It is exactly 8:49am CET time when my left foot hits the summit of the 15’780ft Mont-Blanc.
I left the bivi camp 5’415ft below about 5h ago, giving me a 1’080ft of elevation per hour. “Ce qui est bien mais pas top” as we would say in France, understand “which is good but not exceptional”.
I wish I could smile, but the 45mph wind keeps throwing small granulates of snow onto my face. So instead I just kneel and stare into the multiple valleys below me, half covered by clouds, contemplating what I have just achieved.
A mere 6 months ago, 177 days to be exact, I left home with a clear picture on my mind: climbing solo and unassisted the highest national point of each European country, picking up trash on the way in order to raise awareness on mountain littering.
The Mont-Blanc was the last of these 48 summits.
Despite growing up in different places, having to change home every few years, mountains have always been there for me, winter like summer. For skiing as much as for hiking, for rock climbing as for paragliding. And I’ve always been appealed by how just a few people can ruin such a beautiful landscape as well as everyone else’s time by just throwing their trash on the ground.
It’s still a recurring question up to today. How can one claim to enjoy nature yet treat it like a dumpster? If they are so nonchalant about such a basic thing, who knows what they might be able to do on top of that.
Of all the environmentally friendly things you can do, NOT littering is the easiest.
It is thus quite naturally that the idea of climbing Europe’s highest national points all while cleaning them up came up to me.
“A great way to show that one can climb up without leaving trash behind” I thought “no matter the size of the mountain, the amount of days it takes, or how the weather’s like”. “If I can climb mountains while picking up litter, surely anyone else can do it”.
It’s been quite a journey I must admit. An adventure that lived up to my expectations. A dream come true. An achievable goal. And quite a few battles against solitude, cold, mountain sickness, isolation, loneliness, abandonment, seclusion, seduction from these snowy Thebaid.
- Having to climb the Eastern European countries’ summits winter style (and let me tell you something: Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a place where you want to get caught up in an avalanche).
- Pushing myself to hike the 35miles long and 5’000ft high Kebnekaise summit in just one day.
- Climbing the Elbrus directly from Azau in just one go and going up 10’825ft non-stop.
- Relying on no-one but myself to cross the crevasse-full glaciers in Iceland or Switzerland.
- Rock scrambling the Gerlach and the Grossglockner with zero rope.
- Getting caught in whiteouts, fighting the constant crappy weather, turning around because of 60mph winds, turning around because of avalanches, turning around because of exhaustion, yet every time coming back at it.
All of it completely solo and unassisted. All of it while picking up litter.
Filed With Trash
Fifty countries for forty-eight summits, that’s how one might define geographical Europe (Albania and Macedonia share the same high point, and Italians claim Mont-Blanc also belongs to them). And out of 48 high points, one can get quite a few different shades of mountains. Flat and easy for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Day hikes for the four countries of the UK. Pure mountaineering for Switzerland, Russia or France.
Yet all of them had one thing in common: having way too much trash spread on them.
Your typical plastic wraps, the (empty) beer cans, the plastic bottles, the gas cans, the energy gel packs, … some blatantly left on the trail, others carefully hidden under a rock as a way to say “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but I’m still too weak to carry my own trash”.
Some randoms, like that 1 sock (not even a pair!), tampons, shoe soles – or even better: 1 shoe (how did you even go down that mountain!?).
But obviously the worst of all, found in hundreds on any mountain: the cigarette butt.
It’s small, it weights nothing, but just one of these little rascals can pollute up to 110 Gallon of fresh water!
Reaching The Top While Littering Voids The Summiting
It saddens me to see the French government having to take drastic measures and set-up red tape to prevent the Mont-Blanc from being destroyed. I believe mountains are for everyone… as long as you treat it with respect. But seeing how much litter one can find on the Elbrus, how “alpinists” can take ski-doos to drop them off almost at the summit, it’s become apparent that we simply can’t control ourselves. The desire to be able to say “I made it on top” is way too big.
So here’s a little note for anyone desperately willing to go up any mountain: no matter the pain, no matter the weather, no matter the exhaustion, I too went on quite a few tops, yet not only by carrying my own trash but while picking up yours as well.
(On August 17th 2019, at 08:49am CET, Ben (@Beijadventures) became the first person to ever solo climb the highest point of each European country.
The journey was done entirely solo, unassisted, alpine style, without sponsors or logistic support, and in a record time of 177 days)
Questions coming from the Reddit community
Why? What caused you to want to undertake this specific journey?
Hard to tell. I just wanted to find something that could mix 3 things I care about: Mountains, the Environment, and travels. I’m really into adventures in a general way. Trekked Iceland from South to North for 14 days solo. Trekked Mongolia solo for 10 days. Cycled NZ for 1600km (1000miles).
As previously stated I’m also very sensible to the environment cause, and making it a central part of my adventure was a must.
Despite being French I didn’t knew Europe very well, and so the idea just came up very naturally: I’m gonna climb the highest point of each European country to raise awareness on Mountain littering.
It’s only while I was reaching the end of this journey that I realized no one had ever done that solo and that I was thus breaking a world record.
How difficult was it?
Overall difficulty is really based on personal fitness and experience. I found it to be easier than what I expected.
There’s lots of people out there telling you not to do things because it’s too hard. I stopped listening to these people, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Did you experience any serious injuries?
I injured my left foot about halfway through the journey. I didn’t wanted it to slow down my journey, so I left the pain aside.
Now that it’s over, I’m having doctors trying to figure out what it is. All I know is that it would hurt like hell on the way down when I would wear my mountaineering boots. Pretty much forced me to just leave the left foot for dead and drag the entire leg while I would use my poles and right leg to properly go down slopes.
Was there a point where you just wanted to give up?
No. I think that’s actually my strength: very very strong mental. I’m not a very physically strong man, and by looking at me you wouldn’t think I could handle mountains. But damn do I never give up!!
Yes, many times I’ve turned around because I realized things were starting to get too dodgy (being crazy doesn’t mean stupid), but I always came back to try again in different circumstances. You better have a strong mind to tell yourself “remember that summit you turned your back on just 150m away from it after having battled 6h in the snow? Well you’re gonna do it all over again today and this time hopefully it will work”
That’s exactly what happened to me in Russia. After walking for 10h in 50mph wind and going up 8’860ft, I turned around. Completely exhauster, with my left foot incapable of touching anything without hurting, I told myself “I’ll never be able to get back the mental and physical strength to climb that again”. Less than 36h after that, I was back on the slopes with my injured foot.
How beautiful was the scenery?
Each summit had a different feel and a different landscape to offer (despite the massive bad weather and often cloudy views I got).
From the incredibly white but flat surroundings of Iceland, to the snow-full mountains of the Balkans, to the sky-tearing peaks of the Alps, each summit was definitely unique.