Friday, July 18: Chamonix
Last night, pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light. I slept through the night and was quite firmly asleep when my alarm went off at 8:30. That was the best sleep I had had all week!
I had some granola for breakfast, then met Chris at the late hour of 10:00. We rented me some rock shoes, and then we drove to a nearby rock wall park. It was intended for climbing, and there were fixed bolts all over the face.
It was neat to see maybe a half dozen families there, with the parents teaching their kids, some apparently no more than 6 or 7, how to climb safely.
One line that I overhead (which strangely was in English) was a parent telling his young daughter to never let go of the belay rope. Then he said, “Remember: you are holding your sisterís life in your hands.”
After a brief intro (Iím already familiar with most of this stuff, at least in general terms), Chris went up, clipping carabineers in as he went up, while I belayed him. He could have easily free soloed that wall, so my having him in belay was just for practice.
When he got to the top, I then lowered him back down.
Then it was my turn. I climbed it under a top rope, and then he lowered me down. He gave me some pointers, and then had me do it again.
At some point, he showed me some technique and had me practice a little walking back and forth along the bottom of the wall.
They say that the proper size for rock shoes is “one size too small”, but I would swear that mine actually were a size too small. My big toe was pressing painfully against the front of the shoe, and the back was digging into my Achilles tendon. Even though I took them off whenever I didnít really need to have them on, after while it got rather painful. I grew to hate those rock shoes, and when I had them on, my main thought was to do what I had to do to finish the exercise, so that I could take them off again. After a while, it got so that I was reluctant to put much pressure against my toes (in the shoes) because they were so sore.
On the other hand, when I was hanging from the face quite a ways up, I sometimes got so “preoccupied” with things that I didnít think so much about my feet.
(After I got back home, as my big toenails grew out, they were colored funny where they had been bruised, so I was in fact damaging them with the rock shoes.)
Also a few times, we took a break in the shade. It was about 80 in the shade, and quite a bit warmer in the sun. In some places, the rock was almost too warm to hold.
I think Chris pulled the rope down, and my next climb was pretending to be the lead climber, and clipping in to the various pieces of protection.
This time, when I was lowered, he had me remove the protection as I came down. The next time up, I was a “real” lead climber, attaching the protection and clipping in as I went.
The next climb was a two-pitch climb. They were short pitches, i.e. you could easily have done it as one pitch, but he wanted me to experience a multi-pitch climb.
He was tied into one end of the rope, and I was tied into the other. I belayed him up until he got to the top (of that pitch). Then he belayed me until I got up there. On the way up, I removed the protection and hung it on my harness.
Before coming off from belay, I clipped a loop of webbing that was attached to my harness into the anchor. Then Chris could come off from belay. It took some getting used to standing on the ledge held to the bolt with some webbing, and not having to hold on to everything. I kept imagining somehow the webbing coming loose, and me falling backwards off the ledge to a horrible, grisly death at the bottom.
We re-rigged the gear, then I belayed Chris as he went up another “pitch”. Then he belayed me as I went up, gathering up the hardware like before.
I found that the higher up I went, the higher my level of anxiety, even though in a rational sense, the second pitch was no different from the first.
Chris asked me if we should do a third, and I told him that I thought two was quite enough. We then re-rigged the ropes, and Chris abseiled down. Then it was my turn to abseil down. Chris was my safety, if he pulled on the rope, I would stop coming down, so even if I screwed up badly, I couldnít fall.
I finally made it down, and it was with quite a shock that I realized that we were still at the top of the first pitch, and not on solid ground yet. Chris pulled the rope through, and after a bit of instruction, he abseiled to the bottom. This time when I did it, I used a prussic for protection, although I suspect that Chris also held the rope just in case.
That was it for that wall. I met Wolfgang, who runs Mountain Spirit Guides, through whom I had effectively hired Chris. Then we drove to a different wall.
This one wasnít quite as vertical, but it offered not such good hand holds. Chris offered to let me lead climb it, so I said sure. (No guts, no glory!)
I found it rather unnerving, being the lead climber on a new route. I was acutely aware that my nearest protection was underneath me. If I fell, I wouldnít fall to the bottom (to a horrible grisly death), but I would slide at least several feet down the face, and probably get some nasty abrasions and bruises. I *really* did not want to fall!
