It's May, an alpine red two carriage train pulls into the modest dated platform of the station at uptown Chamonix. The track has only one stop, the Mer de Glacé a mile or so along and a 1000m up the outer skirt of the famous mountain above the snow line that had defined the freeze level that was sketched across the valley the previous night.
Amidst the sprinkling of tourists, hardcore climbers and off piste skiers were an unlikely group of virgin adventurers freshly kitted out for their first taste of the real mountains. Johnny the lead guide was assisted by bundle of limitless enthusiasm and energy in the form of Tiffany, Olympian sprinter Dwain Chambers, journalist Matt, Ellie and Merial from the charity Teens Unite, a city business woman and a young(ish), handsome(ish), fit (ish) barrister (that would be me for those who needed assistance) with anxious anticipation etched on faces wondering if sporadic sessions at the finely polished local gym was really enough to prepare for the afternoons endeavors.
The Mer de Glacé (not so) express pulled into its only destination, the train emptied and the enthusiastic explorers, thirsty for their taste of adventure were made ready. Hats, -check, crampons- check, harness - (ouch/ squeak) check, pole - check, ice axe (yessss) check.
Roped together we set off onto the glacier following in the historic boot steps of the most famous explorers of yesteryear. The flakes of snow dropped heavily impeding visibility, heightening authenticity whilst crampons gripped uncertain rocky ground as we marched "hiholike" into the unseen, the unknown, seemingly unexplored challenges ahead.
The air consciously thinned at every forward movement as we broke 1800 metres, hearts thumping with increasing intensity at the effort of each uneven step with mouths drying up with every laboured breath. Crashshsh... not me falling (this time) but attention is immediately drawn to avalanches left and right, echoing round the valley and reshaping the sides of the mountains in a moments intense and natural activity.
The two hours on the mountain was physically demanding but satisfying. This was a "gentle" training climb, an amuse bouche of what is to come a few months down the line when we dare to take on the highest peak in Europe Mont Blanc that stands ceremoniously over the Chamonix town that bows respectfully at its foot. The summit is three times higher, the conditions 6times as demanding and the task 10 times longer and more challenging. One thing was painfully obvious to my bouche, without amusement, as I nursed my aching limbs following the afternoons efforts back down at village level over a glass of something, was that I need to do a lot of work before September... a lot of work !
The purpose of all these efforts will crystallise in September when Dwain Chambers (and I) will be climbing Mont Blanc to raise money for the charity Teens Unite to enable 9 young people with life limiting conditions to go back to Chamonix for a weeks outdoor activity based holiday. In June this year a group of teens from the charity went to Chamonix and engaged in activities such as white water rafting, climbing, mountain bike riding and go-ape. Their words are the only ones that could convey what the trip represented to them:
"I had the most amazing time, it's a very special place which helped me do some real soul searching. I will never forget it." - Christof
"It was a once in a life time opportunity and I feel privileged to have taken part..." - Natasha
"The memories from Chamonix with stay with me for the rest of life..." - Ben
"The Teensunite Chamonix trip 2013 was truly one of the best experiences I've ever had!" - Olivia
"It gave me the opportunity to do things I would not of done like the wite water rafting and cycling with a bunch of teenagers with smiles all round that have been through the same things as me across this amazing town called Chamonix." Brian
There is sober reality that shadows, but also drives, these initiatives. Bola was a young man who attended a training day with Dwain at Lea Valley Training centre late last year. He came (with others) from the Cancer unit at UCH hospital. His carer told me that Bola had previously spent most of his time in bed, but when he heard about the opportunity to meet Dwain he was determined to make himself well enough to participate. He came in a wheelchair and lit up the place with his huge smile and enthusiasm. Bola wrote a very personal letter to Dwain that will remain private between them. We heard the sad news that Bola had passed away recently. His carer sent me this message
"He was a hero. He fought and fought... he will never forget everything that people did for him, especially the day he had out with Dwain. Thanks for giving him the opportunity".
The opportunity to enrich and make a difference is an honour and a privilege. This is why Dwain and I are doing the climb in September. Help us make that difference and provide another group with the same experience next year. These initiatives are only possible with support and commitment.
Please visit: justgiving.com/dwainchambers
Special thanks go to Dream Guides, Sno Station, Evolution 2 and Ben at Denham Wealth Management for making the teens trip this year and in future years possible.