We meet at the usual parking lot in Milan, ready to embark on the bus that takes us to the location of another M4810 outing. This time it’s a two-day outing: first we’ll walk from La Visaille, found above Courmayeur at 1700 metres, to the Elisabetta hut, at 2200 metres. The second day will bring us to our next peak: the Petit Mont Blanc. Or so we think.
Just minutes after our departure, Martina makes an announcement: our destination has been changed.
The guides checked the weather conditions, but despite the extreme heat in the city, there is still too much snow on the Petit Mont Blanc, making the outing unsafe.
So, now we’re pointing towards an equally challenging destination: Pointe Léchaud.
It’s found at 3127 metres, just slightly lower than the 3400-metre-tall Petit Mont Blanc. Some of us are relieved to know that they won’t have to climb as much as last time on the Grigna. 1000 metres to climb seems like a good compromise. But what was the key word last time? Relativity. What we didn’t consider is that height is just one of the challenges. Length is another, and in this case it really counts.
We meet the others on our arrival at La Visaille. Some of the group was already there in preparation for the start of the Methodos Red Week, a week dedicated to change, to sports, to story telling. And what better way to launch such an event than with a project like M4810?
We spend the evening in the hut, enjoying the conversation, beer, and local dishes. There are many of us this time, but tomorrow we won’t all be in search of the same destination.
We’ve changed something. An evolution, one of those difficult but necessary changes that represent the ability to adapt to reach a goal.
By now we know that not everyone wants or can try to climb the Mont Blanc. The topic of overcoming limits is always delicate, and we know that wanting to bring everyone in Methodos to “the top” may be too forceful and wouldn’t consist of a real growth process for some. Everyone has their own Mont Blanc as a point of reference and M4810 pushes us to look for it and reach it, no matter what it may be. Whether it’s at 4810 or 3000 metres. So, what now?
Now we’ll create two groups. And double the challenge. Because from now on there will be two priorities to consider, two paces, and two attitudes towards the journey. And also because we will have to keep the team united, working towards the same unique goal even in taking two different paths. And this time, we will part ways when we arrive al Colle di Chavannes, at 2603 metres.
We take off altogether under a golden sunrise, divided into groups of 4-5 people. The mood is varied, as is normal after a night sleeping at these heights. Few of us slept well and feel fresh and rested – almost all of us push along in silence for the beginning of the climb. Sara even has a fever.
I watch her walk in front of me and, while I admire her, I’m also a bit worried that her will to continue in this condition may also put her at risk. What if at a certain point she can’t do it any more? How would she come back down, given that the guides are counted for per group?
I keep my thoughts to myself and continue walking. We separate at the Colle di Chavannes, the second group becoming a series of yellow and blue dots climbing on the side of the mountain, eventually turning right to complete a loop at more reasonable heights. We continue straight on, and I wear a smile as I think of all the stories we’ll be hearing during the debrief later on!
We go on and on. The rock starts to be covered in snow, and our Salewa crampon hiking boots prove to be essential against the moisture, even though they’re a bit less comfortable than the trekking ones we usually use.
We continue and Pointe Léchaud is still not in sight. It remains hidden behind other hills, other peaks. It seems incredible, looking back, how far we walked from the Col des Chavannes! We didn’t get much higher, but we’re many kilometres away.
We start to feel the fatigue and the snow makes the hike more challenging. We cross several steep snowfields where the guides set up ropes to help us pass safely. But despite the ropes, looking down to see an icy slide that ends on a rocky cliff, the nerves start to rush.
“Don’t stop, step by step, keep looking up,” the guides encourage us. Sure, it’s easy to say. Facing something that scares us is always done a step at a time. The problem is taking the first one.
And so, with the strength of the group and the magic security that the rope promises, we all pass. Trying not to think about the fact that later we’ll have to do it on the way down.
There it is: Pointe Léchaud! It’s within sight. But when the guides point to it, our jaws drop. All the way down there? It seems miles away. Two more hours, they tell us. And our legs begin feeling heavier and heavier.
We continue climbing until it gets really vertical. We proceed, zig-zagging at a steady pace and breath. One, two, one, two, one, two. On our way, we notice someone ahead of us stop. We catch up quickly and notice its Sabrina: she says she can’t do it any more, that she won’t continue. With every group that reaches us, members unlatch themselves from the rope and join her, exhausted. Arnaud, the Courmayeur guide that we entrusted with this expedition, ends his hike to bring them back down to the valley.
