Postcard from the edge

After a 3 hour layover in Newark, arriving in Geneva, a short shower and nap at Mike’s hotel there, we were off to Chamonix.It is a charming town in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is also basecamp for climbers, cyclists, hikers, skiers, and paragliders alike. There is truly no shortage of ways to experience Mont Blanc.

Day 0 of our trip was mostly a transition day and one which allowed me to better adjust my body to its new timezone and climate. In the sun, it is beautifully warm in Chamonix. Without it, it is as cool as a Fall day. Going from high 20s/low 30s with humidity in Toronto to high teens with a cool mountain breeze is a little odd especially in summer. Mind you it will be even stranger to  experience  above zero temperatures and below during our training and climbing days.

Day 1 of our training took us to Mer de Glace (or Sea of Ice) which is a 7km long 200 meter deep glacier above Chamonix at around 2, 400m above sea level (approximately 1,300m higher than Chamonix). To get there we took the 20 minute Montveners train and hiked down to the rock face perpendicular to Vallée Blanche. Once on the glacier we, strapped on our crampons and began getting used to using them to help us walk up steep inclines (up to 70 degree angles even though nothing on Mont Blanc will be more than 40 degrees) and traverse crevasses. In one unfortunate traverse, I snagged a crampon on my pant leg and fell. Grabbing hold of the ice so as not to slip into a cravasse, upon instinct, I let go of my ice axe. Down it went. Between the ice and carried away by the glacial waters.  My guide said that in all of his years, he has never known anyone to lose an ice axe that way. Yes, I am always one to blaze new trails. I can see the headline now: “First woman to lose an iceaxe down cravasse at Mer de Glace” Oh well. I wonder how much that puppy’s gonna cost me.

It might not look like much but in order to get down to the glacier, we had to climb down ladders at roughly a 70 degree incline. In between these ladders were tiny, 6 inch ridges and foot holds. We essentially scaled the rock face down and back up. We also had to jump from boulder to boulder as we climbed down but on the way up, I got stuck more than once. By stuck, I mean that I couldn’t find the right path or boulder to step onto.  For me, that was the hardest part and I (almost literally) hit a wall at the end of the day on the way back up. My bag was bouncing around – unweighted – on my back and kept hitting me in the back of the head pushing my helmet forward as I climbed up those ridiculous metal ladders.

Despite feeling the effects of all of this on my neck/back today, the plus side is that nothing about the Mont Blanc climb will be so technical. Don’t get me wrong. It will be a challenge. But knowing that with the exception of one 40 degree 50ft patch, I can otherwise hike up to the summit helps me to turn the demoralizing experience of yesterday into an optimistic outlook for Thursday’s ascent. What else helped? Awaking from a nap to seeing this postcard on my bedside table.

Today we go to the village of  Le Tour to train some more on snow and ice by hiking on the Glacier de Tour. After a 4 hr hike we will reach Albert Premier and have our first mountain hut experience. The following day we may make an attempt to summit Tête Blanche (3422m) or Aguille de Tour (3542m) before returning to Chamonix.

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