How Not to Climb Mont Blanc

My ankle formed a right angle as it buckled with a loud crack.

“Fuck!” I cried, completely forgetting about the potential avalanche behind me.

It must be broken, I thought. I took a deep breath and considered the options while limping on the spot.

On reflection it had been careless of me to hike three thousand vertical feet alone. Nobody was aware that I was even up there. But so what? Isn’t that the spirit of adventure? Taking a risk in hope of discovery. To search out and transcend previous frontiers. Evel Knievel attempting to jump just one more car. Perhaps I was overestimating my peril a bit, but still.

I hopped down the snowy slope, wincing with every step. The was no possibility of help – I had only seen two people on the hillside, over two hours ago, going in the opposite direction. I was fucked.

A change of plan

I had arrived in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc the night before with my biological father Chris, as part of a failed bonding trip around the Alps. That morning I had visited the High Mountain Office in Chamonix for advice about the current weather conditions on Mont Blanc.

“It’s not looking good.” The official said. “The weather has been much worse this year. None of the snow has melted.”

He pointed to a section of the map that he had sprawled out on the table. “It is possible. But I wouldn’t recommend it.”

I nodded but said nothing.

“How confident are you?” He said with a grin. “If you try it, you will be setting the route this year.”

Outside we sat in the town square people watching.

“I’m going to head off to Annecy.” Chris said. “It looks like this Mont Blanc thing isn’t going to happen now and I don’t want to be dragged down in the negative atmosphere.”

I nodded and exhaled. “Even the equipment rental places are closed. Looks like we came too early.”

After his departure, I decided that I couldn’t sit in my hotel room all day and trained my eyes towards the heights of the Plan de l’Aiguille.

The Walking Dead

I had around three hours of sunlight left and three thousand vertical feet to descend, so I plowed forward, my now-useless right leg in tow. The mountain path was of course peppered with stones that jarred my ankle with every step.

I tried to look on the bright side. Just another knockdown to get back up from. This agony is all in the mind, after all. After five minutes hobbling down the bumpy landscape however, I was considering calling mountain rescue. My ankle is already hanging by a thread, I thought, another hour of this and it’ll be finished.

The torturous descent continued. The sanctuary of Chamonix town glittered below. I shuffled further down the hill, but the town seemed fixed at an unreachable distance.

In an attempt to block out the present, I directed my mind to arrival at ground level. The mind tends to seek out certainty in hard times, so I made a deal with the devil – stagger over to McDonald’s then retire to my hotel room immediately.

I considered whether I would still be able to make the climb, whether my injury had ended my hopes. The poor weather conditions and lack of equipment were setbacks for sure, but I felt we could transcend them with enough determination. The ankle situation, however, would likely be a problem.

Si, Montana and Robert would arrive the next day and I would have to give them the good news. I would be able to come with them to the summit, although only on the proviso that they carry me on a platform like the kings of antiquity. It seemed like a good deal to me.

As I trudged down the hill, I fell into a rhythm, each step becoming a drumbeat in my procession. Eventually I began to recognize landmarks from my ascent. A familiar line of trees. A shoddy bridge fording a meltwater stream.

Dusk fell as I arrived back into the warm glow of civilization. I bought two large meals with everything at the aformentioned grease-merchant and staggered like a zombie back to my room. I heaved my right foot onto the patio furniture on my balcony and exhaled.

The moon shone on the river Arve, which gushed below. I felt a wave of melancholy, stuck out here alone, battered and bruised. Plans laid to waste. But so what? The troops will arrive tomorrow. What serendipity might appear following my mishap?

11 Replies to “How Not to Climb Mont Blanc”

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