Mont Blanc (4807 metres), France
In September 2005, we successfully summitted Mont Blanc,
the highest mountain in western Europe.
Although the climb itself
was relatively short, waiting for clear weather in
Chamonix took some time. After we arrived, we
sat through 5 days of solid rain - which meant solid
snow up higher. By the time the weather
cleared, an enormous amount of snow had fallen and
we were concerned about the increased risk of
avalanches, so we decided to reshuffle our
plans and hired a car to visit northern Italy.
After a week of great pasta, gelati, and more
architecture and galleries than we could possibly
absorb, we were back in Chamonix - and thankfully
the weather was looking great.
We chose not to climb the
"normal route" - partly due to difficulties booking
the hut that you need to stay in (Aiguille du Goûter)
and partly due to the increased risk of avalanches
on this route. So instead we climbed via
Aiguille du Midi (the cable-car that gets you onto
the mountain) and through Mont-Blanc du Tacul and
Mont Maudit. This route is longer and includes
one steep section.
The hut is about an hour's
climb from the chair lift and we spent 2 nights
there to try to acclimatise. (Two nights
was possibly not quite enough as Fiona
experienced some nausea towards the top).
On summit day, we woke at
1:00am for "breakfast" and headed off left about
1:30am using head torches to light the way.
Most of the route was very straight-forward
(although a bit exposed in sections), with one
almost vertical section where a fixed rope is used.
We used ice-axes and climbed roped up to each other
the whole way.
Watching the sunrise over
the Alps in the morning was a spectacular site as we
steadily moved up the mountain. The last
section seemed to go on forever but we finally made
it to the summit at around 8:30am. The weather
was great and the views from there were unbelievable.
We were amazed to see some of the climbers (climbing
from the other side) had brought up paragliders and we enviously watched them sailing
off the mountain (they'd take only around 20
minutes to get down, while we still had another 6 hours or so
ahead of us!).
We arrived back at the hut
at around 3pm, rested for a while and then climbed
the final leg to the cable-car in time to catch the
last one back to Chamonix. That night we were
back in civilisation, staying in a hotel and eating
at a restaurant - what a luxury European climbing
The Matterhorn (4478 metres), Switzerland
In August 2005, Paul and
friend Marc Weisner climbed The Matterhorn.
(Due to work commitments, Fiona was unable to take
the extra time off work and so joined Paul in Europe
later to climb Mont Blanc.)
For this trip, they decided
to use guides as they had heard that finding the
route was difficult (and climbing off the route
could potentially end in problems). After
spending some days hiking and climbing nearby to acclimatise, they hiked into Hörnli Hut to spend the
night. Next morning, they rose early, but
after some delays with gear, ended up being the last
group to leave at approximately 6am.
The climbing was technical,
reasonably exposed, and with the guides setting a
relentless pace, they were constantly overtaking
other groups. After stopping for a very short break
the Solvey emergency shelter, they reached the summit at
Due to the steepness of the
down took about the same amount of time with almost
all of the route being down-climbed. They
arrived back in the hut at around midday.
After resting here for a while, they continued onto
Zermatt and back to the comforts of their hotel.
Khan Tengri (7010 metres), Kazakhstan
In August 2004, Fiona and
Paul climbed Khan Tengri - the most difficult climb
they have done (for more reasons than one). We
elected to climb on the north side - which is much
more technically challenging, but is fairly safe
from avalanches. To get here, we flew into
Almaty, and then took a bus to Karkara. From
here we did an acclimatisation hike (getting to
around 3200 metres) before flying into Base Camp
(4000 metres) by helicopter the next morning.
Base Camp is very well set
up - you pay a fee to use a tent and for all your
meals as well as getting access to other facilities
such as a doctor and "shower tent". Meals
turned out to be a real highlight - somehow the
staff were able to prepare the most amazing food
from their tiny kitchen tent.
