by Rhys WIlliams, 2004.
was Kingsley who first pointed out the route to us.
To be honest, I felt uncomfortable. It was our first
week in Chamonix, on the Alpine Introduction course,
and none of us was fully confident yet in our own abilities.
It was a cold, damp September day, and there were clouds
rapidly approaching from the North. As we studied the
route, we were conscious of the Aiguilles looming over
us like wraiths. We hoped that Kingsley or one of the
Guides would be leading it, but he simply pointed out
the route, then promised to meet us again when we'd
finished. It was to be our first lead.
directions were simple enough. "It's a straightforward
route," he said, "with no real technical difficulties,
but the crux may cause you some problems." We followed
his gnarled, frost-bitten fingers as they indicated
how the route went straight initially, then kinked to
the right, leading to a full-on traverse just before
snaking back to the left again. "After that, a
little smear to the right," as King put it, "will
take you to the crux. Bon chance!"
swallowed hard and looked at my sister and climbing
partner, Siân. I felt my stomach churning and
thought I might throw up. I looked away and felt better
instantly. She really is quite unattractive.
vacillated for a while, but eventually I led off. Kingsley
had been right. Technically, it was no great shakes.
There were plenty of simple, obvious footholds, which
mitigated the lack of handholds. It quickly because
clear that balance would be the key to success on this
course, there was the problem common to the starting
point of many classic routes, especially in Chamonix:
hordes of tourists, all milling aimlessly around like
zombies on a day release programme. But they were soon
a distant memory as I led pitch after pitch. It was
one of those rare climbing days. I was in the zone.
I was flowing. Every movement seemed natural, inevitable.
Even the sun appeared, breaking briefly through the
clouds to warm both my body and my soul.
looked down and asked Siân if she wanted to take
over the lead, but she was happy to follow me. I cursed
under my breath. The crux was rapidly approaching. My
energy was flagging. Would she help? Would she take
some responsibility? Would she take over at the sharp
end? Ultimately, no. She did what she always does: she
smiled sweetly, showing her blackened, rotten teeth,
and simply said: "After you." It would be
up to me, after all.
looked once, saw the move to make and instantly plunged
forwards. I knew that any hesitation might be fatal.
It was only one movement, and I can't say it was pretty,
but it was effective. It was one of those moments where
brute force and ignorance will triumph over grace and
technique. And with one final effort I pushed myself
forwards, sweating, swearing, and shouting loudly.
pints of lager, please!"
took his pint in his withered, blackened hand and thanked
me. "You see?" he said. "Not that tricky
to find the Queen Vic, is it? Start from Place Jacques
Balmat, go straight onto Rue Joseph Vallot, kink right
just before the Brasserie l'M then traverse to Rue des
Moulins. The pub will be on your right."
are many great routes in Chamonix. This is one of the