We chatted with Tijs and Koen about the preparations for this extreme sporting challenge and their experiences during this exciting climb.
Koen: Mountains have been in our blood for a long time. When we were little, we both went to the Alps with our parents during the summer holidays. We love mountains because of the nature, tranquillity, landscape, hospitality and range of sports opportunities available.
Tijs: That’s very true. When we’re on holiday, we like a bit of action and adventure. Mont Blanc is a popular mountain among alpinists, of course. Justifiably, because it’s such a beautiful environment for mountaineering enthusiasts.
Koen: We came up with the idea of climbing Mont Blanc last summer. We were looking for a new challenge and literally wanted to go higher than we had ever gone before.
We did some research and came across the Dutch Mountain Network and experienced mountain guide Jelle Staleman. They offer guided and organised excursions, both in Europe and beyond. We didn’t take long to take the plunge and decided to register for the Mont Blanc Summit climb.
Nice! Did you already have some climbing experience?
Koen: A few years ago, Tijs and I took part in an Alpine Tour in the Austrian Ötztal. During that five-day trip, we climbed one summit each day, culminating in the Wildspitze, which is the highest summit in Tyrol at 3,774 metres. That is where we acquired extensive experience with mountain life, glacier walking, rock climbing and the most common rope techniques.
Who did you climb Mont Blanc with? Just the two of you or a larger group?
Tijs: We did the expedition as a group of four friends. We’ve known each other for a long time and we also participated in the previous Alpine Tour together, so knew that we could trust each other. Two more Dutch people joined our group via Mountain Network, so there were six of us all together.
“If everything goes well, anyone who wants to could climb that mountain in principle. However, if anything goes wrong, experience and insight are crucial.”
Koen: Well, we explicitly decided to do this climb with expert guidance and later we discovered that we’d made the right decision. The programme consisted of a preparation process, during which we practised ice and rock climbing and glacier walking on the spot.
For the first few days, we were accompanied by two local guides and for the ascent to the summit, we had one on two guidance. In addition to physical and technical preparations, the guides also prepared us psychologically. The thing is, lots of climbers want to reach the summit at all costs, but experienced guides can point out the dangers, special circumstances or dramatic experiences that sometimes make it impossible to reach the top.
For this alone, it’s essential to seek guidance when you take on such a challenge. If everything goes well, anyone who wants to could climb that mountain in principle. However, if anything goes wrong, experience and insight are crucial. If they then decide it’s better not to continue, you should trust them. Or lose your life.
What preparations did you make?
Tijs: Obviously, we left nothing to chance for this expedition. We regularly went on long bike rides or walking exercises in order to improve our basic condition and endurance. A climb of this nature also requires special material, such as specific clothing and shoes for Alpine areas.
The organisation also provided most of the technical equipment: climbing harnesses, helmets, snap hooks, ropes, ice picks and crampons. When selecting material, it’s important to only take what is strictly necessary to climb the mountain. Before you know it, the backpack weighs 8 to 12 kg. The more material and clothing you take with you, the more difficult the climb becomes…
Koen: We also participated in the introductory day in the climbing hall in Nieuwegein (the Netherlands), which was organised by Mountain Network. In addition to practical information and an introduction to other participants, we got to grips with wall and rock climbing. Balance and stability are essential, so one of the things they did was to get us to climb the wall blindfolded. That way you really learn to put your feet carefully and are constantly trying to get in the best position.