The Other Side of the Mountain

There was a change in the weather. With things drying on the deck after the big day out on the glacier, I felt an almost imperceptible cooling that signaled, “Its about to rain.” I dashed out to the deck, grabbed my things as did the others and the sky opened and had barely shut since then. Through the night and most of today, the mountains and valley have been alternately peppered and doused with rain and lightning. We are hoping the weather will be done throwing this temper in time for our summit bid.

Given the weather, our traverse of the Vallée Blanche was called off and we headed off to the local rockclimbing gym. Of course, it was where every other climber went as well except for those competing in the world cup of climbing event in Chamonix. I’d never seen a rock gym so crowded with folks–the buzz of climbers on fifty routes reminded me of a beehive in full tilt. Octavio suggested we have a coffee and see if some of the climbers cleared out. As we commandeered enough chairs, suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw a climber plummeting through the air and landing with a thump.

The unthinkable. He fell 25 feet because of belayer error and lay groaning on the floor. It was the first climbing fall I witnessed and it was terrifying. Cecil and others rushed to offer aid immediately putting on hands on stable to protect his cervical spine. I mentally checked off the first aid rendered–they were doing an excellent job of caring for him (as well as his belayer who was badly shaken up). I was dumbfounded and deeply disturbed that climbing continued on “as normal” immediately after the accident. In fact, two climbers insisted on climbing a route right beside the where the injured man was being treated–even when asked not to by the first responders.

Recognizing that we’d been deeply affected by the accident, we left the gym to decompress and have some lunch. In the end, today turned into a rest day as the rain continued. I spent part of the afternoon napping as my cough has continued to keep me up at night and laid out my gear. I like to pack in two phases–first put all the items out in piles and then leave it for a bit. After an interval, go back and check off all the items as I put them into my pack. The process gives me a double check and provides a focus and mindfulness for getting ready for the adventure ahead.

Seeing the accident today was a vivid reminder of how narrow the ridge between safe return and tragedy is. A moment of inattention can be lethal and it can be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. With each item I placed into my pack, I reaffirmed my commitment to mindful climbing, attention to every step, and good judgment and decision-making. We head off tomorrow to climb to the normal route to the Tête Rousse hut where we will stop for supper, rest, and rehydration. We’ll set out about 1:00 am on Friday morning with a 600-meter rocky scramble until the Gouter Hut and then another 1000 meters on snow covered glacier ideally summitting by breakfast.

From however high we reach, we’ll descend back to the Tête Rousse hut for Friday night. My satellite phone sim card is dead so I won’t be able to call from the summit so no news is good news. I’ll post word as soon as I can when we return Saturday (or earlier if the weather shuts us out). I’d appreciate your good thoughts and energy over the next 48 hours as we make our way up and down Mont Blanc.

I’m sending thanks to the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union for their support of this climb and my community outreach efforts.

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