Snow blows like smoke straight up past the windows of the café atop the
Aiguille du Midi. I rode here on the world's most impressive cable car,
climbing from about 4,000 feet to almost 13,000 in a few minutes, the
equivalent of three El Capitans stacked. Now, I sit sipping tea, dizzy
groggy. Just leaning back in my chair constitutes exercise. I feel like
whose collar is too tight.
This is Chamonix in the French Alps, the birthplace of mountaineering,
nursery, and the stage for some of the most jaw-dropping accomplishments
modern alpinists. Climbers converge here by the thousands in high
clogging the streets, filling the huts, swarming the peaks. Once-feared
can see 10 parties on nice days. Even so, there are plenty of gems for
At the end of the day we descend to town for dinner. Most places serve a version of Salade Chevre Chaud, a hot goat cheese salad we find hard to resist. We devoted one night to dining at the National, one of the stomping grounds, literally, of British climbers from the Golden Age, such as Whillans, Bonnington, and the rest, a group not known for sobriety and rectitude. Now, the National has metamorphosed into a genteel bistro so we behaved ourselves. The local hot shots tempted us into a French Tex-Mex establishment, which earned the accolade, "not as bad as you might think." The following evening found us foraging on salad again.
One day Mark and Nancy took off to climb a route beyond my ability. I spent the day sipping espresso, nibbling on celestial ham and cheese sandwiches, and absorbing the ambiance. Clusters of parapents soared between the peaks. Down in town the air felt almost syrupy. No sore feet, blasted knees, mosquitoes, or camp food on my day off. I resolved to practice this novel form of alpinism whenever possible from now on. Now I know why the French have so much joie in their vivre.