x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi architect scales Mont Blanc

Thomas Fiala, 47, has reached the top of Europe's highest peak.

Thomas Fiala, an American architect and civil engineer who lives in Abu Dhabi, says climbing Mont Blanc was harder than he imagined.
Thomas Fiala, an American architect and civil engineer who lives in Abu Dhabi, says climbing Mont Blanc was harder than he imagined.

ABU DHABI // An Abu Dhabi resident reached the top of Europe's highest peak Mont Blanc last week - but he was sombre after the death of another climber there.

"The feeling and mood around our team after the incident was that of a quiet sombreness and sorrow but we just pressed on," said Thomas Fiala, a 47-year-old American architect and civil engineer.

In the early hours of August 14, a climber died when his team were caught in a rock slide as they tried to cross a gorge. Their ropes got tangled and, in the scramble to get clear, he was pulled down by the cascading boulders.

Mr Fiala, who was with three other climbers and two guides, said they all knew about the dangers associated with their hobby.

"You really don't focus on that while you're climbing," he said. "You just proceed with the task at hand, making the summit."

He and the team left for the top of the 4,810-metre French peak at 3am on August 15, reaching it at 1pm.

"I knew it would be challenging because of the technicality of the climb involved," Mr Fiala said. "But it was much tougher than I imagined."

They had to manoeuvre over the main glacier, which had very deep and wide crevasses. At point, they had to use one hand to hammer their ice axe into the glacier to inch upwards while carrying their gear on their backs on a 35-degree ice slope.

"We ran into some bad weather so we were asking ourselves 'should we keep going or wait it out?'," Mr Fiala said. "We did both. We went slow and waited for the weather to clear."

As he considered giving up, he told himself to maintain his focus or he would fail, or worse, hurt himself or a member of the team.

"I have to admit that I underestimated just how difficult the climb was," said Mr Fiala, who made the 12-day trek to the base camp of Mount Everest in October last year.

"Once you know that you can deal with the physicality and fitness of the climb, it really all becomes a complete mental fitness test.

"The will and desire, coupled with a strong mindset, is what keeps you focused and aiming at your goal."

On their descent, they were caught in pouring rain and Mr Fiala suffered strained knee ligaments and muscle fatigue and unable to feel his right leg from his mid thigh, had to be helped down the last 1,000 metres to base camp.

His right leg is still painful, but his feet are healing quickly and he was back at work in the capital on Wednesday.

Mr Fiala has now set his sights on climbing the Matterhorn in Switzerland next year.

"It's the excitement and the feeling of accomplishment that motivate me," he said. "And after so many hours of climbing, you see the wonderful scenery and you're on top of the world."

rruiz@thenational.ae