The White Mountain. Part II. By Dave Phillips. Edited by Brieuc Martin-Onraet

“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.”

 

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Around 6:50 AM. Roger Banks in green. Dominique, the guide is in blue. Looking at the sky… Where is the sky?

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Glacier des Bossons. Around 7:00AM

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First in line: Erik de Kort; Second: Roger Banks

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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.

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A welcome break. All roped in. In case of avalanche.

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Brieuc Martin-Onraët. Taking a “restorative” tablet.

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Erik de Kort: “We’ll be all right”

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L. to r. Pete Evans, Loet Magnin. The latter probably thinking: “That’s why we don’t have mountains in the Netherlands!”

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Why is Giorgio always smiling?

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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! 

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Ready to go again. L. to r. Roger, two guides, Loet and Martin

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Glacier des Bossons

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Dave Phillips. “No, I did not fall flat on my face!”

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Glacier des Bossons. One can actually see the trail we came down on: lower part of the picture, at the centre

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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.)

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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:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/WASH-Club/155526677973196?fref=ts 

Look forward to seeing all again in Italy next July for our 25th anniversary. Gung-ho!

31 thoughts on “The White Mountain. Part II. By Dave Phillips. Edited by Brieuc Martin-Onraet

      • Sounds like you have some truly special friends. 🙂 What memories!! I love that you were able to commemorate them so spectacularly here … And then share them with us!

      • This bunch are “crazy buggers”. I mean Brits, what do you expect? 😉 We all look on that time with fondness, we worked together very well across all countries in europe, brits, french, germans, dutch, italians, spaniards… And the lessons we learned on that particular trip have stayed with us, and are worth sharing. Glad you enjoyed the story (And Philips’ very english prose)

  1. Pingback: The White Mountain by Dave Phillips | Equinoxio

  2. Like the way you wrote this — very present, in the moment, made it present for me too. I felt my stomach clench at the vision of two climbers clinging to icy rocks as a third dangled in a V below them. Whoosh! You’re a better man than I Gunga Din. … Oh, yeah. I’m not a man….well, that’s a good thing. I won’t have to climb an icy rock wall.

    • Thank you Janet. All merit is due to my friend Dave Phillips who was both involved in the dangling and the subsequent writing. I just took his piece from 25 years back, added my comments and the pix. Nice thing was, the Brits kept on climbing. “Beat” MOnt-Blanc 2 years later, and many other peaks. And we had a reunion in Lago Cuomo 2 years ago. Lovely.

  3. What on earth???!!! The guy who wanted to sleep in the cabin!!!! Words fail me. Lol. So you are BMO huh? How weird was that standing in a totally white world with no horizon! Disorienting? < (is that even the right sp? Can't be assed to look it up!) How does a group of non mountaineers suddenly go 'Let's climb a mountain!' – I need more of the mindset young Winston.

    • Can’t find your mail. Standing in a totally white world was a great exercise in leadership, teamship, watch everybody’s back. Everybody comes back down. Alive. Even if we have to drag’em. Loet wasn’t too happy when we kicked his ass. How it came to? I had interviewed a young executive at our Paris office for a possible position on my staff. Asked my key question: “Do you have a Passion?” (Candidates who don’t are immediately terminated) He said yes, Mountaineering. Tell me more. Mont-Blanc. Ok, how hard is it? With a bit of training, anybody can. Next board meeting I suggested the Paris team climb Mont-blanc as a way to boost morale. Are you crazy? 😦
      2 weeks later we had a european meeting in Germany with my european middle management colleagues. I told them my disappointment around a beer. Then Evans looked at Banks who looked at Staehle. All 3 sipped some beer. Put their glass down and said: “Let’s do it”. Are you serious? Yes. Let’s do it. Ok. I will organize it. Including the getting fit training, the guide hiring, hotel, the 3 days mountain training with the guides. Giorgio the Italian, (the only mountaineer) got us the equipment, and Voilà! AS Evans says: “The Mountain was gentle with us. Gave us a little slap on the rear. Go play somewhere else. 🙂
      Bon week-end mon amie.

      • Ha ha! Great story! We talked about the passion bit re interviewing candidates at what must be 20 years ago now in our long relationship. I agreed then and agree now that that would be a deal breaker for me too. Lol. No wonder you felt personally responsible! Love Evans end quote.

        Of course it was crazy. But it was good crazy.

  4. What a story! I am glad to hear that you lived to tell it, that you still made it higher than any other point in Europe, and that some were able to summit the following year. You’re not dead yet. Why don’t you attempt Kilimanjaro for your 25th-year anniversary?

    • Yeah. We’re still alive! (Did manage Popocatepetl here in Mexico. 5,000 meters and change). Kilimandjaro has been climbed by some. Problem is: I have developed a bad back in recent years, soooo… when you climb snowy mountains you need to be roped (as we were in MOnt-Blanc) and I would be putting my partners at risk. 🙂

      • It is. A bit. One does not realize (as you guys know well) how fragile health can be. 🙂
        For instance, I love sailing (though not a good sailor) but I could not possibly think of doing what you
        are doing. And on a boat, one needs a strong back. Good news: I can walk miles and miles and miles…
        Which I thoroughly enjoy on my trips.
        Be good.

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