Silent Spring and Alps again

Finsteraarhorn from Lauteraarhorn

I have now been on the road for about three months — less time than I had planned, but still quite awhile. Though I have done a few moderately interesting things, I have not visited a major destination like the Canadian Rockies, or done much in the way of “real” outings. However, as those who follow me on Strava know, I have not been idle. This Winter was a time for consolidation, and Spring has been one for building on that foundation. Rather than adventuring, I have been turning my body and mind into the tools necessary for my larger summer objectives. I came out of the winter more interested in preparation than exploration, and that attitude has held on the road. My goal has been to improve my skills and cardiovascular fitness as much as possible while minimizing risk and wear. In other words, I have been trying to embody some level of professionalism, rather than just indulging my enthusiasm.

As some of you may remember, back before the pandemic I was planning to return to the Alps to climb the 4000-meter peaks while riding between them. With international travel reopening, and cognizant of my limited window for such athletic goals in advancing middle age, I have decided to revive that plan. Unlike last time, I have hewn closer to the principle of autonomy that has guided most of my past mountaineering. While I have not been particularly secretive, I have not sought sponsorship, publicity, or other outside aid with its concomitant constraints and obligations. The tickets are booked (thanks, Ted!), the money has been set aside, and I will be starting next week.

I plan to climb all 82 UIAA-recognized points, not just the 50-some with 100 meters of prominence I had previously planned. This adds a little time and a significant amount of technical difficulty, primarily in the Aiguilles du Diable in the Mont Blanc massif. My main concerns are having the technical skill for the cruxes, and not succumbing to overuse injury. To address them, I have spent most of May climbing in a gym as much as possible without tendon damage, and engaged in a variety of aerobic activities with an emphasis on cycling for its lower impact. This has come at the expense of longer days on my feet and harder scrambling, but I have found that those things come back quickly thanks to years of experience.

My optimal timeline is forty days, moving at a steady but sustainable pace. Some of the mountain days are ambitious, particularly in the Mont Blanc area where the huts are awkwardly placed and sometimes costly or reservation-only. However, many of the longer days are similar to ones I did four years ago, and none of the cycling days is longer than a hundred miles. In reality, with weather and improvisation, I expect the effort to take me closer to fifty days. This will leave me with a feeling of incompleteness, knowing that the route will go faster if done “right,” but I will be satisfied by setting down a mark for others to surpass.

I have always enjoyed bringing my mountaineering adventures back to inspire and share with others, so I still hope to write at length about this tour of the Alps. However, I will only have my phone with me, and just time for cursory updates between climbing the peaks, so any detailed account will have to be written afterward. What emerges will depend upon how much of my time is taken by other obligations, and how well I am able to organize my thoughts on a prolonged and intense activity. It is easy to write a book’s worth of trip reports, since they are self-contained, describe recent events, and have a natural sequential structure — I do this every year. It is much harder to write a book, even broken into chapters, as one feels obligated to add some sort of unifying structure and deeper insight. I won’t know until afterwards what that will be, or even if I will have some honest larger thing to say. I appreciate those of you who have come along for the ride so far. Onward and upward!

13 responses to “Silent Spring and Alps again

  1. Robert says:

    Best of luck to you, Sean! I’ll be following your progress closely. Wishing you an enjoyable (and successful) trip. Thank you for being a great mentor and beacon of inspiration for me over the past several years.

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thank you, Robert! I appreciate your patience as a rope-gun, and look forward to meeting up again in the Fall.

  2. Mike Gilliland says:

    Bon voyage Shawn. My browser will be anxiously waiting!!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks, Mike! The bike is boxed, and it’s just about planes-n-trains time.

  3. Scott Fife says:

    My very best wishes as well! If anyone can do this, I believe you are the guy. I will be watching and waiting!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks, Scott! I look forward to getting out in the wide world on my bike again to represent the world’s middle-aged dirtbags.

  4. Pam Fabricius-Olsen says:

    We’re excited for you, Sean! Take very good care, ‘k?

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Will do, Pam. I’ll also try to enjoy the scenery and eat more than nutella sandwiches, but no guarantees.

  5. Chris Henry says:

    Good luck Sean!!! You are a beast and a true inspiration. I’ll be cheering from afar. – Chris

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks, Chris! I’ll try to keep up here once things get going.

  6. Bob Argiropoulos says:

    Good luck Sean! I wish you all the best of luck on this endeavor of yours.
    You are a beast!
    Stay safe and berg heil!

  7. Dan says:

    It’s your pureness of spirit (and genuine character I’ve gotten to know in person) that draws me to follow and cheer – not the end time. I’m wishing you #InstaFame, sponsorship, and an addictive and consuming number of likes that inspire one to create and sustain false narratives online! ;)

    Stay safe brutha! There’s more South American bike tours, North American peak bagging, and straight up dirtbag grillin to do for decades to come!

    *fist pumps* and fuck yeas!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks, Dan! I definitely plan to keep doing this for a long time, though at a slightly more relaxed pace. So many wonderful places to visit and revisit. Looking forward to grilling again, preferably somewhere you can’t just set things on the ground to cook themselves.

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