Sunday, September 11, 2011

Italy, day two

Beat and I are sharing an apartment with three of our friends, Steve and Harry, who also are running in the Tor des Geants, and Martina, who is joining me in a supportive role for the guys while we indulge in freelance hiking and copious amounts of Italian delicacies. It's a tiny apartment with one small bathroom, and we've all settled into it like the bickering family we almost are. Our Italian neighbors are endlessly friendly, always inviting us over for coffee and assuring my race-nervous boyfriend and friends that "You, you men are the real men."

On Friday Beat, who was supposed to be tapering, was not too keen on another 6,000 feet of climbing for the day, but we wanted to get up into the mountains. Steve and Harry joined us on an indulgent ride up the Mont Blanc gondola. The little box swept us up the impossible cliffs and across a glacier to a station built into the rocks at 3,840 meters, the Aiguille du Midi Chamonix.

It was a gorgeous day, and the view from our little box was jaw-dropping. I prefer to work for my views, but I can't deny that Mont Blanc is one of the most incredible places I have ever had the privilege to visit.

We peered down into crevasses and expressed envy for the ant-sized trekkers making their way across the glacier. I actually brought my ice ax and crampons in hopes that I could explore a bit of the glacier while the guys ate lunch, but the access from the gondola station was too perilous to go it alone. Read: Incredibly exposed knife ridge, less than a foot wide, with death drops on both sides. Every trekker we saw traversing that ridge was using ropes, and I am hardly an experienced mountaineer. Oh well. Next time I visit Mont Blanc, I vowed, I will be more experienced and prepared, and I will start from the bottom and climb to the top.

I joined the guys for lunch at this fancy French restaurant called 3840, which is the elevation of the gondola station in meters. It's a fun experience to dine on wild mushroom soup and delicious five-cheese pasta at 12,000 feet, looking out the window at a snow-swept moonscape punctured by jagged rocks. I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those of us who are used to huddling in the wind and trying to use thick mittens to stuff frozen Pop Tarts in our mouths in these types of places. It's a strange but wonderful cultural experience.

Looking down toward Chamonix, France, about 9,000 feet below. Auguille de Midi Chamonix sits right on the border of Italy and France, one of those places where they actually paint a white line that you can hop across singing, "Now I'm in Italy. Now I'm in France."

Looking down the glacier toward Italy.

Mont Blanc, at 4,810 meters (15,782 feet) is the highest peak in the Alps. What an incredible mountain.

I can't wait to go back, human-powered next time.