Stepping Over Crevasses

Chamonix, Rhône-Alpes, France
September 10, 2016

My Feet Hurt


I am sitting in a pleasant outdoor cafe watching the setting sunlight filter through late afternoon clouds and waiting for my omelette and frites to arrive. I am in no hurry to get up and go.

That would require walking.

As luck would have it, Chamonix is crawling with young athletes hobbling on bandaged knees and ankles tonight. Apparently the French have found a way to elevate triathlete competition to a new level of suistanble lunacy and called it Evergreen Endurance.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect as everyone will think the old guy gingerly walking down the rue to return the crampons he rented from the sporting good store must have been in the “senior” division. (“Did you see that old fella? What a stud!” ) No one need ever know the cause of the hitch in his giddy-up are not shin splints or plantar fasciitis, but good old fashioned ginormous heel blisters he got from a simple walk in the snow.

Yo, ee, oh, yo, oh, ho

In my defense, it wasn’t a walk in the park. My new friend Fred, a 57-year-old veteran mountain guide, with two children less than two years old–I did say children, not grandchildren–atta boy Fred–the same Fred who regularly travels to Chili, Iceland and Iran to take “clients” up remote mountains to ski down…the same Fred who has 1% body fat…that Fred didn’t get the memo to go easy on the pathetique American with congenitally weak ankles.



We drove through the famous 12 mile tunnel beneath Mt. Blanc to Italy, took a state of the art gondola that rotated as it climbed, arrived at the foot of Mt. Blanc, strapped on the harness and crampons, roped up and set off.


And Up



And Up


“Hey Fred, throw this old Saint Bernard a bone. I’m doggin it back here.


Fascinating point for you wannabe mountaineers. When you climb, your guide goes ahead. When you descend, he walks behind. I guess, so that if the client-pathetique falls, the guide can “arrest ” the client’s fall from above without the human Avalanche taking him out as he picks up speed. Had Fred started with a descent with me in front of him, he would have seen just how slow I was. My tugging on the rope from behind as we climbed wasn’t having the desired effect.

But no, setting off up hill, Fred put himself and safety first. Just as your good guide will.

Nothing gets by me.

Well that’s not entirely true. Several hikers, many seemingly older than me, got by me all day with very kind words of encouragement. I drew some laughs when I heard one woman commentent in French she has never understood Shakespeare and I spoke up–between panting– to say in a sentence Evelyne might have been proud of, that English is the only language I know and even I don’t understand Shakespeare.

“The old American is slow, but he’s kinda funny.”

On we went. Five hours above the clouds. Absolutely stunning. Glorious views. Breathtaking.


The Top of our Walk (Not the Top of Mt. Blanc


But I didn’t feel half as exhilarated as I felt … well…


The glaciers are dying.

I “knew” this from my reading, but until you see it firsthand, you don’t “feel” it. It’s like watching a bear pacing in a cage. Powerful. Enormous. But, sad. Just trying to fight off death and knowing he’s losing.

Fred pointed out several places where 30 years ago there was ice and now one can see only a field of gravel skree. Places where climbers once climbed, but can’t now because there is no snow. We agreed, after bonding over a shared love of Snicker bars. Which thankfully he thought to bring, that my grandchildren and his children will likely never see a glacier. Not in the Alpes. Not in Glacier National Park.

After returning to Chamonix, Fred dropped me off at the lift to Augile Midi. “Beam me up, Scotty.” Make it snappy..”Up” was the operative word today.

Who Built this Thing?

The top was everything I expected. One hell of an engineering marvel.


Admit it. It’s the Slippers, isn’t It.

Hell, I even steppedi into the void. Felt kind of silly in my slippers, and uneasy standing on a floor of glass looking down several thousand feet, but it was, I have to say, exhilirating.

I also saw the start to the Vallee Blanche hike . Thank god those cable cars got stuck between Augile Midi and Helbonner. There was no way in hell I could have stayed upright on that knife edge of a snow ridge.

Not on a Bet

But I know what you’re wondering. Did you see a crevasse, Rob?

Hell yeah I did. Stepped over a bunch of them. Not huge, but not babies either. Real enough that Fred gave them considerable respect by giving me extra rope and cautioning me not to linger long to look into them. (That might be mountain guide schtick for rookie climbers, but it worked on me.)

Yep. I stepped over a crevasse today. Kind of a silly box to check off on the bucket list. But there you go. I suppose, like childhood friends, we all have childhood fears as well. Irrational fears. Flying monkeys.

It’s good to have the chance to conquer one. Before the glaciers, and with them the crevasses, are all gone, and the opportunity is lost.


I Admire Mountain Climbers


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