Valerio Massimo Everest Expedition 2009

Me on the summit of Cho Oyu with Everest in the background

Climbing Background

Aiguile du Moine, 1998My first ‘climbing’ memory is of standing between my father and grandfather at the top of the Gran Sasso (the highest mountain in the Apennines) aged 5, at the end of an long scramble.  I distinctly remember the huge sense of achievement as I stood between them by the cross that marks the summit of most mountains in Italy and the soaring feeling of looking over the valleys below as the mist rolled in, making me feel like I was above the clouds.  I fell in love with the mountains then and there.

My first proper interest in climbing and Everest came at the age of ten when my father returned from a trip to the Dolomites with a couple of beautifully illustrated mountaineering books in Italian:  Reinhold Messner’s ‘I survived: My fourteen 8000’s’, and ‘K2: The Italian Mountain’.

I was totally engrossed in these books and before long found myself, aged 10, in the mountaineering section of Foyles, asking for more.  Amongst the first I read were ‘Seven Summits” by Dick Bass, and ‘Above the Clouds’ by Julie Tullis.

In the latter, Julie describes how she started climbing in Tunbridge Wells, at a sandstone outcrop called Bowles Rocks.  Fascinated, I immediately rang up the Tunbridge Wells Local Authority number and asked for the number of the local climbing center.  Aged 11, I got on a train and enrolled myself on a day’s climbing course, much to the bemusement of my mother.  I was hooked and returned again and again. 

Eventually I saved up enough money to buy my first harness and a few caribiners.  The Manager of Snow and Rock at the time was so amazed – amused as well I imagine – with this little kid’s excitement and passion that he actually came to our house in London one evening to give me his own rope, as I didn’t have the money to buy my own.

I continued climbing there on weekends, often dragging my younger brother Cesare with me.  Then at the French Lycee aged 13 I met Martin Devictor, whose family had a chalet in Chamonix that would become my second home during the holidays for most of my teens.  From ages of 13-19 I spent all year working in a climbing shop on Saturdays and spent a month or two of every summer climbing all over French and Italian Alps.  When I look back at the pictures of me climbing at that age (see ‘Mountaineering – Early years’ gallery page) I can’t believe what a child I was, as the picture at the top of the page will testify.

By 18 we’d climbed many of the major peaks and were setting ourselves new challenges – one day in 1992 we decided to try a ‘speed ascent’ of Mont Blanc.  We took the first cable car up at 7am, did the 3 summits, and were back in time for lunch in Chamonix. That was the first time I felt one of the many possible repercussions of high altitude climbing- my sunglasses broke on the way up and I suffered complte darkness as a result of snowblindness for two days.

I have climbed less regularly since my early twenties, although I’ve guided mountains in the Alps for friends and family a few times and climbed Mont Blanc a few more times. Alix and I have done some climbing in the last few years around Chamonix.

In 1997 I decided to go and at least have a look at the mountain that had filled my thoughts for so long and did the two week trek through the Himalayan foothills to Everest Base Camp.

In 2004 I left to climb Cho Oyu, which at 8,201m is the world’s sixth highest mountain.  This was my first attempt on an 8,000 meter peak but the expedition was an amazing experience and I was lucky enough to reach the summit.

Now, finally, for the Big One…

My first mountain, the Gran Sasso, aged 5

(…And the beginning, on Gran Sasso)