I’ve always had a sneaking wish to be part of the climbing fraternity: to stand upon mighty summits reserved only for the cognoscenti with gnarly hands and cool kit. However, whenever I’ve been called upon to produce a figure-of-eight knot – the one that connects you to the end of a climbing rope – I usually manage to make something that looks more like a nine.
Fortunately, a slew of companies now offer bona fide mountaineering adventures to those lacking the knowledge and confidence to go it alone. In theory, they could put you on top of Everest. Surely then you would gain honorary membership of the climbing fraternity? I was more modest in my ambitions: Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in western Europe at 4,810m, a target high enough to cause altitude sickness, but much lower than the Himalayan giants.
There were four of us in the group that assembled in the bar of La Chaumière Hotel in Chamonix, a well-know haunt of real climbers. There was Chris, very Yorkshire; Pippa, very Kiwi; Douglas, very Scottish, and me, very nervous. We were all reasonably fit, though nursing various niggling injuries, hangovers and anxieties. We had all done a Scottish winter mountain training weekend but forgotten most of what we had learned. Supervising our training and ascent was veteran guide Jim Kerr.