A few weeks before the start of the Jules Verne Trophy stand-by, the Spindrift racing team found themselves isolated at an altitude of several thousand meters, taking on one final challenge before attacking the one around the world. During a remarkable four-days of preparation in the Alps, the crew of the maxi trimaran, accompanied by Dona Bertarelli, climbed Mont Blanc via the historic Saint Gervais route. It was an unprecedented climb, that strengthened the team dynamics with every metre climbed towards the summit and further reinforced the team spirit that has been the cornerstone of Spindrift racing since it was founded by Yann Guichard and Dona Bertarelli.
The setting may seem unusual for sailors more accustomed to the unpredictable oceans around the globe, however this was all part of the aspiration. Climbing Mont Blanc was amongst the list of challenges to be accomplished by each member of the Spindrift team. In the same way as preparing for a sailing record, the team spent the first two days meticulously getting acclimatised in readiness for the challenge. With the support of an excellent team of mountain guides brought together by Eric Loizeau, they became familiar with how to use mountaineering equipment on a variety of terrains, even testing their ice axes and crampons on ice sheets.
Early the following morning the sailors-turned-mountaineers made their first steps towards the Tête Rousse glacier and then on to the Refuge du Gouter. The weather conditions were superb and the physical efforts of the first day’s 2000 metre climb where a foretaste of what was to come.
After a brief overnight rest, the team donned their crampons and headed out on the last stretch to the roof of Europe. Far from being a normal walk, the climb was challenging yet precise. Each roped team was made up of a guide and two crew (who will be on the same watch for the Jules Verne Trophy attempt). They climbed at their own pace along ridges, which at certain points were only the width of two feet, and scaled walls of ice and crevasses. The effort was intense, but the enjoyment of this climb was directly proportional to the beauty of the landscape that surrounded them. Once at the peak, then came the long descent back to Saint-Gervais where the mind began to take on over the physical strain.
With the 4,810 metre climb completed, everyone agreed that it was an incredible human adventure and, for many, one of the hardest physical exercises they had taken part in.
"If the sea and the mountain seem to have a lot in common, it is not sailing and mountaineering," commented Yann Guichard on his arrival back at the foot of Mont Blanc. "Climbing is a very extreme sport where there is no room for the slightest mistake. Risk management is paramount and, as a team leader, something that I am very aware of. I have great admiration and respect for the guides who accompanied us. They left nothing to chance, be that in the choice of equipment or routes taken."
But more than a sporting challenge it was also the balance, strength and stability of the group that Yann Guichard wanted to confirm during this ascent. And as Dona added "being a team, is being able to count on one another, help each other, accept the ups and downs and strive to find the right balance to succeed together. This is what we did during this climb, we did it independently, in conditions close to those aboard Spindrift 2; namely minimal comfort and very limited means of communication. This change of scenery has been beneficial to us all and further reinforced the choice of this team that are ready to take on a new record attempt around the world. "
Back in Brittany the crew, whose will be announced shortly, will return to training before the start of the official stand-by period for a favourable weather slot to start the Jules Verne Trophy.