Sometimes after our initial presentation on the first morning a client will take the head guide to one side and say something like the above. Obviously worried that the pace the guide will set on Mont Blanc will be too fast for them, they are in effect asking whether an exception might not be made in their case. They are sure they are fit enough to climb Mont Blanc, it’s just that theirs is not the kind of fitness that lets them move as quickly as everyone else.
There are two basic misconceptions here. The first is that the guide will set a pace which is faster than strictly necessary, thus leaving some margin for moving more slowly if specially requested. In reality there is no “standard” pace, each guide being trained to pick what his thinks is the best pace for his team, trying always to conserve their energy and maximise their chances of making the top. Constant communication is the key, and we will always let you go as slowly as we can as long as safety is not compromised. We want to get you to the top and will do so if it’s at all possible!
The second misconception is the idea that the slower you go, the higher you can eventually climb. In reality there is a point where the overall duration of the effort starts to tell and the cumulative effect of time at altitude leads to a rapid decline. This is a situation we must be careful to avoid.
Even on a bright sunny day there is a minimum (albeit as slow as we can make it) speed you need to be able to sustain. Your fitness levels make up a large part of our safety margin, and we need to know that you are operating slightly within your limits at all times; it’s actually a much slower pace than you would think, but if you really couldn't hold the minimum speed you must accept that there was only one reason for it: you were simply not fit enough to go any faster.