A couple of months back, I attempted to ascend Mont Blanc, the highest peak of the Alps at 4,810m above sea level, solo in a single day starting all the way down in the valley. Let’s just say this isn’t something you do every day. Spoiler ahead: I turned around just 150 vertical meters below the top, but how this made me feel was quite surprising to me.

The challenge

I had previous experience running in this part of the Alps, tackling 100km around Les Houches and the beautiful city of Chamonix but ascending Mont Blanc isn’t your typical trail run. The distance is of course much shorter at just 15km but a vertical gain of way over 4,000m, tackled alone in just one day, made this the ultimate challenge for me.

The attempt

I planned this all winter long and was really excited when the end of May arrived and I finally decided to go for it. The weather was supposed to be perfect, I got a couple of days off, I was well trained and had gathered the required equipment.

After a short acclimatization, I started running in the dark at 3am in the morning. The first couple of hours of the route I had already scoped out the day before, so the dark wasn’t really a problem. But right after the sun rose I found myself in heavy snow. Turns out it was still too early in the season and at 2,000m I was already hip high and losing my planned track. This cost me a lot of time that I just couldn’t make up later in the ascent.

After some ridge climbing I got to the Refuge du Goûter hut in the middle of the morning, entering a complete new world of endless white fields, a cold breeze blowing in my face, the air already being noticeably thin. Fellow mountaineers would start going for the top from here on their second or even third day.

View at the Refuge de Gouter. In the background one can see the white mountains and some clouds.
My path to the Refuge du Goûter held a much deeper challenge than I had expected.

The take home message

At first I was disappointed, not only because I couldn’t enjoy being on the peak, but also because I worked so hard to get so far and also wanted to achieve my set goal, but later when I got down the ridge safely and returned to the valley after more than 13 hours on my feet totally exhausted and just happy to be back, it struck me that there was no reason to be disappointed for several reasons:

1. Managing risk

I did not get overly obsessed with my goal and made the right decision to turn back. Sometimes, being too focused causes you lose to sight of the risks you are taking and that can lead to some stupid decisions being made.

2. Setting the right targets

Not achieving your target is not always a result of bad performance. It can simply mean that your targets were too ambitious. However be careful: Don’t use this argument as a regular excuse when not achieving your goal. Use it as a motivator for your next attempt.

3. Making the best of the situation

On my race to the top and my early decent, I still managed to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere in the mountains, the great views and landscapes. Also, I gained a lot of valuable experience along the way that will help me to get to the top at the second attempt.

Marcel taking a selfie in front of Mount Blanc's top. In the background you can see the snowy peak.
I adjusted my target this time but Mont Blanc is still in my sights!

Note: Don’t try this unless you are an experienced mountaineer. I knew what I was doing and wasn’t putting myself in too risky a situation.

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