The Sentinelle, the inner journey.

A look back on the 4th Sentinelle through the eyes of a participant. Here he himself, briefly looking at himself in a schizophrenic exercise while writing this, henceforward, vanishing introduction.

Antoine JAG

The Sentinelle, has for a while, attracted my attention. Like many novices, I was afraid of the distance one would need to climb. Over 1,000 metres of ascent, there is a sort of psychological barrier, above all when one is heavily laden and one has to reserve some energy for the descent. In reality, numerous factors come into play. Other than sheer determination, there is the distance of the route, the relief of the landscape, the state of the snow, your comrades, the starting time… So instead of making a mountain out of a Sentinelle, you might as well stroke its flanks.

The first evening was marked by the meeting of the other participants. There were many discussions, trying the sponsors’ equipment or just joking as if they were members of a large family. Arriving late, I enjoyed watching this waltz while sipping some bubbles. Time for dinner time. The aperitifs had done their work in breaking the ice. Finally, these people were normal.I soaked up the joyful mountain orientated atmosphere of this large dining room. I had been dropped off by car but I could easily have arrived on skis or snow-shoes. Here, in the last French village before the Swiss frontier, on this road which leads to the villages of Finhaut and further still Martigny and the Grand Saint Bernard pass, we were in a true mountain inn.

Layla Jean Kerley

The hotel Buet is is a timeless place. The Chamel family have owned the establishment for 130 years. Formerly a relay station for horse-drawn cars (the famous diligences), the building has experienced the mad twentieth century modernisation like the arrival of the train in 1908 or that of the electric fairy in 1930. I looked at the photographs, becoming absorbed by the walls imagining everything that they could tell us. Built at the beginning of the 1880s by the brothers, Maurice and Félix Chamel, this hotel/boarding house was born in anticipation of the realisation of the road for motor vehicles which was begun in the 1860s. Passing over the col des Montets to link, a few kilometres further on, France and Switzerland. In the corner of the bar one can also see a certificate of the Commission of the Rights issued by the State of Israel. During the Second World War, Germaine Chamel assisted jews who were going to Switzerland. So, while drinking at the bar, in front of her descendants, Marianne and Véronique, I forgot my insignificant little anxieties about the next day’s escapade…

Ville Niiranen

After a short night, the departure approached. The backpack was ready. The air had that spring sweetness of renewal. The atmosphere sang of the return of sunny days. The impatience to get going evacuated all the effects of alcohol and so it was with a clear head that I waited for the conch to sound, Bruno made the signal and we set off, skis on our backs, through the woods and darkness. The beams of light captured the imagination, bodies began to warm up. The night is conducive to the reduction of the space of time. We climbed effortlessly at our own cardiac rhythms in the silence of the night. Some chatted, joked or stopped to share cups of hot tea. All worries had disappeared. My carapace had opened and I felt connected. I already knew, without really being aware of it, that I would get to the end. The energy of this happy band was infectious and united everybody. Our disparate panoplies and width of skis were irrelevant, it was a good outing amongst mates. Nobody was there to be smart and accelerate the rhythm. Unless one is diminished by such physical or material concerns, one can proceed without apprehension. The spirit is lucid, the body relaxed, slow and sure wins the race, as the saying goes.

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At dawn, we came out of the woods to reach the rocky high mountains. Can one imagine a more beautiful spectacle than that of the luminous reflection of the sun on the snow crystals  ? A short and slight descent led us to discover the Loriaz hut, an alpine meadow dwelling built at the beginning of the 1660s which became a refuge (hut) in 1976. Up there, at 2020 metres, refreshment in the form of a hot cup of coffee prepared by the guardians awaited us. First surprise along the route…Sometimes it is good not to listen to the instructions before departing. After a good shot of caffeine, we set off in the direction of the col de la Terrasse (2648 metres). The caravan spread out before coming together again just under the pass for the final push. Upon arrival, a short pause to remove skins and then we headed down the Swiss side towards the Vieux Emosson lake. The occasion for a few turns on a north east facing slope in a cold snow.

