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Step by Step to Tete Blanche - Chamonix, France

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Top of Tete Blanche

3500 meters, blowing wind, feels like minus 20.  It is June and this is the first stop on Pam’s summer of discovery and fun.  Olivier is in front, ropes tied to each other in case a crevasse appears on the glacier and someone falls in. 

This has been a dream of mine, or maybe to some sounds like a bad dream.  I made it to the top of Tete Blanche.  My first mountaineering experience and I feel great at 3500 meters.

By some standards, an easy one to climb, by my standards, well, let’s say challenging enough for now.  It is funny how things work out.  I went to the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix to meet my guide the day before the trek.  I met Jacques.  He was a very nice, older gentleman.  Secretly, I was really hoping for a young, fit, good looking guy.  Jacques and I met, we talk about the hike, and it turns out, there was a mistake in the booking and Jacques cannot go with me on Wednesday as I had planned.  Within ten minutes, Olivier greets me.  Point taken, you get what you need and you don’t even have to try.  Olivier is hot.

We make a plan and he makes a list.  I went to Snell to rent and buy the items on the list.  I have one hour until I meet Olivier to begin our climb. List:  ice axe, crampons, harness, helmet, mountaineering boots, headlamp.  Shit, I do not know how to use any of these things.  I panic for a minute.  Fear sets it.  Fear leaves. Have some courage Pam, it will be fine.

We meet, he repacks my pack, gives me a smaller one and convinces me that I do not need a change of clothes or my toiletry bag.  There will be no shower and we will wear the same clothes.  We spend one night in Albert I refuge. I have never been so cold and slept with all my clothes on including the hat.  

The refuge is a funny culture. Men and women sharing dorm style bunks, same bathrooms and sleeping right beside complete strangers. But, we are all here for the same reason, so we get along and body heat at this point from whomever is a good thing.  I should add, ladies, mountaineering is a male dominated sport.  The numbers of attractive, in shape, real men, on the trail made all the pain worth it.

The plan is to wake up at 4:30am to begin our ascent to Tete Blanche. We want to make sure we get up and back down before the snow melts to make it easier to use the crampons.  The air was thin.  There was silence.  All I could hear was my heart beating and it sure was pumping blood to keep me going.  The silence was beautiful.  

Olivier led me, often he turned around and asked “Ca va?”  With his nice smile and beautiful French accent, regardless of my pain, I would smile and say “Ca va bien.” He laughed.

One step at a time and I made it.  It became meditative and my mantras were step, step, ice ax, step.  Moments of panic happened whenever I would leave the present moment and when I would think – how the hell am I going to get down, what is ahead of me, how much longer? – stop it Pam. 

I brought myself back to the here and now and the only thing I focused on was that one step needed to bring me closer to the peak.  Time and time again, it always proves right.  Don’t worry about the past or the future, live now.  This is the key to overcome obstacles in our life.

Item 1 on my bucket list: mountaineering- check.  No more climbing mountains related to an unfulfilling career or the need to achieve more in the work place.  The only mountains I will climb from now on are those that move my soul.  The real ones.  Find something to do where you can lose yourself.  It is a beautiful feeling.

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