The next day we walked most
of the way to Camp 1 - mostly a long snow slope with
a few hundred metres of steep climbing near the
camp. After a rest day the following day, we
took a load of our gear all the way to Camp 1 -
taking around 9 hours return. After another
rest / acclimatisation day, we were ready to leave
the relative luxuries of Base Camp.
We hauled ourselves up to
Camp 1, spent the night there in a fairly small
campsite, and then continued up to Camp 2 at about
5400m the next
day. The climb from 1 to 2 was long and very
challenging in parts - not helped by the poor
weather which deteriorated as the day went on.
With plenty of steep sections where fixed line is
used, it took us almost 12 hours to complete.
After a rest day, Paul made the trip back down to
Camp 1 to collect our remaining gear. This
meant we now had all of our gear and plenty of food
and fuel at Camp 2 - which was lucky as the weather
set in, causing us to wait it out for 5 days.
Eventually, the weather
cleared and we headed up to Camp 3 - electing to
camp on top of Mount Chapayev (a smaller mountain on
the route) rather than drop down to the usual Camp
3. From here we sat out another day due to
howling winds and then continued up to Camp 4.
This camp is not included by most climbers but we
had been told it vastly improves the chances of
success as it makes the summit day shorter. It
is a tiny campsite set on a small snow platform
between rocks (room for only 1 tent).
At around midnight, we were
woken to find torches shining on our tent which
turned out to be from some climbers who had
been to the summit and were still on their way down
- they would have summitted too late in the day.
They opened our 2 person tent and came in - boots
and all. We spent a very uncomfortable night
worrying about piercing our tent and having it rip
open to the howling winds outside. They left
in the morning without a word of thanks. After
having very little sleep, and waking to hear the
winds continuing, we decided to have another rest
The following day was a
beautiful clear day with very little wind.
However, it was icy cold and on our side, the sun
didn't hit us until around 11am. During this
time we both got very cold hands and feet. The
climb up was quite technical for the first half, and
then a never ending snow slog towards the summit.
When we got back down to our
tent, we were dismayed to find that Paul had
frostbite on most of his toes, and Fiona had some on
her thumbs. We did our best to rewarm them.
By the time we got back down
to Base Camp, it seemed that Fiona's thumbs would be
ok but Paul's toes were a concern. After
receiving all kinds of contradictory advice from
various doctors and climbers who had experienced or
seen frostbite, we decided it was time to leave
Kazakhstan as quickly as possible.
When we eventually got home
to Melbourne, we sought advice from various
specialists (although it is difficult to find anyone
in Australia with frostbite experience) and began
having hyperbaric treatment in the Alfred Hospital.
This treatment was for an hour twice a day and
lasted for 3 weeks. In the end, Fiona's thumbs
made a full recovery but the ends of some of Paul's
toes had to be removed. While this doesn't
affect him now, the experience was fairly traumatic
and not something we intend to repeat.
For a more detailed account
of this climb, go to climb.outmarket.com.au - the
website we used to post updates as we were climbing.
(Sorry but we haven't included any more photos from here on
as we were using film back then!)
Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 metres), Tanzania
In April 2002, we summitted
Mount Kilimanjaro - Africa's highest mountain.
Initially we were planning to climb up one of the
ice routes and began our trek up from the West side,
however on seeing the state of the ice, we decided
to traverse around the mountain to where the crater
rim could be more easily reached.
Trekking into the mountain
was very different from most climbs due to the
different climate zones that you pass through.
One moment we were hiking through a rain forest
complete with monkeys squawking as we passed
through, and the next we were walking amongst misty
alpine meadows. The climb itself is not
technical and so many groups seem tempted to move
towards the summit quickly and then suffer from
altitude problems later. Our own local guide
wanted us to leave our high camp the same night that
we arrived, but we insisted on waiting a day to be
On summit day we left at
around midnight and slowly made our way to the lip
of this enormous volcano. Seeing the sunrise
slowly as we continued around the rim to the highest
point was amazing. We arrived on the summit at
around 7:00am and admired the brilliant landscape of
ice features, low settling clouds and majestic
colours from the morning sun (despite the freezing
The trip down was a very
long day. We walked back down to the High Camp, rested for an hour or so, and then set off
again to get back down to town that night.
