From June 17 – 23, Richard Jarvis, CTO of EMIS, and Oleg Gavriliuc, Senior QA Engineer at Amdaris, swapped computers for climbing boots and summited Mont Blanc together to raise awareness and funds for PANS PANDAS UK.
This was an impossible challenge, with extremely tough conditions. Now Oleg is safely back in Moldova, we catch up on how it all went.
A massive congratulations for making it to the summit! What were the conditions like?
The conditions were tough. Because of this, the Mont Blanc ascent was much harder than we’d expected. There were a lot of factors against us. Firstly, the weather conditions, with big storms about to roll in. There were also winds of up to 70-80 km per hour that could easily blow us off the mountain.
Also, tragically, the day we arrived at the Tete Rousse Hut, which is the lower of the two huts on the route up Mont Blanc, a man had been killed higher up. Lots of people aborted their plans because of this, including some who were meant to be in our group. There were lots of helicopters and people were afraid. It was a very negative atmosphere in the hut and hard not to let that get into your head. The guides were discouraging people from trying to make the ascent. We started to get worried we wouldn’t get the chance to attempt our challenge, let alone complete it.
How did you manage to make the ascent, given the conditions?
Usually, you do the ascent in two steps. First, you go to the Tete Rousse Hut (3187m), then you go to Gouter Hut (3815m) and you start your climb to the summit (4808m) from there after a night of sleep. However, due to the conditions we only had a small window of opportunity when we were at the Tete Rousse Hut. So, we had to make a choice. Either we started the ascend from Tete Rousse, or we’d have to give up on Mont Blanc and climb another peak.
Richard and I were both determined not to give up. We’d set out to summit Mont Blanc and that was what we wanted to do. Lots of guides tried to convince us to do another peak but luckily our guides, Graham and David, believed in us and trusted us enough to give it a try. I’m very grateful for that. The thought of not getting the chance to do the ascent was gutting.
What difference did starting from the lower hut make?
It made our climb a lot longer and harder. The route from the Tete Rousse Hut to the Gouter Hut is climbing not hiking, and physically very tough. You are clambering up big rocks with the help of metal cables. I was very glad we’d done so much training to prepare. This was crucial to our success, as was our ability to quickly adapt to whatever the mountain threw at us.
I’d estimate that we expended roughly 30% more energy for the ascent than we would have done, thanks to this change of plans. Ideally, you wouldn’t waste that amount of energy before doing the rest of the ascent, but it was the only chance we had of reaching the summit.
Was this the hardest part of the ascent?
Yes, because it’s a very long climb. During it, you cross the Corridor of Death (or Grand Couloir), which is where the man was killed that same morning by a falling rock. This tragedy was caused by the unusually warm weather that had melted the ice around the rocks above, so more were falling than normal. This corridor is the scariest part of the hike for a lot of people. Richard had a very bad night’s sleep thinking about the danger we were putting ourselves in.
The last 500m of the 8-hour ascent was also challenging because it’s a very steep rockface covered in ice. If you fall, it’s a long way down…
What was the best part for you, was it the summit?
Actually, no, for me it wasn’t the summit. We only had 2-3 minutes at the top because a storm was just about to hit the peak. We saw it rush in after us and dark clouds completely engulfed the mountain. We’d been racing the clock the whole way up and it was crazy to think that just 15 minutes had meant the difference between success and failure. So, we didn’t have time to enjoy the victory and I only really processed what we’d achieved afterwards.
For me, I enjoyed the preparation and being part of a team with Richard, his friend Romin and our two guides, Graham and David. None of us, apart from Richard and Romin, had met before, but we quickly formed a strong unit, where everyone had the same aim and trusted each other. This was the coolest thing for me. The team collaboration, the sharing of new experiences and the amazing views of the Swiss and French Alps.
Now you’ve done it, would you say this was an impossible challenge?
It wasn’t impossible but it was very, very hard and unlikely that we would make it. While the ratio of success for summiting Mont Blanc is usually very low compared to other mountains (50:50), the odds for us were even lower (20:80), thanks to the adverse conditions.
However, we made it through preparation, teamwork, determination and – yes – a bit of luck. I’m so happy we did it! Taking part in this climb was a real honour and I’ll always be grateful to Amdaris’ co-CEO Andy Rogers for giving me this opportunity. It just shows what you can achieve when you imagine the impossible and I’m delighted that we’ve managed to raise funds for Richard’s chosen charity PANS PANDA UK in the process.
A note on the charity PANS PANDAS UK
Richard chose to climb Mont Blanc to raise money and awareness for PANS PANDA UK because the charity supports his 13-year-old goddaughter, who was diagnosed with Pans after suffering from an infection as a toddler. PANS PANDA is a rare syndrome which affects a child’s personality and can result in OCD, tics and behavioural issues. While it can often be treated with antibiotics, more needs to be done to raise awareness and help families who are struggling with a diagnosis.
PANS PANDAS UK’s mission is to ensure speedy diagnosis and effective treatment for sufferers by educating the medical community as well as offering support to sufferers and their families.