Sunday, July 13: Chamonix
Return to Chamonix
Here I am, back in Chamonix! It is now really beginning to feel like an adventure. I am just a little south of where I was last year. In my wanderings last time I got about halfway to hereóthat is, the neighborhood of where I wandered last time slightly overlaps the neighborhood that I would be wandering around here.
I ended up buying a Dan Brown book at Logan, and Iíve read a fair amount of it so far. The flight was rather uneventful. I slept better than I thought I would, but between being fed dinner and breakfast, I probably only got maybe 2 hours of sleep or 3 at the most.
This time, I had no trouble with the flight to Geneva, except that my carry-on bag was too big for the smaller plane, and I had to check it at the gate. So I grabbed my laptop and put the camera stuff into my fanny pack, and checked the bag.
The flight to Geneva is a short oneóonly about 30 minutes, so they only give you water and some (Swiss) chocolate. In honor of the World Cup, the chocolate was packaged like little soccer balls.
In Geneva, I got my bags without incident and then looked for my ride. I was to meet him in the French section. I had thought that this was a small part of France surrounded by Switzerland, sort of like a consulate, but it turns out that the airport is literally on the French/Swiss border. So I walked into France (within the airport) and looked around.
I wasnít sure what to expectóa guy holding a sign with my name on it? There were a couple of seats arranged like a lounge, and 2-3 guys sitting there. I went over there and sat myself. None of them spoke to me, but I dug out my paper, and one of them had the name of the shuttle service on his shirt. So I addressed him, and it turns out he was my ride.
I had no difficulty understanding him, as it turns out that he was originally from Scotland. We went out to the van, and similar to my ride to Logan, I was the only passenger. We ended up driving from France back into Switzerland, and then later back to France.
I very quickly fell into a half-doze, only “waking up” when we stopped for a toll or a traffic circle. He drove me to the apartment without any problem.
He said that they had had a lot of snow lately, and that last week a number of climbers had to turn back on Mont Blanc due to the threat of avalanche. I wonder how it will be later this coming week?
It took me a short while to figure out how to work the keypad and get the front door open. Then, rather than carrying my bag up one flight of stairs, I took the elevator to floor 2. The key was supposed to be in an access door to the right of the apartment door, but when I tried opening it, I found that it was locked! That didnít look so good.
I had left my heavy bag down below while I investigated, and I didnít want to leave it alone too long, so I went down to get it. This time I took the stairs. I went down one flight and then exited the stair case...to find myself on the second floor! I checked the access door here, and I found the key. I guess over here the ground floor is floor-0, and the second floor is floor-1, so that when I went to floor-2, I had actually gone to the third floor.
I gathered my stuff and went into the apartment. It is a bit smaller than I expected, and somewhat Spartan. There is a table and some chairs, a couch that folds out to a bed, two “loft-style” beds, like what I used in the dorm at school, and a mattress that one could put on the floor.
I wonder how long it is going to be before I bash my head against one of the sleeping loftsÖ :-)
The kitchen consists of a sink next to a stove, with a mini-fridge underneath.
I had hoped for some dressers so that I could unpack my stuff into them, but there are none.
I powered up my iPhone, and it seems to work, although using it will be relatively expensive.
My first step was to wander off, find an ATM, and buy some groceries. I ended up going to the same grocery store where I bought granola bars last time. Buying some milk was interesting. There were a number of different kinds, and as all of the labeling was in French, Iím not exactly sure what I got.
Right now, Iím not feeling quite normal. I have a bit of a head-ache. I think Iím slightly jittery. Iím hoping it is just the lack of sleep coupled with my biological clock being off. Maybe some is due to dehydration or the effects of the first dose of Diamox, coupled with stress. I hope that I feel better after a good nightís rest tonight.
One drawback to this apartment is that there are no outlets near the table here.
The lights in the hallway and staircase are on some sort of implicit timer. You push the button and the lights go on, and a short while later they go off again. So this pretty much guarantees that when I go out into the hallway, or in to the staircase, it is pitch black until I can find the switch. At least the switches are lighted, so I can find them without too much difficulty.
I just came back from exploring the neighborhood. It turns out I am almost literally across the street from the tram to Aiguille de Midi. There seems to be a main tourist/shopping/dining area around here. Last year I was pretty much at the northern end of it, and this time Iím at the southern end. It is probably only a 5-10 minute walk from one end to the other.
I saw one interesting thing: to restrict traffic, rather than having a turnpike-style gate extending across the way, a number of places had a big steel post stickup up in the middle. When a car punched in the right code, the post slowly lowered until it was flush with the pavement. The car drove on. Then the post slowly came back up. I wonder how that works with freezing rain and such.
I just talked with Chris (the guide), and it looks like Iím jumping right into the fire with little warm-up. We first discussed tentative plans at length, and wait until the end of the week to see if Mont Blanc was doable. Then he received a phone call, and everything changed.
They got more than 3 feet of snow up there recently. The upshot is that the route that we had tentatively been planning to take wonít be open until at least next week at the earliest. Time for plan B.
It may be doable from the other side (not as steep, so less avalanche risk), but that refuge (hut) is very busy, so they could only get it for Wed night. So I am now looking at a potential summit attempt on Thursday morning rather than Saturday.
The new plan is to take the first tram up to Midi at 7am. Then take the 7:30 tram over to the Torino hut in Italy (where I stayed last time). Then we do a quick hop over Toulle (like last time), but instead of crashing at the Torino hut, we hike back to the French side, and crash at the Cosmiques hut next to Midi. We spend the night there for acclimatization purposes. Tuesday we do some climbing in the area, and then descend via Midi. Then on Wednesday, we go up on the far side, which apparently involves a tram, some hiking, a train, and some more hiking. Then Thursday (hopefully) we go for the summit.
So if it goes according to plan, at the time I summit, I would have spent as many nights on the mountains as in Chamonix.
After that, we just do whatever climbing we want on Friday and Saturday.
I asked Chris about using an ice axe leash. He said not to, so I removed it. At the end of the week, I had to agree with himóa leash proved to be unnecessary, and trying to use one would have been a big headache.
I had hoped to do a “day hike” first, to get used to the mountains, but it now looks like my first climb will be an overnight. Oh well.
Also, as we plan to head out on the 7am tram, I probably need to get up around 5:30 or so, so that I have enough time to get breakfast and get organized (although I want to pack my backpack tonight).
So much for a simple, gradual first day! Iím hoping that I donít have too much trouble sleeping tonight. Oh, and did I mention that it will probably be snowing most of tomorrow?
I wanted something somewhat light for my stomach, so I decided to have a crepe for dinner. I was at the crepe place when I got a text from Chris. Plans seem to be changing constantly!
He said that he just found out that the track from Italy to the Cosmiques hut is in very poor shape (no doubt due to the recent snow fall). So the plan I outlined above is history.
On the plus side, I get to sleep in a bit more, as we are now meeting at 9am to make new plans. It looks like the plan is still to spend the night at Cosmiques. So the bad news is that I fear that my very first time in the mountains on this trip will be the dreaded descent down from Midi! The only saving grace might be that it will be in the clouds so I wonít be able to see much. Still, talk about your abrupt start!