Several hours of this were spent slopping our way
through ankle deep mud!
Mount Aconcagua (6962 metres), Argentina
The first big mountain we
climbed was in January 1998 when we climbed Mount
Aconcagua - famed for being the world's highest
mountain outside of the Himalayas.
Leaving from the Argentinian
town of Mendoza, we caught a bus to Puente Del Inca,
from where we made arrangements to have some of our
climbing gear taken into Base Camp by mule.
The next day we set out for Casa de Piedra (the camp
midway to Base Camp), and the following day onto
Base Camp. Like most people we suffered a
little from the altitude at this point as we had
moved from 2700m to 4200m in only 2 days (and were
pretty much at sea level prior to that). We
spent a day resting and hydrating and soon felt much
This was our first time
experiencing a Base Camp situation and we enjoyed
observing and interacting with the other climbers
from all around the world. When people heard
that we were from Australia, there standard response
was "what are you doing here!??". I don't think we
fit their Crocodile Dundee expectations! We
were amused to watch a large group arrive and unpack carton after carton of Evian
water. Clean, cold glacier water was only a
few metres away!
The following day,
we carried a load of our gear up to Camp 2 at 5400 metres (there is a
Camp 1 but most people don't find
the need to use this camp). We found this to
be a hard day with the climb up taking around 6
After another day of rest
for acclimatisation, we packed up the remainder of
our gear and set off up the mountain. Now much
better acclimatised, this time the climb up took us
only 4 hours - the body's ability to adapt is amazing!
We had planned to have a
rest day here and during this day, we walked up to
Camp 3 (only a few hours away). We found the
campsite to be crowded and dirty from people
relieving themselves too close to camp.
Cooking dinner later that night, two Swiss climbers whose
tent was near ours returned having just summitted
from Camp 2. Inspired by their success and
given the relatively short distance between camps 2
and 3, we decided to make our attempt from Camp 2.
The next morning we woke to
perfect weather and set off for the summit at around 6am. By
10am we had caught up to a large guided party that
had left later from Camp 3 and we decided to stay
behind them. With moderate - high wind we were
unsure whether we would be able to cross through the Travesia (a long, exposed traverse section).
However we watched the guided party go with little
difficulty so tucked in behind.
Once through the Travesia,
we came to the Canaleta - a moderately steep section
with loose scree. It seems that here you take
3 steps forward and 2 backwards the whole way up.
Until now we had been climbing very strongly but at
this point, we began to slow and tire. In fact
the last hundred metres to the summit seemed to last
an eternity and if it wasn't for us hearing the
elated voices of those ahead that had clearly got
there, we may have turned around. But we
pushed on upwards and thankfully got to the summit
where we were able to relax for a while and get some
fuel back into us (water, muesli bars, etc).
Feeling much stronger we
headed down and finally made it back to our camp at
around 9pm - just before sunset. The next day
we walked down to Base Camp and out to Puente Del
Nepal - January 1996
In January 1996, we visited
Nepal, planning to climb Mount Parcharmo - around
6000 metres in the Rowaling region. As students,
we travelled in the university holidays - as it
turned out, this was not the best time to plan a
climb in Nepal!
From Kathmandu, we flew into
Lukla where we were greeted with around 40 porters -
all wanting work. We of course negotiated and
chose one who had climbed Parchamo previously and
offered a good rate. He said he had proper
boots and climbing clothes but did not have a tent,
so we gave him some extra money to rent a tent.
Once he had collected his things, we set off.
The trekking in Nepal is
absolutely amazing - highly recommended to anyone
that hasn't been. Unless you're climbing you
don't need a tent or any gear other than a sleeping
bag and your own clothes. The people are
extremely friendly and the scenery is awe-inspiring.