I ended up hitting sort of my worst nightmare. I got about halfway up, and I got to a spot where I couldnít figure out how to go higher without risking a fall. I also couldnít figure out how to climb back down either. Since the protection was below me, I couldnít be lowered down.
At this point my stress level was rapidly climbing. As I said, sort of my worst nightmare in climbing is to be stuck in a not so stable place and not be able to go up or down.
I searched around, alternately trying to go further up or down to no avail. Finally I managed to figure out how to go down a bit, and then I could make it over to the protection, and Chris could lower me the rest of the way.
So I didnít pass the test, but I got partial credit.
I belayed Chris up, while he put in protection, and then I lowered him down. He then had me climb again, this time with a top rope.
I had watched him as he went up, and he relied on his feet a lot more, and not so much on his hands. I tried to do the same thing, and it worked better, until I was maybe 3/4 of the way up. There was a difficult spot that gave me a lot of grief. Chris had the belay rope rather tight, and probably at times it was taking a significant amount of my weight as I searched for a solution. There is no way I could have done that stretch as a lead climber. I finally made it to the top and he lowered me down, picking up the protection as I went.
I had pretty much had it with climbing rock walls, and Chris picked up on that without my saying anything.
We had a soda and an ice cream, and then we spent a couple of hours practicing crevasse rescue. First he would show me the technique, and then he had me practice it. It was hard sometime trying to remember all of the right steps in the right order.
Then he threw the rope over a tree limb, and I practiced crevasse self-rescue, first with hardware, and then with prussics. Finally we called it a day.
Chris had been thinking that perhaps we would do a second day of rock climbing tomorrow, but I told him that one day was good enough for me.
We drove back to Chamonix, and I returned the rock shoes. Then I went back to my apartment and took a quick shower.
I found that today I had really sore quads, particularly when going down stairs, or if I had been sitting for a long time and then got up.
I checked to see what time the Mass was tomorrow (Saturday), and it looked like it was at 7:30 AM, which is way too early for a vigil Mass (not to mention that I was meeting up with Chris at 8:00 the next morning).
But then I noticed that there seemed to be a Mass today (Friday) at 6:30. It was then about 6:20, so I ran over there and was relieved to see that there were a few people who seemed to be gathered for a Mass. I went to a pew, and a few minutes later a priest came out and started Mass.
Of course, I really couldnít understand a word they were saying (except for the Kyrie, which was in Greek). But I could follow along with different parts of the Mass.
After Mass, I cornered one of the readers, who fortunately spoke English. I asked him what times the Masses were for the weekend. It turns out that there are no Saturday vigil Masses at the Chamonix church, although there was one about 5km away. So I wonít be going to church tomorrow evening.
By then, it was about 7:45, and it was too late to do much tourist shopping. I bought some postcards on my way back to the apartment, and there I realized that what I really needed was toilet paper. One of the disadvantages of an apartment is that the roll was almost out, and there were no spares.
So I went back out and bought some toilet paper, then set off in quest of dinner. I wanted to try the “hot rock” dish that I had seen last year, where you could cook your own little bits of meat on a hot rock. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the places that do that, have a two-person minimum. (I guess you could do it as one person, but it would cost you twice as much.)
Eventually I settled on what turned out to be the wrong restaurant. First she asked me if I wanted anything to drink, so I said that I would like a glass of white wine. She asked me if I wanted water with that, so I said sure. A while later, a guy came by and took my order. Afterwards, he asked me if I wanted any starts (appetizers). I was pretty hungry (not having had lunch), so I said that I would take some garlic bread.
Someone brought out my glass of wine, and I was rather distressed when he unscrewed the cap on my water bottle and poured some into my glass. I hadnít said “tap water”, and so they brought me a big bottle of Evian water, which ended up costing me more than the glass of wine!
Then I waited and waited. I was hungry, and I kept wondering how long it takes to make garlic bread. Eventually, they brought out my entree along with the garlic bread. I was wondering why they called it a “starter”, if it was served with the main course. Finally, he screwed up my change at the end, stiffing me a Euro. I donít think Iíll ever go back to that place.
I was thinking, as I was walking around looking up at the mountain peaks, that now I could appreciate their beauty, without finding them a source of stress and fear.