Mont Blanc’s reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous mountains hit home for a Lancaster hotelier whose summit attempt was thwarted by treacherous conditions.
As dozens of avalanches cracked loose and rumbled down the precipitous flanks of the White Mountain, Tim Bell’s team of climbers were forced to retreat to safety after attempting to make it to the 4,810 metre-high summit for charity.
“We got as high as the infamous Grand Couloir at 3,400 metres, which is notoriously known as the most dangerous crossing point of the mountain,” said Tim, 39, who is the general manager of the Lancaster House Hotel.
“Unfortunately, an avalanche had caused a deep gully to form across the traverse just minutes before reaching it, making it too dangerous to even attempt to cross.
“The snow was very loose under foot and under the expert guidance of our mountain leaders, it became a no-brainer decision to regretfully turn back.
“We had camped at the bottom of the slope the night before, as a final rest before making the summit attempt, and avalanches were going off all the time. It was like a constant rumble of thunder, each one lasting around 30 seconds, and you just know it’s the sound of tonnes of snow falling off the mountain.
“It’s extremely unsettling, and even though I put my mp3 player on to drown it out, the mind was still conscious of the dangerous conditions awaiting us. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep there.”
The problem arose due to France, like the UK, experiencing a prolonged cold winter, with huge amounts of snow being put down on the mountain – far more than there would usually be at this time of year.
Normally that wouldn’t be too much an issue, but it was compounded by a sudden change in temperatures, with the usually cool valley of Chamonix experiencing 30C, which meant the build-up of snow melted rapidly, causing lots of potentially devastating avalanches.
“We were obviously very disappointed,” Tim said. “We were all fired up for the summit push after four days of successful climbing and acclimatisation.
“There was so much adrenaline and determination to complete the final section. But the conditions were against us that day.
“Even if we had managed to cross the traverse, wind speeds were apparently hitting 130kmp/h further up the final slope, and just before the summit we would have had to climb up the Bosses Ridge, which is like an icy version of Striding Edge on Helvelyn, only with much bigger drops off the edge.
“The winds would have made this final part of the climb simply impossible. But safety always comes first, and I’m relieved we all made it down in one piece.”
Despite his frustration of not being able to make it to the top, Tim, who climbed Kilimanjaro in 2011, still had a fantastic adventure and managed to raise around £1,500 for St John’s Hospice.
“It has been a great experience, the views were absolutely spectacular – tall jagged peaks with blue skies and wide panoramas,” said Tim.
“We climbed one of Mont Blanc’s lower peaks two days earlier and we had all bonded strongly together as a group. It was also reassuring to know we were physically and mentally ready to do the climb. That bodes well for the future.”
Tim didn’t have to wait long before his next big challenge – he became a father eight days after returning home.
Though he has already said he is determined to return to Mont Blanc for another attempt within the next couple of years.
You can donate via text by texting Mont73 and the amount (eg £5) to 70070. Alternatively, you can visit justgiving.com/timschallenge2013.