Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Final day of Tor

For the two weeks I spent in the Alps during both PTL and TDG, my goal was not just to wander around in beautiful places. I wanted to venture outside of my comfort zone, to the spaces where my heart rate spikes and my blood runs cold, to prove to myself I am capable of becoming the mountain traveler I want to be. I achieved this occasionally, although the teetering and vertigo and weird foot placements proved I still don't have a solid grasp on my own proprioception, and may never. By Friday morning, my legs were cut and bruised from mistakes made in relatively benign places, my quads and calves were sore from endlessly steep climbs and descents, and my mood and confidence were all but shattered. I headed out to Ollomont to see Beat at the final life base, and my hands were quaking for most of the drive. Great, now I'm apparently terrified of driving, too. I do love the Aosta Valley, but at this point, I couldn't wait to go home.

It was pissing rain and temperatures were in the low 40s. A forecast promising drier conditions did not deliver, and Beat arrived in Ollomont drenched and freezing. He'd already slept at one of the rifugios overnight, so he took a short nap. Meanwhile, I drank three cups of coffee while sitting on the wet plastic chairs of an espresso stand (I found the first Italian barista willing to make me an "Americano," and I was so happy.) By the time Beat set out again, I was fully soaked and shivering myself. My options for warming myself were getting back in the car and driving back to Courmayuer, or hiking. So I laced up my now-mostly-shredded Hokas and headed up the 40-percent muddy grade that passes for a trail in these parts.

The TDG climb was a messy slog, and I passed time by scrolling through the screen on my GPS, looking for possible alternative routes. The map showed a trail traversing around the far side of this mountain, eventually linking to another trail that linked to the opposite side of Col Champillon. This trail was marked in blue, which I already knew was better interpreted as a "route" than a "trail." Still, it could make for an intriguing loop. I followed the mystery trail for all of a quarter mile before faint imprints in the grass faded completely, and then it was a matter of tracing meandering cattle tracks as the slope became muddier and steeper.

Of course I wanted to turn around, but curiosity drove me forward. By the time I broke out of the forest, I was vaguely following my GPS track along increasingly steep grassy slopes that were flanked by sheer cliffs. It was still raining, and the grass was wet and barely clinging to the oozing mud that coated the hillside. Each step was incredibly unnerving, as I edged the shredded sole of my Hokas into the mud, drove in both poles and gritted my teeth at the prospect of slipping. If this had been a snow slope, there's no way I would have traversed it, and instinct told me the grass was just as slippery and the possibility of sliding hundreds of feet to my death just as likely. Still, I wasn't convinced that the objective danger was as bad as I perceived. Mostly I continued forward because I was more scared of turning around.

Eventually, after careful analysis of my GPS screen and stubborn adherence to the invisible "route," I connected with a faint actual trail that became more defined as I neared the col. The above photo is the only one I took during this section, long after I'd connected with the good trail. Imagine those slopes with no flat platform on which to rest your feet. Brrr.

As I topped out on Col Champillon, the rain tapered off and the clouds began to break, revealing the first hints of sunshine I'd seen in days. I sat on the pass watching TDG runners go by while glancing over my shoulder at the intimidating ridgeline of Crou de Bleintse. After the adrenaline drain of the wet grassy traverse, I'm not sure what prompted this thought, but there it was — "I bet I can climb that."

Yes, it was awful. Fog continued to stream over the ridge as I skittered up loose rubble and wet-concrete-like mud. Patches of snow and ice still dotted the rocks, and the low visibility ensured I couldn't determine good lines beyond my immediate surroundings. Of course, just when you think you've entered a place that no one in there right mind would ever venture in the Alps, you come to a sign. This one translates to "Prohibition of hunting partridge." Huh?

This scrambly section was better than the rubble. Thick fog moved in and clung to the ridge as I neared the peak, which disappointingly eradicated the views. I knew I would have to descent the rubble, and this caused much angst.

The fog only cleared again after I successfully passed the rubbly section. There were a few moments of clinging precipitously to a rock while my feet inched down an oozing chute of certain death, but all in all it wasn't as bad as anticipated.

More clearing, looking toward the village of Saint Rhemy-en-Bosses. I'm still not entirely sure why I crawled up that ridge. I was in a strange mood.

Back to the candy-ass trail. I'm so happy to see you! I won't ever leave you again.

More clearing as I descended the other side on the TDG route.

Rifugio Champillion.

Ah, Italy.

 Beat finished in Courmayeur early the next morning, around 4 a.m. He traveled for much of the last half with an English guy named Stephen, who has a chalet in Chamonix where we stayed on Saturday night. I joked that Beat always finds a buddy for TDG, and several of them have gone on to become good friends. There are reasons why racing is better than wandering around aimlessly in mountains, purposelessly scaring yourself.

Anyway, the rain and fog came back, and I made one more jaunt up to the ridge above Bertoni while Beat napped on Saturday afternoon. It had been an interesting trip, but I really was looking forward to returning to Colorado. Hopefully I can find my way into a few more mountains before the snow flies. 


  1. How can you possibly call yourself 'slow clumsy and useless' as per your previous posts! You are my inspiration as per Mary's post. I sincerely hope that your body will soon allow you to relax and enjoy what you are achieving.


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