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I thought that I heard that we were going to cross the lake, but I hadn’t really paid attention. However that is exactly what happened. Near the lake, we put our skins back on to reach its banks. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the guys were in the progress of crossing it. Since David Cronenberg’s film Dead Zone, I had been haunted by the thought of frozen water. Nobody seemed to be breaking the ice with 15 kg of ballast and skis in the guise of flippers for swimming underwater, it held. Direction then the col de Bel Oiseau (2631 metres), our last climb, just 400 metres before freedom. Hellish, that’s where you feel that the partying/hiking ratio has been somewhat imbalanced during the winter. Quietly as you go. The pass appeared with its welcoming committee of skiers and its lovely terrace with a panoramic view on a crossroads of massifs and three borders. Wine, cheese , cold meats, the innkeepers had done their job. It was time to relax with the feeling that one had accomplished one’s mission and with the prospect of a long descent to Finhaut, at 1224 metres below.

Federico Ravassard

After well merited rest in the full sun with my new band of mates, it was time for sheer bliss, 1000 metres or more in a delicately warmed snow whose crisp surface embraced the fluidity of our movements with the precision of a Swiss clock. All while approaching the trees wrapped in the fragrance of the humus of pine needles and the first wildflowers, playing with the shadows and forms of the relief, drawing instinctive lines between the highest trees, then gradually narrowing the turns up to the outer limits of the forest. It was time to remove the skis and walk through the thickets to the first road and then further on the village, with its inn and beer on tap whose imaginary bubbles excited the taste buds no sooner said than done were the skis back on the shoulder.

Federico Ravassard

A diverse and happy caravan, saturated with spent energy and sunshine, we went to the station to catch the little red train which took us to the halt at Buet, a couple of hundred metres from the hotel of the same name where the singing of the shower had an irresistible draw. Oh the joy of mental energy entwined in the heaviness of the body, the prospect of chatting with all these new friends, around thirty of them, and all within less than 24 hours. And there were swirling bottles of natural wine each more delicious than the other which had been brought by François Régis, a guide, who had saved the event by suggesting this route to replace the one initially planned at Mont Viso. And the strong hand of the Chamel sisters, innkeepers at heart, the Franco-Mountain banter, the cheeky kindness at the bow of a bar taken by storm by the swell of thirsty skiers. What a tumult, what a great evening.

Federico Ravassard

No matter how satisfied one was to have been over two passes in one day and also crossed the feared 2000 metre barrier, the next day was to be beautiful and everybody was alive. So, why not stretch the legs in the direction of Mont Buet… Or the mountain considered to be the theatre of first ascension of a high mountain in the Alps. That was in 1770, by the Deluc brothers, scientists from Geneva and who were without doubt elegant all the way to the summit. Also called the Ladies’ Mont Blanc, it is just over 3000 metres (3 096 metres), which would make it a little more than a 1800 metre climb from the point of departure. That was where the implication of alcohol could be understood (from the Arab al-khol, or antimony powder ) for instead of listening to the voice of reason directing the order to beat a retreat and sleep off one’s drunkenness, to stretch in the morning before having a quiet breakfast in the hotel emptied of its occupants while reading a good book, this person was propelled by the boldness of a bravery exacerbated by the fermenting juices of sweet wine.

Layla Jean Kerley

Sadly it didn’t last, after the triumph of fearless moral force reason took hold; waking, regaining control, requiring the body to stand up, donning its membrane of armour, putting on shells by way of shoes, and then attaching to them, but maybe that’s just a bad dream, to five-foot long soles. Then to once again start the climb feeding from the energy of the group, settling comfortably into the space of one’s subconscious with its window of senses wide open to the perfumes and whispering of the world.

With this second great effort in a row, one has to admit, the last metres of overexertion to reach this large summit which tops the massifs of the Giffre and Aiguilles Rouge, like a sentinel scanning the Pre-Alps, were tinged with a slight feeling of agony. Wrung-out, I squeezed the neck of the bottle beaten by the wind, swallowing cheese and chocolate in such an unorthodox order so was the anarchic and imperious need for sustenance. Then, slipping away from the wild horde, I left followed by a friend of fortune through slightly crispy, but fluid, snow, through a maze of protuberances and lascivious forms, along the high slopes before plunging down towards the Eau de Bérard torrent and following its course to the waterfall cafe at Bérard and finally the Poya run which led straight back to the Hotel Buet and its tables enlivened by a fauna of sliders enjoying a blissful happiness. Alleluia.

Ville Niiranen

Ville Niiranen

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