Ken Maxwell, a longtime Ryder-Walker friend and guest, successfully summited Mont Blanc during the summer of 2013. Rising more than 15,000 feet, Mont Blanc is Western Europe’s tallest peak. We asked Ken to share a few details about his adventure and he graciously offered the following story. As it turns out, Ken developed a love for mountaineering while hiking with Ryder-Walker. Yeah! Our hats off to you, Ken. Congrats!
A long time ago, I think it was 1998, Tracey and I made our first trek with RW. We did the Val Bregaglia and loved it. The entire experience was phenomenal, and our guides were Peter, Kenny and Julia. We met some great folks on the trail including Biff and Sue Johnson, the Buzza’s and other fun hogs (we were clueless about the fun hog thing!). We both enjoyed the challenge of the rock and were encouraged to take a mountaineering course. In 2000 we went to the Colorado Mountain School and climbed for a week. If you have ever looked at a mountain and thought “I want to stand on top” then we share that competitive drive.
As most climbing trips usually start – a friend and I were drinking and we decided we should climb the Matterhorn together. I asked Peter if he could recommend a guide for this and he did – but, my friend couldn’t make the trip this year – and since I was ready physically, I still wanted to climb something! Thinking back to our first trek with RW; Biff and Paul were going to climb Mont Blanc later that summer (we also spent the week after our trek together), and it occurred to me that I would actually prefer MB over the Matterhorn anyway. So, the guide said OK to the idea and off we went! We have been on the 25th Jubilaum, and the Appenzell trip two years ago. We didn’t do too many walks while our kids were young and at home. (They are both living on their own now.)
Climbing Mont Blanc
I spent 3 days acclimatizing in Zermatt by climbing and staying in the huts, which was a great experience on its own. Then on July 14th, I drove to Chamonix and went directly up to the Cosmique Hut. The weather was fantastic, the hut was full of climbers and I don’t think anyone slept much. Everyone was up at midnight for the 1 A.M. breakfast, which I could barely eat for being so excited. At 1:30 A.M we set out with probably 60 or so other climbers for the summit. It was a great night for walking—stars out, the lights of Chamonix and Les Houches below. There was no wind, so I only wore a T-shirt and fleece to keep warm. It was the hardest thing I have done physically, but that only increases its inherent value to me.
The sun came up as I walked across the Col de Brenva and I hope I can remember that until my dying day! It seemed to take forever to get to the summit (actually about 6 and 1/2 hours). Herbie, my guide, was great and we decided on the summit to descend by way of the Goûter Hut and down to Chamonix as I felt strong —so we descended, giving me the grand traverse of the summit of MB! I can tell you that the next morning my quads were barking at me BIG TIME, but it is a great sense of accomplishment that still gives me a sense of pride as I write this.
Photos by Ken Maxwell; used with permission by Ryder-Walker.
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