"Honestly, I do not experience fear in the mountains. On the contrary I feel my shoulders straightening, squaring, like the birds as they straughten their wings. I enjoy the freedom and the altitude. It is only when I return to life below that I feel the world's weight on my shoulders." So true! The Alps again, I was readimg "The Climb - Everest 1996" by Anatoli Boukreev and falling in love. I has always loved the high mountains and I know very well that feeling of freedom, strength and lightness, in spite my experience is way more limited than Boukreev's, a legend and no doubt a good man.
Still you don't need to climb a 8.000. Look the Mont Blanc, just out my train window! almost a 5.000, so big even in the distance, white and silent. But think about your domestic mountain, the mountain you climbed as a child, the first impact with its solemn wilderness, its threatening beauty. Simple, essential, sharp.
I was traveling toward the Tour de France stage finish in Emosson, just over the dam: almost 2.000 m of altitude. And I was coming from the stage start in Bern. I was traveling against the clock to be atop in time, but I was traveling by train so I had no way to affect the speed of my travel. I had checked the time table and confided on the Swiss punctuality.
In Visp we had a very short connection, just four minute for the train to Martiny, but we made it. In Martigny we had to wait instead: the Mont-Blanc Express was expected to bring us to Chatelard and we had had to book it early to find a place on it! In fact there were only two trains reaching the finish in time but the first one was all booked already at the end of June and we had to take the second one.
It arrived eventually and we jumped on board. It ran beside the road for a while, we had the time to glipse the break-away, then the peloton. "Are we late?! Hey?! Aren't we?!" we panicked a little but no: they had to climb by bike a whole mountain while ore little train was doing a good job.
The landscape was incredible: deep alpine gorges, steep slopes covered on giant dark green trees, waterfalls, rocky scarps just below us... and the Mont Blanc in front, up there.
There was a lot of people in the small station of Finhaut, waiting for the race on the last climbs, but we went sraight to Chatelard, where La Verticale starts: it's the steepest cableway in the world!
The small train disapeared on its wild trip to Chamonix. The cableway cabine was waiting for us. Up we go! What a lift! The view became larger and larger untill we reached the first station. Here we had to take another train, smaller than the first one, like a fair's train, with open vagons and a small locomotive. It ran on very small rails, on the bare slopes of the mountains, the scarp very close.
The weather was very good, sunny and serene, but the air was fresher and definitely cold in the small dark tunnels. A last bend and we saw the dam, huge and grey, the tiny team buses parked in a coloured line all over it.
The fair's train stopped at the last station of La Verticale and up we went again. A signal said: "Lac d'Emosson: altitude 1962 m". No time to celebrate: we dashed to the finish, our backpacks on our shoulders, as fast as we could.
MORE TO COME