On the path of a meaningful life

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30 November 2018

Adventures in the valley

Day hikes to continue to discover the magnificent landscapes of the valley before winter.
Chamonix valley, France © Claire Blumenfeld
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The temperatures have dropped since several days and despite the still beautiful autumn weather it is no longer possible for me to go hiking and bivouac. So I just do day hikes to continue exploring the valley before it becomes all white. Fascinated by the impressive shape of the Aiguille Verte massif during my hike at the Lac Blanc, I go for a hike on its slopes in order to discover and observe the Argentière Glacier up close. The path climbs along a very steep track. A large ravine digs the landscape to my left reminding that the glacier once descended into the valley. At 2067 meters I reach the Lognan military chalet, feet in the snow. The small path is covered with a thin white thickness and some places are all icy. I have to walk carefully. 150 meters higher is a wall of spiky white blocks interspersed, seeming to come out of nowhere. A monster stopped in the middle of a race. I approach the glacier, greatly impressed. Besides me, there is no one. There is something in this immense white mass (as with all glaciers) which commands respect and humility. The glacier creaks and rumbles and a few blocks of ice break off from the walls. The beast is alive and I am fascinated.

I descend to the Lognan Cross where the ski resort which caught fire during the summer is undergoing reconstruction. This will not be finished for the opening of the winter season this year. It is buzzing with activity everywhere and I wade in the slush to avoid construction machinery. A large chairlift runs along the mountain to the Aiguille des Grands Montets, at 3,200 meters above sea level. The view of the Pic des Drus and the Aiguille Verte must be impressive. But the seats have been dismantled and it seems that the cable is being repaired. Given the scale of the work, it will probably be necessary to wait several years before hoping to access the Aiguille again.

I walk along the plateau alternating between forest and mountain pasture, crossing the various ski slopes still untouched by snow. The Chalets de la Pendant are already in the shade in the falling sunlight. The clearing where they are are so welcoming, with their yellow fir trees and dry sheep’s droppings in the still green grass. I would have spent the night there if I had my tent. I descend quietly along the path of the Grand Balcon Nord watching the sun disappear behind the mountains. The tiny Tines train station appears in the last light of day and I return by train to Chamonix.

At the end of November, the snow begins to fall and my hiking possibilities are greatly reduced. I go up to see the Bossons Glacier, but the path leading to the Aiguillette de la Tour and its viewpoint are covered with snow and far too icy. I also try to climb to the Aiguillette des Houches at 2285 meters but when I arrive at the Chalets de Chailloux at 1900 meters, I have snow up to my knees and I have to turn around. The ascent to the Émosson dam marking the border with Switzerland is also out of reach. 200 meters from the top, I can no longer continue. The path has completely disappeared under the almost 50-centimeter layer of snow and venturing without appropriate equipment is far too dangerous.

On the Servoz side of the valley, it is the same thing. I go up in the valley to see the Lac Vert at 1300 meters where the frost has covered the lake with a thin translucent layer and then continues on the side in the forest along the Fiz chain. The few buildings of the Chalets du Souay are completely trapped in the snow but I still venture into the gorge of La Chorde hoping to reach Lake Pormenaz just above at 1900 meters. But the path is invisible and here I am walking blindly along a tiny trace overhanging a ravine through which flows a river filled with pebbles. One false step and it is over with me. But I refuse to turn back terrified at the idea of having to repeat the same route. Better to try to reach the plateau where the GR of the Tour du Mont-Blanc runs, a large trail, which I hope will be visible even in the snow. I drag myself for hours, snow almost to the waist in places, my mind more and more worried at the sight of the black clouds approaching in the sky.

I finally reach the plateau, look in vain for the lake and panicked at the idea of losing myself in the bad weather that is coming and the night which is approaching, decides to descend into the ravine (accessible without too many problems at this place) in order to cross the river. And then go up through the other side to recover the GR that I can see facing me. Crossing the river is easy, but climbing across the steep slope, snow and large wet, slippery grasses is no an easy task. It takes me almost an hour, on my knees and hands, progressing slowly to go up the 100 meters that separate me from the path. What a relief when I finally reach it and almost collapse on the feet of a hiker a little surprised to see a young woman come out of nowhere. My pants and hands are in a deplorable state, but at least I am safe. I descend briskly down the side of the mountain then the forest to arrive at dark at the Servoz train station, my legs trembling with fatigue and the lesson learned. Hiking in the snow without equipment is far too dangerous.

On the side of Les Houches, I am lucky. I bought myself crampons and the climb to reach the plateau where the ski slopes are located is done relatively unhindered despite the snow. The slopes are not yet open and I take advantage of the place, which is still almost empty of people. Mont Lachat at 2100 meters attracts me but I decide that it is better to not venture there. I continue on the ridge along the slopes and reach the Hôtel du Prarion at 1850 meters just next to the cable car of the same name. I have lunch in the sun on the forecourt of the closed hotel-restaurant enjoying the sun and the Mont-Blanc facing me. I distinguish the Aiguille du Goûter, the Dôme du Goûter and at the very top the Mont-Blanc. A shimmer signals the presence of a refuge. There are three along the ridge. It is one of the most popular passages for climbing Mont-Blanc in summer. It is so beautiful and the weather seems so calm, that I feel overwhelmed by a feeling of absolute fullness. I spend hours observing the landscape trying to engrave in my mind every detail of the environment and the beauty of the mountains. There, lost in the vastness, in full communion with nature, I would have liked to never leave. Stay there forever in this magnificent simplicity.

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