At the end of 2012, the so called Year of Adventure, I didn’t think that it was possible to go higher, further, and more extreme.. I was wrong. As 2013 draws to an end, this final post of the year is one of reflection on what has been probably the best year of my life. From the Scottish Highlands and the blustery slopes of Glen Coe, to the frozen waterfalls and mixed ice climbs of Italy. From the 35km ultra slog that was the Mourne Wall in Ireland, to the dizzying heights of the Monta Rosa Chain in Switzerland all in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn itself. Throw into that learning to skydive, and most of all, still being alive at the end of these incredible 12 months, it has been some year.
And it is freefall skydiving that has given me the biggest thrill in in 2013, and also in my 31 years of mortal life. To climb to a summit of 15,000 ft can take upwards of 2 days, followed by a long, dangerous and miserable climb down that can take 15 hours. To fly up to 15,000ft can take around 15 mins, to fall back to the earth takes around 3 minutes, 65 seconds of which is the most incredible, exhilarating and downright brilliant act of freefalling at terminal velocity. Our Accelerated Freefall Skydive course in Ocana, Madrid, resulted in Tom and I gaining our ‘A Licence’, the bit of paper that says we can jump out of a plane all by ourselves anywhere in the world. Wearing whatever we want. Of course, this wouldn’t have been a typical adventure unless something went wrong…which it very much did. During Tom’s jump #18*, he experienced a major malfunction during deployment of his main canopy. Basically, his parachute didn’t open properly and at speeds of over 100ft/second, he was forced to cut away and deploy his reserve, all at a distance of 3000ft from the rather solid Spanish countryside below. Very much still alive to tell the story, it hasn’t deterred either of us, who now proudly have nearly 50 solo jumps between us.
Whilst terminal velocity has given me the biggest feeling of being alive, it was my August 2013 summit of Mont Blanc Du Cheillon that gave me the sternest test this year. After staring at the sheer vertical face of the North Face for a day and a half, wondering how on Earth we would make our summit attempt, my climbing partner Jean-Lou and I realised that we were the only 2 climbers on the mountain that day, and after an incredibly fast and difficult ascent of the SW Ridge, we stood alone at the Summit, taking my 2013 tally to 11 +15,000ft mountains topped out. If only I had a parachute to get me back down…….
And so looking forward to 2014, some new challenges lay ahead, new summits to stand on, and even more planes to jump out of. One thing I have learned above all these past 12 months, don’t forget to look down when you are high up, it helps you see where you are going next!
*I don’t want the number 18 to trend on Twitter, i’m using # as it was intended!!!!
Our route to the summit of Mt Blanc Du Cheillon: