before the next step, whilst also using the ice axe to support each movement.
There is a small, empty hut around 2 hours from the summit. It offers some protection from the elements to hydrate and refuel before the final push. As we climbed the ladder up and then down into the entrance of this metal container, we were met with the worrying site of a climber sleeping on the floor. He fortunately had a team with him so wasn’t alone, but nonetheless it is always a concerning sight when above 4,000m altitude, with no medical support nearby.
During our rest Fabio explained that if there was any more ice similar to before, or if the wind increased, we would halt immediately and descend back down to safety. Even to the extent of being two hours away from the summit, there remained huge uncertainty. I had never experienced a challenge with such high negativity, and a need to remain intrinsically motivated.
I persevered on with my faith, and continued to focus on what I could control. Fitness wise I was feeling strong, and luckily was experiencing no issues with altitude.
After a quick 10 minute rest, Fabio and I began the final push.
It was time to summit.
Moving with momentum, we were able to overtake some bigger groups, taking a new route up working around the crevasse on the ridge. We were making good pace.
With clear skies, the winds began to slowly die down.
Finally, the moment arrived.
On Friday 10th June, at 15:22, I summited the tallest mountain in Western Europe: the infamous Mont Blanc at 4,809m.
I held my Walking With The Wounded flag at the summit with pride, knowing how much it would mean to the team and those supported by the charity.
Walking With The Wounded are an incredible charity who support our wounded veterans with reintegrating back into society, and thanks to my sponsors, all donations from this project go directly to the charity.
After a few minutes at the summit, the journey down began.
Making it to the top is only half the work. The descent is where more fatalities happen, as people fatigue or lose concentration. I promised myself I would only celebrate the success once back in Chamonix.
I am happy to have kept that promise, and every adventure reminds me that the leap I made at the end of last year was worth every moment of dedication and sacrifice.
To anyone reading, take that leap. Chase your dream. It may be the best decision you ever make.
Although I was the one stood at the summit, there is a growing team behind the scenes who help make these adventure possible. It was an honour to represent each and everyone of my sponsors.
To Thomas Franks, thank you for your continued support. It’s an incredible feeling when a company at the top of their field believe in you and your dreams, and not one I take for granted.
To The Body Lab, thank you for supporting my training and recovery. Having access to the best facilities in the world, such as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, has been a game changer and has helped me bounce back between my adventures this year.
To Montane, thank you for providing the best expedition clothing in the game, which supported me with every step to the summit and back home. The kit was tested, and truly delivered.
To Gazing Performance, working more and more with yourselves continues to prove useful. It was great to test my Red2Blue in the mountains, and lean on the skill during times of doubt and negativity.
To my family and friends, thank you for always being there. None of this would be possible without your support.
Finally, to all those who donated to Walking With The Wounded, thank you from the bottom of my heart. All donations went directly to the charity, and helping change, and ultimately save lives.
Onto the next adventure!
To donate: https://givepenny.com/louismontblanc