Day 6

At 2:30am my alarm went off- and so did the alarms of the other 19 people in our room; the 20 people in the room next door and in the Guide’s room.

Cue a mad rush for breakfast and equipment, then a decent by torchlight of the metal ladders – which was entertaining!

This was definitely a morning for the big gloves – with the nerve damage in my hands (caused by chemo) I was particularly careful with the cold – and the gloves were a good piece of kit to have.

We crossed the glacier to the Tete Blanche 3,707m (12,159 ft), however, Kathy’s forecast was correct and the rain arrived, complete with thunder and lightning.

After 2 hours in one direction, with heavy hearts, we made the decision to turn around, as we could not risk the Stockji glacier in bad visibility, and couldn’t cross a route above steep slabs in the wet.

So we trekked all the way back to the Bertol hut, then all the way down to the high valley from day 5, then turned towards Arolla.

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From there we caught two buses and two trains, and arrived in Zermatt a day early.

Once we had showered (bliss!), changed and inspected the blisters – ouch!

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……we got together for a lovely dinner, via a quick pic of a cloudy Matterhorn

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So that was it!

We missed just the final day – though with the storms it was absolutely the right decision

I am so pleased to have achieved what I did – just a year on from completing treatment – and have raised lots of money for good causes too.

Thank you for all your support, and to Challenge Cancer Through Adventure for making this possible

Claire

XXX

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Day 5

This was an absolute monster of a day!

We had an early start to try and outrun the storms that were due to come in, as we knew we had to get down the glacier before they hit.

We also had metal ladders to climb when we reached the next hut – and couldn’t risk attempting these in the thunder.

So we set a fast pace, overtaking the other teams on the way up to the Col de l’Evêque 3,377m (11,077ft). We then had a very long descent down a slushy glacier (very tiring) and steep, unstable moraine (not much fun) until we reached a high valley.

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With such a good pace we were alongside the Young and the Beautiful team most of the day (not bad for an older – but wiser team!)

We then had a fast push uphill to make it to a shelter in time before the first pulse of rain hit. Here I am in front of Mont Collon (my namesake!)

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Then we looked up the next valley and could see how far we had to go – a long way up the moraine then a steep push up the snow at the top – can you see the Bertol hut in both pictures?

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This octagonal hut was reached via steep metal ladders – which were entertaining! We left our axes, crampons and poles in the ice at the bottom of the ladders, ready to pick up in the morning

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Soon after we arrived at the hut, the storm hit properly and all visibility was lost.

Kathy had a careful look at the forecast and suggested that we attempt the next section in the morning – but only with a very early start to keep ahead of the weather. So we set our alarms for 2:30am. Ouch!

 

Day 4

Waking up at 3:30am, we quickly had breakfast then headed out into the pre-dawn

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By this point we had converged with four other Haute route teams: a Spanish team, a Swedish team, a French team and ‘The Young and the Beautiful’ team (who all looked like outdoor clothing models!).

As we made our way up the steep slopes towards the summit we maintained a good pace, and overtook the other teams on the way

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Finally we rounded a col, and got our first site of the Matterhorn (photo above)

The weather was still great – as long as we looked in this direction. Behind us the clouds were building up and the wind was starting to blow…

We pushed on for the summit and made it in great time, so were able to have the peak to ourselves for some pictures.

Challenge Cancer Through Adventure; who made this trip possible, had given me a summit flag, as had Imparta where I work (and who were very supportive during treatment)

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At 3,790m (12,431 ft), the Pigne d’Arolla was a great achievement – as exactly one year previously I was having my last week of radiotherapy, and had just had the tube for administering chemo taken out of my heart.

This was me back in April 2015, when I was staying in Weston Park Cancer Hospital, suffering from flu and with a white blood cell count of 0.001 so no immune system left

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At that point I couldn’t walk up the stairs without resting – fast-forward a year and I had just summitted an Alpine peak!

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The views from the top were incredible – and just behind me on the last picture you can see a sharp ridge. We decided to bag this ‘mystery’ peak too – which was more technical and good fun!

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We were then on our way down – still in high spirits – towards the Vignettes hut

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This hut was my favourite – excellent food, great views, good atmosphere and a lovely terrace to sunbathe on!

However, appearances can be deceiving – storms were on their way – so we set the alarms for 3:30am again and prepared for a big day….

 

Day 3

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The weather was fantastic again, so we were off to an early start; climbing steeply up rock and scree paths (focusing at times!) until we reached our first Col

Then it was crampons on, axes out, and a wonderful climb across the slopes behind me on the picture, up a steep (very fun) section to the top – the Col du Mont Rouge 3,326m (10,909ft)

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I loved this section – and also enjoyed the next part – crossing the glacier, jumping small crevasses, then finally glissading down to the next hut

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The Dix hut had an excellent terrace, where I had a Rosti and a chill-out before another afternoon nap.

These naps had become crucial for me to help with the energy levels – I was able to keep pace with the guide no problem – and carry the rope for long sections – so basically enjoy all the uphills – but only if I had my nap! After some gentle teasing from the rest of the team (why is one of our youngest needing a nap?!) I explained about that I was a year post-treatment – which of course they were very supportive about.

