Vacation. Unplugged. It’s what I wanted and needed, so I took the past two weeks without fretting over emails, blogs, and phones. I even asked for the month free of book review deadlines, so I boarded the plane from Denver to Geneva without even a book. I was returning to Chamonix, France—the place where I have lived for the past three summers. I knew that a two-week visit would be a bit like torture, and it was—being so close to a place that I love without being able to stay. I suppose that I’ve made the decision to have some more stability, to stay put in the U.S., and it’s not like I’m being forced against my will to live in Vail, Colorado. It’s just that life in Chamonix seems more beautiful in every way. In France, the pace of life is more leisurely, the night sky more studded with stars. Besides visiting with friends, climbing, and eating a lot of good cheese, I had also planned to climb Mont Blanc with my NYC sister. Mont Blanc, at just under 16,000 feet, is Western Europe’s highest peak, and its sloping summit defines the Chamonix skyline:
I had climbed Mont Blanc with a friend a few summers ago, but last year I became fascinated with the idea of climbing it with my sister, who is adventurous and strong-willed—but not a climber. I was thinking that we’d be on the five-year plan—as in, I’d get good enough to be able to lead, and she’d start climbing regularly so as to round out the team.
Well. It didn’t happen that way. As soon as I planted the idea in my sister’s head, she decided that she wanted to climb Mont Blanc with me this summer, so I suggested she hire a guide. She chose a French guide named Christian who is one of my friends, and he agreed to have me come along, so it was set.
My sister had two pretty dramatic meltdowns on the way to the summit (via the Trois Mont Blanc route), but she pulled it together just when we had to get over the steepest section on Mont Maudit. From there, we held a slow but steady pace to the summit and descended via the Gouter Ridge route.
Being sappy, I had tears in my eyes many times throughout the day, feeling proud of my sister and in awe of the beauty that I was sharing with her along the way. We were all smiles a few times, too—and happy to be back safely in the valley eating pizza at Casa Valerio that night. Two days after we made the climb, a serac along the route collapsed, causing an avalanche that killed eight climbers. We slipped through, but not without remembering that the mountains are as beautiful and they are dangerous: sublime.