36,000 Seconds |  Raphaela Haug

36,000 Seconds | Raphaela Haug

Words by Raphaela Haug

Do you have a dream? Something you want to experience? What's stopping you from achieving it?

What prevented me from pursuing my dream of paragliding from the summit of Mont Blanc (4808m)? In the beginning, I wasn't sure if my dream was too big. Then I either didn't have time, the wind wasn’t right, or couldn't find the right partner…

I get the lasagne out of the oven as we check the weather report for the next week. "It looks like low winds at altitude. Are you keen for some altitude climbing?" Tommy Friedrich asks me. More as a joke, I say, "Mont Blanc in one day with our gliders?”

"Ok, I'm in.”

Um, yeah. Wait a minute, what? I didn't expect him to say that. I think about it for a second and grin. "Should we really?", I ask, "I mean, we are completely unacclimatised."

We discussed it, checked various weather reports and decided: Mont Blanc, here we come. 

Do you know the feeling? You commit to something, you're fully motivated... but still not sure if it's a good idea. That's how I felt when we arrived at the parking lot in Les Houches in the Chamonix valley.

We’d driven straight from Innsbruck (Austria) to Chamonix (France), and were now at the starting point of the Gouter route on Mont Blanc. At only 1,000 meters above sea level, there were 3,800 meters of elevation still ahead of us! I had no idea if I'd ever walked that many vertical meters in one go. "Maybe you'd better not think about that now," I think to myself, "you'd better concentrate on taking everything important with you." 

We pack our paragliders, rescues and harnesses. We check the glacier equipment, then take enough food and drinks with us. When we're done, we grin at each other. Somehow this is all surreal. I mean, just a minute ago we were eating lasagna and less than seven hours later, we're standing in Chamonix; ready to get a little closer to my personal dream. The dream that has been in my head for several years.

We started at 11 pm in Les Houches. The early (or late!) start to ensure we would have enough time to walk through the night and arrive at the summit in the morning, hopefully able to fly down. I like to move at night - you can indulge your thoughts and you always feel much faster than you are. The further up we got, the more beautiful the starry sky became. Below us shone the sea of lights of Les Houches, and in the distance the lights of Chamonix could be seen.

We passed the Tete Rousse hut, which is the first base for aspiring Mont Blanc mountaineers. The hut was slowly coming to life, the first climbers just getting up. We had already been on the road for a few hours. I smile and think of all the people who are now fast asleep, snug and warm in their beds. But also of those who are just getting ready. Are they getting ready to make their personal dream come true?

Photos by Tommy Friedrich and Raphaela Haug

Our first stop was the Goûter hut at 3,835m. Here we treated ourselves to a tea break. Slowly, I started to feel the altitude and the meters we’ve already climbed. The hut was nice and warm, in contrast to the cold wind whistling outside. There was a lot of activity. Some climbers had already started, others were just getting ready. We all had one goal in mind: the summit of Mont Blanc. I sat down for a moment, watching others, and I have to grin. The nervousness around me was palpable. Movements that are usually so routine become sloppy. Crampons fall down, here and there a slightly louder word. What will happen to these people today? Will they fulfil their dream on Mont Blanc? 

Between the Goûter hut and summit is the Vallot bivouac. When we arrived there, the wind was whistling even stronger. A thought shoots through my head, “we might as well turn back - with this wind we won't take off anyway." I look at Tommy. Similar thoughts seem to be going through his head. Briefly, we consider turning around. But on the other hand, now we are already here. We might as well continue towards the summit., even if we have to walk down...

Not even an hour later we are beaming: we’ve reached the summit of Mont Blanc! We’ve climbed 3,800 vertical meters! "That's pretty damn cool,” I think. I turn around, take a picture and enjoy the view. What a privilege to be up here, standing at 4,808 meters. "We're here. Come on, let’s get ready to fly.” Tommy says. A little perplexed, I look at him. 

"What?!”


Photos by Tommy Friedrich and Raphaela Haug


He repeats what he just said. Somehow I didn't expect we’d be flying from the summit. But yes, he's right. The wind at the summit is much less than at the Vallot bivouac: 20 km/h, maybe 25 km/h, but no more. I quickly set up my glider, launched, and immediately I was in the air. I can even hold on a little. I start to grin, my smile growing wider and wider. My gaze goes back to the summit; Tommy is just taking off and below us are all the other climbers. They wave at us, rejoicing with us. I keep looking around, watching the sea of glaciers below me and the Aiguilles des Chamonix in the distance. I look back at Tommy again, and he's right next to me now, calling out to me. Rejoices! And then he's gone again, swooping and flying wingovers in this gigantic landscape. 


Photos by Tommy Friedrich and Raphaela Haug

We land in the valley and it’s just 9 a.m. Almost exactly 36,000 seconds ago, we started to walk from Les Houches. Isn't it crazy what you can do in such a short time? What are 36,000 seconds, or 600 minutes, or 10 hours?

For me, this was the time it took to fulfil my dream. How long will it take you to fulfil yours?

 

Read the next in our series on Mont Blanc. 

 

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alpine, alpine climbing, Raphaela Haug