The adventures of Felix

What to do when the skis are put away? After arriving this year in Chamonix, Swede Felix Olsson is familiarising himself with summer in the mountains and he leads us on a voyage of discovery to the heart of the Chamonix scene. First up, rock climbing.

From Winter to Summer and back: Part 1.
Only a few short months ago I was speeding down the Bochard-piste, turning right onto the Pierre-à-Ric, arguably the best top-to-bottom piste-run in the valley, slushing and popping and jumping on endless soft moguls (Compagnie du Mt-Blanc had recently put up a small sign signalling that this piste was technically closed, so the moguls were increasing in size exponentially day to day), which would become the opening scene in a piece I would later write for the blackmail.fr.
I was thinking that surely this is the meaning of life. It has to be? The speed, the wind, the Zen! Yes, what a beautiful way of living in the moment.
Oh, Pierre-à-Ric, you’re beautiful.

Remote is only one of the words I’d use to describe how that speed feels as I find myself smearing my feet on, well, nothing, a meter or so above my last quickdraw, in turn some 25-meters above the gravelly earth of Les Gaillands.
How did I end up here? Walking back and forth in front of the sport shops on my way to work at Rue des Moulins, snowboards and skis and poles have recently all been exchanged for ropes and quickdraws and harnesses, and I belong to those who made the active decision to give sport-climbing a fair chance as my main summer activity. Having never spent time in the Alps during summer, it seemed to me like an interesting opportunity to get out of my comfort-zone and indulge in a new adventurous activity.

…Evidently so, an inner voice notes, as I try not to think about how far I will fall if my feet should in fact fail me now.
There is clearly very little speed to be enjoyed up here, and the moguls that used to surround me have been exchanged for much harder objects, but I keep returning because of a different set of pleasures offered in this primitive place.

There is a feeling I get each time my team and I reach the Mer de Glace after a day spent skiing on the Midi; a feeling of relief and accomplishment. “Hard part’s over”, I think. “Soon we’ll be at the stairs.”
I treasure that feeling; it keeps me tethered to the reality that is the dangers of the mountains, and reassures me that I still respect them.

The feeling of reaching my next bolt and clipping in is very similar, but much more frequent. In fact, I get to experience it several times on each line that I climb!
There is definitely no speed to speak of but a similar exposure is present. As is the Zen! The self-control, the concentration, connecting with one’s surroundings… Not to mention the routine of looking up at a line (instead of down) and identifying places of rest, difficulty, danger.
The contrast is interesting. And I get to do it in shorts! Yay, Vitamin-D! I grip the holds harder and look around me… Les Gaillands… It is a gift. What a wonderful place to be introduced to an activity of which our valley knows no end. Sure, it can be crowded, and sure all the lines tell stories of having been climbed countless of times, but I choose to see the beauty in that.

We get to do this, I think. Wake up at the crack of noon, call our friends and casually ask “meet at the bakery and go climbing?”
…Very different to those early mornings in front of the Midi.
I reach the top of my line, clip in and yell “Safe!”
Soon we’ll be at the stairs.

Translation : JAG

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