Before describing our experience, I would like to explain in which context we decided to climb this face of one of the highest mountains in Switzerland.
Although I love hiking the narrow paths at high altitude I do not often climb at 4000 meters. My last trip was 10 years ago on the Pigne d’Arolla. Since that time I regularly walk in the mountains but never as vertical as this ! In reality I walked with my family at a gentle pace and occasionnally I join a friend to hike longer distances with few difficulties.
Last year as I needed a new challenge I thought of climbing the Grand Combin with my friend Patrick. Mainly because I had been looking at its beautiful North Face from my house for almost 4 years. Patrick who lives near this summit organized the ascension and hired an official mountain guide.
He was very happy that we decided to do it together.
Although I moved to England seven months ago we didn’t change our plan. And In order to be as fit as possible I began an intensive physical training including running, cycling and swimming. Moreover, I drastically reduced my consumption of cigarettes Meanwhile I enquired about the level of difficulty but Patrick was highly convinced of my capability. However he omitted to advise me about all the technical skills required to reach the summit in good condition.
So after settling my family in the UK and changing our style of life but also discovering a new working environment I flew from York to Geneva to meet my friend in Vevey, then we stayed a night in his home situated in a little village called Praz-de-Fort.
The weather forecast was exceptional. I felt confident with my physical preparation but was pretty sure that Patrick didn’t tell me the real obstacles we would have to face.
The long journey to reach the hut of Valsorey left me a bit of time to acclimatise to the altitude. After a bad night's sleep mainly due to the high altitude compared to York (15 m.), Jean-Rene, Patrick and I left the hut at 4 am. The first two hours were quite easy but then we started to climb 60 degree verticals. Suddenly the reality made me feel insecured and I started to doubt whether I would ever reach the summit. Beyond this panicky feeling I decided to pull myself together. Jean-René very professionally advised and encouraged me. In the middle of the ascension he discovered that despite my lack of experience for this type of summit I was in good shape and got enough courage to continue up to the top. Patrick was in the third position. He was very secure and constantly encouraging me. He also gave me an example to follow with his very good mountaineering skills.
On the summit of the Combin of Valsorey I wisely decided to stop for my friends to reach the summit 200 meter higher. We had a great feeling to achieve it and congratulated each other.
I was delighted to get a rest and admire the gorgeous view of Mont-Blanc and the Grande Jorasse.
When they came back from the summit and after eating some energy bars we went downhill taking a different way. The path was very sketchy and needed permanent attention. We finally reached the hut at 2 pm with a great feeling of satisfaction. The conclusion is that I encourage everyone to have the right preparation before climbing this fabulous mountain in order to get 100 % pleasure. Pascal.