Saturday, July 19: Chamonix
A Mellow Ending
Once again, I fell asleep almost as soon as I hit the pillow, and then I slept like the dead until my alarm went off at 6:30. It is amazing the difference between being stressed and stress-free!
I had a breakfast of yogurt, granola, OJ, and milk again. Then I got ready for a short day of easy hiking. It perhaps would have been more appropriate to do a final day of Alpine climbing, similar to Petite Verte, but after the effort of the past few days, I was looking forward to something really easy. Besides, it seemed to me to be fitting in a sense that my last real climb on crampons would be summiting Mont Blanc, and not some small side peak afterwardsóthat is, that my last real climb be Mont Blanc itself.
When I looked out the window that morning, it looked like it was an overcast day, but in reality it was just that the valley was still in the shade of the mountains. I checked the weather, though, and it was supposed to cloud up with a chance of showers in the afternoon.
I debated between shorts and my soft-shell pants, and eventually decided on the latter, if for no other reason than I wanted pockets. Likewise, I debated between sneakers and my mountaineering boots, before deciding on the latter (which was the right choice).
I met Chris at 8, and he offered me three potential routes. The first was sort of what he had originally planned for the first day (that involved a tram and then a chair lift), but which we didnít actually do. In this case, however, once at the top of the chair lift, rather than climbing into the peaks above, he was just planning to traverse along under the peaks until we got to Lac Blanc, and then go downward on the return leg to arrive at the top of the tram/bottom of the chair. He thought that would be the most scenic, as we would have a view out over the valley to Mont Blanc itself.
I opted for that one, and we set off.
The tram up was uneventful, and despite my misgivings, the chairlift wasnít too bad (despite being a 6-person). I was clearly more nervous than on the tram, but it wasnít too bad, as we rarely were that far from the ground.
Interestingly, when we got off the chair, we saw Anine, Sam, and their guide ahead of us just about at the base of some cliffs. They were going to spend their last day with technical climbing. My response was, “better them than me”.
We set out on our path, which was rather rocky in places, which is why my boots were better than sneakers. The terrain through which we hiked was OK in the scenic department, but it did offer great views across the valley. The only point to quibble on is that it clouded up pretty quickly, and so the tops of the mountains tended to blend in with the white sky.
We also got some good views of Aiguille Verte and Petite Verte, where my week started.
The tram to Petite Verte goes to that small peak near the left of the picture. The snowfield just to its right is where we ascended, and the top of the snowfield is Petite Verte. Aiguille Verte is the bigger one at the upper right.
We spent rather some time at Lac Blanc, enjoying the view and taking pictures. It turns out that Chris has a fairly fancy point-and-shoot camera, which is approaching an SLR in features (except for the interchangeable lenses). You can even put a polarizing filter on it.
At the head of the lake, there is a small stream of meltwater coming in, making some small waterfalls. I tried getting a bunch of pictures, but my P&S camera was pretty basic, and I couldnít slow down the shutter speed. Hopefully Chris had more success with his. He seems to be quite the photographer. I canít wait to see how his pictures over the whole trip come out.
The lake was a wonderful blue color, although I was really missing my lack of a polarizing filter.
I ate my sandwich there, and then we headed back, angling downward towards the top of the tram. It really spoils one to be able to take a tram up to the alpine meadow area, hike around, and then take a tram back down, and not have to hike up or down for hours to get to the interesting stuff.
We went through the edge of some lush, green meadows. There were some tiny but pretty flowers, but Chris didnít know what they were.
We came back down, drove back to Chamonix, Chris dropped me off, and I said thanks and goodbye to him. He was planning to drive back to Austria either that night or the next morning. He was hoping to get out that night, and if so, I would not be seeing him for dinner.
I took a shower and got some cleaner clothes on. I sent Sam a text to see if they wanted to get together for a farewell dinner, then started my afternoon fun: going around trying to buy gifts for people back home (and a Mont Blanc tee-shirt for me).
I heard back from Sam. They were planning a somewhat late-ish dinner (7:30 to 8), so I was sitting there at 6:30 typing up events. I should be heading out late morning tomorrow, and my main domestic chores would be doing the dishes and packing my stuff up.
I still hadnít heard from the van company as to when they will be picking me up. That made me a little nervous. They said that they would text me the night before. Personally, I would have preferred a little more advanced idea of when it will be, and in particular confirmation that they would be there, and that they were, in fact, able to get in touch with my phone.
“Dinner” was interesting. I contacted Anine and Sam because I figured that dinner with others would be better than having a final dinner by myself. I figured we would get together, go to some restaurant, have dinner, and that would be it. Instead, I got to experience a lifestyle with which I was not familiar.
First of all, Sam said that they probably wouldnít be ready until 7:30 or 8:00. That was a bit later than I would have gone, as I was pretty hungry, but I said sure. When it got to be almost 8 and I hadnít heard anything, I decided to go out and get a soda, as they could reach me just as easily “on the road” as in my apartment.
As I was passing the bar where I met them two days ago, I was surprised to see them there again. Sam explained that they were just about to text me. Interestingly, they had also hooked up with a young woman from Sweden, who happened to meet them somehow.
I joined them and got a glass of wine. Already the prospects of dinner seemed to fade further and further away. After a while, we were surprised to see Chris running by. I called out to him, he visited for a few seconds, and then he hurried off. After a bit more, Nikkos arrived, and he got a beer.
I was thinking that now we wouldnít leave for dinner until at least the beers were finished, and I was thinking ruefully of my increasingly delayed dinner. When we finally got around to heading off to dinner, Nikkos suggested a place where one of the other guides was performing in a band.
We found this place, which was also a bar, and I got a second glass of wine. Unfortunately, they really didnít have dinner type food there. I was well out of my league here, not being used to the bar culture.
I was wondering what to do about dinner, and eventually one of the women ordered a plate of cold cuts and cheese, and a plate with tomatoes and cheese for the table. So it wasnít until about 9:30 or so that I began to eat my “dinner”.
On the plus side, I got to meet some of the rest of the staff at Mountain Spirit Guides. The owner Wolfgang was there, as well as my email buddy Eva.
I sort of felt like a fish out of the water there, particularly when we had finished the food. Sam would occasionally try to engage me in conversation, but with the noise level in the room (and perhaps with some hearing loss due to age?) I had a real hard time hearing her (or anyone else). At best I caught just about every other word, and usually it was far less. I found myself often just nodding and making non-committal noises at what she was saying, as I had no idea what she had really said.
By about 10:30, I had decided that there really was not much more point in me just sitting there, pretending to be part of the group, so I said my goodbyes, left my best guess as to my share of the bar tab, and left.
I still hadnít heard from the van people. I tried calling them when I got back to my apartment, but they were already closed. Iíll have to try calling them back at 9 tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I wonít find out that they did not have me scheduled, or that I was scheduled to be picked up at 9:05. I still have a whole lot of packing to do.