I was looking for a better map to show my (our) progress through the area, but I decided the exercise was more or less moot. What I have here is a photo of a map from Sommets du Mont Blanc by Laroche & Lelong.
I arrived in Chamonix via Paris from Amsterdam. Even the night before leaving Paris I wasn't sure how I was going to get from point A to B, but it all worked out very well and better than I had hoped. This was a change in my home base from Josje's to an apartment shared with Irina, my climbing partner for the next couple of months. Chamonix is a popular resort town at the foot of the French Alps. Since this was a base city change and I needed all my climbing gear moving about was awkward. In addition to my little day pack I brought my large backpack and an even larger duffle bag. I wore my big pack normally and the small one across my chest. Using the shoulder strap on the duffle I could lumber along. The load was around 50 kilos (over 100 pounds) total. Fortunately each climb will only use part of that gear.
One high speed train from Paris at 09:50 to Annecy (3 hours 45 min) where I hurried to an Internet cafe to check my email and find out exactly where the apartment is. Then I ran back to the station through a rain storm to catch my next train which was a slow local one. The short distance to St Gervais les Bains required 1:45 and frequent stops. Still 20 km short of my goal I took another local train on a very steep route up the valley. The auto road uses a very impressive and high viaduct. The Chamonix-Mont Blanc station is close to the apartment (really it is close to everything in this village) so soon I found myself in front of the locked entrance to the building hiding from the rain under a small roof. Before anyone could come out through the door Irina came out onto a balcony 20 feet away. Reunited at last.
It was still drizzling but we took a quick stroll and I picked up some groceries. It will be nice to do a little cooking. I won't have anything more interesting to report until the weather improves.
Not much of an update but I have settled into the apartment. It is very spacious compared to my tent and we found a spot for all our gear. The sky began to improve and I occupied myself with my camera.
Here are some photos from around
humble home. I'll update these during my stay.
There were many wet and rainy days following our arrival in Chamonix, but then the weather improved a bit and we decided to start climbing. We left for Switzerland late on the 16th. I debated whether to give the long or short account of this trip. I decided on the short version. We planned for four routes on four mountains over five days. We'd start from Champex in Switzerland (upper right on the map below) and cross back into France ending the excursion in Le Tour. The weather wasn't going to be too good so we knew it doubtful that we would claim 4 summits. We started off on the wrong foot with a late arrival in Champex. That set the tone for the whole trip. Then we needed a rest day, then there was a bad weather day, then a failed attempt on le Portalet and a night on the mountain in a near epic that called for another rest day. What a chossy horror that mountain was. We kept adding days to the trip and eating less food to be able to stretch the stay. We decided skip two of our planned summits and try for a short North Face route on Tête Blanche but the next morning at the bergshrund (last crevasse) we didn't like the conditions so turned around. Then a storm moved in and kept us in the tent the rest of the day. The next day we scrapped plans for aiguille du Tour and just descended down to civilization. It was a gruelling week with nothing to show for it except sunburned feet from when I fell asleep after taking off my socks to dry. Oh, and I'll probably lose a toenail from the kickstepping on Portalet's north face.
What to do when it is to rainy to climb? Why shop of course. I very desperately needed new boots. My La Sportiva Makalus should have been retired a couple years ago but I kept squeezing a little life out of them. But I couldn't ignore the fact that they are cold and so worn that my crampons don't fit securely. The boots are probably 6-7 years old which is far too old. Although I didn't want to buy any gear in this expensive resort town when I started looking around at equipment I found the prices to be reasonable. In some cases, things here are cheaper than I could buy them in the US. Considering that I can apply for a refund of the 19% VAT tax when I leave the country, suddenly things become a good deal. So among a few miscellaneous items, I bought a top of the line pair of Millet Alpiniste boots and some antibot plates for my crampons.
