When the alarm goes off, almost no one finds themselves unprepared. Most eyes are already open and have been for most of the night, despite the comfort of their beds. It’s one of the first effects of altitude over the body when you’re not used to it. We’ll add that the Genepy after dinner was much appreciated by some of us, so you can get the full picture!
The half open eyes of almost everyone at breakfast give away that the feeling is the same for everyone, that many would have preferred staying in bed to facing this mountain hike at dawn. Above all this mountain hike: the route isn’t for everyone, with a high elevation gain, and once the coveted peak is reached, a long crest of via ferrata awaits.
There is obviously a lot of agitation. Many don’t know what to expect, and this contributes to the dread. When the guide, the night before, showed us how to put on a climbing harness, worried whispers travelled among the participants. “Via ferrata”, “crest”, “rope”… they’re not familiar terms to Change Management consultant, who are more used to the peaks of the graphs they deal with! For this reason, this time, we are organised in a very precise way: the whole group will try to complete the first phase, a glacial lake with a beautiful view of the valley. From there, only those that feel they are able to will continue to the summit, while one of the six guides that will be with us will stay with those who want to stop.
Already, at dinner, many colleagues start to distance themselves from the endeavour: “I think I’ll stop at the lake”, “I don’t think I’ll be able to reach the top”, “I’ll come back to the hut to go to the spa!”, were some of the comments. For some there are also physical limits to take into consideration.
Someone, for example, has quite a problem with heights: “my kids still laugh at me for the time that, in one of those panoramic glass bridges, I had to sit down among all the people because I couldn’t stay up: my legs were shaking and my head was spinning… what will I do if this happens tomorrow? Where do I sit? On the peak of a mountain?!” The others at the table nod – they’re all afraid of something similar, in the end.
After breakfast, we leave the hut with the sun already high in the sky, convinced that we would find a warm summer day, but… surprise! A cold wind hits us full force. The Salewa soft-shell and the rest of our equipment will be fundamental in this trip – a great first test of their quality! We start walking on the path beaten by the glacial wind, chatting and looking around, happy that the hike isn’t particularly difficult. The guide did, in fact, reassure us before leaving: “don’t worry, it’s almost all flat with just a bit of a climb at the end.”
We already learned that the definitions of the guides aren’t exactly the same as those of a city dweller, but even though we’re prepared, our jaws drop when we arrive to the “bit of a climb” that they had foreseen. It’s a vertical wall! So vertical that the path makes a zig-zag for a couple of hundred metres. And the final part is up there. Lined up, concentrated and anxious, we start climbing. Someone tries to chat, but gives up immediately. This time we’re not joking around!
It seems to take a lifetime to walk those few metres, but when the first of us get to the end, they’re amazed. A beautiful water mirror rests before us, blue as only a mountain lake could be, framed by the white peaks around it.
Some rest, some eat an energy bar. A group ventures to the lake’s edge, one person even tests the temperature of the water. Minutes pass and the rest of the team is still not in sight: it’s taking them a bit more time. It wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the cold wind that continues to freeze the sweat on our backs.
“Maybe we should go without waiting for them. We can get sick,” someone suggests. “In the group there are at least 2 or 3 different paces, it’s normal, we need to move.” They’re right from one point of view, of course. But from the other, what’s the point of this, if not to involve everyone? To share the fatigue as a team, to allow the greatest number of people possible to achieve the goal? The answer this time is no. The goal is for everyone, and everyone has the right to reach it together.
And from then on, the others started arriving, exhausted but happy. Most of them didn’t even imagine that they would arrive here, when they saw the wall that they would have to climb! And being all together is obviously a great pleasure!
We take a photo, as usual, and we continue walking. This time, dividing into groups is mandatory: 10 people per guide, linked by a rope, they approach the rocks. The path now is very different, our legs start needing the support of our hands, and watching from below starts creating a bit of dizziness for those who aren’t used to it! At certain points, the only thing between the climb and the fall is a small metal step and a chain: the famous via ferrata.
“Don’t look down, concentrate! Look at your hands, focus on the path. Point to where you’re going, not to where you’re coming from. Come on, let’s go!” the guides encourage us. And, actually, step by step, a pull on the rope by a pull on the rope, we climb. The fact that we’re all tied together is frightening, but it also creates a great sense of trust: it’s, more than ever, a metaphor for group work, of moving in unison. We can advance only if everyone is ready, the whole group stops if one member is in difficulty. It’s not just solidarity: it’s something more: it’s in the interest of all that the rope doesn’t fail!
And then, without realising it, since we’re concentrating on our feet and the rope, we made it: we’re at the top! A group, and then another, and then another, until the whole peak of the Mont Fallère, at 3061 metres, is blue and yellow from the Salewa jackets, branded M4810. We’re at THREE THOUSAND METRES! The first three thousand!
I look around and my heart bursts with pride: almost all of us did it! Even those who were more sceptical the night before, even those who were afraid, even though who suffer from vertigo. I ask how it’s going exactly to the person who has problems at a height, and they answer with a big smile: “Good, very good! In the beginning, when I looked around, I felt my head spinning, and I panicked. But then I concentrated, I looked to the top, I pointed to the destination, and I made it! Being tied to all of my colleagues, then, gave me strength. They were all with me.”
The most beautiful surprise? There it is: white and peaky, it rises unmistakably among all the peaks that surround us at 360°. The Mont Blanc. Our real destination, the destination of this trip, with its 4810 metres that inspired the name of our ambitious project. The Mont Fallère is just the first of a long series of 3000s, which will eventually bring us to the 4000s, which in turn will allow us to reach the ultimate objective: the roof of Europe! Doing it wouldn’t be possible without our preparation journey, without passing all the single phases. Each one brings to an achievement, each one brings us a bit higher, but also a bit deeper. For this reason, there is no such thing as “failure” in this adventure: it gets better every time, and even when it seems like we achieved less than we expected, we learn something for the time to come.
This is why everyone had to make it to the lake, but not necessarily to the peak. Because what’s important is the trip, going through the phases together, sharing a common challenge, not necessarily getting everyone to the destination.
And while we’re there, and in the photos we “touch” the Mont Blanc with our finders, this seems truer than ever.