On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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15 November 2018

Enchanted hikes

The Chamonix valley is ideal for hiking and I take advantage of the perfect weather to explore it.
Lac Blanc, Aiguilles Rouges massif, Chamonix valley, France © Claire Blumenfeld
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It is damn hot under the sun shining in the perfectly blue sky. Not a cloud on the horizon. I am on the mountainside. I have passed the Chalet de la Flégère and I am on my way to the Lac Blanc. One of the best known places in the region. Although it is the end of October, the good weather attracts visitors. Hikers and tourists mix on the small paths. But I am one of the few to carry a large, loaded bag. I left for a two-day hike through the Aiguilles Rouges massif, the massif facing Mont-Blanc. I left Chamonix this morning, determined to take advantage of my two days off. This is my first hike with a bivouac night in the valley.

I left the village this morning and I attacked the climb on the mountainside into a forest of fir trees. The path joined the Charlanoz mountain plateau at 1800 meters and I marveled at the landscape. Being Autumn, wild blueberry trees, herbs and plants vary from yellow to dark red colors. It is very beautiful. I walked along the plateau hiking in what will soon be ski slopes to reach the Chalet de la Flégère where the cable car pours the tourists who come to observe the landscape and in particular the Mer de Glace right in front of us on the opposite side of the valley. I leave the crowd and continue my ascent along the trail. I am hot and the weight of the bag pulls on the shoulders. Above me is the Aiguilles Rouges massif. Opposite, the extraordinary Aiguille Verte and its peak, Les Drus, very well known to mountain-climbers. I find it hard to take my eyes off the contemplation of the landscape. Here, in the calm, almost alone and surrounded by nature, I feel extremely good. A sweet feeling of well-being fills me over and I sit in the grass to enjoy the sun and this moment of fullness. I feel so small, so humble, dominated by these immense massifs so ancient and so beautiful. My mind seems to grasp a truth that I am unable to put into words. Here, at 2000 meters, lying in the grass on the mountainside, one will find the answers to what living means. Simply, quietly, in contact with nature and with respect.

The Lac Blanc is looming in a hollow and I reach the body of water while the sun is already starting to disappear behind the mountain peaks. The refuge is closed and I put my tent a little higher away from the path. Without the sun the temperature drops quickly and I bundle up in my sleeping bag to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunset I have had the chance to contemplate. Right in front of me is the Aiguille Verte massif, a big giant bounded on one side by the Mer de Glace and on the other by the Argentière glacier. The shadow swallows the walls of the massif and its summit is tinged with yellow, pink and red. At 2300 meters above sea level I begin to grasp the geography of the Mont-Blanc chain and its specificities. It is a very big and impressive massif incrusted with large crevasses where the glaciers stretch. The stars appear in the sky and I fall asleep perfectly happy.

The sky is still as blue the next day and I get up with the sun. Another tent has set up a little lower, but apart from the two of us, no one else seems to have spent the night in the area. I love mornings in the middle of nature, alone where the places are so calm and not yet disturbed by the crowd of walkers. These beautiful moments when nature and I seem to be one. These moments when I have the impression of being alone in a nature still untouched by human presence.

I pack my things taking advantage of the freshness of the morning to move on. The path descends abruptly, following a few steep passages and along the Lacs de Chéserys. A few ibex graze not far from me and do not seem disturbed by my presence. Many have pretty long horns. Males I guess. Further on, I meet the first walkers in the opposite direction, coming from the bottom of the valley. The path crosses a long plateau at 2000 meters and I observe blueberries with red leaves. A few stunted berries are still present on the branches, but the vast majority of plants are already ready for the coming winter. The slope becomes steeper and the path descends sharply for 600 meters before reaching the bottom of the valley and the small hamlet of Tré le Champ. I regain civilization with regret, I must return to Chamonix. My “weekend” is coming to an end. But my heart is happy and sitting on the train that brings me back to the town I am already thinking about my next excursion.

A few days later, during my days off, I take the Aiguille du Midi cable car to return to Plan de l’Aiguille, where I did my paragliding jump ten days earlier. I am accompanied by Hongfei, a young Chinese receptionist intern at the Alpina. He has never hiked but wanted to accompany me today for this day hike. We leave the crowd of tourists at the foot of the cable car and follow a small path to go see the Blue Lake, a very small glacial lake not far from here. Again it is very beautiful. The sun diffuses its heat throughout the valley. We are 2000 meters above sea level and it is as hot as in summer. All around the peaks sparkle in the heat of the sun and the valley below diffuses a hubbub of distant civilization.

