It’s been quite a month of mountaineering and rock climbing in Chamonix! July was dominated by rainfall last seen on the West Coast of Scotland. But August stepped up to the mark with both the sun and rock lizards coming out to play. And with normal service resumed I’ve experienced cuts, crags, crampons & crying while I climb in France.
I’ve not been entirely on the face. I’ve enjoyed some serious road biking including numerous ascents of the notorious Col de Joux Plane. But most of the fun has been had on the rock and ice here in the Haute Savoie.
August has been a month of firsts in terms of climbing and mountaineering. My first day of female only climbing on the Chamonix crag of Les Gaillands. My first total meltdown on the multipitch Vipere au Pied at Barberine. And now I am the proud owner of my first stitches as a result of a crampon/leg combo whilst descending the Petite Aiguille Verte.
All have been fantastic learning experiences and I have loved every bit of them all. Ok, ok…. perhaps losing my composure at altitude wasn’t exactly my proudest hour. But it taught me that I’m going to have to work on my steep rock climbing technique to become a complete climber!
Some guy called Einstein did once say ‘in the midst of difficulty lies opportunity’ and as he’s considered to be quite clever. So I have taken his advice to heart.
So much climbing has resulted in sore hands and joints, in particular in my fingers. Armed with the research-backed benefits of fish oil supplements, I invested in a bottle. I have since been popping them to help reduce inflammation of the joints and to improve recovery time.
The thread that has tied all of these ‘firsts’ together has been the theme of friendship and support. In the past I’ve been prone to going out on the hill and trekking on my own.
It was my choice. I found that the solitude really allowed me to disconnect from the mundane and totally immerse myself in my immediate environment. With no need to force conversation and with no external expectation, I could be myself, breathe and be free.
But Mountaineering in the Alps and rock climbing in Chamonix are completely different beasts to trekking. You need others to reach the goal and to work together as a team, as, at times, you literally hold someone’s life in your hands.
Accepting your weaknesses and stepping up when others are reveal theirs it key. So you need to challenge yourself and inspire others to push their limits as you work together.
When I lost it on the 5th pitch high above the valley floor, I got to the top thanks to the calm, reassuring manner of manfriend. My climbing partner-in-crime. Despite tears rolling down my sun scorched face, I didn’t want to let him down. So together we hauled me up the steep overhanging pitch that was too much for my spindly girl arms.
So I was well prepared to payback the support last week while traversing the Petite Aiguille Verte. My friend was struggling and cries of ‘I can’t do it’ were heard, but I always met them with the encouraging yet firm response: ‘Yes. You Can.’
In my opinion, the other ingredient in the successful day rock climbing in France mix is laughter. ‘Serious’ mountaineers might not rate it as entirely necessary but for me, it absolutely is. Climbing with the girls at Les Gaillands was one of the best days I’ve had on the rock. All because we were laughing, having fun, and yes….stereotypically talking about blokes!!
The atmosphere was such that I felt no pressure to perform, yet totally comfortable to push myself. The ideal combination. A day with no pressure actually ended with me leading routes that perhaps I would have backed away from in another climbing environment.
As we head into September the clock is ticking down on rock climbing in Chamonix for the season. But I am not worried that my leg injury limits the remaining days at the face before the snow appears.
Of course I hope to climb more but essentially I am happy if it doesn’t happen in abundance. I may not have a guidebook checked with as many routes as I’d anticipated back in the spring. But what I do have is a whole host of life punctuating memories, stories to tell, and friendships formed.
‘Laughter and Scars’…..now there’s a name for an autobiography!
We hope you found this account of rock climbing in the French Alps inspirational. If you fancy experiencing cuts, crags, crampons & crying for yourself check out these rock climbing holidays worldwide. Thanks to Masa Sakano on Flickr for the images.