Finally arrived in Chamonix, France, right at the base of the Alps. Had a big scare yesterday when my credit card PIN number wouldn’t register and I couldn’t get any money. Thought I was going to have to head back to Zurich Switzerland to find an American Express office to get some cash. With diabetes and the possibility of not being able to buy food in the mountains that meant my whole trip would have been over. I worried, too, that I woudn’t have a place to stay in town and I stood for several hours in the freezing rain yesterday evening making international phone calls and trying not to panic. Luckily a really kind woman at a backpacker’s lodge took pity on me and allowed me to stay without paying for one night. And I found a bank today that took my credit card.
The Alps overlook the town and now I can very well imagine why people before the mountaineers started up the peaks in the 1800’s believed that evil spirits and gods lived up there. It’s been raining straight and hard for four days now throughout the region and Chamonix is freezing. Made me glad that the other day while in Lucern in Switzerland I decided to buy a new, small tent instead of going with the GG SpinnShelter I had eventually brought. No way I’m going up there with just a tarp! These are by far the most massive mountains I’ve ever seen up close and it’s quite scary, though I’m sure ignorance is part of that. Two room mates at the backpacker’s lodge told me I don’t have to worry about snow on the Tour de Mont Blanc route. Hopefully I can be ready to start walking the day after tomorrow.
I still can’t believe I’m here, the birthplace of mountaineering. The whole town revolves around the mountains and it seems as if every other person here is garbed in mountain gear. When you look up over the rooftops there are clouds and then breaks in the upper parts of the clouds where snow covered rockfaces and white swaths that seem at first like melting cloud fabric, until you realize that it is a huge falling river of ice, a glacier, this one called “La Mer de Glace”, the Sea of Ice”. I can’t tell you how it affects my soul to see all this, like standing before a frozen dream with the clouds revealing just enough to strike you dumb.
I’ll be spending the next two days just relaxing and acclimatizing. Tomorrow I’ll try to take a short walk to see what conditions are like along the trails and to get my mind past the big scare I had yesterday. I’ll stay at the backpacker’s lodge simply because it has a real down-to-earth atmosphere with lots of other mountain walker’s there, in spite of the rather slovenly conditions. The room is located at the back of an old wooden ski lodge and is quiet, with two room mates, one of whom just completed a run around the Tour de Mont Blanc. Simply amazing!
I want to write more about a wonderful evening I had in Lucern with two Korean university students I met, but I’m standing in an internet cafe with lots of people waiting, so I’ll sign off for now.