Pushing limits to reach for the sky

Climbers Maddie and Juliette realized what pain was when they achieved one of their ultimate mountain-climbing goals: summiting Mont Blanc. With the help of technology and the guidance of mentor Melissa Arnot Reid, they pushed through discomfort to reach the summit of Mont Blanc (and their own limits).

Throughout life, we encounter a series personal “mountains”: graduating college, accepting major life changes, standing up for what’s right. The process can be painful, but overcoming these hurdles can also be the experience of a lifetime or an unparalleled opportunity to grow—if we’re willing to aim high and see the journey through to its peak.

For elite climbers, this isn't just a metaphor for life's obstacles—they live this reality every day. Setting out on the journey of climbing a mountain is a challenge, and challenges have a way of revealing who we really are. They give us the opportunity to strive, change, and grow. 

For climbers Maddie and Juliette, led by their mentor and world-renowned professional mountain guide Melissa Arnot Reid, the trip to the top of Mont Blanc symbolized each of their own personal mountains. Reaching the summit of a mountain known for the endurance it demands was a matter of “woman versus self” moreso than “woman versus mountain.”

The climbers (and their personal mountains)
training to be a mountain guide

Building a connected team

Their plan to summit Mont Blanc followed Melissa and Maddie’s ambitious 50 peaks challenge in 2016, where the goal was to climb 50 peaks, in 50 states, in 50 days. (They did it in 41 days and 16 hours, setting a new record.) Since then, Melissa has been training Maddie to be a mountain guide. When it came time to choose the next expedition, Melissa paired Maddie and Juliette together and chose a challenging expedition that would test their skills. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe and the pinnacle of the Alps, an iconic, historic mountaineering peak. It was the perfect testing ground for the students to act as leaders.

Meet Melissa

Melissa Arnot Reid believes climbing mountains gives people the opportunity to learn about themselves in a profound way. An accomplished mountaineer (she was the first American woman to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen), she now runs a mentorship program for young women. "The purpose of this trip isn’t to climb Mont Blanc, but to grow," says Melissa. Through the context of climbing, mentees learn about leadership, overcoming obstacles, and goal-setting.

Meet Maddie

For Maddie, the 2019 Mont Blanc trip was an opportunity for her to grow as a climber. From day one, the trip posed planning challenges she’d never had to tackle before: she was the one waking up at 3:00 a.m. (10:00 a.m. in France) to join the digital queue of people people waiting to book the Mont Blanc climbing hut; she was the one responsible for securing the right amount of rope and grappling hooks; and she was the one who would have to bear the responsibility if the trip fell apart.

Meet Juliette

Juliette felt the allure of mountaineering the first time she visited Alaska and saw Denali. Something inside her drove her to the mountain and to Melissa (whom she’d followed on social media since Melissa’s oxygen-free Everest summit went viral online). Mont Blanc was Juliette’s first big test. Barely a year into her mentorship program, attempting Europe’s highest peak (with the added responsibility of helping plan the climb on her shoulders) would test her like never before.

One of the things that's so great for us about Teams is that we can access it on any device. If I'm traveling, I can go in on my mobile and access all the documents we're collaborating on, and I have the same functionality.

Melissa Arnot

Although Melissa, Maddie, and Juliette were in different parts of the world in the months leading up to their climb, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Surface enabled them to communicate and collaborate in real-time, utilizing group video calls, chat communication, file sharing in Microsoft OneNote, and integrations with other Microsoft products. Together, they shared excitement and fears, planned the details of their trip, and mapped the route to the top.

The risks and rewards of pivoting

Climbing a mountain like Mont Blanc meant climbing on the mountain’s terms; before the climb ever started, the team faced challenges. Maddie and Juliette dedicated months to careful planning, but it all went out the window in the days before the climb when they received news that threatened to upend everything: climbers attempting to summit Mont Blanc have to enter their names on a waiting list to purchase space in the mountain’s refuge huts—and all the huts on their intended route (the safer, “summer” route) had been booked, which meant it couldn’t be attempted.

Original Plan Mont Blanc
Original route up Mont Blanc
Pivot Route Mont Blanc
Alternative route up Mont Bland de Tucal

The women were faced with a choice: pivot to a new plan (a more treacherous, technically demanding route) and accept the risk, or decide not to climb at all. Rather than turn back, they decided to lean in. They put their faith in each other to reach the top. What they experienced on the mountain was beyond anything they could have anticipated, but the lessons they learned grew them in surprising ways, too.

Summiting Mont Blanc

Maddie and Juliette know that for most people, the idea of climbing a mountain might seem outrageous—after all, why put yourself through all that pain? But the way they see it, the pain is proof you’re growing. The next “mountain” for them is the incredible challenge of now mentoring others, creating a continuous legacy that’s passed along from climber to climber with the encouragement they received from Melissa on Mont Blanc: Incredible growth requires incredible discomfort—but in the end, that’s what makes the challenge worth it.

Mont Blanc

“Maddie learned that the world isn’t just where you’re looking—it’s happening all the way around you, and you have to take it all in and use all of that data to go forward.”

– Melissa

Mont Blanc Valley

 “Juliette learned the value of seeing an experience through a lens other than your own—that being able to see things from every person’s vantage point is what being a team is about.”

– Melissa