Monday, July 14: Cosmique
A Near Disaster
I had the most awful night last night. I couldnít sleep to save myself. I started out feeling chilled and then I was too hot. My mind was spinning, and I felt really antsy.
I went to bed around 11:00, but I was still wide awake at 12, and at 1, and still at 2! I didnít know if it was just stress, one of the medications I was taking (e.g. Diamox), if I were sick or feverish, etc. Several times I climbed out of the loft and emptied my bladder, but that didnít help. Then I figured that perhaps I was hungry, so I got up and had a yogurt. (Having a fridge into which I can put yogurt, OJ, and milk is one advantage of an apartment over a hotel room.)
My poor sleep was particularly troubling as I had only had had a few hours the previous night, and I really needed to catch up on my sleep. I was really wondering if I were ill, and that my trip would sort of end before it began.
Then, sometime after 2am, it was almost as if someone had thrown a light switch. I could feel my mind calm down and my body become less tense. Eventually I fell asleep.
I had an interesting dream. In my dream, Michael had come on the trip with me and was going to be climbing as well. But the big surprise was that Amy showed up! She had secretly arranged to come out and visit with me as a surprise.
On the other hand, when I woke up and realized it was a dream and that I was lying by myself in this small apartment, I felt even more alone. It was at that point that I realized that since I had been dreaming, I had obviously also fallen sleep.
I slept until 7 this morning, so I figure I got about 4-5 hours of sleep last night. I took a quick shower and made some breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. The place doesnít have a toaster, so I pan fried the bread. It isnít quite toasted, and it is dry as I didnít think to buy any butter, and it is all I can do to choke it down.
I remembered to buy tea yesterday, but I didnít think of sugar. Iím drinking milk, but it is the kind that doesnít need to be refrigerated until it is opened, and it tastes cooked.
Once again I feel stressed and jittery, and I seem to have no appetite. I hope this feeling doesnít last for the whole trip. Iím beginning to think that this trip was a big mistake.
It is solid overcast outside, and the clouds are pretty low. I meet up with Chris in an hour, and then the show really begins.
The new plan was to do Petite Aiguille Verte (just like last year), then go to Aiguille du Midi, and spend the night at the Cosmique hut.
The hike up and down Petite Verte went fairly well. I didnít spaz out anywhere, although there were places that I definitely felt stressed. I think we went up faster than last year, but I was also getting rather winded (it was my first taste of “altitude” on the trip). Strangely, my legs felt sort of shaky at various points. That was a new experience for me. Iím not sure if it was a lack of sleep, stress, the Diamox, or something else.
I can be pretty hopeless with respect to packing. When we got to the mountain, I realized that I had left my camera at home. So I had my helmet cam, but not the better camera.
We started out with a little sun, and I was overheating, so I had to stop and take a layer off. The track is pretty much the same as last year (no big surprise), up the left side, then a rising traverse to the right side above some large rocks, and then following the ridge (sometimes on the rocks, and sometimes beside them) to the summit.
Just before the end of the traverse, the slope is particularly steep, so Chris went on ahead, and then belayed me as I crossed that stretch. Then it was on up the ridge (with a much steeper side to our right).
Particularly on some of the steeper rock scrabbles and on one pitch of particularly steep snow, Chris went ahead and then belayed me. At one point, there was a rock outcropping that we had to climb, that was maybe 15 feet tall. Chris made it look easy; I took a bit longer on it. I was wondering how I was going to down-climb it, as climbing down is always harder than going up.
This time, we went all the way to the summit. Last year, we stopped about 10-20 feet from the summit and called it “good enough”. I find sitting in an exposed spot like that not very relaxing, so rather than stop and eat the sandwiches we had bought that morning, I suggested that I would be just as happy heading back down and eating later.
While we were there, it clouded over again, and then it started sleeting lightly.
Going down was a bit more challenging, in that there were still many people heading up, and sometimes we would have to wait for a narrow spot to stop being occupied, and other times we had to go around a group heading up.
It turns out that down-climbing that 15 foot “cliff” wasnít a problem. Chris lowered me, and then he climbed down. A bit later, we had to wait for a group heading up, and so Chris and I put on our Gore-Tex.
Partway down the long traverse, the sun sort of came out again, and we got hot, so we stopped to take the Gore-Tex back off. We eventually got down to the tram, took the trams down, and drove back to Chamonix.
On the way back, I asked Chris what he thought about Diamox. His reaction was, “Youíre taking it?! Stop at once!” He felt that one didn't need it, and if one were taking it, then one could not use it if one got into distress. He was also concerned that it was a diuretic, and good hydration is important for acclimatization. Iím not sure I agree with him, as I think Diamox is more about assisting acclimatization and not about short-term treatment of symptoms, but I stopped taking it in any event.
I made a quick stop at the apartment, where I packed the point-and-shoot camera, used the bathroom, refilled my water, and took my down vest out of my pack as unnecessary.
I met Chris at the bakery, where he finished his sandwich, and I finished most of mine. It turned out that we had bought them and carried them up and down Petite Verte for no good reason.
Then we went up the trams to Aiguille du Midi. I doffed my pack and made a pit stop. Then we put on all of our gear, other than the crampons, and headed out towards the snow. I had only gone a little while, when I suddenly stopped and said, “Whoops, my ice axe!” So I went back to get it.
It wasnít there!
