My foothold was slipping. Gravity was pulling at me as I hung horizontally from the rock face, struggling to climb out and over the ledge. The cold rock scraped at my bare knees, the sharp mountain wind chilling the sweat as it fell in droplets from my face; my grimy, frozen hands were slowly releasing their grasp on the metal rung as I felt myself losing control of my strained muscles.
I fought the fear that slowly edged into my mind. With 800 feet of emptiness below me, I felt quite secure in my harness. Yet if I lost my grip, would the rope limit my fall? Such dilemmas often confront me during my family’s yearly summer trips to the French Alps.
However, this has certainly never hindered me from always awaiting the coming expedition in the alpine environment.
From simply hiking over panoramic mountains, covering ascents and descents of 3,000 feet each day, to rock climbing for hours at time, to camping or staying at alpine refuges, such summers have always provided a demanding program of self-exhilaration.
Glacier trekking has been a favorite mountain activity. This year, accompanied by a mountain guide, my family ascended the Grand Bec, a particularly challenging 11,100-foot peak in the Vanoise National Park. The day before the ascent, we hiked to the refuge nearest the glacier that serves as a lodge for cross-country skiers during the winter to spend the night.
By 4:30 the next morning, we had made our way to the base of the glacier.
Such climbs require harnesses allowing all members of the party to be roped together, crampons, ice picks to provide assistance particularly on the exhausting 45-degree slopes, cold-weather gear, and head lamps for predawn climbing. Though these climbs require endurance, advanced knowledge of climbing techniques, and intense concentration given the crevices, one receives immense personal satisfaction from viewing the serenity of the sunrise over the surrounding peaks.
I cherish such experiences as these majestic glaciers may disappear entirely within the next few decades.
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