A New Adventure and New Fear: To Mont Blanc I Go

June 27: Why, oh why, oh why?

It’s that time of the year again. I’m preparing for another adventure; this time to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.

“Why?” you ask. Since you are asking me only a few days before I set off, I really have no satisfying answer for you. I’ve been asking myself that same question. Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?

Mont Blanc is a mountain that involves ropes and ice axes, crevasses that people fall into and falling rocks that cause people to slip and fall.

Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?

When I made my reservations for this trip after extensive (well…extensive is exaggerating a bit) research, I did have a logical reason for deciding to do this. After my successful summit of Kilimanjaro (during the whole time which I continued to ask myself why on Earth I was hiking a mountain while getting no answers back from anyone), I thought I’d like to see if I could take my mountain adventures to the next level. I wondered if I had it in me. The next level in my mind was hiking a mountain that involved ice and some technical skills. Europe seemed the best destination for me. Many European mountain climbing companies give courses before they guide you up the harder mountains. And European health-care and evacuation services are probably the best in the world. Besides, I was going to northern Italy anyway to attend a conference in the summer. What was the nearest and largest Alpine mountain in my vicinity? Mont Blanc.

So I went ahead and made reservations with a European company in the vicinity. And I’ll be hiking again with a group of people I do not know at all. My understanding is that there is only one woman in the group this time. The group will be comprised of six people. Have you all seen Europeans who are the hiking kind? Have you all noticed how fit they are? Can you understand why I might be freaking out that I’ll be the one who slows the whole group down?

One thing that concerns me is that I have not had the time this year to prepare for my mountain climb as intensely as I did before Kilimanjaro. On the positive side, I have been exercising rather regularly ever since Kilimanjaro. As a result, it sometimes feels that I’m actually fitter than I was when I went to Tanzania. I worry that I’m kidding myself though just to feel better.

I worry about my feet. Yes, my feet. Mont Blanc will involve wearing mountaineering boots. These are different from normal hiking boots. Mountaineering boots are similar to ski boots. They have a sort of plastic exterior that is not flexible in any way. I bought some but never used them. So they are not broken in (if that’s even possible) and my legs are not used to wearing them or carrying their weight. To make matters worse, one must place crampons (a razor-like metal plate) on the bottom of these boots to make it easier to walk on snow and ice. I’m afraid to even think what it will be like to be climbing a mountain at high altitude with oxygen levels much less than those at sea level doing more exertion than I ever normally do on an average workout and wearing huge, heavy, plastic boots with razor-like metal plates on their bottoms. All this on a mountain where I will need to use ropes and an ice axe and on which people die by falling into crevasses or slipping due to rock slides. I don’t even want to think about it.

Why, Nadia? Oh why, oh why, oh why?

July 3: One Week To Go

I’m scared. Really scared. I keep asking myself: why am I doing this [planning to climb another mountain]? I need a vacation. I need to relax. Who chooses mountain-climbing as a vacation pastime? Then I ask myself: what is your dream holiday then, Nadia? And I can’t think of any better place to go than to a mountain.

The idea of going off into the wilderness and losing myself in extreme physical exertion and wondrous amazement at God’s creation in the midst of a complete group of strangers I don’t need to socialize with is appealing to me. Now that I’ve climbed one mountain, it makes this type of adventure at once scary and more appealing. I know what to expect. I know how arduous and almost physically impossible it can be. I know there are serious risks involved. And I know mountain-climbing can be one of the most rewarding experiences one has in one’s lifetime.

The reactions I’m getting from the few people I’ve told are different this time. When I announced that I was climbing Kilimanjaro, my friends were all very supportive and happy with my plans. I haven’t told many people this time. But some of those I have told have given me a look of pity mixed with a look of “we’ve lost her forever”. I think some people feel I’ve taken my “whims” too far. That I need to settle back down and take care of the homestead. That I’m too old to be acting like a teenager. At least this is what I’ve felt is going on in some of my friends’ minds. It’s hard to take that look of pity out of my head. It’s discouraging. I think I enjoyed the attention I got before, during and after Kilimanjaro. Who wouldn’t? But now I must ask myself: what am I continuing this for? Is it for more attention? The indications so far are that I’ll be getting negative attention. Do I still want to climb a mountain even though I might actually get criticized this time for doing so? Or that no one will care anymore where I’ve gone or what I’ve done?

The answer comes back crystal clear: there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.

So despite my fears, my concerns, my need for relaxation as opposed to physical exertion, the possibility of criticism or indifference, I’m off to Western Europe’s highest mountain in one week. And I will try to make the most of it and enjoy.

July 9, 9:30 pm

I spent most of my day roaming Torino, Italy far and wide trying to figure out how to get from here to Chamonix, where I’ll be starting my Mont Blanc adventure. Torino train drivers – and evidently many of the bus drivers as well – were on strike today making life here difficult to say the least.

I finally have a train ticket that will take me from Torino to Aosta, Italy. I supposedly have a reservation (made by phone) on a bus out of Aosta to Chamonix. I’ll have to change buses once or twice as far as I understand. And from Chamonix I take a taxi to the small village I’ll be based at for the next week.

It all seemed quite complicated – an unexpected nuisance. I was hoping I could jump on a train that would take me to Chamonix directly.

Tomorrow I meet the team I’ll be hiking with. We then all take a four day course that will help us acclimatize in addition to learning some mountain climbing skills like using crampons and climbing up ice walls with an ice axe (yikes!).

Today I vividly remember how I felt at this same time before going to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, and that is that I must be absolutely out of my mind. Weeks and months before a climb, there’s always a logical reason in my head for doing it. After Kilimanjaro, it took me about two weeks to remember there was a logical reason to do what I did. Right now at this moment only hours before I travel to the point where I’ll be starting my hike from, I can find no logical reason and it is only momentum that is taking me where I’m going. Momentum mixed with dread and a small pinch of excitement. I keep trying to convince myself to remember to enjoy the scenery and forget about the dangers. We’ll see.

Now I must go take the diuretic that mountain climbers take in order to help in the prevention of altitude sickness. From now until a week from today I will be peeing profusely every half hour. Fun.

3 comments

  1. I always thought the Mont-Blanc/Monte Bianco was the highest mountain in Europe.
    Now I was forced to learn about the “seven summits” that consider the Elbrus as part of Europe, and about the controversy: strangely enough, the Italian translation of Wikipedia insists that the Caucasus is more Asia than Europe, and is more chauviniste than the French one, where it is said to be the highest peak of only Western Europe…
    Apparently there is no Evidence-Based Geography to refer to.

    Let me tell you the Italian way: “In bocca al lupo!”
    (literally it means “in the mouth of the wolf”, and stands for “break a leg”)

  2. Very enjoyable to read your inner thoughts Dr. Nadia. Most enjoyable part is that you say it all, no pretense, nothing to hide. Just being the normal human that we all are at heart. All our fears, all our unanswered questions. See you after you’ve climbed the summit and made a new achievement InshaAllah.

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