This was pretty close to a disaster for the entire trip. Without an ice axe, I couldnít go to the Cosmique hut that night. Without that bit of acclimatization, I would not be able to go up for a summit attempt on Wednesday, and there were no possibilities after that.
Chris and I looked all over for it, to no avail. We checked with the staff, to see whether I had left it on the tram or at the inter-tram way station, but they said that there were no ice axes to be found. Besides, both Chris and I were 99% sure that we had noticed me leaning it against the wall just before I went in to the bathroom. So it appears quite likely that someone (very possibly a tourist rather than a climber) saw it sitting there unattended and just walked off with it.
But whether it was in fact stolen, or whether I had misplaced it on the way up, the reality was that I was without an ice axe, and without one, the trip was as good as over.
The only feasible course of action was to have Chris head down, get a spare ice axe out of his car, and head back up. There was barely enough time to do this before the trams stopped running (if we had been an hour later, this option would not have been viable). I offered to go down and back up with him, but he wanted me to stay up at altitude for acclimatization purposes. So I settled myself in a small coffee shop there, wrote in my journal, and dozed a bit with my head on the table.
I felt like such an idiot, losing my ice axe like that (although it may not have been my fault). Coupled with forgetting to pack my camera that morning, I felt completely hopeless. I tried not to think about the ridge down from Midi (the “scary ridge”). Spending more than an hour just before going down the ridge, with nothing much to do other than dwell on things, was not my choice of activities, but I really didnít have any choice.
About an hour and a half later, Chris returned with the extra ice axe. We then got our gear on and hurried out to the snow. Going down the ridge was not that bad, although I still didn't like it. I only swore a little, mostly under my breath. One saving grace was that while the ridge was clear, there were clouds below us, so I could not see all the way down to the valley. I kept my eyes on where I was stepping, and I tried not to look around. Going up to the Cosmique hut was a bit tiring, but I survived.
It must have been misting or something, because the lens on the helmet cam got misted up, so I didnít get any good pictures of the “scary ridge”.
After checking in, we found our bunks. I looked for my silk bag liner, and I couldnít find it! I was sure that I had packed it (knowing that I was going to be spending the night in a hut), so I figured that either it fell out when I was removing my down vest after Petite Verte, or it had fallen out on the mountain at some point, for example when I was removing my Gore-Tex. So between that liner, my camera in the morning, and my ice axe, I felt completely hopeless.
I found out later that I simply had not packed it, although I had been sure that I had.
When I went down for dinner, I found that Chris had hooked up with another guide and his two clients. This was very reminiscent of the previous year, when my guide hooked up with Chris and his two clients, Stephanie and Victor.
Again, I later found that it wasnít nearly as random as I first thought. The other guide, Nikkos, worked for the same company as Chris, and in fact the two of them were room-mates for the week. Furthermore, his two clients were essentially on the same schedule that I was.
One of them was named Sam (Samantha), and she was from England. The other was Anine, who was from Norway, but currently living in England. Sam had sunburned her face very badly earlier that day, so her face was quite beet red. It looked really bad and painful.
After dinner, we went out onto the observation deck behind the hut, where Chris was pointing out various landmarks, and where we enjoyed the sunset.
The plan for tomorrow for Anine and Sam was to climb the Cosmique ridge, which runs from the hut up to Aiguille du Midi. It looked very steep and exposed, and in general worse than the “scary ridge”, so I wasnít too keen on climbing it. Instead, we might do the Point Lachenal traverse (again, like last year), or just climb the peak at the end. Chris thought that the Cosmique ridge would be more technically interesting, but at this point I was interested in having less stress (particularly as I had not slept well for several days).
Regarding the route to the summit from Cosmique, which was presently too dangerous due to the threat of avalanche, Chris said that he had several friends who were buried in crevasses along that route. That was why he didnít want to take chances with avalanches on that route.
I find on these trips that the evening towards bed time is my low point, when I find it very easy to get depressed or despondent. This time was no exception. Chris showed us the route for Wednesday, and my first thought was, “I canít do that! Why even try?” I felt that this was definitely my last big mountain trip, as they are getting increasingly stressful, and I had to increasingly ask myself why I keep putting myself through that. I was thinking at that point that I had wished I hadnít decided to try again, but given that I was here, it was way too early to pull the plug and give up. I wrote, “At this point I wish I hadn't come back, but I guess six months ago I didnít remember the bad parts as much as the good parts. At this point I don't think Ďbagging the summití is worth it. Still, due to my stubbornness, I will go through the motions, and I'll only turn back if I absolutely have to.”
Part of my issues was that I didnít feel “strong”. A year earlier, I felt like I was in good shape, was climbing well, and that I could conquer anything that was put in front of me. I just didnít get a chance to even try. This year, I didnít feel particularly strong, and hence I didnít feel particularly confident. The fact that I hadnít gotten much sleep over the past two nights certainly didnít help. The lack of sleep and near constant state of stress was really wearing on me.
The original plan was to get up at 5am the next morning, but then Chris apparently took pity on me, and pushed the start time back to 7am. The new plan is to skip the first third of the traverse, and just do the middle part of the ridge (after the rappel). Then rather than climbing the rock wall, we would go around it to the snowy backside, climb up there to the summit, and then descend as I did the previous year.
He also pointed out a large crevasse that was sort of next to Point Lachenal, and he might lower me into it to get a better look at the inside of a crevasse.
So ended the first day of my adventure, and started my first night in the mountains. At least the French huts have proper sit-down toilets, as opposed to the Italian huts.