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The next day would be our big summit push – and storms were forecast; so we set our alarms for 3:30am and headed to bed early; excited about the morning….

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

I woke up bright and early – starving hungry and feeling good. I thought I would try the stairs before I got too excited, as the previous day would surely have had an effect. However, my legs felt fine, so I tucked into breakfast (cold muesli with apple) and packed my rucksack

Today would be the only day with no glaciers – we would walk down a beautiful rocky ridge then catch the cable car to the base of the valley

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A taxi would then take us up to a large dam. This method cuts a large section of uninteresting valley walking – saving our legs for the more technical and scenic sections!

The walk from the dam was through classic alpine meadows, with the sound of waterfalls accompanying us most of the way

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This was a much longer day in terms of distance – but with no technical terrain we made quick progress.

Kathy was a great guide with lots of interesting stories (was the second woman to climb the North face of the Eiger – beaten by Alison Hargreaves)

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We arrived at the hut early enough in the afternoon for me to have a nap – which meant I managed to stay up until 8:30pm!

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1

Day 1 started at a reasonable time of 7am – as we were catching the bus from Chamonix to the grab the first chairlift of the day at Le Tour

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The team, from left to right, was Jerome (French, now resident in the US), me, Tom (Swiss), David (American) and Rob (American)

Everyone seemed very fit and active, so I was a little nervous about holding them back.

We kitted up then set off for 5.5 hours of ascent. You can see Mont Blanc in the background, and the glorious weather that held for a few days…

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We walked on a good path, then scrambled up a rocky moraine, with the Aguille de Chardonnet in dominating our views

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We stopped at a hut on the way up, to take on some water (last potable water for 7 days!) and have a quick rest.

Most Haute Route teams spend a night here to acclimatise, but Kathy our guide was having none of that! She prefers a long first day to get ahead of the other teams – so quieter routes and huts.

With crampons on, we roped together (in case of crevasses) and headed up ever-steepening slopes

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Eventually it was steep enough to use our axes, and we then had a rock scramble (interesting in crampons!) to reach the high Col du Tour at 3,288m (10,785ft).

To go straight to this altitude on the first day was ambitious (which is why most teams stop in the hut on the way up) – but despite not being acclimatised, I felt surprisingly fine. My heart rate was much faster than usual down to the altitude but the legs and lungs felt fine. Thank goodness for all the hill running I’d been doing!

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Over the top of the col we had a beautiful scenic view – and were now in Switzerland. We headed across the glacier, past another hut we didn’t stay in (!) to the lovely Orny hut where the local Ibex were particularly friendly

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Having felt strong all day (I even volunteered to carry the rope for the last 90 minutes), half an hour after arriving at the hut I felt fatigued and unwell. I forced myself to eat, took a headache tablet (altitude headache) and went to bed at 7:30pm!

I had previous experience of this feeling – big days in the mountain had had this same effect in the past – and I had bounced back fine the next day. But that was before treatment – I was unsure what the cancer treatment had done to my ability to recover….

 

 

Day Minus One

I arrived in Chamonix in time for an afternoon stroll. The weather was excellent, and it was nice to soak up the atmosphere before the hard work started.

Our team met for a kit check and dinner – none of the others had any relation to the charity – all were just doing the trek for the fun and challenge.

We were an international team: Rob, originally from Chicago, and now in Texas, David, from Portland US, Jermone; David’s son in law, who also lived in Portland but is French, Tom, from Zurich and me from sunny Sheffield. Our guide; Kathy, was from Washington state, and moved to Chamonix in the early 80s to guide. She was very down to earth and experienced (second woman to climb the North Face of the Eiger – only just beaten to first place by Alison Hargreaves)

After a ‘getting to know you dinner’, I caught up quickly with Kat from Challenge Cancer Through Adventure, who happened to be in Chamonix climbing – so had a send-off from one of my charities, which was great!

An early night, with not much sleep as I was excited and nervous about the next day!

The highest peak

So the main summit I’ll do on the Haute Route is the Pigne d’Arolla, 3,796m. According to SummitPost there are three routes to the summit:

“1. From Cabane des Vignettes (3160 m), normal route. Go back to the Vignettes pass, then go down to the Otemma glacier, go
around the rocks 3189 m, and crest the steep slope of Pigne d’Arolla’s south flank. 2.5 hours. Easy,

2. From Cabane des Dix (2928 m). Cross the Cheilon glacier, climb along the foot of the Pointes de Tsena Réfien, then cross the
Tsidjiore Nouve glacier and head for Pt. 3592 (very steep) to Col de Breney. Then on the normal south ridge to the top. 4-5
hours, only for experienced mountaineers. Recommended, not boring.

3. From Cabane de Chanrion (2460 m). Descent to the foot of the Otemma glacier. 9 km walk on the glacier. Just before you reach
the Vignettes hut, head for pt. 3189 and join the normal route. 7 hours, boring.”

Guess which one I’ll be doing?!

A good luck cake

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My lovely colleagues at Imparta had a little Good Luck send-off for me yesterday evening, complete with a wonderful mountain cake, made by a very talented member of staff.

The figurine was made by one of our creative team and has a great backpack, as well as a slightly alarming face!

It may well be that I look like this by the end of the expedition – perhaps I should pack a green dress so I can recreate the cake?!