I have visited Chamonix only once before in my life, with my Dad and Brother when I was really young. Every summer we would go on holidays to the South of France to swim in the rapids, climb limestone and drink cold coke. But one summer, for some reason we stopped in Cham for a day. All I remember was proper heavy rain and being scared of the men with guns on the Swiss border. This time there were certainly no men with guns on the border, but unfortunately still a little rain.
Climbing on the Petit Clocher reminded me of how much I enjoy granite climbing and also that my granite skills are a little under practiced at the moment. I’ve found in the past that after climbing on granite for a little while, you find a certain flow to it. I’ve been in Chamonix for about 10 days now and although I’ve not climbed on the granite as much as I would have liked, I’m starting to feel that flow coming back.
A good friend from Canada, Jen Olson, is based in Chamonix for the summer working as a mountain guide. Whilst in Canada Jen has always been the perfect host, hooking me up when she can and sharing some fun days climbing together – probably most memorably in the Bugaboos. So when she invited me to come climb and stay with her again, this time in Cham, I hurriedly agreed.
The weather hasn’t been entirely cooperative, but here are some pictures from a the few days we had on the South Face of the
Aiguille du Midi.
The rock is so beautiful on the south face of the midi, we couldn’t help but smile the whole way up the classic ‘Super Dupont’.
The Alps is a crowded place to say the least and the consequences of this can make climbing here feel a little odd. For instance, you could be climbing on beautiful alpine granite at 3800 metres, breathing hard because of the altitude, cold hands, placing cams in perfect cracks… and then, punctuating this soulful experience, what do you hear? None other than a bunch of very excitable tourists, most likely from Tokyo or somewhere similar shouting wildly at you from a metal bubble moving through the air, a mere 20 metres from where you’re climbing. Or you’ll top out of a route and instead of hearing the silence you usually associate with being in the mountains you hear a french lady’s voice over a loud speaker announcing the time of the next lift to Chamonix mingled in with the sound of a drill and a generator. It reminds me a lot of Yosemite Valley; the tourists sat on the bus gawking at the climbers, but in some ways, it feels more absurd in the Alps. You’re in the mountains but you took a lift there, just like you would take an escalator up to the 30th floor of an office block in the city. After paying through the teeth to be herded into a metal bin and dragged up the mountain side, it’s anything but hard to feel the overwelming human presence in an environment most climbers value for having the opposite.
All that aside, I feel the best way to deal with the absurdity of the situation, is to humour it. On the top of the midi, Jen and I made jokes about escaping the rat race, silent mountain tops, isolation, being at one with nature etc, whilst we fought to hear ourselves over the noise of drilling and Wang the Asian tourist shouting at us from the ‘observation deck’. As long as you can laugh at the absurdity of it all, appreciate the fact that, if the lifts weren’t there, you’d have a two day, up-hill walk from the valley floor instead, and the fact that rock doesn’t really get much better, you’ll have a good day.