Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chamonix, France


Finally while packing for my next adventure I am making time to post on my latest adventure over to the birthplace of Alpinism, the Alps. I have been psyched to go to Chamonix, France ever since my ginger friend flew over several years ago and returned with pictures of the world class climbing to be had.

When the same ginger (AKA Joey) called me up one day while I was busy at work and told me he was thinking of buying a ticket, I made up my mind that this was the opportunity I was waiting for. Within 12 hours I had booked my ticket (many thanks to my understanding boss for letting me disappear during a busy time and to my beautiful girlfriend for not driving one of my tent poles thru my temple while I slept for going to France without her…still trying to crawl out of the doghouse!) and two weeks later found myself on the long flight across the pond. It wasn’t too bad actually; there were enough movies and wine (managed to choke some of the stuff down, Maark would be proud) to make it bearable.

We landed in Geneva, Switzerland and from there took a shuttle to Chamonix where we settled into our little flat we had rented for copious amount of money (American money is some cheap stuff!). Next on the agenda was to buy ski passes and check out the area. Here came my biggest oversight. Somehow I booked a flight to Chamonix and decided it would be an excellent place for me to do alpine climbing although I had no idea how to ski. Terror, frustration, embarrassment, absurdly sore muscles and a change in our strategy dominated our first week there. Renting a snowboard for a day helped replenish my spirits that had gotten severely batter both literally and figuratively.

Finally I learned the motions of skiing and we managed to climb partway up several mountains, which was fitting. I haven’t been to the top of a mountain for two years.

The crux of the routes (for me at least) was the decent from the base of the route. The lifts close at 4pm so the only alternative was for me to ragdoll down Vallee Blanche, a 10,000’, 20km ski run while carrying 40lbs of climbing gear and dodging crevasses; by headlamp. Luckily the ginger was more often than not sympathetic to my cause, while he constantly waited for me at the bottom of all steep areas.

Surprisingly there is a strong British presence in Cham and it is quite easy to manage without knowing any French. There are as many British bars as French! Not surprisingly it is somewhat embarrassing to be thrown into the “American” lot. Luckily we had the Alaska card to play. 

Just as I was getting acquainted with the area the dreaded Foehn wind came in and disrupted our last plans. Didn’t much matter though as the ginger had become enthralled with the Finnish subculture present in the area.

My time in Chamonix was wonderful; the mountains are brimming with world-class alpine faces, huge ski runs, exceptional bakeries, a fun town atmosphere and the underlying mentality to push the boundaries.  The mountain culture felt like home and on the plane ride home I was busy hatching plans of returning with my woman to live for a few years with the French, like the French.

Check out the video, hopefully you find it somewhat entertaining.