Day One and Two: After arriving in Chamonix, I was quickly introduced to the people I would be spending the next week with, a group of Irish adventurers and a Dutch woman who has previously climbed Mount Aconcagua, so it was great to be able to pick her brains about my up and coming adventure in the next few months.
We spent last night getting to know each other and it felt like I was back in the Royal Marines, the kit packing, kit musters and discussing with the team what works and doesn’t work.
It was an early night, feeling excited about what the next week has install for me.
Woke up early this morning and after tucking into a continental breakfast, it was the final kit check before we headed off to the starting point of the Gran Paradiso
After a short drive we arrived at the starting off point.
For the first time, I felt a little nervous and anxious about what the next few days would entail.
I was confident, I was physically fit and in good shape, but I have not done any yomping since my time in the Royal Marines, not carried kit for a long while and never worked at altitude. Having one leg never entered my mind, it was the average concerns, which I later found out everyone was had.
I needn’t of worried as the first part of the journey was relatively straight forward. A two and a half hour trek through forests at the side of the mountain, where every now and then a clearing would appear and we were able to admire the truly specular views on offer and we were not even a quarter of the way up yet.
Time passed quickly, chatting to my guide and the rest of the team and we soon arrived at our hut witch was our overnight point.
We could see the Gran Paradiso from the hut, which looked deceptively close, however it was a further five to six hours to the summit from this point.
After a much needed shower, a hearty dinner, we were briefed about tomorrows summit. It is now time for an early night! Feeling extremely excited about tomorrow.
After a 5:30am alarm, it was time for breakfast, a quick briefing, then the boots on for the start of our assent to the summit of the Gran Paradiso
It was decided that I would leave 15 minutes before the rest of the group, as the guides have never previously had any amputees before, so it was an unknown territory for them with how I and my prosthetic would hold up on the mountain.
In the months leading up to this, I had trained on Mount Snowdon, so as I set off with my guide, I naturally began at my normal pace, to which I was quickly told by my guide Graham, that due to the altitude, it was a slower pace here in the Alps.
For the first hour, I struggled with the slow pace, feeling I could go quicker and began getting frustrated. It was only later on that I appreciated this advice and became aware that if I kept up my earlier pace, it would put a lot of strain on my body and reaching the summit might have been in doubt.
We trekked for the first hour in darkness over boulders and rugged terrain. The biggest task was watching your footing placement and thankfully the prosthetic was holding up well. The first test came when we got to the ice and snow! It was then time for the crampons to be put on.
This was another first for me, as I had never worn crampons with my prosthetic. I also quickly realised how cold you can become when standing around even if just for a couple of minutes. We had a mini break put on the crampons and then set off again.
The major difference I found with the prosthetic was the extra work my quad muscles were doing on that side. Normally with just a pair of trainers on the prosthetic is quite light to pick up. Now however I was picking up a heavy pair of boots with crampons on walking in snow up an incline. It wasn’t long before my leg(s) were on fire.
As we walked on, the morning the sun eventually came into play and it was nice to have the sun in your face. Despite the sun once we stopped moving even for a few minutes the cold was apparent at the height. We stopped every hour for a couple of minutes and then cracked on again. Graham my guide set the pace and we didn’t stop unless it was one of his designated breaks. This worked well for me, as I knew just to keep putting one foot in front of the other until told otherwise.
We made good progress and Graham was impressed with our time. We had reached the top of the mountain in great time with no problems, with the prosthetics or me. I was having a mild headache every now and again but in general I was lucky and the altitude hadn’t really affected me. The last bit of the climb was very rocky and technical so this changed the dynamic slightly.
This involved Graham using loop lines and carabiners while we scaled across the side of the rocks. Previously my stump had coped well, but this last part of the climb was different and I was putting different pressure on different part of the stump. It wasn’t like the previous 4/5 hours of yomping; this was using your tiptoes and finger tips to stand on rocks sticking of the side of a mountain, the only problem being I didn’t have any toes on one foot!
Graham my guide was great and I trusted him a 100% and he successfully got me across to Our Lady who stands on the summit of the Paradiso at 4000m high. It was an amazing feeling to make it and funny to think that a man with one leg was the highest man in Italy if only for a few minutes.
The views were spectacular and I didn’t want to leave the summit. The fact I had achieved this with a so-called disability made the feeling even greater. Eventually we set off down the mountain and this time I could properly enjoy the amazing views on show.
The walk down was relatively uneventful until 1 hour to go to the hut. We came to the part of the trek were we took our crampons off and walked over the boulders again. As I was walking I misplaced my prosthetic foot and as I pulled the leg up to take the next step the prosthetic foot got caught between a boulder and very nearly detached from the stumo. I managed to keep the stump in the prosthetic but the damage was done. The mechanism that keeps the stump in the prosthetic had snapped meaning the stump could come out the leg very easily.
I managed to walk down the remaining last hour of the hill very gingerly to the hut were a beer was waiting for me.
We managed to finish an hour ahead of everyone else despite the leg breaking and the beer tasted so good with the backdrop of the Grand Paradiso behind me. As I enjoyed the beer, I was aware that the leg was broke and unless it was fixed it would put into doubt my attempt on Mount Blanc in 2 days.
I worked with the guys to do everything possible to get the prosthetic leg fixed. Stripped it down using allen keys and screw drivers, rang up my consultants back in the UK and also had a prosthetic team in Switzerland involved but it became apparent that it was a job for the technicians back in the UK and the guides just couldn’t risk letting me have a go at Mount Blanc with a prosthetic leg that wasn’t properly working.
This has meant my trip had come to a premature end and I wasn’t able to summit Mount Blanc. The trip has still been a huge success in my training for the Adaptive Grand Slam and with the experience I have gained from the Gran Paradiso and I cannot thank John and Graham from Mount Blanc guides enough for the opportunity to experiences this.
Being on the Mountain again enabled me to feel like a young Marine again with the world at his feet. I forgot I had one leg. I achieved something that able-bodied people would struggle with and if any think, it made me more determined to achieve the ultimate goal of the Adaptive Grand Slam.