Bean Bowers - French Alps

Monday, November 1, 2010

Because It’s Not Rock Climbing Season

By Bean Bowers

No elbowing our way through the teleferique line this morning. No cappuccino either, unless you count the packs of instant cappuccino from Nescafe we pump out on the bivy stove. It’s quiet and still, the glacier suspended in its own, slow time capsule in the frozen crust of spring’s early morning cold. Mike’s bucktoothed grin gets wider at the third cappuccino, and the sun nips the tops of the granite peaks surrounding us.

I feel great. No snoring Frenchies in a cramped hut or bitter hut keepers in our little bivy world, just day old pastries, a double rack, ropes, and instant cappuccino. We rack up in the cold, put the cups down, the skis on, and skin 10 minutes to the base of the Grand Cupucin. The 1800’ triangular monolith of perfect granite flanks the southeast side of Mont Blanc’s summit plateau. Weathered by eons of glacial activity, rain, wind, and driving snow, it has been carved into a slice of alpine granite heaven.

We stomp out a platform, and go from ski boots to rock shoes, down jackets to t-shirt. A wily pitch of wet, run-out slab to a hanging snow blob, and another wet slab to a thin hands roof gets the blood pumping.  A perfect crack pitch followed by another leads us into the steepest part of the wall.

The crowds have come, but not to climb. They look up at us from their skis down on the now roasting glacier and wonder what people are doing rock climbing up in the mountains in April. The only reason I know is when I tell people down in town of our exploits, on more than one occasion, the reply is, “it is not rock climbing season yet”, punctuated by the French accent.

The adventure seems dwindled at times in the French Alps. Easy access, lots of people, a helicopter at the drop of a cell phone call, and decades of exploration and beta all soften the mountains jagged edges. Adventure, though, is not always raw, it is perceived and chosen by the user. We leave the phone behind, and choose the steep, rarely climbed test pieces, and venture onto the naked wall in April. The vacuum created by civilization’s proximity and “advances”, we fill in other ways, but at the end of the day, it is the feel of cool, crisp granite, the shimmer of the glacier far below, and the camaraderie of two friends weaving and their way up a steep wall that are the common threads we seek.

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