I hadn’t planned a cycling trip this summer let alone a trip to Chamonix but after watching Le Tour I had a really bad case of cycling fever… and mountain fever, and why not climb Mt-Blanc while I’m at it ?! And with my boss on vacation no better time than to pull out the steaming coffee mug…
Nine climbers killed in an avalanche, two more by falling rocks, with the fluctuating weather conditions these last few years the news is more often bad than good. Yvan and I had planned climbing up one of the more difficult routes via Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit but with a heat wave in the forecast and conditions similar to those experienced by the 9 climbers killed in July we decided to play it safe and stay home. I was disappointed; I only had a few days left before returning to Canada and any hope of climbing Mt-Blanc was fading fast. A guide friend suggested I climb up alone as long as the weather forecast was favorable, but not knowing what to expect and thinking of how stressed my poor parents must already be, I decided to let it go… But I consider myself fortunate and have some wonderful mountaineering friends; Florence called me last minute and hooked me up with her friend Carola, a tall sexy blond from Germany looking for a partner to climb Mont Blanc !
Many climbers claim Mont Blanc is an easy climb and I tend to agree, but while technically not challenging Mont-Blanc is still no walk in the parc. Even the classic Gouter route, with its limited exposure to falling seracs, requires traversing the sketchy Couloir du Gouter (also known as “Le Couloir de la Mort” because of the number of fatalities). Check out this video to see what I mean !
Not long after leaving Tête Rousse, the four of us arrive at the ledge of the couloir. Lined up one by one we each wait for our turn to cross…
Watching Alex run, I wondered if Donkey Kong hadn’t been invented by some lost Japanese tourist in the mid 1980’s. I manage a little smirk but it didn’t last very long – Lolo is about to cross and I’m next. So I focus on more mundane thoughts, like feeling stupid about my fear of flying when my fate might now be determined by a falling refrigerator-sized rock. I realize what makes the traverse so unnerving: even with all the experience and preparation in the world none of it really matters; you run, and hope to God you don’t get hit. And so I thought about Saving Private Ryan and storming the Normandy beach, and dodging all those Nazi bullets, and for a fraction of a moment I became religious and a true believer, asking God to forgive me for all the rotten thoughts I had ever had about my ex and not to punish my parents for raising such an ungrateful son: “I promise you God, I’ll be a better son, more patient with my father, less judgemental towards my peers, even a positive thought for my ex ! And I’ll keep talking to you even when I’m not asking you for shit – I swear to Chri… I promise !”
And as I saw the wavering beam from Lolo’s headlight in front of me, I came to my senses and remembered how screwed I really was… I was crossing the Couloir de la Mort by night !
It’s my turn. The last rock fall was only seconds ago and at an average fall every 4 to 5 minutes my timing should be spot on. Good. “Say what ?!” No – that’s my tinnitus acting up. I can’t hear a thing – all good. No – not good ! I’m wearing my ski helmet and literally can’t hear a thing ! My eyesight, Christ it’s not much better than my hearing; I can barely tell the difference between the spark from a rock and a floater. “Now !” Carola screams. Fuck me, this is it, atone for my sins, leap of faith, off I go ! 50 meters, an eternity. Even with the slight decline that pack of mine ways a goddamn ton. Keep running. “Crap”, a bolder dislodges beneath my right foot. I hear it tumbling down but it almost sounds like it’s coming from above – I look up, nothing. The grayness of the rocks and the hollow beam from my light look eerie, footage from Blair Witch – I watch way too much crap on TV. Realizing the rock is beneath me I get my shit together in an instant, yet thoughts keep racing through my my mind… like the climber that died here only 2 days prior… “Run Paul run – I’m not a runner I’m a cyclist !” Just a few more meters – a few more seconds… PADI Rule #1 – Always Breathe.
Moments later I’m an atheist once again, “and a pretty good son. I take care of my father and love him dearly. I’m generous with my friends.” Nothing like a little fear to get you all Jekyll and Hyde – damn that that ex of mine and her Empty Chair Syndrome… “ECS ?! L-O-L Larry, L-O-L“.
Part III – Stay tuned…
Merci Carola Lolo et Alex !