Expedition for Good – a solo ascent to the roof of Europe

In July 2017, Benjamin Maugain, Head of Project Management at Cyber Duck, climbed Mont Blanc, solo, in aid of Goods for Good. His aim; to raise 10p for each meter he climbed of the 4,810m mountain. On Sunday 29th July 2017, Benjamin reached the summit, successfully raising £758.50 to help support our aid efforts in war-torn countries in the Middle East. 

Having previously made a solo ascent of Germany’s highest peak, a winter solo ascent of Ben Nevis by the North Face, and embarked on winter ice climbing in Norway and Romania, as well as solo rock climbing in Spain, Benjamin decided to push himself even further, both mentally and physically, so he began to plan and prepare to climb the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc.

In this short blog, Ben talks about the expedition and how it brought together his personal passion of hiking and his professional passion in project management.

Bringing together my passions

In my professional life I am a Project Manager and currently work at Cyber Duck, who proudly partner with Goods For Good as their digital and marketing provider. In my own time, I have a love of the outdoors and a desire to keep pushing myself into new challenges. In this blog, I cover how I combined the great outdoors, project managing and raising funds for such a great cause – Goods For Good.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the office and in the mountains, it’s there's no better training ground than high-risk environments that push you beyond your limits.

Project managing a mountain climb

As a Project Manager I tend to see most things as projects and this expedition was no different. The climb had a start date, end date, an objective and a budget.

The principles of project management can be applied to any scenario. In reality, this expedition was not too dissimilar from managing a work based project: my skills and experience in both fields enabled me to look at the end goal and develop a plan to achieve it.

There are many factors to be considered in Project Management. Keeping in close contact with stakeholders is a key one, such as sponsors and supporters, as well as my employers, who were very supportive of my current project.

Very important to project management is understanding risks and how to manage them. This was probably more important to this project than any other, as it could be life-threatening. So with a lot of careful planning, mitigated risks and excitement building, I began my preparation this year.

Aims and objectives

The project aim was to climb the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, in free, solo style via the "Voie Royale" route. For those unfamiliar with the term, free solo is the purest form of climbing: ascension is done alone, with no artificial assistance or fixed ropes, using only crampons and ice axes.

My reasons for wanting to undertake this challenge was to push myself to the next level, but it also presented an extraordinary opportunity to raise money for Goods For Good. Giving back to the community and trying to help others has always been important to me. I’ve volunteered in coding clubs to teach HTML to kids, delivered talks to the British Interactive Media Association and the University of Hertfordshire, and organised workshops at the Mozilla Festival and demos for the BBC.

The project objective was to raise £1 for every 10 metres climbed: with Mount Blanc standing at 4,810 meters, the symbolic number of £481 felt like a realistic goal. There’s a strong multiplier effect on all donations, because the money is used for shipping goods. So, if I reached my target, the expedition could help to deliver more than £10,000 worth of goods to those in need! Motivation indeed.

The climb begins

At an altitude of 5,000m the oxygen rate is only 50% of that at sea level. In these conditions, the body can’t survive without adequate preparation and training. So, following proper physical conditioning, climbers must allow their body to acclimatise to the high altitude, days before the climb. I planned to make the ascent itself over two days after a five-day period of acclimatisation.

Staying focused on the children in need  probably kept me alive at points!

I began my Mount Blanc climb on Saturday July 28, reaching Tete-Rousse at 3,200 metres where I managed to bivouac (camp without cover) in the snow and have a short rest. On Sunday, I began the second day of my ascent at night (02:00am), as it is safest when the snow is compacted and before it has started to melt in the sun.

Taking time to acclimatise is very important as altitude sickness can be extremely dangerous, particularly on a solo climb. The plus side of the night start and acclimatisation was the sunrise view and seeing the shadow of Mont Blanc reaching over 100km. It was so beautiful.

You have to free climb when you are alone as there is no one else to pick up the safety gear or to release it. However, the experience is more personal as you have direct contact with the mountain and don’t leave a mark. I reached the 4,801 meter summit at 09:40am.  After months of training and preparation, with hours of continual effort, the feeling I experienced at the top is hard to describe.

With a clear view of France, Italy and Switzerland, you can see there is no higher mountain for hundreds of kilometres around. Despite the eeriness of the moment and the mild euphoria due to the lack of oxygen, I had to stay focused and keep in mind that I was only halfway through my expedition: I still had to make it back.

As I began the climb down on Sunday it had started to snow, making it a tricky descent, especially when I got caught in a storm later in the day. I wasn’t scared, but you do need to be focused on what you are doing at all times as if you slip you could fall for many kilometres. I was relived to reach base camp at 5:00pm and to be back in the valley at around 11:00pm. I have to say staying focused on the children in need  probably kept me alive at points!

A proud achievement

The experience was incredible. It was the first climb I have made at that altitude, and I did it solo! As much preparation and planning went into the climb, both mentally and physically, as the actual climb itself and I am proud of my achievements, not so much on a personal level but mostly because I did it for a very worthy cause. In the end, I managed to raise more than my original objective of £481 through many generous donations and kind support. My contribution of £758.50 has been gratefully received by Goods For Good and I’m sure those in need are benefiting from my solo challenge, and that makes it a very fulfilling project indeed.

My donation page has now closed, but you can still give to the Goods For Good charity directly. Share the load - please donate.


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