Wednesday, July 16: Gouter
In honor of our unofficial climbing partners, I'll say that I'm knackered. I'm in the hut, and I'm totally beat. I was fine at the start of the hike, by the end I was really dragging.
I started out fine. For breakfast, I got some sort of quiche-like thing at the bakery, which I then brought back to the apartment and ate.
I was ready on time, and I met Chris at the bakery. They had different sandwiches than before, however, and none caught my eye, so I ran back to my apartment to make a quick sandwich. Then we drove to a nearby village and got in line for the tram. To my surprise, Anine and Sam showed up literally right behind us. At the time, I still didnít realize that our guides worked for the same company, and that we were all on essentially the same schedule. I thought it was just some sort of weird coincidence.
We took the tram up, and then it was a short walk down to the train. People started jogging, and Chris said, “what are they hurrying for?” A moment later he said, “Come on, run!” and started jogging down the path himself.
It turns out that the train was at the station and was about to leave. The next one would be something like an hour later.
So I proceeded to jog down the path, in mountaineering boots, my backpack bouncing all over the place. We boarded the train, and it left. In our car, all the seats were taken, so we just all sat on the floor near the doors.
The cog railway ground uphill for what seemed like a very short time, and then it was time to start walking. This place was called Nid díAigle.
I made a beeline for the WC, coincidentally getting in just after Anine and Sam. We had the right idea, however, because when I left there was a long line waiting.
At the start, the hike reminded me of Kili. It was rock and dirt, and they was a long line trudging up. Initially, there was some jockeying for position because of different speeds. We passed some slower groups, and some faster groups went on ahead.
We ground up, crossing more and more snow. Eventually we got to the first/lower hut (Tete Rousse). We stopped to have lunch. I was told that they frowned upon people bring food inside and eating there (rather than buying the food inside), so I sat outside on a rock and ate my sandwich. I found out later that the others happily ate their sandwiches inside.
We were going up 800m further to the second/higher hut (Gouter). For this we roped up and put on our crampons, etc.
In the picture above, the trail goes straight up the snow field, about a third of the way from the right side. Then it traverses to the right to the bottom of the Grand Couloir. It crosses the couloir and then goes straight up one of the rocky ridges in the upper-right corner.
We started up a snow slope, passing an area where people were tenting. This continued up until the slope got steeper and rockier. That is, there were a number of crumbly rocky “ridges” separated by snow.
At the start of this, we had to cross a couloir (the Grand Couloir) that was known for rock fall. They had strung a cable across there that we clipped into with a carabiner. Then we hurried across. Chris said that if he said to run, I should not pause or look up or anything else, but run. Clipping into the cable was in case a rock hit us, so we wouldnít end up at the bottom of the snow slope among the rocks.
In the picture above, the rocky ridge we ascended is towards the left of the picture. The Grand Couloir is barely visible to far left. Our destination, the Gouter Hut, is on the ridge just to the left of the solar flare.
After that, we had a big rock scramble up one of the ridges. There were cables strung along in places. I was using them, and one apparently sliced open two fingers. It didn't hurt, but I looked down and saw that my fingers were red and dripping. So I had to tell Chris to stop, and we did some bandaging. While he was getting his first aid kit out, he had me stick my fingers in the snow, both to sort of clean them off, but also to help stop the bleeding. The cuts werenít deep, but some of them bled like crazy.
Towards the end, I was really dragging. I was fine when we stopped, but then when we started up, I was quickly out of breath.
By the time we reached the ridge and the hut, I was totally spent. I hope it was just low blood sugar. While the guides checked us in, I just sat on a small stool and stared off into space.
I then had a bowl of herbal tea (they seem to use bowls rather than mugs). I put a lot of sugar in. We talked for a while, then Chris said we should take a nap before dinner. I did a little writing, then lay down. I didnít really sleep at all, however. In a few hours, it was time for dinner. By the time I got out of bed, got my clothes on, and got down for dinner, I was the last of the five of us to show up. As usual, I was the slowest one eating at the table.
After dinner, I bought some water, refilled my Camelbak and my Nalgene, drank the rest, got things ready for the next morning, and then I hit the sack. Unfortunately, I didnít sleep in the slightest. A couple of times I got up to empty my bladder, to see if that would help me sleep, but it didnít. (Have I mentioned that I really hate lying in bed not being able to sleep?) I was thinking of my Mount Rainier trip, when they told us to sleep at Camp Muir. They went on to say that most of us would probably sleep little to none, but our bodies would still be resting even if our minds were not.