“You know, I’ve not brought a beginner class over here before”. Mike, our instructor, smiles, shrugs his shoulders, and is suddenly off down a red run. 3 days into me learning to ski in Chamonix and things have suddenly got a little steeper.
I’m standing at a belay looking up at the clear blue skies as Pat and Graeme sort out the gear for the next section of the climb we are on. 7 months ago I didn’t know either of these guys but I’ve been working hard at making friends and, already, we have confidence in each other, a relaxed atmosphere, and enjoyable banter – key ingredients for an amazing day out.
It’s November, six months after I started my alpine apprenticeship, and we’re all still rock climbing in shorts and tshirts and, after an unseasonal summer, the Autumn has shown Chamonix’s true colours. It is beautiful here right now and, though the days are getting shorter and the mornings are certainly crisper, now seems as good a time as any to take stock of the summer.
At 11pm Sophie turns to me and, with a look that is hard to say no to, says ‘Can we get up for sunrise and go swim in Lake Passy?’. I pause for a second too long and so she presses on, ‘We can take the kettlebells and have a proper training session down there…?’. It’s hard to say no to Sophie at the best of times but a 5am wake up call for a cold swim should be easy to refuse. As she topped up my glass of whiskey, my judgement got the better of me and I agreed to this very Sophie idea.
As Tim and I huffed and puffed up the final 55 degree snow slopes, the sun beating down on our backs, we crested the summit ridge and were rewarded with one of the most remarkable views I have ever seen. I had just accomplished an objective Sophie and I have had since we first came to Chamonix on our own, 4 years ago: to climb the Aiguille du Chardonnet. We were rewarded with a view across the whole Mont Blanc Massif with the north faces of the Droites, the Courtes, and the Aiguille Verte, each over 1000m, towering in front of us.
As of June, Sophie and I will be in Chamonix. In part, as preparation for the Alpine Coast to Coast but, also, to realise a dream I’ve held for the last few years:
My Alpine Apprenticeship
People often ask what it is about climbing and mountaineering that I enjoy. What is it that motivates me? What is it that makes me spend the majority of my holidays tied to vertical walls, wading through snow, or shivering at a belay?
Sometimes it is the of impact being in these environments can have on me as a person, sometimes it is the sense of achievement of climbing something I didn’t think I could.
At the end of the day, though, it boils down to the simple joy of sharing new experiences.
With both new and old friends, filling my lungs with fresh air and just feeling like a kid again, playing in the great outdoors.