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Jerry has just climbed Divine Providence! Here is his story:
Last week was a big one! It started with a heart attack, involved a total of 28 hours of driving, an ascent of the hardest route on Mt Blanc, little or no food/water and sleep for most of it, 2 freezing bivvies, the death of a close relative and finished with my oldest daughter getting hospitalised after her drink was spiked with LSD! This is the story.
Monday 13 August
At 6am just as I was about to drive to Germany and pick up Gaz Parry to climb The Fish (one of my big three challenges) I read an email from Gaz saying his dad had had a stroke and he had flown back home from Stuttgart. I was scheduled to do a talk in central Germany Tuesday morning so drove the 10 hours anyway and spent the night in the Hilton, Mainz.
Tuesday 14 August
I gave the presentation to Novo Nordisk (World's second largest Insulin producer) this morning. By midday I had delivered a superb talk (well I thought it was!), sorted out a new climbing objective and more importantly a new partner. Dave Gladwin is a 32 year old ski instructor, a great mountaineer and an overall genuine good egg! He was totally up for Divine Providence (DP), one of the toughest and longest routes on Mt Blanc and my main Big Three objective! Finding a partner for a route like DP is like trying to find another rower for the coxless pairs at the Olympics so I was pretty chuffed at my networking skills! I drove another 9 hours back home (Vallouise, Southern French Alps) arriving late Tuesday night but fully psyched as I had my climbing itinerary clearly sorted.
Wednesday 15 August
Packed and sorted gear for the route, helped Jackie organise cleaners for the forthcoming 10 chalet changeover on Saturday for our self catering business AlpBase.com, and said good bye to my family.
Thursday 16 August
At 8am I drove four hours to Chamonix and met Dave for the first time in a car park by the Aiguille De Midi telepherique. Tall, laid back, and totally dependable Dave was everything Twid Turner had said he was, having spent a hardcore Big Wall climbing trip to Alaska with him earlier this year. Climbing partners tend to spend years together to develop a bond and understanding before setting foot on a big alpine objective like DP. We didn't have that luxury!
We sorted the gear, grabbed a sandwich and headed for the Midi tlepherique. Luck was on our side as the Helbronner lift was working so we made it across to the Torino hut by mid afternoon and then started the 3 hour walk to the Fourche Refuge (3685m.), a tiny shelter stuck on the side of the decaying Brenva ridge. Getting to the hut was interesting – a steep 50° ice slope running with water! A crap night (too scared I guess) was spent in the company of two very thirsty French alpinists who had forgotten their stove.
Friday 17 August
At 4am we abseiled off the metal balcony of the refuge, crossed the Brenva glacier, ascended Col More, did a loose series of abseils down onto the glacier beneath the Pilier D'Angle and we had arrived at the foot of our wall! It was a scary and dangerous downhill run over some of the most serac-threatened and crevassed terrain I have ever experienced. The noise from the rock and snow falls shattered our world throughout the 3 day climb.
We started the route at first light but sadly got the wrong gully line. We each climbed with a 25Kg rucksack and moved slowly over the technical ground. There are no bolts on DP and most of the protection points we had to place ourselves using camming devices. By early afternoon we realised we were too far left but Dave pulled out a heroic lead on wet unprotected 6c ground that led us to a big open slab. I aided and then tiptoed across these and eventually got us back onto the right line and our first open bivouac at the start of the hard climbing. We had climbed just 400m. of the 1500m. route and lost at least half a day through sheer bad route finding. Worse still my first glucometer – a Roche Nano – to test my blood sugars was now useless as the fresh batteries had mysteriously run out. So I would have to resort to using the emergency backup, my tried and trusted Ascensia Elite XL – the only issue was I had just 12 strips which would have to last the rest of the climb; I had to ration carefully as I normally test at least 7 times a day. But hey, life is never perfect and diabetes is not an excuse, it's just another thing to deal with.
Saturday 18 August
After a night of shivering (we had opted for the down jacket but no sleeping bag option to save weight) we started brewing at 5.30am and begun climbing at 7am. It was really hard all day and physically exhausting, especially the legendary overhanging 7c corner. Imagine hanging off your arms upside down, fingers wedged into a 2cms wide crack for an hour. Sadly enough this section was wet which actually I took as a great excuse as the only part of this pitch I managed to free was the final 10 meters of easy ground! The day finished with our second open bivouac below the pendulum swing pitch. The good news was that we had only two hard pitches left to go before easy ground. The bad news was that there was no snow on our 1.5m deep ledge so no water; we had started the day with 1 litre each of water and this small amount now had to last until midday tomorrow – Sunday. And all we had left food wise was our emergency rations, namely a packet of OAP energy food that Dave's 87 year old grandmother gave him. I sucked my bloodied and sore finger tips (granite dust) and thought about Swedish saunas. Not a great night!
Sunday 19 August
Today started windy and so bloody freezing at just under 4,000metres! We both sat up and shivered waiting for the sun on our tiny ledge. Very reluctantly I made a move at 6.30am and we started the painful business of racking up our gear, putting on super tight rock shoes on bare feet and getting ready for the day's challenges which would involve 8 hours of hauling and dragging our knackered bodies and gear to the top of the Pillar. And then a further 5 hours (600 meters) of scary soloing on a steep snow ridge (The Peuterey Integrale) to the summit of Mont Banc (4,808m.).
We reached the summit of the Blanc around 8pm and luckily met up with fellow Brits James Thackery, Keith Ball and Tim Neill. Dave and I had done it. We both felt awesome in a sort of totally knackered way. But we still had the descent to go before we were safe and 70% of accidents happen on the climb down so we were still on alert mode although by now we were starting not to care. We descended the Mt Maudit route passing the section where my old friend Roger Payne was tragically killed a month ago when that huge avalanche/serac collapse killed nine people. Despite my exhausted state I felt "lifted" as I recalled memories of a shared climbing trip to Peru in 1985 and remembered Roger's huge energy and stamina.
Monday 20 August
We descended through the night reaching a flat bivvy spot just after 1am where Dave and I enjoyed a late night brewing session with the other 3 lads. We all had a good gossip and within an hour we both felt sufficiently rehydrated to carry on. We eventually reached the Aiguille de Midi téléphérique station 4 hours later. The last few half of this "Retreat from Moscow" we stopped frequently collapsing onto the snow and trancing out in seconds. But for the final 70 meters up to the Midi we were both fully awake as it involves balancing up a very steep staircase just two feet wide where a fall would be fatal. We had been on the go for just under 24 hours and I had only tested my blood sugar levels 5 times in that period. I ate my last cereal bar and used my last test strip just after we got to the Midi station. I had run it very close on all accounts – Diabetics need regular snacks, blood tests and insulin injections – but it had worked. Proud of that!
We took the first telecabin back down to Chamonix at 6.30am and ran into town for a big pancake and maple syrup breakfast. I now had a new batch of test strips and fresh insulin - life was sweet once more!
I wanted to be with my daughter Beth ASAP as she had had her drink spiked on Saturday night, hospitalised and put on a drip, so I drove home right after the pancakes. An hour into the journey I stopped to test again. All I remember was waking up with test strips scattered around me in the car. I had passed out and more than an hour had gone by!
When I eventually saw Beth later that afternoon she was very zombie-like and still experiencing panic attacks that would leave her sobbing, her eyes full of fear. The family was back together but not yet a whole healthy unit. The news that Jackie's Grandma had just passed away was another blow but we are a strong team and I for one was glad we could just watch a video together even if at least one of us had lost consciousness not long after the "Play" button was pressed!
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