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Last month, Ireland Fund of Great Britain Trustee Ruairi Conneely announced his plans to climb the Matterhorn to raise funds for Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. His 14 year old niece, Aisling, died just over a year ago from a rare form of ovarian cancer. Niall Quinn launched the campaign to raise £100K to refurbish St John’s Ward, where vital bone marrow transplants take place, and where Aisling was treated.
Ruairi started his training by spending the second week in June climbing in the Alps, alongside Basil Geoghegan, Co-Chair of the Ireland Fund. This is what he had to report from his first training climb.
"I arrived in Chamonix on Sunday night, 10th June and on Monday morning met Jeff Banks from Colorado USA and Steph Sporli from Auckland New Zealand, our guides at the Aiguilles du Midi. We were joined by my climbing partners Tom Dunn and Darren Morecombe for an arduous test to climb Pointe Lachanel in the Mont Blanc massif. Pointe Lachanel is located above the Glacier du Geant and is a mixture of snow and rock and its’ summit is 3,614m (11,850 ft). With little time to acclimatize this was an arduous undertaking of seven hours trekking in the snow, rock climbing, ice climbing and finally abseiling from the peak. It was terrifying, exhilarating and tough going!
The knife edge ridge at Vallee Blanche with a vertical drop of 2,300m on either side is the most scary path I have ever travelled. Outward bound I led the 200m trek along the Vallee Blanche attached to Jeff. I was safe in the knowledge that should I fall to one side he would immediately jump into the abyss on the other side to equalize the weight and save each other from a vertical plummet of 2,300m. Thankfully, such an exciting manoeuvre was unnecessary. We trekked through the snow for a couple of hours, occasionally stopping to take on food and water. We then donned crampons and commenced an uphill climb with ice axe followed by a rock climb with ropes. Our descent from the summit involved the negotiation of an overhang and two abseil exercises. The first abseil is daunting and thereafter abseiling is great fun.
The long trek back towards Aiguille du Midi gave one plenty of time to feel the fear of the Vallee Blanche ridge. We all managed it safely under expert leadership from Jeff and Steph, although the invitation to check out the view of Chamonix far below still leaves one petrified. The old saying “don’t look down” is good advice!
We spent the night in the Plan de l’Aiguille du Midi, a small refuge at an elevation of 2,300 which helped me acclimatize to the altitude pressure. The refuge is very comfortable with great food, comfortable beds, and bathing facilities. We were its’ only visitors that night. It gave us time to reflect on our challenge. Aisling faced her challenges with courage and grace; I shall try and do the same."