Colin talks about Alps adventures

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Morpeth Rotary Club

FORMER teacher Colin Dyson told members about his adventures walking and climbing on Mont Blanc, which at 4,807 metres is the highest mountain in Europe.

On a visit to the Everest Base Camp, someone had told him what a wonderful place Chamonix was, so he went for the first time seven years ago.

He was so impressed by the beauty of the white-covered mountains that he made three attempts to get to the Mont Blanc summit and at last in August 2012 he made it.

He recommended the book Killing Dragons on the first British climbers in the Alps. Mont Blanc was climbed for the first time in 1786. The route to the top passes a sheer drop of 1,000 feet.

Along with two friends from Tyneside, they arranged to acclimatise before making an attempt on the summit. They bivouacked on Mont Brulée at 3,000 metres, then at a mountain hut on the Matterhorn at 3,400 metres.

Early starts are needed for mountain climbing and they started at 5am to climb on the Breithorn.

Acclimatisation is necessary to overcome altitude sickness. One way is to go up 500 metres and down again and go progressively higher each day.

Early climbers thought that gunpowder helped you to recover from it. The substance makes people feel that their muscles will not work at all and they want to lie down on the mountain and go to sleep.

Until the 1740s, superstition and religion kept people away from high mountains. There were stories of bandits, goblins, witches and dragons.

The first climbers in the Alps were British men, Pococke and Windham. They came to Chamonix in 1741 and climbed around the mountains, but did not see any of the fearsome and mythical dangers.

In 1760, the naturalist Saussure got up the valley and offered a reward to the first person to get up to the summit. In 1765, people started looking for possible routes to the top and two scientists came to carry out experiments on the effect of different altitudes on the boiling point of water.

At the third attempt, a route was found in 1786 by Planchard and Balmac, the same one that the three friends took in 2012.

They took the tramway up as high as they could, then set off carrying 25kg packs. They saw chamois and interesting small iron memorials.

Most groups went with a guide, but they did not. They crossed the Tête Rousse Glacier where great stone boulders crash down the mountain-side as they are released when the sun warms the ice. Several people are killed by them every year.

Just before they went, a party with British climbers were all killed. The area is very unstable.

The route went on along the Gouter Ridge, where there were steel ropes to clip onto or steel ladders across difficult sections to where they could see the Gouter refuge hut.

They abandoned the attempt the first time due to heavy snow in Chamonix and gave up the second try because of severe winds and weather conditions.

But once they reached the top, there was a magnificent view from it, with the whole of Europe below.

They met groups of people coming up out of Italy and along other routes. They passed the Vallot refuge hut at 4,362 metres. They had a crevasse rescue kit and had practised with it in the Lake District.

There were campers, but the French are not keen on them now the new hut is there.

A cloud called the donkey is almost permanently over the summit and is a portent of bad weather. They camped, went to the top, then returned to the camp.

There is a famous statue at Chamonix commemorating Dr Planchard and porter Balmac. They climbed the mountain in 1786 and claimed the money from Saussure, who got to the top himself the following year.

Confirmation that they had climbed to the summit and waved was by observers with telescopes in Chamonix.

Supplies are expensive at the top. A bottle of water from a refuge hut costs five euros, although it did have to be delivered by helicopter.

As well as his teaching, Mr Dyson had spent many years volunteering as a leader of Scout troops and Cub packs.