After all the cycling just by myself to Chamonix (I almost started to feel like a poor lonesome cycling cowboy…), I joined the now famous club-of-seven-wannabe-mountain goats led by two guides, Didier Dumont and Guy Mevellec of Mountain Network. After our breakfast on the first day of August, we tried to lift our backpacks fully loaded with food and the climbing gear we were getting familiar with for one day. As it was only the previous day that we played with all our ‘new’ equipment on the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. Very impressive for people who never walked on such a body of crushed snow and ice. It’s to a high degree monumental on any human level. And graceful within all the natural beauties I’ve ever met. Just ‘WOW’ cannot even comprehend it! Anyway, backpacks fully stuffed, we headed for Italy.
Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele has nothing to do with the epic movie you probably think of, it’s a refuge in the Parco Nationale Gran Paradiso. This was our ‘basecamp’ for the ascend of the highest Italian mountain planned the next day. The sweaty walk up the shelter was through pine forest and alpine rocky meadows. A nice warming-up climb with great views of the national park. But it all started the next day. Putting the alarm at 3.00 am during holidays sounds ridiculous. I totally agree! Nevertheless, you just do it. You get up, eat breakfast, pick up your backpack with most if not all your outdoor clothes and climbing gear, and feel like a heavily loaded donkey! In the dark, all with headlights as a dancing Christmas light strain, we ascended the massive mountain ‘the Gran Paradiso’. Whilst ascending the first part, you still think it’s fun to be out there. You get up with a goal you thought of long before. After some time (nobody could really recall when exactly), we touched the first snow. We took a short break during which crampons, gaiters, and poles were detached from our packs. It was kind of exciting, fighting with the laces which came with the gaiters and the crampons (which is which in the light of dawn!?), and then it started to rain… Thankfully, we were already sweating from the climbing. So we were pretty burning from the inside with this freezing rain on our face, fighting the elements of this outdoor equipment. To me, this sounded like a perfect mesmerizing holiday moment! Although we continued in acceptable weather conditions with from time to time great views, the Italian Theoi Meteoroi got up on the wrong side of his bed! The closer we got to the summit, the heavier the conditions. Rain disappeared, so we got snow back. The snow changed into a windy fog, which froze immediately to our eyebrows or expensive outdoor gear. Most of us sheltered behind a big piece of rock just meters away from the summit, while one of us was actually lying on this rock with his head because of altitude sickness. No name to mention here. In the end, we had to turn back of course. No summit for these seven mountain goats. We did make great memories and of course great stories after we dried up back at the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.
For the time being, most of us wondered why the heck did we sign up to do this in our free time. Afterwards, it was soooo cool to have tried it with the grandest intentions you can imagine! The human mind is great for forgetting the pain and exhaustion in the rear of the event.