I feel sorry for them: we’ve come so close. But the hardest part is yet to come, so I understand their choice. I see Sara resist – she wants to reach the top, but I see her getting more and more pale. I also feel strange, like I’m in my own bubble, where I’m accompanied only by fatigue and my steps in the snow. It’s kind of hypnotic: one, two, one, two, one, two.
Time seems to stand still, yet we keep moving. And at a certain point we arrive right under Pointe Léchaud. We look up, defenseless. We’re so close but… it’s a vertical climb! A white wall. We have a bite to eat, we rest, and - after what always seems like a very short time – we put on our crampons and head towards the peak.
Before taking off, I throw a tired glance at the valley and… I see something moving. Small, coloured points that, tied to the rope and to each other, slowly climb, standing out against the white background. It’s Sabrina and the others! We cheer them on with an excited applause, witnesses to this event that reminds us that much more often, our limits are mental and not physical. And how finding our own pace is important in getting far.
The last climb before the top is always the hardest. It seems to be a rule in the mountains as it is in life. It’s a test of your willpower when you think you’ve already given it your all. The crampons penetrate the snow and ice and anchor us like spiders onto the mountain. Then the white turns to black as we continue climbing on the rock. We’re almost there.
Pointe Léchaud is exactly that… a point. A rocky point that sits vertically on top of a hundred-metre-long overhang. Looking up is discouraging, and looking down makes you dizzy. The only option is to follow your own feet. One, two, one, two, one, two.
And then, there we were! At the top, at 3127 metres. We see the Mont Blanc, that by now is a constant in all of our outings, and it reminds us that wherever we go, it watches us and puts us to the test.
We have little time to rest at the top, and we can already hear the crampons on the rock: the last group, the one that wanted to stop, is here. They didn’t think they would make it, but – at their own pace – they made it up here with us. We’re all at the top.
And now, it’s time to go back down.
I’m convinced that this will be the real test – not the climb itself. Exhausted, we make a final, epic, effort, but gravity takes its toll and we start falling and sliding on the snow.
There are moments of panic, where some of us slide downhill for several metres, screaming until they come to an eventual stop - to the relief of all of us.
And then, the guides have a fantastic idea: to change our perspective of fear. To turn it into game.
And so, just like that, following their instructions, we find ourselves descending… sliding on our bottoms. And screaming, but this time of joy. The joy typical of kids when they try something new, but also of adults when they understand they won’t have to walk a 1000-metre descent!
We’re all the same – senior managers and interns, freelance workers and employees: we’re all sliding down the snow-covered mountain and we’re all having a blast. Isn’t this, maybe, the secret of a successful team?
After an infinite number of slides and many steps, we all reach the bottom. The second group recounts their hike. Longer and more challenging than they expected, but not lacking in adventures worth sharing, like when Andrea slid down a snowfield and used a walking stick as an ice axe to break.
Sara also arrives, pale and worn out: she made it almost until the end, but when we got back to the Colle de Chavannes, fever and fatigue had the best of her. She managed to get herself to the valley, but she realised that she risked it – for herself and for the others. And we ask ourselves: what is the compromise that we have to make between our personal ambition for the top, and sacrificing it in order not to put ourselves or the project on the line?
We’re exhausted. For most of us this outing wasn’t as physically challenging as the terrifying Grigna. Nevertheless, we all have the same question in mind: what is this compared to the Mont Blanc?
Someone answers, jokingly, but with a hint of truth: it’s only a taste of it.
It’s not consoling, it’s true. There’s a long way to go, there’s no doubt about it. But the truth is that, a year ago, we wouldn’t have even thought that we’d be here now. A year ago, we were facing one of our first climbs using ropes and climbing equipment on the Mont Fallère. A year ago, just the descent from the Monte Disgrazia caused problems, individually and as a group.
Will we be ready for the Mont Blanc a year from now?
I don’t have the answer, but as Filippo reminds us, in every great change project, “You shouldn’t look at the way to go, but at how far you’ve come”. We’re becoming aware of the steps forward that we’ve taken and that, by keeping on walking, we’ll get higher than ever.