We had a short weather window and made plans to climb the Aiguille du Plan via the classic Midi-Plan Traverse followed by Tour Ronde. These objectives are located near Chamonix in the Vallée Blanche, or White Valley. It is one of the more scenic areas and there are a number of cable cars for tourists. One could even travel to Italy that way. Underfoot France and Italy are connected by the Mont Blanc Tunnel. We hoped for good visibility and got it. Vallée Blanche Photos. We packed gear to camp on the glacier at Col du Midi and took the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi, braved the narrow snow ridge down to the col, and set up camp. Unfortunately we heard some bad news about snow conditions from some Welsh climbers building a snow cave near us. We decided to give Tour Ronde a try first and possibly skip the traverse entirely.I have some pictures from the climb. It was a beautiful area and the weather held. The ridge route was interesting but also a bit tedious. A lot of different skills came into play on the mixed rock and snow. Sadly we weren't moving fast enough and I was with a partner unwilling to turn around at a decent hour so we ended up spending an uncomfortable night on the mountain. I'm not doing that again. The new boots are excellent by the way. Too bad I've never seen Millet in the US. Anyway the next morning we finished downclimbing, took a nap, and hiked back to camp where we crashed for the rest of the day. On Sunday we made it back to the cable car just ahead of the storm.
Slept in late today and am looking forward to more R&R. I got a lot of that as the weather just wouldn't give us a break until the weekend.
We took the cable car then a ski lift up the other side of the valley with the intent to climb a route or routes in the Aiguilles Rouges. Unfortunately we only had great weather going up. We set up camp in a beautiful area overlooking Chamonix and the whole Mont Blanc massif. It really made me wish that the weather had allowed me to do the Tour du Mont Blanc hike like I wanted. Oh well. Another year.
There was a chance of thunderstorms the following afternoon so we got a pre-dawn start. We were prepared for the snow on the way to the start of the route but it still took us much longer than expected. By the time we started climbing the sun was up and the weather wasn't looking so good. We gave it a good try but a thunderstorm finally erased all thoughts of continuing. Getting back to the tent however was a monumental effort. We didn't escape getting soaked but we did manage to get back to the tent moments before a gigantic storm battered the area that evening. You wouldn't believe what my little Betalight survived that night!
This was the last climb for us as a team. It is time for me to get on with the rest of my trip. Hopefully I'll see better weather soon. Good luck crazy girl. Stay safe.
Time to change base towns again. I left Chamonix to return to Amsterdam, however, I am doing so in a roundabout fashion. First Switzerland. Still the Western Alps but a different part. The photo is from Geneva, my gateway, to the rest of the country. The giant waterspout is probably the city's best known.. well I was going to say landmark, but that isn't the right word... site. Look at how it dwarfs the boats and buildings. It was something to see.
Later in Bern Christine jumped out of the crowd and whisked me away to her car. She is a police detective but could have a future in tourism if she wanted. She showed me many of her favorite places in and around the city. She actually lives in Worb, a small village, outside of Bern. Her apartment is fantastic and situated just below the former castle of Baron von Graffenried. A year ago the name wouldn't have meant anything but then I hiked through New Bern, North Carolina which he founded as one of the original American colonies.
For the weekend we drove to Interlaken. This is a famous Swiss tourist mecca. It is the gateway to the most well known area of the mountains. Besides gondola rides and skiing more adventurous pursuits include bungee jumping, climbing, canyoning, hiking, paragliding, skydiving, and zorbing. My time here was very limited so I chose two of the above activities: Canyoning Chli Schliere and Bungee jumping. By the way Funny Farm is a great budget backpacker place with lots of nightlife, and the crew at Alpen Raft are highly recommended. I also saw a little portion of an air show that was in town. The acrobatic helicopter was amazing. On the way to bungee jumping I shot some photos of Lauterbrunnen. Christine and Nadine both of whom I met in Ecuador were great hostesses and really helped make this a great and smooth visit for me, and let's not forget their friend's excellent BBQs. Thanks everyone.
And so concludes my time in the western Alps. Next stop Bavaria and Tirol.