“He’s not dead, he’s just pining for the fjords” (From the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch)
That’s a bit how I feel at the moment. Maybe not literally “the fjords”, but certainly the big mountains. At the time of writing this stuff, I’ve been home from my six week trip to the Alps and Dolomites for three weeks. I’m finding it hard to credit that I was away for twice the length of time I’ve been back.
On the last two big trips I’ve done, I’ve always acknowledged I was more than fortunate with the weather – that all-important “open sesame” for great days in the hills. Not this year. It was ok, much of the time, with some fabulous days, and some ghastly ones. In other words, pretty normal.
Of course, when I say “fabulous”, you’re immediately thinking I mean bright, sunny, endlessly clear days. Well, not, actually.
One of the great aids to enjoying Europe’s mountains is “le meteo”. We’re still miles behind in the UK with mountain weather forecasting. In France and Switzerland particularly, you could almost set your watch by the forecasts of significant weather events most days. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make planning a day out easier, but it can allow one to trim down “contingency” time, or to take rather more calculated risks with the conditions.
I had one such day, right towards the end of my recent time away, and that’s where the photo for this blog comes from. It’s of a very big storm brewing over the summit of Mont Blanc.
I was in Chamonix. It was Friday. The week had seen some gnarly weather, though a fair share of it had gone though overnight, and it had mostly been wet, rather than snowy stuff. Neverthleless, I’d been grounded for the whole of Thursday and the forecast for Saturday and Sunday were bad. Sunday didn’t worry me – I was due to leave – but did I want to let the preceding three whole days slip? I looked very carefully indeed at the meteo for that Friday.
My plan of action became very clear. If I wanted the best day out, I’d need to be away very early, around 3am, and be prepared to sit out a few squalls quite high up as I slogged up the edge of the Bossons Glacier. The promise, however, was of a few clearer hours in the afternoon on the Chamonix side of Mont Blanc.
Alternatively, I could have good lie in, walk 100 metres from my apartment, catch a late morning Aiguille du Midi cable car to nearly 3,500 metres, get out on the easy part of the Glacier du Geant, and shoot some sights. Not much of a choice, really, when you put it like that….
When I set off, the weather hardly looked promising. I rather feared I’d be paying my €45 fare to sit supping coffee in the Upper station of the Midi cable car system. Oh ye of little faith. To begin with, it was quite heavily overcast, and I began counting my remaining eurocoins to see if I could afford that coffee. But lo! What light from yonder window in the mist shines? Little by little, the curtain parted.
On substantially the same outing, a year to the very day previously, I’d had some of the most perfect mountain weather. I’d been at this height for dawn, and stayed until late afternoon. I’d therefore satisfied my lust for the blue sky photos from up here. This time it was different. Nature was playing with the clouds today.
The top of Mont Blanc never came clear. It had already been claimed. The cloud cap streamed and swirled. I pitied anyone pinned down at the little Vallot Refuge up there. Thor’s snow devils cavorted across the tops of Mont Maudit and the Mont Blanc du Tacul summit, which were next in line for the hammer. These are the tops in my photo at the top of this blog.
There was a noise, like a distant waterfall. The wind on the summit. Where I was remained calm and still. A few parties scuttled up the final pitches of the Cosmiques Arete and into the incongruous luxury of the newly refurbished section of the Midi cable car station. A British mountain guide and his client slogged in complete isolation up the final snowslopes to safety after baling out of an attempt on the Midi-Plan Traverse. These aside, through my viewfinder, I had the whole Mont Blanc massif to myself. Not a soul. I shot my shots, watched the curtains begin to draw closed, and retreated to solid ground.
The thunder began when I was in Chamonix, on the short walk back to the apartment. I looked at my watch. 24 hours of wet shortly after.
(as ever, my title is a musical reference. This time provided by the great Randy Newman)