Mont Blanc

We Don’t Queue – We’re French

I’ve joined my parents in Evian Les Bains for a couple of days while Neil and Duncan continue their brave, but so far thwarted, attempts at getting up Mont Blanc.  They have a ton of snow climbing gear with them but so far haven’t got anywhere near a single snowflake.   

However, yesterday, at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, just as the Laurel and Hardy of climbing started past the barrier onto the 6 inch wide trail (with a drop of thousands of feet straight down on either side ), Neil was asked by a Spanish tourist if she could have her picture taken with him as he was ‘un alpiniste’.  He was so chuffed.  

The sign says ‘No Dundonians Beyond This Point’.He later told me that he’d been standing on one leg on said 6 inch wide trail trying to knock the snow out of his crampons.  Sometimes I’d really rather not know.  

He also told me that when they were climbing on Sunday, they’d waited behind some Dutch climbers who were themselves waiting for another bunch of climbers to descend past them on a tricky bit of the mountain.  A group of French climbers barged past Neil et al and then a second group of French climbers turned up and also barged past. He watched appalled at the unnecessary chaos and danger caused by all the French trying to get past the descending climbers.     

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever had to queue for anything at a Post Office in France.  I’d have thought common sense would apply if you’re only loosely tacked on to the side of a rather large mountain.  But then they do things differently here.

Chamonix – Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc

Arrive in Chamonix to find it’s the weekend of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

The race comprises 4 events with thousands of entrants.  It crosses 3 countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) and there are 4 options:

i)       the UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc):  166km, 9500m height gain

(ii)    the TDS (Traces des Ducs de Savoie):  111km, 7100m height gain

(iii)  the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix):  98km, 5600m height gain

(iv)  the PTL (Petite Trotte de Leon) – there’s nothing ‘petite’ about it:  300km and 25,000m height gain (done as a team)

Insane or what?  All the races  finish in Chamonix over this weekend and it’s an amazing sight to see.  The weather’s fabulous and the town is heaving with people here to see the finish.

The centre of the town is fenced off so that the runners have an avenue of applause, wild cheering, enthusiastic cow bell ringing and ‘bravo’s’ as they cross the finish line – the French are really excellent at  appreciating ‘grands efforts’.

The finishers are very spread out (they arrive over 48hrs).  As each one heads up the final straight, music from Last of the Mohicans starts up – it’s very moving to watch – some runners are clearly on their last legs and have to walk, others manage to jog up to the line with their wives, girlfriends, supporters or families, or carrying their children on their shoulders, or waving flags.

The race was on the last time we were here as well.  We drove into Chamonix (bad idea – traffic’s a nightmare – get the Alpybus from Geneva instead) and found all these glazed people hirpling around on the roads, all wearing skins (not quite as common then as now). It was, like, really annoying, so we kept honking at them – we just thought they were being obnoxiously French.  Didn’t realise they were exhausted endurance runners.

Oops.