“Previously” on the White Mountain:
A team of newbie mountaineers, with the exception of one, from all over Europe, decides to climb Mont-Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. After proper training in Chamonix, they set off for the first part of the journey: the Corridor of Death. Two crew members nearly lose their life the first day. On the second day, they start the final ascent towards the top of Mont-Blanc in ideal conditions. Crisp fresh snow under boots and crampons. Clear starry skies above. Peachy.
But then a few snow flakes start falling…
At around 04.30, at 4,300m, we hit a furious snowstorm which froze beards, lashed our faces and brought about a complete “whiteout” – preventing us from distinguishing ground from sky. Eventually the guides indicated that to proceed was out of the question so, agonizingly, we turned down mountain.
Frustrated, extremely, we’d asked the guides: “How far are we from the top?” “About 500 meters.” “Okay. So we can hurry to the top and then turn around! Let’s go!”
“No. We do that, some of us will die. We turn down. That’s why you’ve hired us.”
Around 6:50 AM. Roger Banks in green. Dominique, the guide is in blue. Looking at the sky… Where is the sky?
Glacier des Bossons. Around 7:00AM
First in line: Erik de Kort; Second: Roger Banks
The descent took a further six hours, and took us through some amazing glacier fields where we jumped across crevasses, ever watchful for avalanches, and saw some ice formations which beggar description.
We took a break somewhere in the Glacier des Bossons. We didn’t have a clue where we were – we all hoped the guides did – nor how much longer we’d have to walk down to Chamonix. One thing about mountain climbing: going down is actually worse than going up – and we’d had our fair share of emotions going up.
A welcome break. All roped in. In case of avalanche.
Brieuc Martin-Onraët. Taking a “restorative” tablet.
Erik de Kort: “We’ll be all right”
L. to r. Pete Evans, Loet Magnin. The latter probably thinking: “That’s why we don’t have mountains in the Netherlands!”
Why is Giorgio always smiling?
L. to r. Roger Banks, Martin Staehle, Loet Magnin and Pete Evans (below right)
During the break, one of the team members said: “I’m beat. There’s a small cabin up on that ridge. I’ll take a rest. You guys go on. I’ll catch up later.” “No. You stay in the cabin, in two hours you’ll be dead. You’re coming down with us.” “What? I make my own decisions. I’m beat.” “Doesn’t matter. You’re coming down. Even if we have to drag you.”
Learning number umpteen: on a mountain, everybody goes up. And everybody comes down. Everybody. Leave no-one behind!
Ready to go again. L. to r. Roger, two guides, Loet and Martin
Glacier des Bossons
Dave Phillips. “No, I did not fall flat on my face!”
Glacier des Bossons. One can actually see the trail we came down on: lower part of the picture, at the centre
Finally: we can see the valley and houses of Chamonix down below. Couple of hours more to go.
(Tom Perrott from the back)
Disappointed but exhilarated, we held a debriefing in Chamonix over a few beers, glad to be safe, and happy in the knowledge that even though we had not quite made the summit, we had reached a point higher than anywhere else in Europe, including the Matterhorn. The celebrations centred around an international sing-song with the whole party up on chairs singing “We’re going up sunshine mountain”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, the Marseillaise etc. (Yes. The Brits sang La Marseillaise! Not a small feat. We might even have sung God save our gracious Queen too.)
Chamonix, around 7:00 PM. Safe and sound, a few bloody feet notwithstanding. Called home, slept the remainder of the day. Washed up. Ready to hit the bars! (L. to r. standing: Martin Staehle, Pete Evans, Brieuc Martin-Onraët, Loet Magnin, Erik de Kort; front row: Tom Perrott and Dave Phillips. Where is Giorgio?)
So, to next year, Kilimanjaro (19,000ft) has been suggested – “RI at the top of Africa”.
Twenty-five years have passed since this unique adventure of shared laughs and frights, hardship and friendship. We didn’t make it to Kilimandjaro the following year. Pressing engagements and all that! But some of the team – and a few new members – later took on Mont-Blanc again and made it to the summit! And down! A lot are now accomplished mountaineers. Visit their Facebook “The W.A.S.H. (We Are So Hard!) Club” at:
Look forward to seeing all again in Italy next July for our 25th anniversary. Gung-ho!