A Grand Day Out 20: The Day I Misunderstoodby Graham Lee Mar/2009
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Okay, so it wasn't really the winter. It was a glorious warm day in July.
But this place was always veiled in winter.
We could see the summer that was underway on the valley floor below us. All those hundreds of metres down, people were crawling around the streets of Chamonix in little toy cars, and their to-ing and fro-ing seemed strangely inconsequential. We'd bought our way out of their world three hours ago, rising up on the mighty cable-car to the Aiguille de Midi, which connected us to them by a single slender thread.
It was my first time.
We clumped out of the station, and I luxuriated in the childish, petulant thrill of being ushered to the front of the queue by the attendants. We were 'les alpinists', festooned with ropes and goggles and a mash of metalwork which the sightseers didn't understand. We weren't like them. I was buoyed up with excitement, and I was feeling ever so slightly arrogant.
Five minutes later, the winter was laughing at me. I was sliding around on the ice, struggling to get my crampons onto my hire-boots. At long last I succeeded. So did my more experienced friends, Ben and James, but with more delicacy. We coiled, looped and clipped our rope, and then we were off!
We stepped out onto the ridgeline. The cold, sharp air stabbed at us. The snow and ice on ether side fell away into two exciting, exhilarating infinities. The mountains lay in the distance, with dark and menacing snow-clouds that boiled in the air above them. I didn't think they cared about the clouds, or about what the sightseers thought of them, or about us. Why would the mountains care? They were old and tough, and they had nothing to prove.
We walked for a few precarious kilometres along the ridgeline, basking in the majesty of our surroundings.
The Aiguille de Midi began to seem impossibly far away, teetering on its crag in the distance.
The Earth continued to turn, and the sun started to descend. We struck out for home, and safety. The hard snow which we'd walked across in the morning was melting now, and it gave way and crumbled under our boots. Little snowballs broke free and raced down the sheer walls, building unstoppable momentum as they fell.
'This seems a bit dangerous,' I thought, but Ben and James were walking confidently in front of me. They'd been in the high mountains before. If they thought it was safe then I supposed it must have been. After two hours' walk and scramble we made it back to the cable-car station. James' hands were shaking.
“That was horrible,” he muttered, “I was sure that cornice was going to collapse on us.”
I'd had a great time. I'd plodded along with blissful inexperience blinding me from the danger. I had admired the scenery.
“You look like you weren't scared at all,” James said to me.
“Well, you know,” I replied, “It's like 'If', isn't it? that Rudyard Kipling poem: 'If you can keep your head, whilst all's about are losing theirs...'”
I didn't feel arrogant now. It was a running joke – a shared camaraderie – and we all knew the punch-line;
“... you've probably misunderstood the seriousness of the situation!”
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