Mountaineering in ChamonixInitiation to mountaineering and advanced training in fondue
If the previous year’s long week-end in Zermatt is kind of the genesis to my love for mountaineering, this is what sealed the deal.
The Compagnie des guides de Chamonix (≃ the mountain guides guild) offers week-long mountaineering initiations. As a newbie, it’s pretty intense – but the best thing about it is that it’s safely doable with the littlest bit of physical condition and indoor climbing experience.
To summarize those five days :
- Day 1 : Initiation to real-life climbing on a cliff near Les Gaillands in Chamonix.
Basically, it’s about learning to use the gear, the basic moves, working as a team…
- Day 2 : “Mer de Glace”. The largest glacier near Chamonix (quickly waning).
We learned how to walk with crampons, climb with ice-axes and generally handle ourselves on the ice.
At the moment of turning back towards Chamonix, our group got caught in a bit of a storm : freezing rain, turbocharged wind, flailing hail, the whole shebang! We were still a few kilometers away from our starting point, right at the middle of the glacier. We got back absolutely miserable, frozen and drenched to our underwear, but… you know… really happy to have seen and done all that! 😉
PS : It would appear that climbing and mountaineering involve a fair bit of masochism.
PPS : Climbing a glacier with ice-axes makes you feel like a freaking movie star!
- Day 3 : Argentières – pretty much the same as the first day, but on a waaaay larger wall.
Awesome bonus : hanging on that wall, every time we looked around to the other side of the valley, we were granted one of the most beautiful sights in the area!
- Day 4 : Aiguilles Marbrées – high-mountain, shit gets real!
The starting location was the Pointe Helbronner and the Rifugio Torino (as seen in Kingsman 2).
On the side of the Rifugio’s terrace, there’s a little gate to go through to access the open mountain. Nevermind the ominous sign posted close to it warning us of all the shitty things that could happen beyond that point : death by falling, death by freezing, death by falling and freezing…
Leaving that station behind us, roped together in threes a good ten meters apart and as we were making our way across the mountain I started to realise what we were doing and where we were. The eerie, intimidating, quiet and immensely vast expanse of the Col du Géant really put me… to scale… That might have been the only time I wasn’t making stupid jokes, too overwhelmed.
The path of this ascent is shaped like some kind of spiraling helix. At base level, we went around the Aiguilles in a wide curve and kept turning around them as we made our way up. As it progressively got steeper and steeper, in ropes of two, we got to conquer our – very normal IMHO – fear of crossing 30cm-wide ridges with hundreds of meters-deep ravines on both sides.
The summit of these Aiguilles is an epic summity-looking thing. There’s a half-a-square-meter-wide almost-platform, over which you can stand heroically with your buddy while the guide takes an awesome picture standing on a conveniently-placed peak right next to yours.
- Day 5 : This last day was dedicated to another nice climb, a classic : the Arête des Cosmiques, just right below the famous Aiguille du Midi that overlooks the city of Chamonix. A bit more suspenseful due to rather poor weather and complicated (from a technical standpoint) than the day before, which made it even more fulfilling at the top. A couple of tears of joy may have been shed 😉
Equipment-wise, on that kind of outing, you have to pack ultra light. So I’d say, having to choose only one lens : go wide.
- Date(s) : 5/6 – 9/6/2017
- Location(s) :
- Mer de Glace (glacier… or what’s left of it)
- Aiguilles Marbrées/Pointe Helbronner/Rifugio Torino, Italy
- Aiguille du Midi
- Canon EOS 5d mkIII
- Canon EF 17-40 f4 L
- Canon EF 24-70 f2.8L