The path disappears and I wonder where the small lake can be. We climb scree hoping that it will be a little higher but nothing. Nice starts for Hongfei. I who had assured him that in my company he was not going to get lost! I hope he is not wondering too much. I leave Hongfei below and climb on a small ridge to observe the landscape. The small lake is right next to the cable car station, slightly hidden in a hollow. We just missed it. We retrace our steps and pass to see the lake before continuing on the path along the hillside plateau. For three good hours we follow the mountain, just above the forest. Rows of fir trees turn yellow by the Autumn season are painting the landscape with long yellow streaks. It is so beautiful that I find it a bit difficult to listen to Hongfei talks about his questions about the future. I am happy to be in his company, I who is usually always alone, but I regret a little not being able to fully immerse myself in the landscape, to listen to the song of the birds, to do the active meditation that I love doing so much when I am alone in the great outdoors. At Signal des Forbes, the path transforms over a hundred meters into a superb path paved with long stone slabs. On the other side of the ridge, we overlook the Mer de Glace, a gigantic glacier descending from upland.

We reach the Chalet du Montenvers, a little lower and start the long descent into the forest to return to Chamonix. Hongfei seems to be at the end of his life but assures me that everything is fine. His big shoes, not suitable for walking, are probably hurting his feet. For a first hike, it should perhaps have started with something simpler… The sun goes down as we reach Les Planards, a clearing / ski slope for beginners on the edge of the village. The light bathes the trees with orange hues and the Mont-Blanc in the background is adorned with a pink shade. We reach the Alpina at dusk and I thank Hongfei for his company and wish him not to have too much aches the next day.

At the beginning of November, the weather changes slowly and I take advantage of my days off to go on an bivouac hike again before it gets too cold at night. The little train of the sncf takes me to Les Tines where I cross the Arve, the river which flows in the valley and launche into the assault of the 800 meters of climb separating me from the Chalet de la Flégère. I climb slowly in the forest sheltered from the sun and reach the chalet at the end of the morning. The path I chose continues to climb for another 300 meters along the Index cable car. The trees are gone and the sun is beating down hard. The 1100 meters of climb at once are felt and I find it hard to reach the pass where the trail keeps on the mountainside. I have lunch by the side of the path observing people who seem to be climbing on the walls of the Aiguille de la Glière.

I walk along the mountains, crossing pastures and scree, overhanging the valley before drawing on my last strength to reach the Col de la Glière at 2461 meters. The last few meters are a bit difficult, the path having made way for large rocks to step over and follow with ropes. At the pass, the other side of the Aiguilles Rouges massif is revealed. Behind me the Mont-Blanc. Facing me, the peaks of the massif and the chain of Fiz in the distance.

The Lac Cornu where I decided to bivouac is below but I take advantage of the end of the afternoon to make a small detour and go to see the Lacs Noirs. On the way I meet a young man of Slavic origin whom I have already met during my meal break. We chat for a few moments and he offers me chocolate cookies that he made himself! Further on reaching the lakes, a group of ibex fled at my approach. In a puddle, the gel has trapped air bubbles and creates fascinating patterns. I spend a long time photographing them, lost in a space where time does not matter.

But the evening arrives and the freshness of the air gets me out of my hypnotism. The ibexes have reappeared and I immortalize them facing the Mont-Blanc. I then leave in the opposite direction to find the main path and descend into the scree to reach the Lac Cornu. I set up my tent right by the lake in the light of a perfect sunset and fall asleep under a sky full of stars.

But at 2200 meters, mid-November, the cold of the night is felt and I have a hard time sleeping. Despite my sleeping bag and my silk bag, I am cold. The night is long and it is only in the early morning that I manage to fall asleep, the atmosphere warming slowly with the arrival of the sun. This is probably my last bivouac hike of the season. At altitude, the nights become difficult to bear.

A big cairn proudly awaits me at the Col du Lac Cornu. I take a last look at the lake below and descend on the other side of the massif towards the Planpraz cable car station at 1800 meters above sea level. There are not many people on the trail and I take advantage of these privileged moments to engrave in my mind the beauty, the calm and the immensity of the landscapes. I reach the plateau where employees are working on the cable cars. The winter season is getting closer. I bypass the station and continue my quiet descent into the Combe du Brévent and reach Chamonix, the legs tired by the long descent of 1500 meters but the heart happy.

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