Friends can and do ask things of you that if anyone else asked you would just say no too. Friends though are different, you are prepared to go that extra mile to accommodate a genuine request, to try your best to get them what they are asking for....even if its completely nuts!
Such a friends request arrived at my computer screen earlier this year from my good friend Benny Hunter. Benny is a 'legend' and has helped me over and over again with various things over the years...So when a request arrived to help him and a couple of his friends to achieve a personal mountaineering objective, what could I do but agree to help.
The problem was the objective: Benny wanted me to guide him on a ski mountaineering tour to climb the 3795m high Col du Tour Noir in the Argentiere Glacier Systems of the Chamonix Valley, France. This route involves a long, high altitude ski-climb through various ice-falls, glacier crossings and confident navigation particularly if bad weather arrived. All very possible for an experienced ski mountaineer but the problem here was, Benny, Johnny and Craig had not skied before.
Benny, Craig and Johnny are all ex-paratroopers from Four Para of the British Army. They are all fit lads, great company and have a desire for adventure second to none. I guess it was this kind of attitude - a desire for adventure and excitement, that made them join an elite fighting force like the Parachute Regiment in the first place. The fact that none of them had any experience of this high mountain winter environment meant nothing to them because as they said they had ultimate respect for my experience and that they believed that would keep them from harm. I was not so sure I could live up to that expectation, but I loved their trust, enthusiasm and desire to experience new things and new places.
I enlisted the help of my good mountaineering, explorer, friend Richie who although not a great skier has been a constant partner on many climbing expeditions with me. I also asked around amongst my guide friends and experienced ski mountaineers for a hand. The response was poor and I was greeted with disbelief, doubt and criticism that I was prepared to take non skiers into this environment. Disappointing really for what they were missing was an understanding that Benny and the lads were grown, hard men fully aware of the decisions they were making and would do this even if I wasn't prepared to help. At least if I could help keep them safe I would be doing something good for good friends who I knew would enjoy the experience immensely.
The plan was simple: Two days to learn to ski on mountaineering skis, learn avalanche rescue techniques, confidently handle search transceivers and know what to do in the event someone fell into a crevasse. Then up the mountain, through the Argentiere Glacier Ice-fall on the right hand lateral moraine upward and onto the main three mile wide Argentiere Glacier for a three mile ski to the Refuge du Argentiere CAF for an overnight. Next day a climbing traverse up the Amthyst Glacier which leads to the Col which at 3795m marks the boundary between France and Switzerland.
Only Johnny and I made it to the top of the Coll but all made it to the Refuge Argentierre and back down safely without incident. The guys had immense courage and made a magnificent effort and proved in there enjoyment that anything is possible if you put your mind too it