With our porter in tow, we
trekked up through Namche Bazaar and onto Dingboche
and Tengboche as acclimatisation before attempting
our climb (which was out to the west of Namche
rather than towards Everest). However, it
seemed that this year the weather had been
particularly unusual. Anyway, there had
been an enormous amount of snow and none of the
trekking teams were able to get through to Everest
Base Camp. Also many high towns had been
forced to evacuate and move down to lower areas.
Regardless of this, we still
decided to attempt to climb Mount Parcharmo and
headed out and up the valley towards Thami. We
were concerned to find our porter still wearing his
jeans but assumed that he knew better. Once
past Thami the snow on the path became very thick and
soon after, the path disappeared entirely. We
continued on, crunching our way up the valley.
The snow was so deep that at one point it seemed
strange that there were hard areas underfoot - until
we realised that we were literally walking over
buildings and walls that surrounded a town that was
covered in snow and had been abandoned! Our
poor porter must have been very wet as he was still
walking in his jeans and runners, but he assured us
he was fine.
At the end of a long day, we
found a spot for a campsite and set up our tent.
It was only now that we realised that our porter
did not have a tent (despite assuring us he
would arrange one). He said he would sleep in
the snow - but of course we couldn't allow him to do
that. The temperatures were freezing. So
with 3 of us in our lightweight 2-man tent, our porter using a
down jacket we had as a sleeping bag, we attempted
to get some sleep.
In the morning, we packed up
and continued hiking up the valley towards Parcharmo.
But after only an hour or so, our porter decided
that he was leaving and no amount persuasion would
convince him to continue. So now we had more
gear than we could carry but continued on
regardless. We left a bag of gear there and
about 3/4 through the day, Paul headed back to pick
up this bag, while Fiona got her bag and Paul's
other gear, and set up camp. All the time we
were walking in snow up to our thighs or waist and
meanwhile it continued to snow. Exhausted,
that night we set about cooking dinner and somehow
managed to get kerosene in our food - making it
inedible. What a day!
We woke the next morning to
find that it had continued to snow heavily through
the night and there was no sign of relief. It
was about then that Paul said something like "how
about we go to Thailand?". Fiona didn't need
too much convincing! So we packed as much of our gear up that we could carry
and spent a very long day trekking
through the now even deeper snow, made worse by the
extra weight we were carrying. But we
eventually made it to the small town of Shyanboche.
Unbeknown to us, in Nepal
New Year's Eve is celebrated across a few weeks with
each town taking it in turn to host festivities.
We had coincidentally stumbled across the New Year
celebrations and despite our protests, the host
family insisted that we join in. This meant
having our share of the "delicacies" on offer which
included oranges, peanuts, lollies and rice wine -
all carefully dished out to each guest. We
felt extremely guilty taking these foods which were
obviously so precious here, but which we could enjoy
any day we wanted to at home. We were enjoying
sitting on the periphery of the celebrations when
our most humiliating moment came - they wanted to be
shown what "English dancing" was like. Again
we protested, but to no avail and so finally gave in
and did some sort of dance. That Nepalese town
now has a very strange idea of "English dancing"!
The following morning, we
were able to catch a ride back to Kathmandu on an
old Russian helicopter which had delivered some
supplies. So unfortunately, our climbing in
Nepal was not to be at this time. However
Thailand was great - and instead of mountains, we
explored the underwater world by doing our PADI diving
course on the islands there.
In January 1994, Paul headed
off to New Zealand for his first taste of
mountaineering. Having signed up to do a
mountaineering skills course designed for people
with rock climbing background, he met the team in
Mount Cook. Six days were spent practising
self arrests, crevasse rescue, placing ice and snow
anchors, and a host of other skills necessary for
safe mountaineering. After the course Paul
then went on and climbed several peaks in the New
Zealand Southern Alps.